NSF Sharks Tree of Life Programme

On the 21 May 2012 the Cook Islands factory trawler Will Watch berthed in Port Louis, Mauritius, carrying in addition toits catch from the Southern Indian Ocean, Paul Clerkin, a researcher from the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California (USA).  During 10 weeks at sea Mr. Clerkin had supervised the collection of deepwater sharks taken as bycatch during the vessel’s fishing operations.  This work was part of the collaboration between SIODFA, the PSRC and the College of Charleston (South Carolina) to document the diversity of all of the worlds sharks and rays and to estimate their evolutionary relationships based on genetic data. The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Assembling the Tree of Life program.  The trip was most successful: Almost 400 shark specimens were collected measured, sampled genetically, and assessed for life history characteristics, which will be used to better understand their ecology and population dynamics

Taking length and maturity data from a kitefin shark (Dalatias licha)

After offloading from the F.V. Will Watch, the shark specimens were stored in the cold store Froid des Mascareignes in Mauritius before being moved to the Albion Fisheries Research Centre (AFRC) of the Ministry of Fisheries and Rodriques at Petit Rivière.  There, researchers at the AFRC played a major role in preserving the specimens and preparing them for air shipment to the U.S.  The specimens are currently at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, California for further processing and study by an international team of shark experts. Many of the specimens will eventually be deposited in major museum collections at the American Museum Natural History (New York), California Academy of Science (San Francisco), and Smithsonian Natural history Museum (Washington, D.C.).

Scientific interests are centered on the biodiversity of deep-sea sharks and rays in the Southern Indian Ocean. Approximately 30 different species were collected, some rare, or possibly new, to science due to a lack of study in this remote location. Results from this expedition will greatly contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the deep-sea fauna in the Southern Indian Ocean and bycatch issues of this fishery.  The PSRC is looking forward to continued collaboration with SIODFA and AFRC with continued collections.


Gonad examination of a specimen on the factory deck










All those involved in the program are indebted to the captain and crew of the F.V. Will Watch, the management at Froid des Mascareignes and the Ministry of Fisheries and Rodriques for their kind support which was essential for its success.

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