20 February 2002

A predatory shark species inhabiting the Brisbane River has lured Scottish researchers to our shores as part of a unique collaboration with The University of Queensland.

The $600,000 three-year project will see UQ PhD student and keen fisherman Richard Pillans working with a team from Scotland’s University of St Andrews to study the movements and physiology of the migratory bull shark.

The bull shark, so named for its oversized head and sometimes aggressive nature, can grow in excess of 3m in length and seasonally travels up the Brisbane River to give live birth to 1-12 pups.

Thesis supervisor Associate Professor Craig Franklin, who first garnered the interest of St Andrews some three years ago, said the chance to study a large freshwater shark species was a rare and exciting opportunity.

“There really is so little information known about this shark (and not just among Brisbane jetskiers) that this collaboration promises to uncover some exciting findings,” Dr Franklin said.

“Most sharks die in anything less than 50% seawater, so the bull shark is clearly very unusual. We don’t yet know how they survive these extreme conditions, how many there are, nor how long they stay upstream.”

But of course to study a shark, one has to catch it first, which is also what makes this particular project unique.

“Richard is really the key,” explained Dr Franklin. “He has mastered the live-bait linefishing techniques to catch this shark, and catch it regularly. And that really proved to be the catalyst that attracted the University of St Andrews’ involvement.”

Mr Pillans, who is partly sponsored by the a Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Zone, Estuary and Waterway Management, has caught about 30 large bull sharks this season to assist in his study (pups are routinely tagged and released).

Ultimately, special transmitters will be put on some of the sharks to track their migratory movements.

“We’re obviously being very careful to manage the project without disrupting the natural freshwater environment,” Dr Franklin said.

Media: For further information, please contact Associate Professor Craig Franklin (telephone 07 3365 2355) or Peter McCutcheon at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 1088, mobile 0413 380 012).