Barbara, Author at Sharks And Rays Australia
A long awaited delivery

A long awaited delivery

by Nikki Biskis

 

Our cases are settling into their new homes quite nicely. With over 20 completely built and in various stages of delivery, we should have these displays up and interactive by the time roads open up after Far North Queensland’s wet season.

Since SARA began collecting sightings from the public in 2016, we have received over 140 sawfish saws in donation. After being DNA sampled and morphometric data taken, the saws are destined for display cases, with a select few reserved for educational talks and trainings. With funding from Queensland’s Chief Scientist’s Advanced Queensland Citizen Science Initiative and Save Our Seas Foundation, we are able to put up a case in almost every roadhouse between Cairns and the tip of Cape York. The goal of these cases is to inform communities about how to safely release sawfish from fishing gear and report sightings to us. This sightings information is used in collaboration with many other sawfish groups across Australia in develop status assessments and conservation measures.

During a trip up to Laura in March 2021, Barbara and Nikki from Sharks And Rays Australia delivered the first 5 display cases to their final locations and Nikki got to finally meet the people she’s been talking with for over a year. As always, the country is gorgeous, but people are what make experiences special. Everyone so far has been incredibly supportive of the mission to save sawfish and excited to have a case up on their wall.

The extra 40 kms to Hann River were well worth it. Rob, Renee and Ozzy (their emu!!) welcomed us out of the rain and we found an amazing spot for the display – front and centre. It’s one thing to see cases printed and built, but another to witness them being mounted for all the visiting recreational fishers to see. Finally, we headed back down to Cairns, stopping in Laura for a sawfish training with the Laura Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers and school visit – and leaving them with the final case at the Laura Roadhouse.

Over the next two months, it only gets better. Display cases have been sent all the way up to Bamaga to be exhibited at the Bamaga Tavern, out to the Daintree Discovery Centre, and even to the Northern Gulf Natural Resource Management Georgetown office. If you’re heading up to Far North Queensland for fishing – you can’t miss them! A special thanks goes out to our intern Maddi Jones for building the last round.

Then, an opportunity like no other! Barbara and Michelle flew to Adelaide at the end of April to present a case to the Rodney Fox Shark Museum, which will open within the next 6 weeks. Fellow elasmo lovers are sure to hear about the opportunity to send in their sightings now.

There is still much to come. We’re partnering with Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers to bring cases to the land where sawfish are still seen, and to the Traditional Custodians that watch over them. In addition, we are currently working on designs for our larger saws – some up to 1.5 m – for museums and wildlife centres in Queensland, including Australia Zoo, the Karumba Barra Discovery Centre, Sea World Gold Coast, and Kronosaurus Korner. After all, for animals this charismatic, theses saws deserve to be seen in the correct context, better some catch on the wall of the pub. They are a piece of Australian history, and hopefully an example for how citizen scientists came together to keep them a living icon. We cannot wait to see the sighting reports that come through as result of this project, bringing crucial data to building a more complete picture of sawfish species distributions in Australia.

If you are in Australia and would like to donate your sawfish saw to SARA, or report a sighting, head over to www.cytags.com.

Building cases

Building cases

Our Display Cases are underway

by Nikki Biskis

After almost two years in the making, SARA’s sawfish display cases are officially being assembled.

It started as an idea in mid 2018 – after we received almost 150 sawfish saws as donations by Queensland Fisheries and members of the general public. How to use them? In March 2019, Barbara and I talked for the first about her vision of displaying these saws all over Far North Queensland, warning fishers of the negative impact of bycatch, and teaching people how to release sawfish safely.

SARA secured funding from the Queensland Chief Scientist’s Citizen Science grant and in October 2019, I joined on site as an intern. With a preliminary display design, I began to reach out to locations all over the Cape. After securing further funding from Save Our Seas Foundation, we began ordering frames and preparing designs to accompany the saws, aiming for delivery by April 2020.

And then everything shut down – the frames were stuck in the USA, I was stuck in New Zealand, and Cape York went into military enforced lockdown until July! The project was put on hold.

After 9 months of what felt like the longest year ever, borders reopened and the team was finally reunited. Unfortunately, this amount of time exposed to Cairns humidity meant that the case backings were mouldy. At first we were disappointed, but we soon realized our luck. After all, if they moulded in Cairns, they didn’t stand a chance further north! With all hands on board, and my partner helping, we varnished the 27 backing boards, to ensure humidity resistance to keep our precious saws safe for the next 10+ years in their final destinations.

