Conservation and ethical care of sharks, skates, rays and chimeras

Plan of Action

Legislation, permitting, collection

  1. Public aquariums should be familiar with the current conservation status of any species proposed for display by regularly consulting such resources as the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™ (www.redlist.org).

  2. Public aquariums should be familiar with relevant legislation and permitting requirements, at all levels, by regularly consulting such international resources as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (www.cites.org) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (www.cms.int), as well as national and state agencies, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (www.nmfs.noaa.gov) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) (www.myfwc.com).

  3. Public aquariums should never “export” demand for a threatened species (e.g., Pristis spp.) to regions where legal protection for that species is inadequate.

  4. Public aquariums should ensure that third-party commercial collectors, acquiring animals on their behalf, always meet permitting requirements and use appropriate collection and transport techniques.

  5. Public aquariums should communicate effectively with permitting agencies, not only by adhering to required reporting schedules but by building an ongoing healthy rapport with local authorities. Communications should include: (1) an exchange of information about both the conservation value of public aquariums and their specific needs; and (2) feedback about the observed status of permitted species (e.g., observed frequency in the wild, behavior in captivity, etc.).

  6. Public aquariums should communicate information about commercial collectors, acquisition techniques, and permitting agencies.

Priority legislation, permitting, and collection objectives:

  1. Develop a comprehensive species list showing correct nomenclature, current conservation status, and relevant governing legislation.

  2. Develop a review protocol for potential commercial collectors and suppliers.

  3. Develop a database of apposite commercial collectors and suppliers.

  4. Develop an elasmobranch acquisition protocol—i.e., adapt the existing American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) (www.aza.org) acquisition policy.

  5. Monitor the development of the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) (www.aquariumcouncil.org). Support the development of a supplier certification scheme and include relevant aspects within the elasmobranch acquisition protocol.


  1. Public aquariums should ensure that husbandry personnel are fully conversant with basic husbandry techniques.

  2. Public aquariums should question the application of routine husbandry procedures and ensure that they understand the rational behind their continued use. Don’t adopt the old adage of “…it’s been done that way for years…”, as original justification may be flawed or no longer relevant.

  3. Public aquariums should communicate more effectively about elasmobranch husbandry experiences. Potentially useful data should be channeled to appropriate research and data-storage institutions.

  4. Public aquariums should maintain standardized, long-term, and accurate husbandry records. Techniques for industry-wide communication of large data series should be developed.

  5. Publish! Relevant elasmobranch husbandry observations should be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and the gray literature (e.g., Zoo Biology, Drum and Croaker, etc.).

Priority husbandry objectives:

  1. Establish an elasmobranch husbandry specialist group (focusing on nutrition, record-keeping standards, etc.).

  2. Develop a handbook of elasmobranch husbandry techniques.

  3. Develop a data bank of husbandry information, including water quality parameters, nutrition, etc.

  4. Standardize record-keeping and data exchange techniques.

  5. Develop a multi-disciplinary program for a flagship, conservation-dependent, species—e.g., the sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus). Generate a model list of research questions, subdivide the work, and determine sources of funding. Aspects of such a program could include: (1) investigating the cause of spinal deformities; (2) establishing “normal” blood parameters; (3) investigating reproductive hormones and cues; (4) developing a collaborative breeding program; (5) investigating global genetic variation; and (6) investigating the status of wild populations.

Veterinary Care

  1. Public aquariums should ensure that husbandry personnel are fully conversant with basic veterinary practices.

  2. Tissue and blood samples (from routine examinations, biopsies, specimen losses, etc.) should be taken and analyzed, wherever possible, to build a database of “normal” parameters.

  3. Public aquariums should communicate more effectively about veterinary experiences. Potentially useful data should be channeled to appropriate research and data-storage institutions. A secure mode of information sharing with academics, to protect institutions and data ownership, should be developed. One-on-one interactions between public aquariums and academic institutions is encouraged.

  4. Public aquariums should maintain standardized, long-term, and accurate veterinary records. Techniques for industry-wide communication of large data series should be developed.

  5. Publish! Relevant veterinary observations should be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and the gray literature (e.g., Zoo Biology, Drum and Croaker, etc.).

Priority veterinary care objectives:

  1. Establish a veterinary specialist group to focus on pharmaceutical use, blood parameter “norms”, tissue sampling techniques, etc.

  2. Develop a data bank of veterinary information, including: (1) pathology—symptoms, causative agents, and treatments; (2) hematology and blood chemistry—wild and captive “norms”; (3) pharmaceuticals—dosages, efficacy, and species sensitivity; (4) photo-imaging—clinical, diagnostic, histological, and microbiological; and (5) standardized record-keeping and data exchange techniques.

Captive breeding

  1. Public aquariums intending to develop a captive breeding program should consider which species represent a conservation priority, specifically: (1) is the species listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™?; (2) is the species regionally endemic, little studied, or even undescribed, and at risk of losing its habitat?; (3) is the species in demand for public aquariums—e.g., sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum), spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), etc.?; and (4) does the aquarium have the requisite expertise?

  2. Public aquariums should consider the longer-term objectives of the breeding program, specifically: (1) will breeding and inter-aquarium distribution of the species reduce pressure on wild populations?; (2) will the breeding program contribute toward the collective knowledge of elasmobranch reproduction?; (3) is the intention to breed a pool of animals for future release into the wild and if so is this a fitting objective (refer to re-introductions below)?

