Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 401–416 | Cite as

Atlantic Tarpon in the Tropical Eastern Pacific 80 years after it first crossed the Panama Canal

  • Gustavo A. Castellanos-GalindoEmail author
  • D. Ross Robertson
  • Bernald Pacheco-Chaves
  • Arturo Angulo
  • Carolina Chong-Montenegro


The opening of the Panama Canal ~ 100 years ago created a migration pathway between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean for euryhaline marine organisms that can cope with passage through 65 km of freshwater. The Atlantic Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, a prized recreational-fishery species in its native geographic range, where it is considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List, is one species that has swum through the canal to the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP). Since Tarpon were first seen in the Pacific locks of the Panama Canal in the late 1930′s, ~ 25 y after the opening of the canal, and large adults were subsequently observed in Panama Bay over many years, it has remained unclear whether this species has become established and is reproducing in the TEP. Here we review evidence showing that the Tarpon’s TEP geographic range now extends along ~ 2600 km of the coastline (Guatemala to the Colombia/Ecuador border), and that adults are moderately common in the southern parts of that area. General ichthyoplankton surveys in the TEP over the last 50 year have not detected any Tarpon larvae. Small juveniles have been found throughout the main part of its TEP range, up to 700 km from the Panama Canal. As such fish typically are sedentary and have never been seen inside the Panama Canal, they most likely were spawned in the TEP. At present, nothing is known about the basic ecology of Tarpon in the TEP and possible effects it might have on native ecosystems there.


Ecological effects Invasive species Maritime canals Megalops atlanticus Reproduction 



We thank sport-fishing operators (Cristian Vanegas) in Colombia for facilitating information on Tarpon on the northern Colombian Pacific coast. Artisanal fishers and fish retailers provided useful information on Tarpon presence in the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Berny Marín (Incopesca) provided logistic support for field trips of BP-C. Alejandra Neira provided information relating to the report on Tarpon in the Mira River Delta, Colombia. We thank also Aaron Adams for providing information on on-going genetic research on Tarpon in the Atlantic Ocean. Rachel Collins (STRI) kindly gave access to plankton samples. Thanks to Richard Cooke, Rigoberto Gonzáles, Diana Sharpe for providing useful information on the presence of Tarpon in different parts of Panama, and to Enrique Barraza for information about and a photograph of the Tarpon caught in Guatemala in 2013. We thank Beatriz Naranjo for providing the drone pictures of intermittent coastal lagoons in Costa Rica. We thank two anonymous reviewers that provide useful comments to improve the quality of this manuscript. GC-G acknowledges support by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and both CC and GC-G for support of (individual) short-term fellowships from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in 2017. Finally, we thank two reviewers for useful comments on a draft of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 611 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 19 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (XLSX 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT)BremenGermany
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaPanama
  3. 3.Departamento de Investigación y DesarrolloInstituto Costarricense de Pesca y AcuiculturaPuntarenasCosta Rica
  4. 4.Museo de Zoología and Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnologia (CIMAR)Universidad de Costa RicaSan JoséCosta Rica
  5. 5.Laboratório de Ictiologia, Departamento de Zoologia e BotânicaUNESP, Universidade Estadual Paulista “Júlio de Mesquita Filho”São José do Rio PretoBrazil
  6. 6.School of Marine and Atmospheric SciencesStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

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