With more than a third of sharks and rays threatened with extinction, and three sharks possibly already extinct, we’re in a race to document and protect many species before they’re gone. Dave’s interest lies in the details: while many charismatic species might be protected, there are a great many more ‘lost sharks’ that we know almost nothing about and they may disappear before we even recognise them. His project will scour fish markets and landing sites to identify sharks and rays, run training workshops and conduct dedicated searches for ‘lost sharks’ last seen decades ago. Dave plans to document the journey and produce a short documentary to promote awareness about the lost species.
I’m known as the ‘Lost Shark Guy’ and throughout my career I have searched for, and frequently found, those unknown or little-known sharks, rays and ghost sharks that most people know almost nothing about. How did I get interested in sharks? It started with my parents who gave me a book when I was about five years old. Thumbing through the pages and looking at the various illustrations, I thought these were the coolest critters I had ever seen! I was hooked at an early age and decided I was going to make it my lifelong passion to...
Although a few charismatic species receive much media, conservation and scientific attention, the fate of more than 1,200 species of ‘lost sharks’ remains largely unknown and as many as one-third of all species may be threatened with extinction. This study will bring these ‘lost sharks’ out of the shadows.
A recent global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reassessment revealed that nearly 40% of chondrichthyans are threatened with extinction. This represents an increase from about 25% of all species in a previous study. Charismatic species are afforded various forms of protection, but the majority of species are disappearing rapidly. Challenges facing chondrichthyans include misidentification, overfishing, habitat loss and degradation, climate change and pollution, as well as lack of fisheries data and political will to implement conservation and fisheries management policies.
A study done in 2014 found that nearly one-quarter of all sharks, rays and ghostsharks (referred to here collectively as ‘sharks’) may be threatened with extinction. A follow-up study in 2021 found that this proportion had increased to about one-third and at least three species may have gone extinct. The current number of observed threatened species is more than twice that of the first global assessment. The scale and drivers of this biodiversity loss were revealed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List assessment process. Overfishing and the degradation and loss of habitat are the primary drivers, with pollution and climate change also being contributing factors. Despite the increasing extinction risk, the number of known shark species has increased over the past 15 years and more than 20% of them have been described. At the same time, however, many species have simply vanished. Some species groups have caught the public’s attention through conservation efforts and improved management policies, but many others have remained largely anonymous. Most of the species that are threatened occur in subtropical and tropical coastal waters, in regions considered biodiversity hotspots but where food security is the prime concern of local communities. Yet there is little awareness of the threats these threatened sharks face, as most of them have by and large been ‘lost’, with media coverage focusing on a few charismatic sharks that overshadow the majority. While these charismatic species receive much media, conservation and scientific attention, the fate of more than 1,200 species of ‘lost sharks’ remains practically unknown. This study intends to bring these ‘lost sharks’ out of the shadows.
Outside the USA, The Bahamas is the only place where Critically Endangered smalltooth sawfish can reliably be found. Tristan wants to ensure that protection measures in The Bahamas are understood and enforced as far as sawfish are concerned to close the current gap between policy and the people. He’ll be using aerial surveys, sonar and BRUVs, combined with interviews that draw on local knowledge, to identify essential sawfish habitats that need protection. Engaging with the community through workshops and by training students and meeting with government, Tristan intends to advocate for smalltooth sawfish protection throughout The Bahamas’ territorial waters.
Steven and Kevin are using genetic techniques to understand how Caribbean reef shark populations are connected across the extent of their range. Populations of this Endangered shark are in decline generally, but where they are managed and there is effective protection, their numbers are stable. With the integration of the correct information, Steven and Kevin are convinced that we can give Caribbean reef sharks a better shot at recovery and population stabilisation. They will also explore any barriers to connectivity, looking to the future recruitment and recovery of these sharks.
With very little information available about Endangered sicklefin devil rays, their seasonal aggregations at sea mounts in the Azores give Sophie an opportunity to learn more about their lives. She will be collecting satellite-tracking data that show how they move in the Azores’ exclusive economic zone. The information she collects will be used to develop maps of how the rays are using the zone and to identify essential areas that multiple species use. With this information at hand, Sophie hopes her work can contribute to a network of marine protected areas.