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21/02/2018 Ocean protection

Updates from the Galapagos Bullhead Shark Project team

Very little is known about the bullhead shark in Galapagos, which is what makes the Galapagos Bullhead Shark Project so vital to their conservation.

Photograph of Ben Stockwell

Ben Stockwell

Former Communications & Membership Officer at Galapagos Conservation Trust

Understanding the species’ population size and ecology is essential to protecting them, and 2017 was a very successful year for the bullhead shark team, taking genetic samples from 100 individuals and growing their basic knowledge about the distribution and ecology of the species. In total, 153 sharks have been tissue sampled and photographed since 2015 from nine different sites across six islands.

© Galapagos Bullhead shark Project

A photo of a bullhead shark taken during one of the team’s dives © Galapagos Bullhead Shark Project

The genetic data will be used to determine whether the population that resides in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is genetically different to those found off of mainland Peru and therefore native to the Islands – if this is true, it would be the only endemic shark found in Galapagos. Such an accolade would likely increase interest from tourists, conservationists and researchers. The team hopes that by increasing awareness about this species and its potential economic value (i.e. as a tourist attraction) they can secure protection for this species and its habitat in the future.

All individual sharks were also photographed from all sides and measured. This information will help to determine whether the sharks are adults or juveniles, which is important as, to date, it is unknown whether juvenile bullheads are being caught accidentally by fishermen, which could have severe impacts on the population of the species.

As a primary aim of the project is to engage as wide a range of people as possible, the team has sought to build the skillset of local management authorities, scientific institutions and community groups. All research cruises since 2015 were planned and carried out with the help of five local students, three Ecuadorian researchers and eight international volunteers. Additionally, the team has trained National Park rangers in their data collection methods, which is a crucial skill for future research.

2017 was also a great year for community outreach, with the second annual Shark Day running in September. In collaboration with GCT, the team put together a selection of educational activities for 65 children and their families to take part in. With the help of volunteers from local organisations, including GCT partner Grupo EcoCultural Organizado (GECO), all attendees engaged in a range of interactive games and educational activities. If you would like to learn more about Shark Day, check out the team’s video here.

© Adrian Vasquez

Project leader, Max Hirschfeld, educating local children about sharks at Shark Day 2017 © Adrian Vasquez

The team also worked with local tourism agency, SharkSky, to provide an opportunity for a “Shark Experience”. The lucky winners of the prize draw during Shark Day were able to participate in a research trip to a known shark nursery. Under the supervision of the team and National Park rangers the lucky winners were able to get up close to sharks (see the video here). Such educational and interactive activities are vital for inspiring future education and engagement in shark conservation.

Special thanks to the National Marine Aquarium, who are a key supporter of this project.

Why not become a GCT member today to help us fund further crucial research projects like this?

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