Meghan wants to know all about sevengills in San Francisco Bay: what they’re eating at different ages and life stages, where they’re spending their time, and whether they are stressed by handling in the recreational catch-and-release fishery. Answering these questions will help her inform their ability to survive and thrive after being handled, whether there are any threats to their particular dietary needs at vulnerable stages in their life, and what the ecosystem that they most need looks like. Ultimately, this project will help inform fisheries management and hopefully better protect sevengill sharks on the Eastern Pacific coastline.
I grew up along the west coast of the USA and have always been intrigued by the diverse marine life that inhabits cold-water ecosystems. Having worked at non-profit aquariums for much of my early career, I have been greatly inspired by the unique aspect of conducting science at a facility where the conservation efforts can be directly communicated with the general public. Engaging the public in local conservation is a critical aspect of science, as it enables all stakeholders of management practices to be properly incorporated. With this in mind, I was determined to learn how to maximise public aquarium...
To investigate what juvenile broadnose sevengill sharks require to reach adulthood by evaluating their dietary needs and their ability to survive catch-and-release fishing and by identifying critical habitat for them in San Francisco Bay. The results of this research will assist our understanding of what is required for fisheries management for the species and will contribute to its continued survival.
Targeted fishing for broadnose sevengill sharks in the only known place where juveniles aggregate, with little understanding of its impact, poses a direct threat to the population. An apex predator along the eastern Pacific coast, the broadnose sevengill shark migrates from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. Understanding human-influenced impacts on the species is critical to its persistence, as is identifying what juveniles need to survive, and thrive, to adulthood.
The broadnose sevengill shark Notorynchus cepedianus is one of the largest apex predators along the eastern Pacific coast, particularly in bays and estuaries. The most recent assessment by the IUCN has re-assigned the species from Data Deficient to Vulnerable on the organisation’s Red List, which indicates a clear need to evaluate the threats to this population, whose range extends from South-east Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. The species’ requirements for reproductive and pupping grounds are very specific and the only documented breeding ground for this population is in Willapa Bay, Washington. In summer individuals migrate to San Francisco Bay, which is the only known pupping and nursery ground. Humboldt Bay, on California’s North Coast, was previously also known to be a pupping ground, but recent stock assessments there have shown that broadnosed sevengill sharks are no longer regularly present.
For the population to continue, it is vital that vulnerable sevengill pups survive. Little is known about the factors that influence juvenile behaviour, migration and attainment of sexual maturity. Because this species is slow-growing and is thought to have long generation times, it is particularly vulnerable to disturbances and stress in its pupping grounds, including those caused by overfishing. The active, targeted fishing of sevengills in their pupping grounds in California poses a direct threat to the survival of the entire eastern Pacific population, particularly in view of the fact that we know so little about their conservation needs.
The information required to resolve these concerns includes an evaluation of sevengills’ prey preferences and their ability to survive catch-and-release fishing; and an understanding of their movement patterns and site fidelity, from which we can deduce the importance of certain locations for reproduction or feeding, or the survival of neonates, juveniles and adults.
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.