ELASMOBRANCH LONGLINE CAPTURE: ECOLOGICAL APPLICATION, PHYSIOLOGICAL IMPACTS AND ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES
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Longline fishing is the most common elasmobranch capture method in the world, both for commercial fishing, and to a lesser extent for scientific surveys. The capture of an animal on a longline initiates a series of physiological responses designed to promote survivorship in the short term, but if unchecked, can cause reduced individual fitness and/or mortality in the long term. Given widespread declines in shark populations, an improved understanding of the physiological costs of longline capture is needed. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the physiological response of sharks to capture and restraint, to assess novel, non-invasive alternatives to scientific longline surveys, and to generate scientific insight into poorly understood elasmobranch populations in The Bahamas. The results presented herein suggest that some species of shark are able to recover from the physiological stress of capture despite the presence of persistent negative stimuli. Tonic immobility was assessed as a means of generating baseline blood chemistry data, but was found to be inappropriate given that it increases the magnitude of physiological perturbation in the short term. To avoid the stress of capture altogether, Baited Remote Underwater Video Surveys (BRUVS) were considered as a non-invasive alternative to capture based surveys, however, it was concluded that they lack the resolution necessary to answer fine scale demographic questions. For the Caribbean reef shark, longline surveys yielded high resolution data allowing the identification of fine scale spatiotemporal shifts in demographic population structure with minimal cost (mortality). Nevertheless, the ethics of using capture based surveys on sensitive species are questionable when alternative techniques are available. Deep water sharks caught on longline surveys exhibited high mortality rates, however, for these very poorly understood species moribund specimens have great scientific value which in some cases can offset the high ecological costs of the surveys. The results presented in this thesis highlight the on-going need for improved biological and ecological research into the majority of elasmobranch populations, particularly with regards to anthropogenic interactions such as capture. Given the tenuous conservation status of many species, the acquisition of applied, management focused data should remain the priority of elasmobranch scientists.
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