Francisco is using molecular genetic markers to assess if the American elephantfish that is found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is one population – or two. Basic information about this species is lacking, and its proper future management relies on filling these knowledge gaps. American elephantfish populations are declining, despite increases in landings in Argentina. By answering the question – Are American Elephantfish in the Atlantic and Pacific the same species, and the same population? – Francisco hopes to clarify some of the population structure and genetic connectivity. In this way, this project will help inform better conservation management.
Although born in central Chile, I grew up in Punta Arenas, near the Strait of Magellan. It was here, next to these cold waters, that my interest in marine life, especially in sharks and rays, started. At a very young age I decided to become a marine biologist and I set out on this path as a student at the Universidad de Valparaíso, in Chile. There were no shark specialists at the university, but my fish biology professor introduced me to one of the few shark specialists in my country, and over the years I became a shark specialist too!...
To determine whether the American elephant fish found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America comprise a single population.
The American elephant fish is a coastal South American species that has been experiencing high fishing pressure, especially in Argentina and Chile, since the 1950s. Alarmingly, its populations are declining and it was recently assessed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Globally, chimaeras have received limited attention and the American elephant fish Callorhinchus callorynchus is no exception. It has been reported in the south-eastern Pacific from Ecuador to the Strait of Magellan in Chile and in the south-western Atlantic from Brazil to Argentina. This is a coastal species, mostly found on sandy bottoms in relatively shallow waters, and it is caught by coastal artisanal fishers using gill nets. The species has experienced high fishing pressure as both targeted catch and bycatch throughout its distribution, but particularly in Chile and Argentina, since at least the 1950s. In the south-western Atlantic, nearly all landings (97%) of the species are reported from Argentina, and these have been increasing since 1992 to an average of 2,000 tons a year. In the South Pacific, landings from Chile have fluctuated considerably during the past two decades, but have remained at low levels in recent years. Despite the commercial importance of the American elephant fish, its ecology has not been studied throughout its distribution. Moreover, the absence of stock assessments, estimates of abundance and species-specific management means the future conservation of the species remains uncertain. It is known that successful conservation policies are strongly dependent on a sound understanding of population structure and genetic connectivity. For this species, however, we still lack the most fundamental information: are American elephant fish in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans the same species and possibly the same population?
To determine, using molecular genetic markers, whether the American elephant fish found along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America are of the same species and if so whether they comprise a single population.
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.