A Good Day for Sharks and Rays


Dr. Demian Chapman examines a ray collected during a 2012 trawl survey of Shinnecock Bay.

Seven species of seriously endangered sharks and rays were thrown a lifeline today with the help of Dr. Demian Chapman, a Stony Brook professor and one of the lead scientists on the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program.

Dr. Chapman joined an international team of conservationists in Bangkok, Thailand campaigning to list the sharks and rays for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). A CITES listing doesn’t outlaw trade and it can’t stop poachers from poaching and smugglers from smuggling, but it does require exporters to provide documentation that protected species were legally captured.

The seven species of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) are: oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, oceanic manta ray and reef manta ray. Sawfish were also granted increased protection. Whitetip and hammerheads are hunted for their fins, the headline ingredient in the popular Asian delicacy Shark Fin Soup; porbeagles are hunted for their meat, and manta rays for their gills, an ingredient in Chinese medicine.

Today’s victory is an important step, but the listings still have to survive a vote by the full session of the convention later this week. Dr. Chapman is hopeful they will survive the final step and obtain CITES protection, “I am cautiously optimistic that we are entering a new era in shark conservation, one where the dried shark fin trade is actually monitored and regulated.”

Trawl Hands on Deck


Stony Brook PhD student Konstantine Rountos handles a striped sea robin during a 2012 Shinnecock Bay trawl survey. 

The scientists and students from the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program are getting ready for another trawl season. PhD student, Konstantine Rountos, who organizes the trawls, has scheduled nearly a dozen day-long trawling surveys between April and September, during which scientists will collect field samples, identify and catalogue marine species and survey existing shellfish populations. Stony Brook University graduate and undergraduate student volunteers get first dibs on these trips, but members of the Shinnecock community are often invited when space is available. Check this blog often to find out when we need citizen scientists to come aboard.

Shinnecock Bay Species Profile: Razorbill


photo from Wikipedia

Fortunate birders spotted a pair of bobbing razorbills in the Shinnecock Inlet during the Annual Audubon Christmas Count last Saturday. The birds were diving for fish as the incoming tide raced through the inlet. Razorbills are the closest living relatives to the now extinct Great Auk and the heirs to that iconic bird’s distinctive profile. They are members of the Alcidae family, the birds we have instead of penguins here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Razorbills spend their lives at sea coming ashore to breed on remote rocky island colonies along the Canadian coastline and down to Maine. They mate for life and copulate up to 80 times during the month long mating season. Each pair produce only a single egg per breeding season and share responsibility for incubating it and later feeding their chick. Razorbills feed by diving deeply into schools of forage fish such as capelin and herring.

At the turn of the 20th century, razorbills were hunted for their feathers, meat and eggs. They are now protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN redlist. It is uncommon but not impossible to see them feeding offshore here this time of year.  A pair of high-powered binoculars or spotting scope helps to detect them often out beyond the surf-line.

Razorbills rarely venture farther south than North Carolina, but southern birders including Don and Lillian Stokes are reporting an unusual invasion of razorbills in the Gulf Coast of Florida off Sanibel and Captiva Islands this month. For more on that check out their website and this link on ebird.