There's a new way for scientists to track sharks, and it could soon let beach lifeguards do a simple water test to see if any great white sharks are around.
According to Phys.org, the new method uses DNA — or, more precisely, environmental DNA (eDNA).
This eDNA comes in the form of genetic material animals leave in the water via skin cells, mucus, excrement and more.
Scientists can scoop up some water, test it for eDNA and use that information to determine if a certain species has been in the area.
This technology could prove very useful in a number of ways. According to Phys, ecologist and researcher Kevin Lafferty wants it to help everyday citizens detect sharks in their local waters.
"One of the goals of this research is for a lifeguard to be able to walk down to the shore, scoop up some water, shake it and see if white sharks are around," he said.
Are you there sharks? It's me, the lifeguard.
As the data collection method is refined, Lafferty hopes it can be implemented into machines that move along the coast, scanning the water on their own and sending texts to lifeguards when great whites are present in their area.
Researchers are also excited about eDNA's ability to map out the biodiversity of a section of the water.
According to Science News, eDNA was recently used to map out the number of shark species off the coast of New Caledonian near Australia. Scientists first used traditional methods of shark censusing, including baited cameras and diver counts.
But eDNA turned up six species that those methods didn't catch.
It painted a new picture of the island's ecosystem, and another Phys article reported that this kind of research can help scientists argue for better protection of areas if certain endangered species can be proven to exist there.
Phys also reported that eDNA doesn't paint a real-time picture because it can't tell you when an animal was in the area.
It can also move around because of currents.
And its practical use as a lifeguard alert system isn't super necessary considering that shark attacks are relatively uncommon even when sharks are frequently present.
But collecting this data is as simple as scooping up some water, so it doesn't hurt to get these answers. Used alongside traditional shark tracking and biodiversity recording methods, it could be very useful at helping paint a full picture.