Skip to Main Content

Launched in 2015 as the first global survey of its kind, Global FinPrint deploys baited remote underwater video (BRUV) cameras to record sharks, rays and other sea life on coral reefs. We usually set 30 to 100 BRUVs on a reef and record animal sightings in 60 minutes for each BRUV. The data helps us to model which factors affect the number and types of sharks and rays seen across the whole survey.

A Paul G. Allen initiative, we unite an international team of researchers focused on four key regions where coral reefs are common: the western Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific, and the Central Pacific. Our analysis has identified conservation actions that are likely to help these animals and nations with high conservation potential.

To date we've surveyed more than 400 reefs in 58 countries and territories, with over 20,000 hours of footage. (Watch some of our highlights here.) The data – and the scientific adventure – will be shared through an open-access database created by Vulcan Inc., a Paul G. Allen company.

Why We Care

We’re only beginning to understand how important top predators are to keeping oceans healthy and just how much trouble they face around the world.

  • Recent estimates suggest that around 100 million sharks are taken each year for their fins or meat; many species have suffered severe declines due to fishing.
  • Habitat loss, particularly on continental and insular shelves in the tropics and subtropics, affects species worldwide.
  • Loss of these predators can disrupt the balance of marine food webs, causing large-scale habitat changes.
  • One-quarter of sharks, rays and skates are threatened with extenction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The lack of comprehensive and accurate data hinders efforts to restore populations. However, our research is improving our understanding of how predators influence coral reef ecosystems and how humans are affecting them.

National shark fishing bans ("Shark Sanctuaries"), fishing regulations, no-take marine protected areas and other approaches are being used in different parts of the world to prevent the extinction of sharks and rays. Our findings are telling us which of these methods are working, and we've worked with local governments to implement fishing regulations, protected areas and trade controls based on our findings.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the major program milestones and timeline for Global FinPrint?
    • The program kicked off in June 2015, with the first year focusing on existing data integration, site selection, open-access database development and initial survey work.
    • The majority of the new surveys took place in 2016-2017.
    • Annotation of video and statistical analyses took place in 2017-2018.
    • From 2016 onward, the data have been used in updating IUCN shark and ray assessments for key reef species and in obtaining better protection for sharks and rays in key locations such as Belize, the Dominican Republic and Samoa.
  • How are data collected?
    • BRUV surveys use baited video equipment to measure the sighting rate of individuals of each species and the total number of species observed on a reef.
    • The BRUV is deployed from a boat using a rope and in-water personnel for proper down current orientation and will capture at least 60 minutes of footage after settling to the bottom. We try to set at least 40 BRUVS per reef on randomly selected points, usually surveying over a few days.
    • Trained volunteers watch the videos and note down when a shark or ray swims into frame for our scientists to confirm which species it is. The data from each reef are then added into a central shared database for analysis.
    • Global FinPrint has collected more than 21,000 hours of footage from 58 countries and territories.
  • How will data be used?
    • The data will be the foundation of a global, open-access shark and ray survey database that can be used to prioritize research needs and conservation actions.
    • Researchers, NGOs and policymakers will be able to use these data to improve conservation plans and raise awareness of the ecological importance of sharks and rays.
    • Global FinPrint will assess the effectiveness of existing approaches for shark and ray conservation; identify new hotspots of shark and ray abundance that should be considered for protection; and establish the ecological role of sharks and rays in coral reef ecosystems in order to help justify conservation investments.
  • What was Paul Allen's motivation for this project?
    • Paul Allen recognized that the health of the ocean is critical to the health of the planet and believed that a data-first approach is imperative to protect our planet’s natural resources and secure a sustainable future for us all.
    • The Global FinPrint initiative, like many of the other ocean and wildlife conservation projects Mr. Allen supported, provides the data needed to improve understanding of the ocean ecosystem, drive better policies to help protect it, and encourage others to take action.
  • Was Global FinPrint Paul Allen's only project focused on ocean health?
    • No; Global FinPrint was one of several within Paul Allen’s portfolio of ocean health and conservation initiatives that leverages technology and data to gain new insights and create innovative ways to protect wildlife and ocean ecosystems.
    • He supported many other projects, programs and researchers who use scientific methods and technology to gather open-access data that can enhance research and conservation initiatives, such as the Great Elephant Census and Sea Around Us.
    • He has also supported multiple ocean acidification mitigation initiatives and public engagement projects, including the award-winning "Racing Extinction" documentary from Vulcan Productions.
  • Who else in involved with Global FinPrint?
    • The program includes a multi-institutional team of global leaders in shark research convened specifically for this project by Paul Allen.
    • The project lead, Dr. Demian Chapman, has more than ten years of leadership in shark conservation research with specific interests in genetic and survey work to inform conversation actions.
    • Six other leading shark conservation researchers form the coordinating team for the Global FinPrint initiative, including Dr. Mike Heithaus, Florida International University; Dr. Colin Simpfendorfer, James Cook University and IUCN Shark Specialist Group Co-Chair; Dr. Euan Harvey, Curtin University; Dr. Michelle Heupel and Dr. Mark Meekan, Australian Institute of Marine Science; and Dr. Aaron MacNeil, Dalhousie University.
    • The team will also collaborate with local scientists, citizen scientists, and volunteers in specific regions to help gather data, making it a true globally coordinated effort.
  • How can I get involved with Global FinPrint?
    •  Give to the project to help us survey new reefs.

Museum Exhibits

Want to check out our work? Visit our interactive exhibits and take a peek.

The Living Computers: Museum + Labs

The Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle, Washington provides a one-of-a-kind, hands-on experience with computer technology from the 1960s to the present. Come in. Geek Out. Find us in the “Big Data” section, where you can dive into our work and discover what it’s like to analyze video data. 

See what a baited remote underwater video frame looks like and enjoy a life-size shark model constructed entirely of smaller 3D-printed sharks and rays.

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science is a leading science museum dedicated to sharing the power of science, sparking wonder and investigation, and fueling innovation for the future. Located in Downtown Miami’s waterfront Museum Park, Frost Science is divided into four buildings, the Frost Planetarium, Aquarium, and North and West Wings. 

You can find our exhibit in the Dive level of the Aquarium on the 3rd floor by the touch tank.

Aquarium of the Pacific

One of our BRUV watching hubs, the Aquarium of the Pacific now hosts an exhibit all about Global FinPrint. Visit the “Learning Lab” at Southern California’s largest aquarium.

With a mission to instill a sense of wonder, respect, and stewardship for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants, and ecosystems, we can’t think of a better place to learn more about our partnership and how we’ve teamed up with citizen scientists to analyze one of the largest shark and ray datasets in the world.

Learn About Our Findings

Explore where we've been working and what we've discovered about shark and ray populations.