Archive for the ‘Conservation and Research’ Category

Meet a Shark Scientist: Brit Finucci

January 14, 2016
There is a lot of exciting shark research happening around the world as well as in NZ; we were lucky to get to know some and find out about their work. Meet Brit Finucci, a PhD candidate working on deep sea sharks and Chimaeras (elasmobranchs related to sharks and rays) at Victoria University Wellington. She is in her second year of her PhD after pursuing her master’s degree at Victoria. Originally hailing from just outside of Toronto, Canada, she has been in New Zealand for the last four years. Brit took some time to answer a few of our questions about herself and her work.

When did you first develop your passion for sharks?

To be honest, I’m not someone who always thought they were destined to study sharks. My interest in sharks first came about when I was 19. I was on a boat in Mexico, heading out to see the whale sharks that aggregate in the area during the summer. I was not feeling that great on the boat so in an attempt to make me feel better, I was thrown overboard and left in the water with the whale sharks. They were just so big and docile, it was an amazing experience.

Wow, we bet it was! What made you decide to study them?

After seeing the whale sharks in Mexico, I went back to Toronto and got involved with some conservation organizations working on shark projects. When I moved to NZ, I wanted to continue this work and conveniently, my timing coincided with the review of the National Plan of Action for Sharks (NPOA), the framework which oversees the conservation and management of sharks in NZ waters. I spent quite a bit of time involved with this project, which allowed me get to know the shark community in NZ, as well as realize there are lots of research opportunities in NZ shark science. Taking on my PhD has allowed me to shift from a conservation and management focus to more science and fisheries work, and I think that’s been a great opportunity to remain open-minded and work with a wide variety of stakeholders on shark projects.

What is your research focusing on?

My research focuses on several deep-sea sharks and chimaeras (shark relatives) found in New Zealand waters. These species are caught as bycatch, meaning they are unintentionally caught by fisheries. We know very little about these sharks so we have no idea what effect, if any, fishing pressures are having on their populations. A big chunk of my work looks at the biology of these animals, assessing characteristics such as length at maturity, fecundity (reproductive ability and rate), and diet. I also spend time analyzing scientific research trawl surveys, looking at species distributions and behavioural characteristics, such as aggregations and determining if populations are segregated (by size, sex, maturity stage). All of these aspects can help us better understand if these animals are biologically vulnerable to fishing pressures. I hope this work will then be put forth for both conservation purposes (IUCN status listings), as well as management efforts (sustainable fishing measurements, risk assessments).

That sounds great! It’s certainly important to fill in the gaps with respect to the lesser-known species of sharks. What are some of the challenges you have come upon during your research?

One common challenge I’ve had to deal with is the lack of specimens I have to work with. Some of the species I work on are quite uncommon to come across – we’re not sure if this is because these animals are naturally found in low numbers, if they live somewhere we’re not looking, or if they have already been affected by overfishing. On top of that, when I do get specimens, they are not always the ones I want or need for my study. It can be very hard to get a sample size of a species that represents the entire range of sizes, maturity stages, and include both males and females. Ideally, you want a good representative sample size to make good conclusions about the biology of a species. This is where working together with other shark scientists and the fishing community is very important. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great network of people across the country keeping an eye out for specimens for me.

It’s encouraging to know the community of shark scientists and fishers are collaborating on such important work to increase our knowledge. When you consider shark conservation initiatives in NZ, do you think that we are on the right track? If so, what are we doing right? If not, what can we do to improve shark conservation in NZ waters?

NZ has large diversity of shark species – 113 and counting! Some of these species are also endemic to NZ waters – as in, they’re found no where else in the world. So I think NZ has a responsibility to be a leader in shark conservation and management efforts. In recent years, we’ve seen NZ participate in management actions such as reviewing the NPOA and signing onto the international binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks, and NZ should continue to play a role in the global community. On a more local scale, I’ve found there is a great network of researchers and experts willing to support and share information and ideas, which is fantastic and very important for making any shark project successful. I think one thing to work on is identifying areas that are of particular importance to sharks (pupping grounds, nurseries) and investing in ways to reduce shark bycatch.

It sounds like the future of shark research has solid directions in which to move. How can we as individuals work to help protect sharks?

