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The Elasmobranch Husbandry Manual: Captive Care of Sharks, Rays and their Relatives Editors

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Sharks and rays are an important attraction for public aquariums where they provide an interesting and invaluable educational tool. Elasmobranchs are also maintained in public aquariums and marine laboratories for the purposes of scientific investigation. Much of what we know about these inscrutable animals has been learned through observing them in aquaria. Elasmobranchs exhibit a K-selected life history strategy, characterized by low fecundity, slow growth rates, and late sexual maturity. Unfortunately, this life history strategy makes sharks and rays susceptible to overexploitation. Reproduction of elasmobranchs in aquariums is poorly understood and is frequently restricted by the physical limitations of facilities. In addition, unless appropriate husbandry practices are adopted, elasmobranch survivorship in aquariums can be lower than in their natural habitat. As a basic conservation measure, the elasmobranch caretaker community needs to increase its level of peer review, constantly exchange information, and continually update prevailing husbandry practices. In addition, it should provide assistance to new and developing facilities, where less than ideal husbandry protocols may be adopted through lack of training or readily available information. Until the present day there has been no handbook enumerating the captive care of sharks and rays. Information has been available in scientific journals, the gray literature, and predominantly within the memories of experienced aquarium veterans, but it has been typically scattered and difficult to access. It seems incredible that the husbandry of such an important and charismatic group of animals has not been more comprehensively addressed in the literature. The Elasmobranch Husbandry Manual: Captive Care of Sharks, Rays and their Relatives attempts a first step toward addressing this oversight. The development of the Manual was slightly unorthodox and merits some description. It began as a bullet list of husbandry topics, tabled and discussed at the 1999 Regional Aquatic Workshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA). This list was then fine-tuned over ensuing months by a steering committee established at the same meeting. The initial premise was to generate an exhaustive list of elasmobranch husbandry topics and then solicit contributions to match those topics from individuals considered to be leaders in their respective fields. As the Manual was conceived to be a conservation initiative, participation was to be, and indeed remained, entirely voluntary. As a catalyst to the development of the Manual the 1st International Elasmobranch Husbandry Symposium was held in Orlando, Florida (USA), between the 3rd and 7th of October in 2001. The first three days of the Symposium included invited papers, representing the formal chapters of the Manual, and an additional day was made available for the presentation of voluntary contributions and the discussion of a plan of action. Bringing together ~180 learned individuals from 16 countries, the Symposium provided an opportunity to exchange information about the husbandry of elasmobranchs and to conduct an informal peer review of the contributions made by invited speakers. Following the Symposium, invited contributions were then peer-reviewed in a more formal manner and the result is the Manual you are now reading. The ultimate objective of the Manual was to produce a single-reference handbook that could be used as a guide to the captive care of elasmobranchs, assisting in the development of new exhibits, aiding the training of husbandry personnel, and answering specific husbandry questions about this important taxonomic group. In addition, it was a project objective to make the Manual available free-of-charge, via the World Wide Web, allowing anyone who might work with elasmobranchs ready access to the information. The resulting website is to be used as a forum to distribute the Manual, to post Manual updates, and to provide additional information and husbandry tools useful to elasmobranch caretakers. A number of articles presented at the 1st International Elasmobranch Husbandry Symposium were deemed to be of lesser immediate relevance and were not included in the Manual. These articles, in combination with archive articles from previous issues of Drum and Croaker, have been compiled by Peter J. Mohan (editor of Drum and Croaker) and published as The Shark Supplement: 40 Years of Elasmobranch Husbandry Science, Speculation, and Apocrypha (Drum and Croaker Special Edition No. 2). This supplement may be accessed through either the Manual or the Drum and Croaker websites. Aquariology is an emerging science and many experienced aquarium professionals have little formal scientific training, yet many of these individuals have years of valuable hands-on experience. Conversely, many workers who actively cooperate with public aquariums are professional academics and respected leaders in their respective fields. The Manual brings together contributions from both ends of this spectrum. This process has given the Manual an inclusive and, at times, a slightly eclectic feel. Rather than detract from the merit of individual contributions, or indeed the broad coverage of the manual, we believe that this unique characteristic enhances the accessibility and ultimately the applicability of the Manual. It was always considered that the Manual would serve, in part, as a bridge between pure science and applied aquariology, and we trust that this goal has been achieved.
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