Shark Week: Sharks of the Galapagos

Copyright GNP

The Discovery Channel’s 26th annual “Shark Week” started on Sunday 4th August and has proven to be bigger than ever. All week you haven’t been able to go on a social media outlet without seeing some reference to it, from pets dressed in shark costumes to people arguing as to whether the prehistoric Megalodon still exists in the waters of South Africa. So, we thought we would jump on the shark wagon and tell you a bit about the sharks found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).

At present, at least 34 species of shark and 25 species of ray are known to live in, or pass through, the waters of the GMR. These range in size from the small, such as the Mexican Hornshark (Heterodontus mexicanus) at just 70cm, to the very large, such as the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) at up to 18m. This species number continues to rise, just last year a new species of catshark was found at a depth of 500m (Bythaelurus giddingsi).

One of the most famous shark species that the GMR hosts is the Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini). The GMR is one of the few remaining places on Earth where large aggregations of these charismatic sharks can be found, sometimes in their hundreds. These aggregations are predominantly made up of female sharks and while it may look like they are simply swimming in circles, there is in fact a constant behavioural battle going on between neighbours, each shark vying for the best positions near the centre. The reason behind their schooling behaviour is not fully understood but several studies have produced results that suggest it is not for protection and may simply be for social interaction.

Whale shark, Copyright Jonathan Green

Another of Galapagos’ famous shark species is the largest fish on Earth, the whale shark. These bus-sized fish can be seen passing by the northern-most islands of Wolf and Darwin predominantly between June and November. Over 95% of all whale sharks sighted are mature females, the vast majority of which appear to have distended abdomens suggesting pregnancy. This is the only aggregation known globally to date where pregnant females are regularly spotted, making Galapagos a very important and significant research area for this threatened species. If you would like to learn more about whale sharks in Galapagos and read about our summer appeal to raise funds for the research that is taking place there, click here.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, there is a darker side to the sharks of Galapagos. Despite legal protection of sharks within the GMR, illegal shark fishing and finning does still take place within its boundaries. The Galapagos National Park Service do their utmost to prevent such activities from happening and have successfully apprehended numerous illegal fishing operations, but policing an area of ocean larger than the land area of England with a very limited budget is no easy task.

If you want to be a part of the conservation of sharks in Galapagos, here are several ways to help:

  • Become a member of GCT – we fund numerous marine conservation projects taking place in Galapagos made possible by the support of our members.
  • Donate to our 2013 Galapagos Whale Shark Appeal – every penny raised will go directly to funding the Galapagos Whale Shark Project.
  • Adopt a shark – a great gift to yourself or to a friend, adopting a shark is easy and will help us to provide further support to sharks in Galapagos.
  • Boycott restaurants serving shark’s fin soup – don’t support the industry which is responsible for the deaths of millions of sharks each year.

by Pete Haskell

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