A simple but perhaps not obvious way to help sharks is to make smart choices about the type of seafood you eat. In many countries, NZ included, sharks are caught as significant bycatch. These animals are often dead by the time they reach the surface,  and with no commercial value, are discarded. It’s a very wasteful practice. If you do eat seafood, you should know where it came from, how it’s caught, and what species it is (fish are often called by other names to sound more appealing to consumers). Support sustainable efforts and local markets. Forest and Bird has a free “Best Fish Guide” (currently being updated) which can help you make informed decisions about seafood selections in NZ.

Forest & Bird Best Fish Guide

Great advice. Do you have any words of wisdom for folks who want to share their passion for sharks? How about for those who want to study them?

My advice for those who want to get into shark research would be not to forget that the term “shark” can be applied to any of the cartilaginous fish, which also includes the “flat sharks” (skates and rays), and chimaeras. These species are generally understudied, some are heavily exploited, and many are also considered some of the most at risk shark species. There’s definitely a need for more research on these lesser known species.

Prickly dogfish (Oxynotus bruniensis) specimen. Photo by Brit Finucci

Prickly dogfish (Oxynotus bruniensis) specimen. Photo by Brit Finucci

Hopeful shark researchers, take note! Finally, do you have a favourite species of shark?

Easy – one of my study species, prickly dogfish! The prickly dogfish (Oxynotus bruniensis) is found around New Zealand and Australian waters, and is one of five rough sharks (from the family Oxynotidae) which are found around the world. It’s my favourite shark because it’s so unique looking! Prickly dogfish have a massive sail-like dorsal fin, big eyes that give it a dopey-looking appearance, and as its name suggests, super prickly skin! One other thing that makes this species so unique is its diet. While I still have some things to confirm, it looks like the prickly dogfish has a very specialized diet, feeding only on the eggs of other sharks and chimaeras!

They sound very cool! Thank you so much for your time Brit, we’ve learned a lot and we hope our readers have too. You can follow Brit’s work on Twitter (@BritFinucci) and Instagram (@britfinucci). 

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North Island Tagging

January 31, 2015

January 17th and 18th and 25th we were fortunate to be invited to assist tagging white sharks once more for the continued study and research of their fine scale movements around the North Island. The three days were spent around the Kaipara Harbour, an area long known to be popular for encountering pointers.

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From left: Bruce Goorney (WSCT), Clinton Duffy, David Romeril, Scott Tindale (skipper)

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Red October sporting a WSCT logo!

We have joined expeditions on the Kaipara in past years, but apart from the occasional ‘hook-up’, success has been minimal. This has been made all the more frustrating with numerous reports being made (at times, weekly) from recreational fishermen encountering white sharks, and commercial fishermen finding them tearing through their nets in the harbour.

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Even it seems Auckland City Council have had more success in seeing them than us!

We have always known they are there – but they have always remained elusive to us… Till now!

Saturday 17th of Jan was the turning point and that, it has to be said, is an understatement with seven ‘hook-ups’ and an eighth shark estimated at 3.4 meters found swimming around our anchor buoy’s on return from the second successful tag deployment. The sharks ranged from approximately 2 meters total length (TL) to 3.5 meters. Two smaller juvenile sharks, a 2.1 m TL female named Caitlin, and a 2.2 m TL male named Thomas D were tagged along with a third female named Sue, estimated at 3.5m TL. Four tags were deployed in total.  A SPLASH and a PAT tag on Thomas D, a SPOT tag on Catlin. and a PAT tag on Sue.

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SPOT tag on Thomas D (2.1 m TL male) Dorsal Fin

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PAT tag on Sue (3.4 m TL Female)

Both the SPLASH and SPOT tags started to generate data within 48 hours of deployment as can be seen on the ARGOS map images below.

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Thomas D’s movements over the first 72 hours

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Caitlin’s movents ov the first 72 hours

The rigs being used all had re-curved barbless hooks which contributed to the low numbers successfully brought to the boat and tagged. Barbless re-curved hooks were used to ensure deep hooking could not occur and the hook could be easily extracted .

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One of the hooks used that was spat out before the shark could be tagged.

The draw-back to this rig is if tension is lost on the line the hook will usually fall out of the animal’s mouth, however this does mean if the shark bites through the leader or trace the hook will fall out causing minimal injury.

