By now, most people have seen Youtube video of the amazing shark attack on Australian surfer, Mick Fanning, that took place last weekend during the J-Bay Open surfing competition off the coast of South Africa. What is also truly amazing is how many people took to social media to offer their opinion on the incident and to see whether the shark was one of the tagged sharks having their own social media profile. Using OCEARCH’s shark tracker, it was easy to see that there was only one tagged shark in the area of Jefferey’s Bay (J-Bay). The work of OCEARCH has led the public to learn about sharks and ultimately to respect them and their atmosphere.
Lydia, a 14-foot, 2,000 pound great white, was traveling around the Bahamas during the attack. She has nearly 20,000 Twitter followers. Mary Lee, a great white that was tagged off Cape Cod, MA in 2012 has more than 80,000 Twitter followers. Katharine, a 14-foot, 2,300 pound great white, caused a social media explosion last year and crashed OCEARCH’s website because there was evidence to suggest she was pregnant. She instantly became a social media star as approximately 100,000 shark enthusiasts and scientists tracked her every movement. OCEARCH’s Facebook page also received approximately 5 million visits per week during the time.
OCEARCH, founded by Chris Fischer, is a nonprofit global project that attempts to personify sharks through social media, by way of tracking devices. OCEARCH’s Shark Tracker offers a near real-time view of approximately 130 sharks around the planet. The tagged sharks include great whites and hammerheads to makos and tigers. The ultimate goal of OSEARCH is to develop successful conservation strategies by studying shark habits.
Users of OCEARCH’s mobile app tweet about their favorite shark’s whereabouts and movements. The site’s website traffic has exploded over the past year. The iPhone version of OCEARCH’s app has amassed over 200,000 users and the Android version has attracted 50,000 active users. Also of importance is that OCEARCH open-sources all of its data, allowing shark enthusiasts and scientists alike to see tracking information at the same time.
OCEARCH’s online traffic has increased 10 times than what it was last year and is expected to grow 20 times by the end of 2015. The social media activity surrounding OCEARCH’s shark tracking project has created opportunities for the company to grow its partnerships with media and product companies that want to assist and be associated with the study of sharks.
It is clear that sharks and shark conservation is big business. This is illustrated by OCEARCH’s success and, of course, the popularity of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, airing once a year. The public’s attitude has changed dramatically since the movie Jaws scared the death out of ocean goers everywhere. Just last week, a great white beached itself on one of Cape Cod’s beaches. Instead of euthanizing the shark, beachgoers and wildlife officials rushed to successfully save the shark. As people further educate themselves about sharks and their habits, they are learning how to live with and respect their watery environment.