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First-ever global shark census aided by $4 million, baited cameras

As people continue to celebrate Shark Week, a group has launched a historic international survey to breathe new life into the field of shark conservation.

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    An undated photo of scalloped hammerhead shark.
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As people in the United States continued to ring in Shark Week, a team of shark enthusiasts held celebrations of their own.

Global FinPrint, a group of conservation researchers from a number of international universities and institutions, announced Tuesday that it would soon launch the largest and most comprehensive survey of sharks across the world’s oceans to date, armed with baited remote underwater video (BRUV) cameras and $4 million from Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen.

The project will kick off as early as this month, with researchers diving underwater in coral reef systems to compile the survey of sharks and rays, said the group’s statement.

Altogether, the study will take three years to complete. It is being supported by Mr. Allen’s Vulcan Inc., which provides financial backing to a number of other scientific programs involving ocean health, space flight, and neuroscience.

Dune Ives, senior director of philanthropy at Vulcan Inc., said the survey would serve as a solution for conservationists who have long pored over the same outdated data in their field.

“A recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature report indicated that we don't have the data we need to accurately assess the current population status for almost half of shark and ray species," said Ms. Ives in the statement. “Results from Global FinPrint will provide critical trend analyses and establish baselines in places that have never before been systematically assessed.”

Marine biologist Mike Heithaus, a leading shark researcher from Florida International University who will participate in the study, told Agence France-Presse it would be particularly helpful in regions where little is known about shark populations, namely the Indo-Pacific, tropical western Atlantic, southern and eastern Africa, and the Indian Ocean islands.

“This project won’t give us necessarily an absolute number,” Dr. Heithaus told AFP. “But it will give us a relative idea of how many sharks are in different areas, which places have healthy populations, which are areas that are of big concern.”

In addition to producing bait camera videos, the group says the survey’s findings will be posted on a publicly accessible platform that will include data on species density, habitats, and diversity trends. Results will be available in the summer of 2018.

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