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Watch the Sharks International 2014 Keynote Presentations!

logoIn June of 2014, almost 400 of the world’s top shark researchers gathered in Durban, South Africa for the 2nd Sharks International conference.  The four keynote presentations have just been put online.

Beyond Jaws: Rediscovering the “lost sharks” of South Africa

Dave Ebert, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory

daveBiography:Dave Ebert earned his Masters Degree at Moss Landing Marine Labs and his Ph.D. at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.  He is currently the Program Director for the Pacific Shark Research Center, a research faculty member at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and an honorary research associate for the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the California Academy of Sciences Department of Ichthyology.  He has been researching chondrichthyans around the world for nearly three decades, focusing his research on the biology, ecology and systematics of this enigmatic fish group.  He has authored 13 books, including a popular field guide to the sharks of the world and most recently he revised the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Catalogue of Sharks of the World.  He has published over 300 scientific papers and book chapters, and contributed approximately 100 IUCN Shark Specialist Group Red List species assessments.  Dave is regional co-Chair of the IUCN Northeast Pacific Regional Shark Specialist Group, Vice Chair for taxonomy, and a member of the American Elasmobranch Society and Oceania Chondrichthyan Society.  He has supervised more than 30 graduate students, and enjoys mentoring and helping develop aspiring marine biologists.


Abstract: The public‟s perception of sharks often conjures up images of a large, fearsome, toothy predator, with its large dorsal fin cutting its way through the waters‟ surface. However, the reality is that sharks come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the world‟s largest fish, to the dwarf pygmy sharks (Squaliolus spp.), these enigmatic fishes occupy most marine, and some freshwater, habitats. In addition, the batoids and chimaeras, along with the sharks, form a distinctive group of fishes collectively referred to as the Chondrichthyans. There are more than 500 species of sharks, along with nearly 650 batoid and 50 chimaera species, bringing the overall total to about 1200 species of sharks and shark-like fishes. The diversity of sharks and their relatives has increased exponentially over the past decade with more than 200 new species having been described over the past decade. This represents nearly 20% of all shark species that have been described. Most of these new discoveries have come from the Indo-Australian region, followed by the western North Pacific and southern African regions. Southern African (including Nambia, South Africa, and Mozambique) has one of the most diverse Chondrichthyan faunas with all 13 orders and more than 200 species known to occur in this region. However, despite a rich a diverse fauna, the majority of south African sharks have been lost in a hyper driven media age where a few large charismatic sharks overshadow the majority of species.   Despite a relatively short coastline (ca. 6400 km) compared to the Indo-Australian or Western Indian Ocean regions at least 25% of the species are considered endemic to this region. In addition, more than 30% of the known species were described from this region. A review of the Red List status of southern African Chondrichthyans indicates that about 25% are threatened, compared to 17.4% globally, and another 36% are Data Deficient or have not been assessed. It is these “Lost Sharks” sharks of southern Africa that will be the focus of my presentation.

New insights into the population biology and trade in sharks based on molecular genetic approaches

Demian Chapman, Stony Brook University

chapmanBiography: Demian Chapman is an Assistant Professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. He is also Assistant Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook and, together with his wife, Debra Abercrombie, is a 2013 Blue Ocean Institute Fellow. He is also a scientific advisor to the Pew Global Shark Campaign. Demian received his undergraduate degree in zoology and ecology in 1995 from Victoria University of Wellington in his home country, New Zealand, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Nova Southeastern University in Dania Beach, Florida. Demian’s research combines DNA-analysis and field-based assessments of animal abundance and behaviour to better understand the population biology and ecology of large marine vertebrates, particularly sharks and their relatives. Projects are designed to address interesting biological questions and pressing conservation issues. He is especially interested in how genetic variation of marine fish species is partitioned across the seascape with a particular focus on the role of natal philopatry in establishing this structure. This type of research is also useful for delineating management units and for sourcing fisheries products in trade back to their geographic area of origin. He uses genetic analysis to study reproduction, recently discovering that female sharks can reproduce without sex (parthenogenesis or “virgin birth”). Demian also develops tools and resources for wildlife forensics applications, most recently working with his wife to develop guides to help non-experts identify shark fins to species, in support of domestic shark management efforts and proposals to list sharks on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (www.sharkfinid.org). Demian also uses acoustic and satellite telemetry to better understand the movements of sharks and other large fish, combining these analyses with remote video camera surveys of their abundance to assess the efficacy of marine protected areas as a conservation tool for large marine predators. He is involved in tracking projects in Belize (Caribbean reef and nurse sharks), the Bahamas (lemon sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, great hammerhead sharks) and along the U.S. eastern seaboard from Long Island to Florida (e.g. lemon sharks, bull sharks, great hammerhead sharks). His research and outreach efforts in these areas have recently contributed to the establishment of a shark sanctuary in the Bahamas, better protections for sharks in Florida state waters and improvements to marine reserves in Belize. Demian and Debbie live in Miller Place, New York, with three dogs and two cats.

Abstract: Molecular ecology is a field in which genetic and genomic approaches are used to address questions that were traditionally asked by ecologists rather than molecular biologists. In the past two and a half decades we have learned a great deal about the molecular ecology of the elasmobranchs, ranging from new insights into reproduction (mating strategies, parthenogenesis and hybridization) to a better understanding of their evolutionary relationships. In this talk I will review shark genetic studies focused at the population level. Genetic analyses have revealed that shark populations are frequently subdivided by a variety of contemporary and historical geophysical barriers to dispersal. It is perhaps more surprising is that population structure has developed at spatial scales that are smaller than the known dispersal range of individuals. I will outline the evidence supporting the hypothesis that this is due in part to the tendency of female sharks to return to their natal nursery or region for parturition (“natal philopatry” and “regional philopatry” respectively). I will also demonstrate how this type of population genetic information can contribute to the regulation of international shark fin trade by revealing the source populations of market-derived products. I will conclude by describing how emerging genomic approaches are likely to stimulate new advances in this already burgeoning field.

