Sustainability of threatened species displayed in public aquaria, with a case study of Australian sharks and rays

Abstract

Zoos and public aquaria exhibit numerous threatened species globally, and in the modern context of these institutions as conservation hubs, it is crucial that displays are ecologically sustainable. Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) are of particular conservation concern and a higher proportion of threatened species are exhibited than any other assessed vertebrate group. Many of these lack sustainable captive populations, so comprehensive assessments of sustainability may be needed to support the management of future harvests and safeguard wild populations. We propose an approach to identify species that require an assessment of sustainability. Species at risk of extinction in the wild were considered to be those assessed as threatened (CR, EN or VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, or data deficient species that may be at an elevated risk of extinction due to life history traits and habitat associations. We defined sustainable captive populations as self-maintaining, or from a source population that can sustain harvest levels without risk of population declines below sustainable levels. The captive breeding and wild harvest records of at risk species displayed by Australian aquaria were examined as a case study. Two species, largetooth sawfish Pristis pristis and grey nurse shark Carcharias taurus, were found to have unsustainable captive populations and were identified as high priorities for comprehensive sustainability assessments. This review highlights the need for changes in permitting practices and zoo and aquarium record management systems to improve conservation outcomes for captive elasmobranchs.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Marine Biodiversity Hub and the Northern Australia Hub, collaborative partnerships supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program and National Environmental Science Program. The Northern Territory Government (Territory Wildlife Park and NT Department of Primary Industries and Resources) contributed essential in-kind support for this project; while National Geographic, the Oceania Chondrichthyan Society/Passions of Paradise, and the Australasian Society of Zoo Keeping provided valuable financial support.

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Correspondence to Kathryn A. Buckley.

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Buckley, K.A., Crook, D.A., Pillans, R.D. et al. Sustainability of threatened species displayed in public aquaria, with a case study of Australian sharks and rays. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries 28, 137–151 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11160-017-9501-2

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Keywords

  • Aquarium display
  • Conservation benefits
  • Elasmobranch
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Zoos