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Re-imagining Jaws: A shark appreciation, awareness, and education event

  • - (AEST)
  • Balgal Beach
    Balgal Beach, Balgal Beach QLD 4816, Australia

Our event aims, in releasing adult epaulette (walking) sharks Hemiscyllium ocellatum, to raise awareness about the effects of climate change on highly vulnerable sharks, gain appreciation for the roles sharks play, and educate our youth, adults, and community about healthy marine ecosystems. This small, easy to handle, 'non-bitey' shark species that calls these regions of Australia home is perfect to kick-off National Science Week at James Cook University.

These sharks were initially collected from the coastal waters of Balgal beach (northern Queensland, adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef) and brought back to the marine and aquaculture research facility at JCU for Aaron Hasenei’s PhD research under permission of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the JCU animal ethics committee. This project is the first of its kind, integrating multiple levels of biological organisation from the genetic to organismal level to determine the resilience of the epaulette shark to ocean warming.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, Aaron is examining how these animals change how their genes are expressed under different temperature regimes, the way they transport oxygen throughout their bodies via their blood, how critical enzymes function in their bodies during and after heat stress, as well as aspects of their metabolism, and of course, their swimming/walking abilities. The goal is to understand how this species and likely many others may be able to cope with marine heatwaves and ocean warming.

After the sharks have undergone these temperature experiments, they are tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and will be released back to the wild for this event! The overarching objective of this conservation focused research is to utilise these amazing animals as a model species so we can compare them to other similar shark species and hopefully predict species at risk as well as those that may have the best fighting chance in an uncertain future.