Massiel is something of a squatinid sleuth, aiming to decipher whether the Northeast Pacific’s only angel shark species – the Pacific angel shark – has a cryptic, endemic (found nowhere else in the world) counterpart in the Gulf of California. Using mitochondrial DNA and genetic analyses, Massiel hopes to look at differences in Pacific angel sharks from the Gulf of California, and Baja California, and to look at the genetic structure of the population within the Gulf. Doing so is key understanding whether special management is required, especially since the long-lived, slow-growing Squatinidae (angel sharks) are susceptible to overfishing and extinction.
A love for the sea and its creatures has been part of me ever since I can remember. I grew up on an island, very close to the coast, and as a child I adored diving with my father and seeing for myself the wonders of the underwater world. As time went by, my interest in the mysteries of the sea increased and prompted me to become a biologist. While studying for my Bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Havana in Cuba, I began to research population genetics and its application to the conservation of waterbirds. The...
To test how Pacific angel sharks from the Gulf of California and from the western coast of Baja California differ genetically and morphologically and to evaluate the genetic diversity and phylogeographic structure of these angel sharks in the Gulf of California.
The Pacific angel shark Squatina californica is the only squatinid that occurs in the north-eastern Pacific, but some studies suggest that populations from the Gulf of California constitute a cryptic endemic species. This project aims to clarify this taxonomic issue and will also evaluate the species’ genetic diversity and phylogeographic structure. This information will be important in defining evolutionarily significant units that require special attention for conservation, as well as units that could potentially be managed for sustainable fishing.
Although Squatina californica is the only angel shark species that occurs in the north-eastern Pacific, morphological, reproductive and genetic studies suggest that the population inhabiting Mexico’s Gulf of California differs from the populations in the rest of the species’ range. However, the areas sampled by these studies were limited and not enough evidence was explored to demarcate accurately the species’ boundaries. In addition, it is interesting to test to what extent the temporal and spatial oceanographic variations that characterise the Gulf of California have affected the differentiation of its population. To this end, the gulf has been divided into four eco-regions – open gulf, lower gulf, islands and upper gulf – based on their ecological diversity. This diversity has led to genetic differentiation in benthic species, including elasmobranchs. The Pacific angel shark is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, but some authors have emphasised the high extinction risk of members of the Squatinidae family, given their morphology and life history (slow growth, late sexual maturity at about 10 years, long gestation period and limited dispersal). Also playing a role is the fact that their shallow and mainly coastal demersal habitats are increasingly being altered and degraded as a result of anthropogenic pressures. In addition, squatinids are heavily exploited, with hundreds of tons having been caught between 2005 and 2016.
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.