August 24 at 7pm:
George Burgess, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida
We Hardly Knew Ye: The Decline of Atlantic Sawfishes
About the Lecture
The decline of populations of many elasmobranch species (fish that have a skeleton of cartilage, such as sharks and rays), chiefly the result of overfishing in industrial and artisanal fisheries, has been widely documented in the Atlantic Ocean and other areas of the world. Reductions in populations usually have been noted or inferred from analyses of catch and landings data, or from scientific data sets, allowing for timely (although often tardy) introduction of fishery and conservation management before the species faces biological extinction.
By contrast, populations of the small-tooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) and the large-tooth sawfish (P. perotteti) have plummeted over the past century without any scientific attention. Sawfish used to range all along the Florida coast and the species was once so plentiful it was considered a nuisance because the saw – or rostrum – is easily caught in commercial fishing nets. Their unnoticed declines occurred chiefly because biologists failed to detect shifting population baselines. Widespread reductions in population levels were discovered only after the species disappeared from the peripheries of their distributional ranges. Despite differing sources and amplitudes of fishery pressure, similar declines in ranges have occurred throughout the tropical and subtropical Atlantic. The decline of Atlantic sawfishes serves as a wake-up call to biologists to increase their vigilance in examining the population health of elasmobranch species with wide distributions but naturally small populations.
Education Center, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic
University, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL. Telephone 772-242-2506.
About the Speakers
George H. Burgess is an ichthyologist and fisheries biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida. He is the Curator of the International Shark Attack File and National Sawfish Encounter Database and author/coauthor of numerous books and papers on sharks and other fish.
Burgess is a founding member and past president of the American Elasmobranch Society, the international scientific society of researchers studying sharks, skates, rays, chimaeras, and their kin. He received his undergraduate education at the University of Rhode Island and his Master’s degree at the University of Florida.
Burgess' work has made him a popular source of information for the media. He is a frequent television guest on network morning shows, news programs, and nature specials, carried by national and international media outlets. He is often featured in programs for the BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic.
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