Project Leader

Pelayo Salinas

Pelayo Salinas

Who I am

I’m a happy marine ecologist! Since I was a child, I have loved spending as much time as possible in the water. My childhood summers were divided between the rugged Cantabrian coast of Asturias in northern Spain, where I was born, and the idyllic Mediterranean coast of southern Spain, where my dad’s family is from. I moved to the UK when I was 18 to study marine and freshwater biology at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. I got carried away and four years later found myself completing an MSc in the environmental management of marine ecosystems. Then the opportunity arose to conduct my PhD at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where I obtained my PhD in marine biology in 2010. After an eye-opening postdoctoral experience in Cuba, I have been a senior marine ecologist with the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands since 2012 and the principal investigator of the Shark Ecology Research Project. The Charles Darwin Foundation is a scientific adviser to the government of Ecuador and our mission is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galápagos Archipelago.

Where I work

My ‘office’ is the Galápagos Marine Reserve, located 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the coast of Ecuador and home to some of the wildest and most spectacular marine communities on our blue planet. Thanks to the mixing of warm- and cold-water currents, warmer species like corals and mangroves co-exist with cold-water species like Galápagos penguins and fur seals. The upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters, mixed with the equatorial sun, is the perfect blend to make the waters around the Galápagos a highly productive place, sustaining a huge abundance of life. The combination of loads of food and suitable habitats, together with the protection from industrial fishing granted by the 133,000-square-kilometre (51,350-square-mile) Galápagos Marine Reserve since 1998, makes the Galápagos an epicentre for marine megafauna and the perfect location to conduct research on close to pristine marine ecosystems.

What I do

My research aims mainly to gain a better understanding of the ecology of key shark species and the role of the Galápagos Marine Reserve in protecting them. Most of our field work is conducted around the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf, which make up one of the most spectacular dive locations worldwide and the sharkiest place on the planet . There we have been conducting long-term surveys using BRUVs and stereo Diver-Operated Video Surveys (sDOVS) to characterise the diversity and abundance of sharks and better understand the influence of El Niño Southern Oscillation cycles. Since strong El Niño years resemble in many ways some of the predicted impacts of climate change upon marine ecosystems, the islands represent a great natural laboratory. In partnership with local, national and international researchers, we have also been conducting studies on the movement and feeding ecology of several key shark species, such as scalloped hammerhead, tiger, silky and blacktip sharks. To achieve this we have used a combination of satellite and acoustic transmitters, deploying them either by safely capturing the animal using barbless hooks and fishing lines or by using modified spear guns and Hawaiian slings while freediving next to the shark. Tissue samples from each tagged individual are collected to conduct diet analysis using stable isotopes and population genetic studies to study regional population connectivity. Another important component of our programme is to inspire and involve the local community in ocean conservation. Since 2015 we have run an educational and outreach programme centred on sharks that promotes the Galápagos as a model of sustainable co-existence between sharks and human beings.

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