This is science. Australian researchers have attached transmitters to more than 320 sharks off the coast of Western Australia. When a tagged shark is detected within 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) of major beaches, a program posts a tweet containing information about the species, size and approximate location on the Twitter account for Surf Life Saving Western Australia, a local beach-safety organization. If available, an aerial photo is attached. All that's missing is this sound to accompany the tweets.
Six people have died from shark attacks in the region in the last two years, most recently in November. Authorities already patrol the area in helicopters and boats, but Twitter offers a more direct means to alert unknowing beach-goers. Ministers also recently agreed to allow professional fishermen to kill sharks larger than three meters (9.84 feet) found in areas used by surfers and swimmers. As Quartz reports, the Twitter warning is perhaps just as much an attempt to protect sharks from humans. There were seven human deaths from sharks in 2012; people kill about 100 million sharks annually.
Using Twitter to broadcast shark warnings is a testament to the prevalent use of the tool for posting breaking news. Providing real-time updates is important to Twitter's success as it faces competition from other social media companies such as Facebook and in light of the recent drops in its stock price after its high-priced initial public offering in November. Twitter recently began testing a method to send push notifications of breaking news in the form of direct messages.
But the attention this story has received may say more about our obsession with sharks -- from the success of the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, to the great mystery of the dead shark that rode the New York City subway, to this viral picture of a shark photobombing a family's beach picture. The Australian beach-safety group's Twitter account already has more than 19,900 followers, including people from London, South Africa and Phoenix, Arizona. Pretty soon every great white is going want its own Twitter account.
(Kirsten Salyer is social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)