  3. Public aquariums should discourage the breeding of common species excess to current requirements. Consider usage of surplus animals for invasive reproduction research (e.g., organ development studies, etc.).

Priority captive breeding objectives:

  1. Establish a captive breeding specialist group.

  2. Develop a databank of captive breeding information detailing relevant aspects of species successfully reproduced, or exhibiting reproductive behavior, in public aquariums.

  3. Establish zoological studbooks for those species that have bred successfully in captivity and that require a management program.

  4. Develop a common system of identification to track individual animals within a breeding meta-population.

  5. Establish a centralized breeding facility to support the development of collaborative breeding programs for key species (e.g., sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks, etc.).

  6. Establish a tissue bank as a resource for reproduction studies. Support genetic and hormonal research by making available tissue samples for appropriate projects.


Draft and adopt a re-introduction policy consistent with IUCN Re-introduction Specialist Group (RSG) (www.iucnsscrsg.org) guidelines—i.e., to not release elasmobranchs into the wild, with the exception of coastal public aquariums and marine laboratories that have open systems and short-term specimen retention times, and to never release exotic species. Develop a corresponding rigorous re-introduction protocol. It should be clear that the release of elasmobranchs as a solution for surplus and unwanted animals is not acceptable.


  1. Public aquariums should encourage research. The cost-benefits of research activities need to be clearly explained and justified to aquarium management (e.g., improved husbandry practices; improved conservation policies and performance; improved education programs, etc.).

  2. Public aquariums developing institutional research programs should ensure that the following issues have been considered and are clearly established for each project: (1) what will the study accomplish?; (2) why does the study need to be undertaken?; (3) how much will the study cost?; (4) how long will the study take?; (5) who will undertake the study and are they qualified?; (6) is the study duplicating effort elsewhere?; and (7) will the study integrate smoothly with a wider inter-institutional research effort? These issues are particularly important if you wish to attract funding.

  3. Public aquariums should take advantage of their innate resources (i.e., infrastructure, human, etc.) and focus investigations within their area(s) of expertise.

  4. Public aquariums should develop investigations in concert with existing research and conservation efforts currently undertaken by academia.

  5. Public aquariums should encourage the collection and dissemination of data for both rare species and those species targeted by conservation and management programs (e.g., Pristis spp.).

  6. Public aquariums should optimize the value of interns by maintaining a list of valuable projects that can be undertaken during their tenure.

Priority research objectives:

  1. Establish a research specialist group.

  2. Establish an independent academic review committee.

  3. Establish a mechanism for systematically evaluating, selecting, and implementing quality research projects that may be supported and funded by the AZA’s Conservation Endowment Fund, the European Union, etc.

  4. Establish a database of ongoing research projects undertaken by member institutions of the various regional zoological associations—e.g., the AZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) (www.eaza.net), the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) (www.arazpa.org.au), etc.

  5. Develop a list of future research priorities oriented toward one or more of the following: (1) improved elasmobranch captive management (e.g., nutrition, water quality, exhibit design, enrichment, etc.); (2) elasmobranch captive breeding programs; (3) in situ or ex situ conservation efforts; (4) recovery of endangered wild elasmobranch populations; and (5) improved education, outreach, and advocacy techniques.

Education, outreach and advocacy

  1. Public aquariums must establish and preserve education as a fundamental aspect of their mission. Public aquariums should identify education priorities related to elasmobranchs and integrate them into their educational program where appropriate.

  2. Public aquariums should be aware of, and contribute toward, existing and developing conservation and management strategies on an international and domestic level (e.g., CITES, IUCN, MAC, etc.). Public aquariums should directly apply and disseminate information about same.

  3. Public aquariums should improve links with other public aquariums, academia, and government agencies, to ensure possession of up-to-the-moment information about all aspects of elasmobranch conservation. Better communication should be sought through attendance at relevant meetings (e.g., the annual meetings of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES) (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/organizations/aes/aes.htm), the Regional Aquatic Workshop, the European Union of Aquarium Curators (EUAC) (www.euac.org), the European Elasmobranch Association (EEA) (www.eulasmo.org), etc.), participation on list servers (e.g., Elasmo-L), and exchange of peer-reviewed publications, etc.

  4. Public aquariums should be proactive about using the media for education and advocacy purposes.

  5. Public aquariums should promote and support the activities of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) (http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/organizations/ssg/ssg.htm) and Shark News, the official organ of the SSG.

  6. Public aquariums should promote and support MAC and discourage hobbyists from acquiring threatened elasmobranchs (or those species that will out-grow exhibits).

Priority education, outreach, and advocacy objectives:

  1. Establish an education specialist group.

  2. Develop a comprehensive educational package for distribution to all public aquariums (e.g., an update of the IUCN SSG slide presentation Sharks in Danger). Issues covered by the educational package should include: K-selected life history, overfishing, finning, shark attack, responsible trade practices (e.g., retail outlets, hobbyists, and the MAC certification scheme), ongoing research projects (e.g., biomedical)., etc.

  3. Develop techniques for improved public access to elasmobranchs (e.g., touch-pools); increasing educational opportunities and augmenting the uptake of conservation messages. Develop suitable guidelines for same.