Behind the scenes with the shark scientists on Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific
Researcher Yasuní Chiriboga tells us more behind the scenes stories from Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific.
In our previous blog, we look behind the scenes and highlight some of the projects featured on Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific. While Martin Clunes visited San Cristobal, fisher Manolo Yepez, who now works with scientists on vital research aimed at protecting Critically Endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks took Martin and a team of marine biologists, supported by GCT as part of our Endangered Sharks of Galapagos programme on an expedition. They visit Puerto Grande, a remote part of San Cristobal, to visit the shark nursery grounds. Here researcher Yasuní Chiriboga tells us more behind the scenes stories.
It was 5am and the sun had not risen yet but the research team was already on its feet: Kevin Cabrera (local GAIAS-USFQ student) and Jade Getliff (Masters’ student at Exeter University) set up the research equipment, while Dr. Diana Pazmiño (researcher and professor at GSC-USFQ ) and I, Yasuní Chiriboga (Masters’ student at CICIMAR-IPN) grabbed the food and swimming gear, and trudged over to the fishermen pier; where the adventure will begin. Our captain and member of the research team, Manuel Yépez (Galapagos Sharksky Travel & Conservation) awaited us on the boat, ready to start the day.
We met with the famous actor Martin Clunes and his film crew who were already on board another vessel. Together, we started the journey directly to Puerto Grande; a beautiful mangrove-fringed bay on San Cristobal island.
Based on reports from the fishing community about scalloped hammerhead pups at the site, the research team has been monitoring Puerto Grande since 2017. Currently, this bay has been catalogued as a putative nursery ground for the blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) and the Critically Endangered scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).
During the trip we were all very excited, although nervous because we knew that it is not that easy to capture scalloped hammerhead pups: they are very sensitive and do not fall so easily into the nets. We explained to Martin and the filming crew about our interest in assessing the abundance and spatial distribution of this species to understand how they are growing in a bay where human impacts, as local artisanal fishing and tourism are present.
Arriving at the location, Martin helped the team to set a heavy 100 m large beach seine to corral scalloped hammerhead sharks.
By the time we started checking the net, we had an amazing surprise! 13 hammerhead pups caught in just one set! We could not believe that! Rapidly, we took the sharks out of the net one by one and taught Martin how to measure the babies. We sexed them and took a small tissue sample from the first dorsal fin for posterior genetic studies.
After this amazing encounter, we had the opportunity to chat with Martin about how populations of this species in the Eastern Pacific have displayed the steepest declines and are at the highest risk of extinction because of overfishing and habitat degradation.
There is already evidence shown by GCT’s Project Partner, MigraMar that this species uses the Cocos Ridge to migrate and form daytime aggregations, travelling in between the Galapagos Marine Reserve and Coco island. It is also thought that adult females migrate to coastal mainland waters in Ecuador and Costa Rica, to pup in shallow waters (nursery grounds). These long-distance movements represent a potential risk to being caught by fisheries that operate in these areas.
Recent efforts from the Ecuadorian Government have been made to protect this species. In 2020, the Government prohibited the disembark and exportation of any of the five different species of the genera Sphyrnidae in Ecuadorian territory. Then, in 2021 the creation of Puerto Cabuyal – Punta San Clemente Marine Reserve in Manabí (coastal mainland Ecuador) contributed to the protection of mangrove habitats that act as essential nursery grounds for Sphyrna lewini in the region. Additionally, the latest triumph for the conservation of this species and other migratory ones, was the creation of the Hermandad Marine Reserve, in which the marine corridor in between Galapagos, Cocos, Malpelo, and Coiba is protected from extractive activities, including fishing.
All these conservation efforts are historical and positive for the conservation of several migratory marine megafauna, although there is the need for international cooperation in the monitoring and surveillance of illegal fishing, including increased research on seamounts, pelagic diversity, and nursery grounds for sharks and other species.
Ways to get support conservation in Galapagos
If you are left inspired by the incredible Galapagos Islands, why not become a member today for as little as £3 a month, and help to preserve these Islands for years to come? Or why not help support the conservation of the Endangered sharks with one of our Scalloped hammerhead shark or Marti the Hammerhead Shark adoptions.