Sharks, as top predators, are a keystone species. This means the balance of whole marine ecosystems relies heavily on sharks’ well-being. Protecting and conserving sharks is of the utmost importance, especially since they already face many threats to their survival such as the illegal shark fin trade and global warming.
That said, if you were swimming in the ocean and got into a tussle with a shark, chances are your instincts would tell you to fight for your life. While shark attacks are quite rare (beach injuries from rip currents or drowning being more likely), it’s best to steer clear of them and their natural habitats to protect both them and us—but don’t worry, doing this is made much easier by a new app.
An app to keep both beachgoers and sharks safe
Sharkitivity is an app developed by the New England Aquarium and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. It’s been used since 2016 by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy to track shark whereabouts via data on shark sightings, but it will not be expanded for public use.
“We have so many people who are out on the water, out on the coast here,” explained Cynthia Wigeon, CEO and co-founder of the conservancy, to AP news. “It really just adds to the collective knowledge. And it’s being provided right back to the public.”
Sightings are sent to the New England Aquarium and once verified, the app will display different icons to warn beachgoers of a potential shark presence. Some icons can track tagged sharks in real-time, up to an hour old, or at the end of a season.
For unconfirmed shark sightings, users will see an orange fin icon. Blue fin icons represent confirmed shark sightings, and a red icon alerts users of sharks that have been seen near a public beach.
Designed to also educate beachgoers about sharks
While this app contributes to the safety of both sharks and humans, John Chisholm, an expert on sharks from the New England Aquarium, also plans to educate beachgoers about the many shark species that are spotted and reported through the app, a good number of which aren’t harmful to humans.
“We have an interest in educating the public about the other shark species that live in local waters,” adds Nick Whitney, senior scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the aquarium. “For most of them, it’s not the impact they have on humans, it’s the impact humans have on them.”