Effects of auditory and visual stimuli on shark feeding behaviour: the disco effect
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Sensory systems play a central role in guiding animal behaviour. They can be manipulated to alter behavioural outcomes to limit negative interactions between humans and animals. Sharks are often seen as a threat to humans and there has been increasing interest in developing shark mitigation devices. Previous research has concentrated on stimulating the electrosensory and olfactory systems of sharks, whereas the influence of light and sound on their behaviour has received little attention. In this study, the effects of an intense strobe light and a loud, artificial sound composed of mixed frequencies and intensities on shark behaviour were assessed. We tested these stimuli individually and in combination on wild-caught captive Port Jackson (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) and epaulette (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) sharks in aquaria and on wild great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in the field. When presented alone and in combination with sound, the lights reduced the number of times that the bait was taken by both H. portusjacksoni and H. ocellatum in captivity. The strobe light alone, however, did not affect the behaviour of white sharks, but when presented in combination with sound, white sharks spent significantly less time in proximity to the bait. As the lights and sound presented in this study did not show a pronounced deterrent effect on C. carcharias, we do not advise their use as a strategy for mitigating sharkâ€“human interactions. However, due to the potential effectiveness of strobe lights in deterring other species of sharks, there may be applications for this approach in the reduction of fisheries bycatch.
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