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.
Media Release - Research informs wild harvests for aquarium displays - Charles Darwin University, Thursday 16 November 2017