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Shark expert . . . Shark Spy co-ordinator Rob Lewis talks to school pupils at Karitane. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Have you seen a shark off the North Otago coast lately?

If so, Shark Spy wants to hear about it.

The citizen science initative wants help from Oamaru people to discover more about local shark populations.

Based at the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre, Shark Spy aims to combine local evidence with marine science.

‘‘From a community perspective, it’s a way for people to connect with what is in their own backyards and learn more about these amazing animals,’’ project co-ordinator Rob Lewis said.

‘‘Sharks have always captured people’s attention, and we often get questions from community water user groups.

‘‘A big part of this project is to be able to help answer any questions community members may have, as well as inform them of what we’ve found.’’

The last time anyone had done an academic study on sharks in the Otago coastal area was in the 1940s — and it was an under-researched area, Mr Lewis said.

‘‘People have a lot of information about these things and it can go unheard for a long time.

‘‘We realise that there is vast local knowledge, but it is challenging to collect and organise this.

‘‘One of the major aims of Shark Spy is to create a link between the water-user communities and the marine studies centre to tap into this knowledge.’’

At present, most information came from commercial fisheries, he said.But that information was limited — and it was likely many species went unrecorded or were ignored.Anecdotal feedback suggested the Oamaru Harbour was a hot spot for sevengill sharks, as well as smaller species like rig or spiny dogfish, in summer.

Mr Lewis said he wanted to quantify that.Shark Spy is also collecting data at the Portobello marine lab using baited underwater video cameras.

Sharks helped keep local ecosystems in balance, Mr Lewis said.

‘‘They are definitely something we need to keep around if we can.’’

There were several large shark species off the Otago coasts, but they did not tend to eat humans.

‘‘Generally the number of problems we have with them are non-existent down here.’’