Galapagos Bullhead Shark

Lack of information about these sharks is highly problematic when it comes to managing the marine reserve. Without knowledge about where the sharks live, which habitats they use or even how many there are, scientists and marine managers are unable to ensure the bullhead shark receives the protection it needs.

What do we know?

We know the Galapagos bullhead shark (Heterodontus quoyi) is a small, inconspicuous, bottom-dwelling elasmobranch that has been present on earth since the early Jurassic period. It is thought to grow up to 107cm long and inhabit flat, rocky and boulder strewn reef areas, where is rests motionless on the bottom. The species range extends around the Galapagos Archipelago and expands along the Peruvian coast. However, due to the lack of data scientists aren’t even sure if the Galapagos and Peruvian populations are the same species, with some believing the Peruvian population is a different species (Heterodontus peruanus) altogether.

Through a combination of research cruises, exploratory dives and citizen science, this project aims to answer some of these key questions:

  • How many bullhead sharks are there in the Galapagos?
  • Where are the breeding, feeding and nursery ‘habitat hotspots’ located?
  • Is the Galapagos species genetically distinct from the Peruvian coastal population?
  • What are the current threats to the Galapagos population?

Find out more about the project in this fantastic infographic produced for us by Lisa Brown.

The project started in October 2015 and the team have now identified potential nursery sites, and have started to analyse genetic data which they will compare to bullhead sharks found off the coast of Peru. They now have an idea of where bullhead sharks can be found in Galapagos and will resample these sites to gain an idea of population size. 

A key part of this project is education and outreach. The project team have engaged Galapagos National Park rangers, fishers and worked with a number of volunteers to raise the profile and awareness of the bullhead shark, as well as to encourage them to contribute to the research. The team have also run an annual Shark Day on San Cristobal to share the findings of the project with the community and raise awareness for shark conservation. 

The team have set up a photo-identification website, which allows anyone to submit bullhead shark images, thus contributing data to the project. If you are going to Galapagos, please look out for and photograph any bullhead sharks that you see and upload them to the site. If you have any existing photographs, these are also welcome!