A pair of Griffith University marine scientists are taking their research work from the ocean to the fields of Splendour in the Grass.
PhD candidate Johan Gustafson and Dr Mariel Familiar Lopez, from Griffith’s School of Environment and Science and School of Engineering and Built Environment, will hit the Science Tent stage – along with their fuzzy mascot ‘Bruce’ – to present their insights into shark physiology and behaviour over the weekend at this year’s festival, which sold out within half an hour of tickets going on sale to 35,000 punters.
Gustafson and Dr Familiar Lopez, who both presented at last year’s festival alongside popular ABC science personality Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and will this year share the stage with astronomy guru Professor Allan Duffy, said Australia’s biggest music festival was a fantastic platform to inform and educate the next generation of big thinkers about sharks and our relationship with them.
“There are so many amazing things about the different species of sharks,” Gustafson said, who is also known locally on the Gold Coast as ‘the shark guy’.
“Bull sharks’ physiology makes them the only shark that is able to live in seawater and freshwater; there’s relatively little known about hammerheads but we know they have great complex reasoning skills and they’re the only shark that socialise in schools.”
The festival, held at North Byron Parklands and will this year feature Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, Hilltop Hoods and Ben Harper, is open to all ages. Dr Familiar Lopez said their talks will give youngsters and the young at heart the chance to get up close and personal with sharks.
“It is rare for people to be able to touch a shark, so we will have preserved shark anatomy that everyone can see and experience,” Dr Familiar Lopez said.
“Their skin is amazing – if you pat them one way you can feel the scales (denticles) are really smooth to help them swim faster streamline like, and the other way is very rough like a sandpaper to help protect them.
“There is a lot of great research being carried out at Griffith and further afield that is helping to shed more light on these amazing creatures, rather than let misconceptions do more harm than good.”
With the recent addition of hammerhead sharks to the endangered list, alongside great whites, Gustafson said he hoped to overturn an assumption by the surf-going public and the general media that shark numbers were on the rise.
“Shark catch rates are actually decreasing over time, and a recent genetic analysis showed there’s approximately 6750 white sharks around East Australian and New Zealand waters,” he said. “I’m working on getting data on the growing number of people visiting the coastline each year, which may explain why there’s been more shark interactions.
“This sort of research not only helps us to understand how these creatures work physiologically, it also can help minimise human and shark interactions. For example, if we know what time of year they come closer to the shore than that could lead to better management strategies.
“The Science Tent at Splendour in the Grass is a great opportunity to meet your local scientists who are working on regional issues that we all have an interaction with.”
Griffith electrical engineering Masters student Celeste De Mezieres will also present ‘What Does Sound Look Like’, which is demonstrated using a theremin-like instrument.