Sharks in Captivity: The Role of Husbandry, Breeding, Education, and Citizen Science in Shark Conservation
The role of public aquariums in promoting conservation has changed substantially over the decades, evolving from entertainment attractions to educational and research centres. In many facilities, larger sharks are an essential part of the collection and represent one of the biggest draws for the public. Displaying healthy elasmobranchs comes with many challenges, but improvements in husbandry techniques have enabled aquariums to have success with a variety of species. The establishment of organisations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the completion of texts like the Elasmobranch Husbandry Manual, has helped set high standards of care for sharks in captivity and promoted international conservation efforts. Aquariums keeping sharks are in a unique position to influence local, regional, and international attitudes and policies by acting as both educational and research facilities. Interactions with multiple stakeholders of diverse educational and demographic backgrounds through the use of in-house advocacy, public outreach, media interviews, and partnerships with academic and government institutions enable these facilities to engage and share information with a broad audience. Although the data collected on sharks in captivity often cannot be directly translated to animals in the wild, it offers better insight into a number of life history traits and poorly understood behaviours, and has been the foundation for many captive breeding programs. Several Northeast Pacific (NEP) shark species are commonly displayed for long durations or bred in aquariums, while other less studied species have been held for short periods to collect valuable data that can be applied towards ongoing studies and conservation measures. Here, we discuss past and current tangible benefits of holding NEP sharks in captivity, as well as noting several ways in which future research and education activities will continue to inform and shape public opinions on shark management and conservation.