While Tweeting sharks sounds like something straight out of an episode of Bojack Horseman (or a strange, nautical sci-fi movie), it is, more or less, a reality on the western coast of Australia. Shark attacks occur regularly in Australia’s coastal towns: not nearly to the rate of a Jaws thriller, but still dangerous enough to be a concern for tourists and locals alike. Australia ranks highly in the number of shark deaths per year worldwide, which is not something you’d want to be known for. Surf Life Saving WA attempts to offer beachgoers some security by dethroning Australia of its high death-by-shark track record.

Since 2011, over 340 sharks have been fitted with tags containing acoustic transmitters that trigger an alert when it comes within half a mile from a Western Australia beach. That alert then prompts a computer to send out an automated Tweet, which doesn’t only say that there is a shark nearby, but also tells followers the size, breed, and approximate location of the shark. Researchers made an effort to tag as many sharks as possible, specifically selecting shark species that can pose a threat to humans, including whale sharks, tiger sharks, and great whites. So long as beachgoers follow the Surf Life Saving WA Twitter account, this information is readily available. And who isn’t on Twitter nowadays (follow me @DrKarenBakker)!

These Tweeting sharks aren’t only good for the humans at risk of being bitten: the sharks themselves benefit as well. A proposal by the Western Australian government in 2014 laid out a plan to lure beach-going sharks with chum and then euthanize them once they were captured. Researchers pushed back, saying that because sharks migrate so much, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. So, while imperfect, it seems that this combination of shark tagging linked with IoT technology to mitigate our interactions with sharks is a much more humane way to go about the situation. The alternative could very well be fewer sharks, which are already under threat from food chain stressors, the commercial fishing industry, and changing ocean conditions.

However, it is important to acknowledge that this isn’t a guarantee against shark attacks. Sharks do not just stay in one general area: they are incredibly mobile. Some tracked sharks were even found to migrate between Western Australia and South Africa. This means that there are more than likely untagged sharks out there that cannot be tracked and Tweet out their warning. Australian beachgoers still need to be cautious, and the Australian government emphatically notes that people should not adopt a false sense of security as a result of the Tweeting sharks. It is simply of one many precautionary tools, not the final solution. But we must appreciate the use of innovative technology to protect both people and wildlife (not just one or the other) and the ways in which social media is used for the rapid spread of information.


Yu, Alan. (2014, Jan. 1). More Than 300 Sharks In Australia Are Now On Twitter. https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/12/31/258670211/more-than-300-sharks-in-australia-are-now-on-twitter.

Photo by Courtenay Crane.