A new field guide should help crew of tuna vessels and observers to correctly identify 44 kinds of sharks and rays that are accidentally caught during tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

The guide, Shark and ray identification manual, has just been published by the Pacific Community (SPC), and can be downloaded from SPC’s website.

It covers the subtropical and tropical waters of the WCPO, and informs users about the best methods for handling and releasing sharks and rays, recommended by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Drawings of sharks in pairs from key steps page of shark and ray identification manual. Image Pacific Community.
The key steps pages helps users narrow down the type of shark or ray they are identifying. Image SPC.
Drawing of shark, with information to help confirm which species it is from others. From page of shark and ray identification manual. Image Pacific Community.
The key steps pages lead the user to more detailed information so they can differentiate individual species that may have a similar appearance. Image SPC.

Many shark and ray species in the WCPO (and elsewhere in the world) are in danger of dying out, and accidental catch during fishing is a major cause of deaths in some species. If these species are to be saved, scientists and fisheries managers need accurate figures on how many are being caught. And that means being able to identify them reliably.

SPC says that, as well as helping fishers, it also helps observers, who collect operational data from fishing and report back to fisheries managers, who use the information to manage not just tuna fishing but the care of the marine environments that tuna rely on to remain healthy.

To make identification at sea easier, the illustrations show the most important distinguishing features of each species, and its colour when alive.

Identification will also be made easier by the inclusion of the common name for each animal in six languages: Cantonese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.

The manual is written by Timothy Park, Lindsay Marshall, Aymeric Desurmont, Boris Colas and Neville Smith, and illustrated by shark and ray illustrator Dr Lindsay Gutteridge, who is also a scientist.

The new manual refines an older guide that defines 30 species of sharks and rays.

Shark and ray artist Lindsay Gutteridge sitting at a desk painting a shark. Photo SPC
Shark and ray artist Lindsay Gutteridge at work on an illustration for the manual. Photo SPC.