Sunday 18th of Jan was less successful with only three ‘hook-ups’ and no successful tag deployment, however in comparison to past years on the Kaipara, even this was considered a success in its own right.  The following Sunday 25th we headed out again, but sadly on this day we struck out without a single hook up, however, data obtained since that first weekend showed us that Caitlin,  the 2.1 m female had headed north and is about 10 km off Ninety Mile Beach on a nw heading. Since we tagged her she has travelled about 452 km, giving a rate of movement/ displacement of about 41 km per day.

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Thomas D, the 2.2 m male is still going around in circles about 22 km off Manukau Harbour!

News has travelled fast and on Jan 31st the Herald published a short article about the expedition.  You can read the article here!.

2013/14 Entertainment books – Buy yours from us

February 20, 2013
Entertainment Book

Entertainment Book

We are pleased to announce we will be selling the Auckland entertainment books for 2013/2014. We are taking pre-orders NOW!!! E-mail us to pre-order your copy at whitesharkconservationtrust@gmail.com.

There are loads of vouchers for restaurants, movies, activities, accommodation and the White Shark Conservation Trust gets a share of the sale price for everybook sold. It’s easy to get your money back and can save hundreds of $$$$ ( you only have to use ot Entertainment book a few times and it will have paid for itself!!!!) – and of course every book sold helps in supporting New Zealand white shark conservation and research. Each book is only $65 (NZD) each – they are great value and make excellent gifts!

Get your book pre-ordered today and look forward to a year of savings!

Marina’s Tagging – The Final Chapter

November 25, 2012
Photo of Marina getting tagged

Marina getting tagged

In February 2011, we reported on the successful tagging of Marina, a 2.4m TL female, in the Manukau harbour.  She was tagged with both a SPOT and PAT tag, and was the first white shark successfully tagged in the Manukau.  We were able to follow her for approximately 2 months as she made her way north, but she was staying so close to the surface, after 2 months she had flattened the battery on the SPOT tag! So, we just had to hope the PAT tag would continue to work.  The PAT tag was set to come off 12 months after deployment, and we hoped she would be close to the location she was tagged so recovery of the tag would be possible.  The tag actually came off up at the Sunshine Coast, Queensland near Barwon Bank  in the end, and was taken by tidal currents over to its final resting place where it was recovered from the dunes at Little Freshwater near Double Island Point – a frustrating situation for DOC as recovery is based on the kind will of anyone that stumbles across it. (more…)

An open letter concerning the unsustainability of shark finning

May 29, 2012

As a conservation organisation, we would like to express our concern about the recent misinformation perpetuated in the national and international media asserting that the shark fin trade is sustainable. The reality is that this vast trade is largely unmanaged and unmonitored, and that the shark fin industry in Asia plays little to no role in fisheries management in the countries that are fishing sharks, including New Zealand. The slow growth and reproductive rates of sharks makes them extremely susceptible to overexploitation. Since only a small fraction of shark-fishing nations have any type of shark management plan in place, the assertion that the fin trade is sustainable is not based in fact.

Despite claims to the contrary by Fisheries Departments worldwide, there is a wealth of scientific evidence that populations of many shark species are in decline, with the shark fin trade being an important driver. There is a solid scientific consensus that many sharks and indeed other cartilaginous fishes, such as skates and rays, are in severe trouble, and there is emerging evidence that this could be causing wider disruptions in ocean ecosystems.

We, the undersigned believe, in the interests of both the global marine environment and the public that depends on healthy ocean ecosystems, that decision makers should be apprised of the full facts of the shark fin issue, most specifically that:

The shark fin trade, as it currently stands, is NOT sustainable. Peer-reviewed scientific research has shown that the fins of tens of millions of sharks passed through the shark fin trade in 2000. Since then there has been no accurate estimation of the trade volume and corresponding number of sharks killed, making it impossible for the industry to state that the trade is sustainable. Declines in shark populations have been reported from many locations worldwide, and many areas – like the Caribbean, for example – are heavily impacted. Individual populations, such as oceanic whitetip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and hammerheads in the Mediterranean, have experienced severe declines. These statistics are not mere speculation but are backed up by published analyses in academic journals.

