Veronika is giving old sawfish trophies a new lease on life by constructing 25 educational cases that will be displayed across Far North Queensland. In doing so, she is hoping to transform these rostra from sawfishes of the past into a symbol of hope and caution that connects communities to the conservation of sawfishes in northern Australia.
Growing up in California and Hawaii, I always felt most at home near the ocean. I became a certified diver at a young age and made sure that family vacations were planned around predicted visibility and the movements of pelagic species. After completing my Master’s degree in medical sciences at Boston University School of Medicine, I moved back to the coast, splitting my time between volunteering in vertebrate fossil curation at the San Diego Natural History Museum and working as a teacher. Ever determined to get back to the water, I took up open water swimming. The murky kelp forests...
The objective of this project is to inform fishers and the general community on how to safely release sawfish in the event of capture, and obtain data on distribution for further analysis.
The protection of sawfish in Queensland requires our immediate attention. Tropical North Queensland remains one of the last strongholds of sawfish populations, and thus the best chance for gathering data and preserving hunting and breeding grounds. The ongoing work by SARA under the lead of Dr. Wueringer (SOSF Keystone Grant 309) has uncovered sawfish still being finned and saws being amputated by commercial and recreational fishers. This project will directly instruct recreational fishers through their potentially fatal interactions with all four species remaining in Australia. Furthermore, these display cases uniquely target both fishers who are specifically targeting sawfish as trophies, and those who are untrained, in proper release methods. As a side benefit, they also educate the general community, creating opportunities for citizen scientists interested in working with SARA on further research.
Globally, sawfish populations are in critical condition. In the last century, ranges have contracted severely. All species are listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The Australian populations of largetooth, dwarf, green and narrow sawfishes are thought to be the last viable populations of these species, and therefore central to global conservation efforts. Conserving small, isolated populations can be difficult because they are not replenished by animals migrating from elsewhere.
The very adaptation that led to sawfishes’ success is now their downfall. Their highly developed rostrum makes sawfish prone to entanglement in fishing nets. While bycatch data suggests that sawfish have a high survival rate upon release, their overall numbers have significantly declined in both reported sightings and by-catch records from the Queensland Shark Control Program. Furthermore, it is unclear how widespread the practise of amputating the saw of sawfish before releasing them is, but saw-less, live sawfish have recently been observed in Western Australian and Queensland waters. Despite reports of sawfish surviving the loss of their saw, they are understandably less able to reproduce and defend themselves without it.
Anna is collecting genetic information from white shark fin clips to assess this species’ population size in South Africa. Using close-kin mark-recapture analysis instead of traditional methods, she hopes to provide an accurate account of South Africa’s white shark population size. She also aims to develop a monitoring protocol that can use genetic samples collected during shark net and drumline patrols by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. This information is needed in South Africa, where the conservation of a protected species is balanced against concerns about bather safety, and where sharks are caught in bather protection gear.
Faqih is filling the gaps in the scant knowledge of giant guitarfish in Java’s Karimunjawa National Park marine protected area (MPA). Karimunjawa is located near Northern Java’s main fishing grounds, but evidence of giant guitarfish caught in some of the use-zones of the MPA hints that the park may be a sanctuary for the species. Managing giant guitarfish in Karimunjawa requires species-specific information.
Faqih’s project is a socio-ecological one to help inform management and draws on new information about relative abundance and distribution, historical occurrence and fishing pressures to paint a contemporary picture of the species in the park.
Cindy wants to know if bonnethead sharks in the Eastern Pacific constitute a third, cryptic species. The Bonnethead complex need clarification in all its distribution range, and Panama is a key country to solve this question since we have the Caribbean sea and the Pacific Ocean. By collecting fin clip samples to compare species at the genetic level and collecting specimens to compare how they look (morphology), Cindy hopes to resolve the taxonomy of Sphyrna tiburo vespertina – that is, whether it’s a cryptic third species for bonnetheads in the region. Her information can help update the IUCN Red List for bonnetheads and improve fisheries policies in Latin America where bonnethead sharks are commonly caught.