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Sharks on Twitter - a new era of science

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Kristian Parton is a Masters by Research student at Exeter University and is studying, what we can all agree is, the fascinating topic of marine debris entanglement in elasmobranches. His fascinating topic is matched by the use of some pretty novel data collection techniques for his paper ‘Global review of shark and ray entanglement in anthropogenic marine debris’. The use of social media is relatively unchartered territory in science, however, Kristian’s exploration of Twitter as a way of finding marine debris entanglement cases highlights the potential gold mine of data just waiting to be collected!

His social media persona doesn’t stop there as the #60SecondSharkScience he started on Twitter was a hit, with a short and snappy explosion of shark knowledge to entice shark lovers from all ages and backgrounds. As well as this, he is the co-founder of ShaREN (Shark and Ray Entanglement Network), in collaboration with The Shark Trust, Kristian created this online citizen science database. Anybody can log sightings of sharks and rays entangled in marine debris, resulting in more reliable data for scientists and fisheries to use when assessing the risk of anthropogenic debris to these beautiful creatures.

As if this wasn’t enough, Kristian has also published a paper on microplastics and other contaminant particles discovered in sharks around the UK, including lesser spotted dogfish, starry smooth-hound, bull huss and spurdog! Read on for our interview with this shark enthusiast.

About Kristian

What is the first memory you have of a shark?

I think initially from scuba diving, so I’ve scuba dived since the age of 14. I remember we went to Mozambique and Zanzibar and did a couple of dives with my Dad, it was very very early on so I had the instructor holding me and I remember we were doing this lovely dive 8 metres down. The instructor started shaking me on the back of the tank and he was pointing and looking up and I remember looking up as this beautiful oceanic whitetip just cruised past. I remember being in awe, just in shock of this amazing animal. And it was big, it looked so big, it probably looked bigger underwater and I was young as well and everything looks bigger when you’re a bit younger. I would say that was my first experience with a shark, definitely.

When did you become aware of the need for their conservation?

I got the bug after that dive and started getting involved more and researching about them and wanting to know about them. I’ve loved sharks since I was tiny but the conservation implications I only started learning about after diving, then particularly going to university, you learn more and more about it and that’s when I really started to specialise in shark science and knew that that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, hopefully!

What was your degree in?

It was zoology, I initially did animal behaviour but then swapped over because I wanted it to be broader and they didn’t have a marine biology course at university, it started two years after I joined. I specialised in all the marine modules I could possibly specialise in and those are the modules I did way better in.