Shark counting using 'chum cams'

(EndPlay Staff Reports) - Scientists are using "chum cams" to help encourage the conservation of Caribbean reef sharks.

The program is headed up by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York. A press release stated scientists are using video cameras to count sharks inside and outside of marine reserves on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef in the Caribbean Sea.

The researchers used 200 baited remote underwater video cameras nicknamed "chum cams." It shows how much more abundant the sharks are in two marine reserves compared to areas where fishing is allowed.

"Scientists who study tigers or jaguars in the wild use camera traps to count them," Demian Chapman, assistant professor in Stony Brook's School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, stated in the press release. "It's just as difficult to count sharks in the ocean, so we took a page from the big cat researchers' playbook and deployed baited video cameras to count the sharks."

He said it's fitting because "these large apex predators are the 'big cats' of the sea.'" Like those big cats, he said, their existence is threatened.

The Washington Post reported that researchers from the United States and Belize completed the study between 2005 and 2010. They placed the cameras on the sea floor in front of a bait cage and counted how many sharks they could see on the video.

The Post said the findings are timely because policymakers in the United States and other countries are discussing whether to create more marine reserves. This research shows how it benefits large predators like sharks, while past research focused more on sedentary marine species.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Caribbean reef sharks as "near threatened," Our Amazing Planet reported. There have been drastic drops in population, partly because of the trade in fins for shark fin soup.

The study is published in the journal PloS One.

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