A team of researchers from the Pacific Shark Research Center in California is racing to name newly-discovered species before they are wiped out by overfishing.
The Center’s director Dr. David Ebert and graduate students Jessica Jang, Kristin Walovich and Victoria Elena Vásquez have turned to the crowdfunding site experiment.com in search of backing for their project. They have already met their initial goal of $1800 to name and publish literature about a new species of ghost shark (or chimaera), but are hoping to raise much more so they can name 14 other recently-discovered species as well.
Their proposal is competing against several other shark research projects for prizes of up to $1000 in additional funding. The money would cover lab analyses, publication preparation, open access page charges, travel, postage for shipping specimens and educational outreach.
According to IUCN experts, sharks, rays and other cartilaginous fishes are at a higher risk of extinction than most other groups of animals, with a quarter of their species in danger of dying out.
Overfishing has been identified as the most significant threat. The Western Indian Ocean, where many of the new species are being discovered, is a biodiversity hotspot; nearly 300 shark species are estimated to occur there. Worryingly, this area also faces pressure from the shark fishing industry.
Another critical problem is how little is known about sharks and their relatives. For nearly half of the species in this group, the conservation status has not been assessed due to insufficient data. An estimated 1200 species have yet to even be discovered. Meanwhile, superstar species like the Great White Shark get more than their share of public attention as well as research and conservation dollars.
Many of the overlooked species reside in deep waters that, until recently, have been under-explored; for example, the ghost shark featured in Ebert’s team’s funding proposal was found in remote seamounts off the coast of southern Africa. Plans cannot be made to conserve these ‘lost sharks’ unless their species are made known to science.
Ebert and his team want to publish 15-20 journal articles providing scientific names for the 15 species they have discovered as well as information that will help people to correctly identify them and develop action plans to conserve and manage their populations.
They also aim to inspire a new generation of shark lovers through outreach programs, especially within communities that have been historically underrepresented in science.
Visit their team page on experiment.com to learn more or contribute.