Sharks, rays and abortion: The prevalence of capture-induced parturition in elasmobranchs
The direct impacts of fishing on chondrichthyans (sharks, rays and chimeras) are well established. Here we review a largely unreported, often misinterpreted and poorly understood indirect impact of fishing on these animals — capture-induced parturition (either premature birth or abortion). Although direct mortality of discarded sharks and rays has been estimated, the prevalence of abortion/premature birth and subsequent generational mortality remains largely unstudied. We synthesize a diffuse body of literature to reveal that a conservative estimate of > 12% of live bearing elasmobranchs (n = 88 species) show capture-induced parturition. For those species with adequate data, we estimate capture-induced parturition events ranging from 2 to 85% of pregnant females (average 24%). To date, capture-induced parturition has only been observed in live-bearing species. We compile data on threat-levels, method of capture, reproductive mode and gestation extent of premature/aborted embryos. We also utilise social media to identify 41 social-media links depicting a capture-induced parturition event which provide supplementary visual evidence for the phenomenon. The mortality of embryos will have implications for elasmobranch populations, and there are limited options to deal with this problem. This review is the first to synthesize available data on capture-induced parturition in sharks and rays, and highlights an important ethical and management issue for fishers and managers deserving of much greater attention.