As part of the ongoing hoopla over Shark Week, Global FinPrint, a group of conservation researchers from several universities and institutions worldwide, announced on Tuesday of this week that it was planning the most comprehensive survey of sharks across the world to date. Of note, this global shark census is funded by a $4 million donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.

Shark Week Highlights First Global Shark Census

The shark census project will launch by the end of July, with researchers diving underwater in coral reef systems to compile the survey of sharks and rays, according to the press release. The study will also use baited remote underwater video (BRUV) cameras to help attract sharks.

The shark survey’s findings will be regularly posted on a public platform, and will include data on species density, habitats and diversity trends. Global FinPrint notes that the final data are expected to be available in the summer of 2018.

Statement from marine biologists on shark census

Ocean researchers across the globe are excited about the new Global FinPrint project. “Global FinPrint will help us better understand one of the ocean’s great mysteries: What is happening with fragile marine ecosystems when sharks are removed?” noted Prof. Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University. “Are coral reefs healthier or faster to recover from disturbances like coral bleaching or hurricanes because they have sharks?  These are hugely important questions. Many countries rely on healthy coral reefs for food security, tourism and coastal protection.”

Marine biologist Mike Heithaus, a well-known shark researcher from Florida International University who is a part of the project, explained that the new shark survey would be especially useful in areas where relatively little is known about shark populations, in particular the Indo-Pacific region, tropical western Atlantic, southern and eastern Africa and around the Indian Ocean islands.

“This project won’t give us necessarily an absolute number,” Prof. Heithaus commented in an interview this week. “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.”