Following Julianna Kadar on Twitter is an adventure - you never know what you are going to get! Well, scratch that... you get lots of sharks and talk about marine sciences and conservation. It's a true treat! She shares snippets of her research around Sydney, Australia so you are always learning something new. Julianna took some time off of her hectic schedule to chat with The Fins United Initiative about her work!
The Fins United Initiative: When did you know you wanted a career that revolved around the ocean? What got you interested in marine biology?
Julianna Kadar: I’ve always been drawn to animals, but the otherworldliness of the ocean made it especially fascinating. I started studying animal behaviour officially during undergrad but before that I spent a lot of time in the ocean growing up in California. As kids, we spent all the time we could swimming at the beach and that often involved encounters with the true locals in their natural habitats. I think this formed an early fascination and love of the ocean and its inhabitants. Later, studying animal behaviour was a path I naturally found myself on but during my masters I got the opportunity to combine my interest in animal behaviour with the ocean and that was just the ultimate combination for me.
TFUI: What are you currently studying right now?
JK: Right now, and for the last three years I’ve had my eye on the Port Jackson shark. This is a common, benthic shark found only in Australian waters. It’s about a meter long and was thought to be somewhat ‘lazy’ because it was always seen resting on the seafloor. A long-term study by our lab found out that despite their small size they are completing 1,000km long migratory journeys in some cases from Jervis Bay and Sydney harbour all the way down to Tasmania’s Bass Strait.
TFUI: Wow! Not bad for a ‘lazy’ shark!
JK: And not only are they completing these journeys annually, they display high site fidelity, so in many cases the same sharks are coming back to the same caves each year for breeding season. My work focuses on these migratory journeys and the ecologically important behaviours they perform inside the bays they inhabit by the tens of thousands.
TFUI: And you're releasing sharks into the wild! How is that process? Do you feel sad or happy when you 'send them off'?
JK: Releasing the sharks is always a fantastic day. Of course, we’ve gotten to know them over the months they’ve been in our enclosure at Taronga Zoo, but we know it’s time for them to get on their way and complete their migrations. We see the males especially increasing their activity around migration time so it’s a good feeling to get them back into Sydney harbour. It’s great to see the released sharks showing up in our acoustic telemetry within a couple of days, ensuring they’ve made it out of the harbour in a timely manner.
TFUI: What do you think is the best way to get the general public interested in conservation initiatives/policies?
JK: That’s a really good question. In the past we’ve gone with charismatic animals that have the ability to pull audiences in and champion a cause, but that means other initiatives get left out. When you take the Attenborough approach and show people beautiful video of places they usually wouldn’t visit or see, this gets them excited about the natural world and also gives you a chance to educate them. If you go one step further and get them personally involved by using technology, that’s even better. Websites where the public can see real-time movements of sharks or personal updates when a sponsored animal moves past an acoustic receiver are both great for personal involvement of the public. And finally, if we want some emotional investment from people, we get them to see a different side of animals than they are used to. By this I mean changing the image of sharks, so when people hear about them it’s not in regard to ‘feeding frenzies’ and ‘attacks’ but about perception changing work like personality research and social networks.
TFUI: Do you think people in Australia have a good relationship with the ocean environment?
JK: People in Australia, in my opinion, have a healthy respect of the ocean. A lot of people have knowledge of animals and the marine world, though this knowledge seems centred around what you need to know to stay out of danger. The problem with certain attitudes might happen when people feel entitled to owning parts of the natural world and not realising that when you enter some domains that are not yours, you are taking a calculated risk. The problem is a complex one as there are many stakeholders involved when we talk about the economy surrounding the ocean, whether that’s tourism, fishing etc. I think that science communication is doing a great job breaking down some barriers in this polarising argument.
TFUI: Tell us about the importance of tags - and why missing ones are important to get back!
JK: It’s a really exciting time to be studying marine animals because of the incredible technologies that are available to us- like the modern data storage tags. In the past, researchers used direct observations to study animals and in a marine environment that was especially difficult. Nowadays we have small tags that can either transmit or store information about what the animal has been doing, these tags function somewhat like fitbits for sharks. They can have multiple sensors on them, accelerometers and gyroscopes that record the shark’s movements and velocity over time, magnetometers which record movements of the animal relative to the magnetic field of the earth and temperature and depth sensors so you know the surrounding environment that the animal is moving through. All these sensors can be recording information at multiple times per second and over a few days that adds up to millions of data points! So now the issue is how you sort through all this information and find out what’s actually happening. And this is a place where biology enters the world of computer science. Biologists are applying machine learning algorithms to these data sets, the same algorithms that are used for big data, search engines or online marketing, like those targeted ads you see in your newsfeed. The algorithms can deduce which behaviour the tagged animal is performing when, essentially letting us observe the animals without having to see them! So you can imagine, getting each tag back is really important because it tells us a wealth of information about our study species.
TFUI: What has been the coolest Chondrichthyan research you've seen done?
JK: That is a tough call, this year I was really excited to read about by Kye Adams’ work on spontaneous abortion in sharks and rays after being captured. They used social media to look at videos of sharks and rays giving birth to young (after being pulled up on a fishing line, for example) and found that premature births or abortions occur frequently as a stress response. They did a great job in pointing out this response is often misidentified by people and highlighted the impacts of this global phenomenon.
TFUI: We agree! In fact, I [Melissa] covered that in a Forbes article recently. So Julianna, what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
JK: It’s hard to say what opportunities will present themselves in the coming years. Recently I’ve been really inspired by behaviour research that has been directly applied to conservation initiatives. I love the theory behind behaviour and everything that teaches us, but I think it’s important to sit down once we have those answers and think about how we can apply that new knowledge to situations that need intervention.
TFUI: What is your favorite Chondrichthyan species and why?
JK: I am very biased toward Port Jackson sharks obviously, they are affectionately called by our whole lab as ‘PJs’. I think it’s amazing when you really get to know a particular species or an individual animal and you can see at a glance what their general state is or if there is any particular behaviour going on. It comes from spending so much time with them. I’m also a huge fan of any and all species that are changing the way people see sharks. For example, the work done by Julius Nielsen and colleagues on the long-lived Greenland shark garnered a lot of attention in 2016. This new knowledge that placed a shark in the position of longest-lived vertebrate added a new lens to the way people see sharks today which is so important to all shark species.
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK JULIANNA FOR HER TIME AND WE WISH HER WELL ON HER CURRENT/FUTURE PROJECTS!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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