Shark fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, which encourages many fisheries to target them or retain them even when they are caught incidentally, rather than releasing them alive. The shark fin trade should therefore be viewed as a major driver of global shark fishing activities, which are often unmanaged and conducted in an unsustainable manner.

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) does NOT adequately protect endangered shark species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 82 species of sharks on its Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Yet, CITES regulates trade of just three of these threatened shark species. Despite meeting the scientific criteria for listing, numerous shark species have been denied CITES protection because politics prevented them from receiving the two-thirds of the votes necessary for a CITES listing. A larger number of species are considered threatened and are therefore prohibited in particular countries or by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. CITES tends to lag behind domestic and regional management bodies because of the 2/3 majority requirement and should not therefore be used as the benchmark for whether a species is under threat.

In short, the overwhelming body of scientific data supports the urgent need to focus on adequate conservation and management strategies rather than maintaining unsustainable levels of fishing. Given that sharks play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of the world’s marine ecosystems, and that many species of sharks are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, there is a rare opportunity to make a significant impact on an issue of global importance by helping to regulate the burgeoning international trade in shark fins.

Yours sincerely,

 
Dr. Gregor Cailllet
Director Emeritus, Pacific Shark Research Centre
Professor Emeritus, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
Moss Landing, California
USA
 
 
Dr. Jeffrey C. Carrier, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Biology –
Albion College
American Elasmobranch Society –
Past-President
Adjunct Research Scientist –
Mote Marine Laboratory
Albion, Michigan, USA
 
 
Dr. Demian D.F. Chapman
Assistant Professor,
School of Marine and Atmospheric Science,
Stony Brook University,
Stony Brook,
USA
 
 
Dr. William Cheung
Assistant Professor,
Fisheries Centre,
The University of British Columbia,
Canada
 
 
Dr. Philippe Cury
IRD Senior Scientist
Director Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale Sète,
France
 
 
Dr. Toby S. Daly-Engel
Assistant Professor of Marine Biology
University of West Florida
Pensacola, Florida, USA
 
 
Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Ph.D.
President, Tethys Research Institute
Milano, Italy
 
 
Dr. Michael L. Domeier
President Marine Conservation Science Institute,
2809 South Mission Road,
Suite G,
Fallbrook, CA 92028,
USA
 
 
E. Esat Atikkan, Ph.D.
NAUI 6274
Adj. Prof., Biology
Adj. Prof., Physical Education
Montgomery College
Rockville, Maryland, USA
 
 
Kevin Feldheim, Ph.D.
A. Watson Armour III Manager of the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution
Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, Illinois, USA
 
 
Francesco Ferretti, Ph.D.
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University
Pacific Grove, CA, USA
 
 
Dr. Andrew B. Gill
Senior Lecturer
Environmental Science and Technology Department
Cranfield University
Bedfordshire, United Kingdom
 
 
Eileen D. Grogan, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Research Associate: Carnegie Museum
The Academy of Natural Sciences
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
 
 
Dr. Samuel H. Gruber
Director, Bimini Biological Field Station, South Bimini, Bahamas,
Founder IUCN Shark Specialist Group,
Founder American Elasmobranch Society,
Professor Emeritus University of Miami,
USA
 
 
George J. Guillen, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Associate Professor Environmental Science and Biology
Environmental Institute of Houston
University of Houston Clear Lake
Houston, Texas, USA
 
 
Dr. Richard L. Haedrich
Professor emeritus, Memorial University,
St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador,
Canada
 
 
Dr. Neil Hammerschlag,
Research Assistant Professor,
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy
Director, R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
University of Miami, Florida,
USA
 
 
Dr. Michael Heithaus
Director, School of Environment, Arts and Society,
Florida International University,
Miami, Florida, USA
 
 
Dr. Mauricio Hoyos Padilla
Pelagios-Kakunjá A.C.
La Paz, B.C.S., México
 
 
Dr. Robert Hueter
Director, Center for Shark Research,
Associate Vice President for Research,
Directorate of Marine Biology and Conservation,
Mote Marine Laboratory,
Sarasota, Florida,
USA
 
 
Dr. Charlie Huveneers
Lecturer and Research Scientist
Flinders University / SARDI – Aquatic Sciences Adelaide,
South Australia, Australia
 