The extra 9 months allowed me to design the inside of the display cases, with Barbara and me sometimes spending hours to get a sentence right. We also incorporated feedback from colleagues. The end result is 27 completely unique cases, each telling a story about the saws inside and the animals they belonged to.

With the first background being printed as I write this, I cannot wait to start sending these cases out. Make sure to look out for them in info centres, roadhouses, council offices and many more iconic locations on your next trip to FNQ!

This post was originally written for the Save Our Seas Foundation. Find the original post here

Wrapping up 2020

Wrapping up 2020

Wrapping up 2020

We have heard it all too often, but what a year 2020 has been! Normally I get to spend about 3 months a year in the field, working with our amazing field assistants and Indigenous Rangers, visiting remote communities, and watching sunrises over the water. And while this lifestyle of intensive fieldwork in remote areas can be draining (and I am not going to lie about this, so many birthdays, weddings and other events from friends or family missed), it is also incredibly rewarding. On every field trip we run into unexpected challenges, see unexpected creatures and do what we love – conduct research with sharks and rays. It’s all pretty special.

2020 had almost none of this. While chocolate bananas melted in fire were dearly missed, we were also really lucky, as SARA is small enough to hibernate for a few months to survive lockdown. For most of the year, my students, collaborators and I, were working on SARA’s data sets – punching in data, identifying specimens, ensuring our GPS marks are correct, and matching images in our data base with individual animals. A lot of work was done in pyjamas, including two podcasts (see here and here).

While our intern and soon to be PhD student Nikki was stuck in New Zealand, where she maintained our sightings database from home, I managed to run 2 field trips, one to Kowanyama and the second one to Laura and the Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park and spent a total of three weeks in the field.

In 2020 we also had to close our public call for field assistants. For most of the year, the Cape York Peninsula was a declared biosecurity zone with military checkpoints, managed by the Australian army and federal government. This arrangement was put in place to ensure that Covid would not enter vulnerable communities far away from the nearest hospital. And even when the Cape finally re-opened in July, we decided that we would only allow biologists from Far North Queensland to join our expeditions.

For our Kowanyama expedition, we were joined by dedicated biologists including James Donaldson from Northern Gulf NRM, Helen Penrose from Cape York NRM and Shane Ross from Shane Ross Photography. Fitzroy Lawrence from the Kowanyama Land and Sea Rangers brought out his whole ranger team to work with us in the field, which was truly fantastic. Working with a highly qualified field team who all have worked in Cape York before made this trip extremely productive.

For our second field trip in 2020 I was joined by the Laura Aboriginal Land and Sea Rangers under the lead of Susan Marsh. In 5 days, we drove 1200 km on dirt, sampled multiple spots in multiple rivers, generally worked 17 hrs a day and on our last day, Robert Ross from the Laura Rangers managed to catch a juvenile freshwater sawfish Pristis pristis on a handline, which we tagged, sampled and released. This was the first time a DNA sample was taken from this species on the east coast of Australia in about 15 years. While we had received submissions from the region before, many of them were without images and thus guided our sampling efforts, but are integrated in our citizen science database as ‘unconfirmed’ sightings, as we can only deduct the species from the location, but not confirm it.

Since about November, things have become busy again, and we have many projects in the pipeline for 2021. So stay tuned, follow us on social media (@SharksAndRaysAU), and most importantly stay safe.

Dr Wueringer takes a selfie with Sue Marsh and Samantha Lowdown from the Laura Rangers

 

Working up a large freshwater whipray Urogymnus dalyensis.

Working up a freshwater sawfish Pristis pristis in Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park. The animal was quickly returned to the water after tagging and sampling.

Sharks4Kids podcast

Sharks4Kids webinar with Dr Wueringer

in June 2020, Dr Jillian Morrison brake from Sharks4Kids invited Dr Wueringer to join a Sharks4Kids webinar. SARA and Sharks4Kids have been collaborators for a long time, and their work is always an inspiration for us at SARA.

 

Croaker podcast

Croaker Podcast

in June 2020, James Donaldson from the Northern Gulf Natural Resource Management Group invited Dr Wueringer to join him for an episode of the Croaker podcast.