Contributions of Aquariums to Elasmobranch Research

Symposium Overview:

Public aquariums showcase aquatic life while raising awareness and educating the public on biodiversity and the need for conservation. Recently, aquaria have followed in the footsteps of zoos by taking more directed approaches in species conservation as well as leveraging animals in their collections to fill biological knowledge gaps through research. Aquaria possess some unique qualities that can be applied to elasmobranch research and conservation efforts.  In addition to the increasing number of institutions that now support dedicated research departments or staff, aquaria have considerable public audiences (both physical and virtual), ambassador animals to foster deeper connections and empathy for species, dedicated education departments typically focused from the preschool to high school level, comprehensive communication departments with media connections, and extensive animal care and specialized veterinarian teams. Through these expertise aquaria are able to house animals that are often not feasible to care for in traditional academic settings, and for long durations often throughout entire life cycles, allowing important life history information to be investigated.

There has been a longstanding involvement of aquarium professionals in the American Elasmobranch Society, best highlighted by the career and research accomplishments of the late Alan Henningsen.  However, the number of AES members who represent aquaria has dwindled over the past few decades.  We hope that this symposium will highlight these past connections, including Alan’s legacy, encouraging more aquaria personnel who attend to sustain their memberships and take more active roles moving forward to engage with other members of AES from different sectors (e.g. academia, nonprofits, etc).  Equally, we anticipate that this will further highlight and promote collaborative opportunities between aquaria and AES members to the broader benefit of the elasmobranch research field in general.

Symposium organizers:

Jennifer Wyffels, wyffels@ripleys.com

Steve Kessel, skessel@sheddaquarium.org

Kady Lyons, klyons@georgiaaquarium.org