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A Disturbing Report Discovers Unpleasant Side-Effects of Tagging Programmes

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A disturbing report published in the online journal Conservation Biology suggests that hunters are using wildlife satellite tagging programs to locate and kill the endangered species they were designed to protect – including sharks.

The report, by Professor Steven J Cook et al. of the Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, states that ‘a number of troubling and unanticipated issues have emerged’ as a result of the use of electronic tagging in animal research.

The secondary effects of wildlife tagging are varied and include other animals apart from sharks, including speculation that ‘wolf-persecution’ groups in Yellowstone National Park were able to ‘provide strategies for figuring out tag codes’

Electronic monitoring systems allow endangered species such as the great white shark to be tracked as they move through the oceans, with websites reporting virtually in real-time any time a tag is able to make contact with its receiver.

According to the report, these data were deliberately misused in a shark culling program in Western Australia. The sharks were tagged in order to study their behaviour, but the tags also served as an early-warning system at beaches where they were likely to come into contact with humans. The information was then used to ‘locate and kill tagged animals to allegedly reduce human-wildlife conflict’

The report does not definitively state how many animals may have been killed as a result of electronic tagging programs, but it has brought to light an unpleasant by-product of otherwise noble conservation efforts.

With the information available in the public domain, it is to be hoped that scientists, conservationists and governments can take steps to minimise the unintended consequences of tagging programmes.

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