Reef sharks are homebodies, say blood tests; Indonesia story: when the fish disappear

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Today in Brisbane – blood tests show Aussie sharks are homebodies:

Because everyone loves a shark story!shark

Small Australian sharks have been exposed as bigger homebodies than previously thought.

Queensland researcher Samantha Munroe used a chemical tracking technique to trace the movements of Australian sharpnose sharks in shallow, coastal waters within the Great Barrier Reef.

By studying trace isotopes in the sharks’ blood, and correlating against known levels in different bays up and down the coast, she was able to determine how much the sharks migrated over the course of a year.

And the results were surprising, showing that the sharks stayed in the same small, 100km region for up to a year.

Sam is available for interview at Griffith University, Brisbane, and there are photos at:

This is the last of the 2015 Fresh Science stories.  More below.

For more information, contact Errol on or +61 423 139 210 as I’m still making my way back from the AAAS Conference in Washington DC.

Tomorrow morning – Indonesians and Australians researching fish supply, and housing:
A story from the Australia Indonesia Centre: what happens when your major food source dwindles.

We’ve got photos, and talent in Melbourne and Jakarta.

It’s being released at 3am AEDT, to coincide with an event in Jakarta, so papers have permission to run stories Friday as long as they don’t appear online until 3am.

Contact Lydia on or +61 457 854 515 for more information and password.
Kind regards,


Blood reveals Great Barrier Reef sharks as homebodies

Small Australian sharks have been exposed as bigger homebodies than previously thought, in a study that took an existing chemical tracking technique and made it work for Great Barrier Reef sharks.

The study found that the travel history of the Australian sharpnose shark was written in their blood—with chemical ‘fin-prints’ showing they tended to stay within smaller areas than previously believed.

“Small-bodied sharks that are both predator and prey, such as the Australian sharpnose, may be particularly important links between food webs,” says lead researcher Dr Samantha Munroe, who studied the sharks while at James Cook University in Townsville.

“Information on their movements can improve our understanding of how the ecosystems function, while also helping us predict species most at risk from the impacts of a changing environment.”

It was the first time the chemical tracking technique—known as stable isotope analysis—had been used to estimate shark movement over regional, coastal scales, and the results showed that they remained within the same 100km area for up to one year. The technique is often used to track land mammals, birds, and insects, and in marine animals (including sharks) over very large (e.g. whole oceans) or very small scales.

Different levels of elements such as carbon and nitrogen are naturally found in different environments. Sam compared these levels from seagrass and plankton in different bays along the coast with the levels in blood and muscle samples from the sharks, to map where the sharks had been.

“We didn’t know if it would work for sharks on this scale,” Sam says.

“But now we have shown it can be done for at least some shark species and we can hopefully apply this cost-effective approach in other environments.”

Satellite tagging is a popular tracking method and provides detailed movement information over huge scales, but can cost thousands of dollars per animal tagged. There is also the possibility of technical difficulties or of tags falling off, Sam says.

“Using isotopes means we don’t get the same level of detail, but they only cost around $10–15 per tissue sample, and we get a broad understanding of where the animal was in the last year.”

Sam says the small travel distances of the sharks may be due to a trade-off between moving widely to maximise their food and mating opportunities, or staying put to conserve energy.

While the Australian sharpnose is abundant and not targeted by fishers, Sam hopes to see these tracking methods utilised for endangered species in the future.

Now pursuing post-doctoral studies at Griffith University in Brisbane, Sam’s next step will be to apply these techniques to study the diet of deep-water sharks.

Sam’s research was supported by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority through a Science for Management Award, and by the Joyce Vickery Scientific Research Fund (administered by the Linnean Society of New South Wales). She also received an AIMS@JCU Scholarship, funded by James Cook University and the Australian Institute for Marine Science.

Sam was the North Queensland winner of Fresh Science, a national program that helps early-career researchers find and share their stories of discovery. Fresh Science is helping to build a cadre of skilled science communicators. In 2015, Fresh Science ran in every mainland state, with 180 early-career researchers nominating. Six Fresh Science events were held: Melbourne, Townsville, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.

2015 was the first year that Fresh Science ran in North Queensland. Fresh Science North Queensland was held at James Cook University (media training) and Molly Malone’s Irish Hotel (public challenge event) and was supported by James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

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