Shark numbers: comparing Galapagos with non-protected areas

Latest update July 15, 2019 Started on June 11, 2019

Sharks are declining worlwide. This project trip will compare shark abundance found in the Galapagos Archipelago with non-protected waters of coastal Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia.

June 11, 2019
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Lina Quintero (undergrad, National University of Colombia) is a Colombian biologist and dive instructor interested in studying sharks and rays. She has participated in different research projects focused on the behavioural ecology of these species in oceanic islands off the Pacific coast of Colombia. While working for Malpelo Foundation, she participated in several thresher, hammerhead and whale shark acoustic and satellite tagging campaigns, particularly in and off Malpelo Island. Lina is currently undertaken a Master of Science program at CICIMAR (National Polytechnic Institute) in La Paz, Mexico. Her dissertation project’s main focus is to implement innovative monitoring techniques to assess the pelagic species abundance in Coastal Ecuador. Her project will use a stereo video system with a bait canister attached to assess abundance and the size structure of pelagic predatory species that approach the cameras. This non-invasive technique will be deployed in collaboration with scientists from the University of Western Australia. Her main goal is to generate knowledge about the state of the marine life populations, which can be used to establish management and conservation programs across the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean.

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Dr. Cesar Peñaherrera-Palma (Ph.D in Quantitative Marine Science, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies – University of Tasmania, and CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart, Australia: “Abundance, distribution and conservation value of sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve”, 2016) is an Ecuadorian Marine Biologist specialized in Quantitative Marine Science. Cesar has worked for more than ten years in the Galapagos Islands, carrying out projects in behavioural ecology, population ecology, trophic ecology, bio-economics and social sciences to further improve the knowledge on the conservation status of fish species, particularly migratory elasmobranch species. From 2017 to 2019, he worked as the Academic Director at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador – Manabi, where he mostly focused on rebuilding the institution after a massive earthquake that hit the Ecuadorean coastal area in 2016. During this time he also worked in training low income biology students in field biology and statistical techniques. Currently, he is the Science Coordinator at MigraMar (, where he leads projects focused on the behavioural and population ecology, and fisheries stock assessment of migratory marine species in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. He is particularly interested in marine fisheries ecology with emphasis on meta-analysis of historical and actual fisheries data integrated with new research techniques for assessing shark and pelagic species abundance, trends and population dynamics in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, marine environmental variability and its influence on biological and ecological life aspects of pelagic fishery resources, acoustic and satellite tracking. His research has been published in several peer reviewed journals, and featured in a number of documentaries, including the recent "Into the Now" 3D Virtual reality, BBC's Mission Galapagos: Secrets of the Deep, and the National Geographic’s Access 360 World Heritage.

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Hi Arturo, this section was written to introduce the scientists who will be directly involved in carrying out this project. Donors, collaborating institutions like the Galapagos National Park, and other past milestones achieved by the scientists, will be duly acknowledged at the right section. We thank you for the expressed interest in our project and the overall good wishes! We invite you to follow the regular updates we will be posting for the general and scientific audience as yourself. I am pretty confident you will find this project very insightful! Cheers, C.

Dr. Alex Hearn is a key member of this project. He specialises in the study of fish movements with a strong focus on conservation (Ph.D. Marine Biology, International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT), Heriot-Watt University, UK, 2001). From 2008 to 2013, he worked as a Project Scientist in the Biotelemetry Laboratory at the University of California Davis, where he tagged and tracked fish to understand a range of issues – from the determination of key spawning areas for the threatened green sturgeon on the Sacramento River to the outmigrating pathways of salmon smolts in relation to dredging activities in San Francisco Bay. His main research interest is connectivity of migratory sharks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. His relationship with this region began in 2002, when worked in the Galapagos Islands as Coordinator of Fisheries Research until 2008. He was initially responsible for research, monitoring and policy advice for the lobster and sea cucumber fisheries at the islands. In 2006, he led the creation of the Shark Research Program in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and the development of a regional network of collaborating researchers, Migramar, in order to elucidate the movement patterns and importance of oceanic islands to populations of threatened hammerhead, silky, tiger and whale sharks, among others. He has collaborated in research cruises at Revillagigedos, Coco and Malpelo islands. His research has been published in several peer reviewed journals, and featured in a number of documentaries, including the recent David Attenborough’s Galapagos in 3D, and the 10-part third season of National Geographic’s Shark Men.

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Although traveling can be really tiring and time demanding, the benefits of meeting great people that can contribute to our project are far more rewarding. We are currently in Costa Rica were we held a meeting with representatives of the CMAR (Marine Corridor), a governmental task force made up by members from the governments of Costa Rica, Panamá, Colombia and Ecuador. Our meeting focused on gaining further support to carry out our projects in other areas off the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Our negotiations were a total success. In addition to the full support we just received, the CMAR representatives are also interested in using our monitoring protocol for replicating this project in other areas not initially contemplated by our project. We truly hope this could be achieved in order to obtain more information to properly assess shark abundance in the region.

During these days we have also secured the purchase of our BRUV equipment. More than two dozens of GoPro cameras (and their underwater housings) are been shipped by our dealers in United States. We obtained a great deal from our providers DealRise Retail, which we truly thank them. I will be traveling to US next week to retrieve these equipments and take them to Ecuador. This is the only bit of hardware we are missing, as the main estructures were already built and shipped to our facilites in the coast of Ecuador. We truly hope we will be able to start BRUV equipment calibrations by mid July, and if possible, use the Tridents ROV once we start our field-trips in the upcoming months. While BRUV cameras give us the ability to measure any fish species that only passes in front of our stereo-camera system, Tridents ROV will allow us to observe other directions away from the BRUV field of view. We hope this will helps us to test if our abundance estimations are underreported, and to assess fish species behaviour when bee attracted by the BRUV system.

Expedition Background

It may be June 2019, but we have come a long way to be where we are. Our shark expeditions started in 2006, when a bunch of colleagues and I decided to step up and collaboratively assess the transboundary connectivity of scalloped hammerhead sharks across the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. Our first field trip was pioneering in the region, as well as interactive. While we were freediving to follow and tag hammerhead sharks, silky and Galapagos sharks were curiously chasing us... non-stop. We manage to safely tag more than 12 sharks with satellite beacons, and more than 20 sharks with passive ultrasonic tracking devices. It was a success!

Over these 13 years we have tagged 20 times those numbers already, and we have depicted the migratory routes of not only hammerhead but also galapagos sharks, silky sharks, tiger sharks, white tip reef sharks, whale sharks and many other shark, ray, fish and marine turtle species. Although far from complete, we have a very detailed map of how Galapagos and other Islands are being used by these species. We just don't know how many sharks are left.

In front of the imminent decline and collapse of many shark populations, to understand their numbers (population dynamics) is a must. Our project is thus focusing on using baited remote underwater stereo-video (BRUVs) and remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to address this lack of knowledge. We hope to deploy these tools in several field trips to be carried out in the following two years.

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