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General News - August 2012

General News - August 2012

Can photography save sharks - 13 August 2012

Can photography save sharks
13 August 2012

Biologists are now developing partnerships with these 'shark paparazzi' to get fascinating insights into the behaviour of these misunderstood fishes. 

When I first started work on whale sharks, my main problem was telling them apart. Luckily whale sharks, like other animals such as leopards, penguins and salmon, have spots that are unique to each individual - the equivalent of a human fingerprint.

On whale sharks we photograph the area on either flank, just behind the gills. Back on land, we upload these images to the ECOCEAN Global Whale Shark Database and, following a quick scan, find out who our shark is and where it has come from.

By keeping tabs on individual sharks we can learn their favourite places, preferred foods, where they go and even who their friends are. We can use this information to create effective conservation measures. The challenge has been that, sadly, even we marine biologists can't spend all of our time underwater.

Happily though, we have help. As more people explore the ocean, camera in hand, we're learning more about wide-ranging species like whale sharks and manta rays. Over 3000 submitters to the global whale shark database have, between them, identified over 3500 individual sharks from 46 countries.

Several individual whale sharks have been sighted thousands of kilometers apart, giving us important insight into the migratory lives of these gentle giants. One of 'our' Mozambican sharks has now been sighted in Mozambique, South Africa and again back in Mozambique - see here - a round trip of 2000km's!

The success of this system on whale sharks, which has enabled global collaborative projects between research groups, has now spawned an equivalent database for manta rays at An image-matching algorithm for identifying individual rays has just gone live, which will greatly assist scientists currently sifting through thousands of images by hand.

Andrea Marshall and myself from the Marine Megafauan Foundation, along with several of our colleagues, have been using photography to further our research for several years now. We thought that this was opportune time to review its use in scientific studies share our experiences, and point to some of the most promising developments.

One of these advances is the coupling of cameras with measurement devices, such as the parallel laser system. By monitoring the length and growth of individual sharks we can get great insights into pregnancy, lifespan and even social hierachies.

Even deep water sharks are starting to share their secrets through the use of remote operated vehicles and baited video systems. Camera traps, which revolutionised the study of rare and shy species on land, are likely to be in use underwater soon as well. The possibilities really are limited only by our imaginations.

Its an exciting time to be a field biologist!

This article was written by Simon Pierce, PhD

Lead Scientist, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Tofo Beach, Mozambique.


Ebola outbreak in Uganda - 2 August 2012

Ebola outbreak in Uganda
 2 August 2012

Update 01 August 2012:

Kampala: A joint team of Ministry of Health and World Health Organization (WHO) officials have confirmed the outbreakf of Ebola Hemorrhagic fever, in the north-western district of Kibaale, which is 200kms away from Uganda's capital city, Kampala. It has so far claimed 14 lives.

Investigations by the Uganda Virus Research Institute and Center for Disease Control in Atlanta have confirmed that the deaths are due to Ebola virus.

The Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Health has set up an isolation center at Kagadi Hospital in Kibaale district to handle the suspected cases and is continuing surveillance to ensure that no new cases contract the disease.

The WHO has also issued a statement confirming that the disease is being contained. There is therefore no need for panic among both Ugandans and Visitors to the country. WHO is however urging that precautionary measures need to be taken to avoid unnecessary body contact, especially in areas where the outbreak has been reported because Ebola is highly infectious.

Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) notes with concern that there are some cancellations of intending visitors to Uganda about fears of contracting the deadly virus.

This is to affirm and assure all visitors (tourists) both within or intending to come to Uganda that the situation is under control and Uganda is still safe. All the National Parks and protected areas are safe with no reported cases of Ebola.

It is also important to clarify that Kibaale National Park which is home to the world re-knowned chimpanzee, is not in  Kibaale district. It is actually located in Kabarole and Kamwenge districts in Western Uganda. Kibaale National Park is open to all visitors and has no reported case of Ebola and is therefore safe. There is no need for any intending visitors (tourists) to cancel their journeys to Uganda.

We also urge all Foreign Missions to provide accurate information about the situation and not to issue inaccurate and alarmist information about the Ebola situation that would wrongly scare away visitors.

UTB woudl like to urge all tour operators, travel agents and hoteliers to ensure all precautionary measures as laid down by the Ministry of Health are followed and implemented to prevent any occurence of the disease among visitors.

On 29 July 2012 the World Health Organisation was informed of confirmed cases of Ebola haemorrhagic fever by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. See this advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre. 

The following is a summary of the current advice from The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).

Advice for travellers
The risk to a traveller of contracting Ebola is very low in the absence of direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person, animal, or objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with blood or body fluids. There have been no known imported cases of Ebola in the United Kingdom or United States.

Travellers should avoid all contact with infected patients. Those who are providing medical care or are involved in the evaluation of an outbreak should observe strict barrier precautions.

Travellers who have been potentially exposed to Ebola virus should seek medical attention immediately if they experience any symptoms consistent with Ebola within the first 21 days of return to their home country.

World Health Organization. Ebola in Uganda. 29 July 2012. [Accessed 30 July 2012].
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Uganda: Ebola outbreak - Information Bulletin n° 1. 29 July 2012.

If the situation changes we will contact our clients immediately.

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