Sharks, Fisheries and the Future

Colin Simpfendorfer, James Cook University

colinBiography: Colin Simpfendorfer has spent most of his career researching the biology and ecology of sharks, with the aim of improving conservation and management of this iconic group. He received his PhD in Zoology from James Cook University in 1993 studying the life history of tropical sharks. He then worked on temperate shark fisheries at the Western Australian Fisheries Department. In 1998 he moved to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, where he was the Manager of the Elasmobranch Fisheries and Conservation Program in the Center for Shark Research. In Florida his research focused on the conservation biology of endangered sawfish, but he also developed an interest in the analysis of data from acoustic monitoring studies. In 2007 he returned to JCU as the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture. He holds several extra-mural appointments, including being the Co-Chair of the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group, the Chair of AFMA’s Shark Resources Assessment Group and the Chair of the Australian Animal Tracking and Monitoring System’s Data Subcommittee. He has more than 100 journal publications on topics including life history, population dynamics, fisheries, conservation, ecology, data analysis and parasites.

Abstract: Fishing has been identified as the biggest and most immediate threat to sharks and rays. In fact, a recent global analysis using the IUCN Red List shows that this threat is greater for the rays than it is for sharks. While we know from some clear examples that it is possible to sustainably fish sharks and rays, there are numerous well documented challenges to doing so (lack of species-specific catch data, limited data on long-term population trends, incomplete taxonomic understanding, limited species-specific life history data, limited assessment techniques for data limited species, etc.). Given the pressures of growing human populations it is unrealistic to envisage a future where no sharks are caught. Instead, sustainable shark fishing, including the provision of sustainably caught shark fin, should be the primary goal of management. While progress is being made towards addressing some of the challenges of improved management (e.g. biological and ecological data collection, taxonomic studies), progress in many areas has stagnated. In particular, the long-term monitoring of shark populations is inadequate to inform assessment and management processes and needs to be dramatically improved. The impediments to improved fisheries management have led to a trend towards more simplistic solutions. For example, shark sanctuaries and ecotourism have been promoted as ways to address the threat of fishing to shark populations. These approaches have their place in securing a future for sharks, but they also have limitations that need to be acknowledged. Ultimately, the greatest improvement in the outlook for shark and ray populations will come by implementing sound, science-based, fisheries management in fisheries that take sharks and rays. To do this, however, will require a revolution in the way that we research, monitor, assess, manage and enforce fisheries regulations world-wide.

The Ecological information derived from tissue samples: the power of chemical tracers in elasmobranch ecology

Nigel Hussey, University of Windsor

nigelBiography: Nigel Hussey was born in Stoke-on Trent in the centre of England’s pottery industry far away from the sea and marine life, but interest in the marine environment was fostered through many holidays to the coast as a child. He completed an undergraduate degree in Ecology/Geology at Kingston University in London, later following this with a Masters degree (with distinction) and a PhD at the School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University. His initial research on sharks was focused on mapping essential nursery habitat of lemon sharks in Bimini, Bahamas under Prof. Samuel Gruber. His doctoral work examined the application of stable isotopes in the study of various aspects of the biology and ecology of sharks in conjunction with the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board in South Africa. Currently, Nigel works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The University of Windsor, Canada for the Global Ocean Tracking Network, leading the deployment of telemetry tracking equipment in the Arctic region. His current work combines multiple ecological tools, including stable isotopes and telemetry/satellite tagging data to examine the residency, movement, and trophic ecology of top predators and trophic structuring of marine systems. In the Arctic arena, he is examining commercial fish movements and habitat preferences which includes work on important but little known bycatch species, the Greenland shark and the Arctic skate. Nigel also leads the Sudan Red Sea Shark and Ray Management program, which aims to generate quantitative data on the movement and residency of endangered and vulnerable shark species including manta rays and scalloped hammerheads to assist Red Sea regional management planning. He continues to be involved in various aspects of research in South Africa, including the trophic structuring of large shark communities and the biology and trophic ecology of the white shark and is a collaborator on several international shark and ray research programs. When not working, writing or travelling, he spends much of his time underwater and with his wife and daughter, Anna and Alina, who inspired him to pursue this career track.

Abstract: Research effort and methods to study elasmobranch ecology have rapidly grown and  evolved over the past few years driven by concern over their global conservation status.  Geochemical tracers, including bulk and compound specific stable isotope analyses (SIA),  coupled with powerful statistical approaches such as Bayesian modeling, provide a  multifaceted approach to examine a broad scope of questions in animal ecology. These  methods are becoming increasingly rigorous given major advances in our understanding of the methodological approaches and assumptions of SIA through dedicated experimental work in the broader literature. As a result, SIA has become a prominent tool in the study of elasmobranchs to address fundamental questions over foraging behavior, movement and migration and to better understand their trophic roles in aquatic ecosystems. Furthermore, these chemical tracer methods can now be combined with complementary methodological approaches such as telemetry and genetics/genomics to enable a mechanistic understanding of animal behaviours at the individual, species and population and community levels. This talk will provide an overview of stable isotope methods and applications related to the study of elasmobranchs demonstrating their broad applicability in the study of this unique vertebrate group. Select examples of our ongoing work will be used to highlight these applications including; how isotopic rescaling of marine food has redefined the roles of the large shark assemblage, combined bulk and compound specific analysis can be used to verify trophic restructuring, the use of isotopes to indirectly test the influence of foraging strategies on size and growth rate of juvenile sharks and movement/foraging complexity among white sharks off Southern Africa.