 
Dr. Salvador Jorgensen
Research scientist
Chief Scientist, White Shark Research Initiative
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey, California, USA
 
 
Dr. Stephen M Kajiura
Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL, USA
 
 
Dr. Steven Kessel
Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research,
University of Windsor,
Windsor, Ontario,
Canada
 
 
Vivian Lam
IUCN Shark Specialist Group
Suite 300, 1630 Connecticut Avenue
Washington D.C. 20009
USA
 
 
Dr. Agnès Le Port
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand
 
 
Dr. Richard Lund,
Research Associate
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Saint Joseph’s University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
 
 
Dr. John W. Mandelman
Research Scientist
John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory
New England Aquarium
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
 
 
Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza
Postdoctoral Researcher,
Ocean Exploration and Deep-Sea Research,
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University,
5600 U.S. 1 North Fort Pierce, Florida 34946
USA
 
 
Dr. John E. McCosker
Chair of Aquatic Biology
California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco, California
USA
 
 
Dr. Henry F. Mollet,
Research Affiliate MLML
R&D Volunteer Husbandry Division
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Pacific Grove, California, USA
 
 
Dr, Elliott A. Norse
President,
Marine Conservation Institute,
2122 112th Avenue NE, Suite B-300,
Bellevue WA 98004
USA
 
 
Dr. Jill A. Olin
Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research
University of Windsor,
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
 
 
Dr. Daniel Pauly
Professor of Fisheries,
Fisheries Centre,
The University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada
 
 
Prof. Ellen K. Pikitch, Ph.D.,
Executive Director,
Institute for Ocean Conservation Science
School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000
 
 
Dr. Yvonne Sadovy
Professor,
School of Biological Sciences,
University of Hong Kong,
Pok Fu Lam Road,
Hong Kong
 
 
Dr. Carl Safina,
Blue Ocean Institute
Cold Spring Harbor, New York,
USA
 
 
Dr. Bernard Séret
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle
Département Systématique et Evolution
C.P. n° 51
55 rue Buffon
75231 Paris cedex 05
France
 
 
Dr. John Stevens
Research Fellow
CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research
Hobart, Tasmania,
Australia
 
 
Dr. Tracey Sutton
Department of Fisheries Science
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
The College of William & Mary
Gloucester Point, VA 23062
USA
 
 
Dr. Boris Worm
Associate Professor,
Biology Department,
Dalhousie University,
Halifax, Nova Scotia,
Canada
 

Tagging in the Manukau with DoC

February 7, 2011

For the second year running DoC were invited to shadow a sport fishing competition in the Manukau and we were extremely grateful to be invited to join DoC and assist Clinton Duffy for the duration.

Last year, although we took samples from three juvenile hammerheads and several school sharks, no white sharks were caught by the tournament anglers or by us.   This year was far more successful we are pleased to say with a juvenile 2.4 meter female being hooked by one of the tournament boats and passed to us for tagging.

The shark was named Marina after Marina Dmitri, a Trust member whom joined us on the day.  She was tagged with both a PAT tag and a SPOT tag before being released.

Clinton Duffy fastens the SPOT Tag to Marina's Dorsal Fin

Marina Dmitri holds the dorsal fin to prevent the tag from being damaged against the side of the boat

The whole process took a little over 20 minutes.

The SPOT tag is activated whenever the wet dry sensor detects it is out of the water and the PAT tag is programmed to stay attached to the shark for a year (365 days post-release). The first signal was received from Marina’s SPOT tag on Monday 7th Feb. Although the quality of the position it gave was unreliable it was a clear indication she has survived capture and release. Several high quality locations from outside the Manukau Harbour followed later the same day.  

Marina joins Kate, the first white shark we were involved with tagging (Kate was Tagged with a PAT tag off the Gisborne coast on an expedition with DoC and Surfit Charters in 2009.  Unfortunately Kate’s tag failed and came off 14 days after it was deployed.  We hope Marina’s two tags are working well and will give data for the next 9-12 months as they are programmed to do!

We would like to express our thanks to Clinton and DoC for asking us along again to help, and to the Counties Sport Fishing Club for inviting DoC to shadow the tournament.