In honor of Shark and Ray Awareness Day (today!), we’re bringing you a recap of the Northeast Pacific Shark Symposium 4, written by our own Curator of Conservation Research Dr. Shawn Larson. Take it away, Shawn!
March 5-7, 2020, just before COVID-19 shut down most large gatherings around the world, over 100 people from the greater West American shark community met for three days in La Paz, Mexico to convene the Northeast Pacific Shark Symposium 4.
This symposium is the largest gathering of shark biologists in the west of North and Central America along the Northeast Pacific. This year’s meeting included presentations from shark experts from Canada; the continental United States and Hawaii; Mexico; and as far south as Peru. The meeting was sponsored by the Seattle Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Elsevier Scientific and was co-hosted by the Seattle Aquarium and Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas in La Paz.
A brief history of the event
This biennial shark meeting began in 2004, was initially called the Cowshark Conservation Workshop and focused on the biology and ecology of sixgill and sevengill sharks, known as “cowsharks” and distinguished by their extra gill slits. Many sharks have five gill slits but sixgills have six and sevengills have seven—hence their names. Cowsharks remained the focus of the meeting for 10 years until, in 2014, it was changed to be the called the Northeast Pacific Shark Symposium (NEPSS).
The change was driven in part because of increased interest by biologists that studied sharks outside of the cowshark family as well as the fact that at the first NEPSS we also convened an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Northeast Pacific Shark specialist group meeting where IUCN members worked on regional re-assessments of Northeast Pacific shark conservation status updates. Since then, the meeting has been known as the NEPSS, although the sixgill image remains the logo for the conference.
This year’s event: a recap
The change in focus from just two shark species to all shark and ray species found in the Northeast Pacific grew the breadth and scope of the meeting so that it’s now the largest gathering of shark specialists in the western Americas. This year’s event was the biggest thus far, spanning three days with over 74 talks ranging from trophic ecology to genetics to movement patterns. Sixty-five talks were devoted to sharks; nine to rays. Feeding or trophic ecology and conservation topics dominated the presentations with new work focused on movement patterns through tagging innovations, life history metrics and effects of toxics and physiology. The breakdown of topics on elasmobranchs were as follows: four on ecology, nine on life history, 10 on movements, eight on reproduction, two on genetics, 18 on trophic ecology, four on fisheries, six on physiology and 13 on conservation. (What’s an elasmobranch, you ask? It’s a cartilaginous fish of a group that comprises sharks, rays, and skates.)
The NEPSS4 was a huge success and we look forward to the next gathering, scheduled for March 2022!