Archive for the ‘Education’ 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). 

Positive Result in Educating About Shark Products in New Zealand

August 6, 2010

Not so long ago we launched a new page called “How You Can Help” to drew attention to companies in New Zealand that trade or use shark in restaurants , or or shark derived products on the market in health stores. We highlighted one particular company, Good Health that had two shark derived products on the market (Sharkilage and Squaline), the shark content apparently sourced from sharks caught in New Zealand.  Our Conservation Biologist, Alex (Diverkat) was quickly on the case and put her research and legal hats on to approach Good Health.  We published her initial letter in the last edition of SharkBites.

We are extremely pleased to follow this story up with some great news… Although Sharkilage is still present on Good Health’s website, they are selling it in order to exhaust their current stock, and will no longer source their chondroitin from sharks.   Alex reported the chondroitin they will use in their joint care formulas is derived from bovine sources, and as they are farmed animals this is certainly more sustainable.  Alex’s arguments about lauding the value of shark fin were also heeded and Good Health have changed the wording of the Sharkilage page so they are no longer indirectly showing support for an unsustainable practice.  You can read the full story on Alex’s Diverkat website.

We would like to congratulate Alex on this victory and thank Brian Blanchard at Good Health for his positive actions.  You will see Good Health has been removed from our list of businesses we encourage you to avoid.

Talk at Diveshack

June 19, 2010

White Shark Conservation Trust

presents at

We were really pleased to be invited to talk this week at the Diveshack June monthly meeting and would like to express our thanks to Aaron, Hayden and the Diveshack club members for the opportunity to talk to them about the Trust.

We would also like to thank Diveshack for their generous donation and to welcome our new supporters who joined us at the talk.

We welcome all invitations to come and talk to you about the Trust.  If you would like to know more about this, please e-mail us at:

whitesharkconservationtrust@gmail.com

Orakei Dive Club Meeting 22nd April 2010

April 15, 2010

Hi everyone, The White Shark Conservation Trust will be giving a presentation to the Orakei Dive dive club on Thursday 22nd April 2010.  Please feel free to come along and join in.  I’m told there’s a BBQ and beer from 6pm onwards.  We will have copies of the entertainment book available there if you have been thinking about buying one (great value at only $65.00 each)

Orakei Dive, 243 Orakei Road, Remura, Auckland

Check out their dive club April newsletter http://www.orakeidive.co.nz/Newsletter.htm

Meeting with Auckland Zoo

December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone.  Last week Bruce and I met with Peter Fraser – conservation officer with the Auckland Zoo.  They are planning some new and interesting exhibits of particular note to us is a new marine shores.  There are some exciting opportunities to work with the zoo so we are looking forward to keeping in touch with Peter next year.  One of their current projects is the “Don’t Palm Us Off Campaign”.  The campaign is petitioning to have palm oil labeled on all food products.  Currently so much forest is being destroyed at startling rates that the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant and Asian rhinoceros are being pushed to extinction. Please support this cause go to www.aucklandzoo.co.nz to and sign the petition.  You can make a difference!

go to http://www.aucklandzoo.co.nz to sign the petition