The Two Oceans Aquarium is proud to be hosting the 2019 Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium from 7 to 9 October 2019. Held every two years, this is the 5th Symposium to take place. The Symposium will attract marine biologists, researchers, students, conservationists, government officials, and tour operators and companies from mainly southern African countries, including Mozambique, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. Organisations such as the Save our Seas Foundation, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Oceans Research, White Shark Diving Company, KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, Shark Spotters, TRAFFIC, the South African Shark Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature were represented at previous symposiums and the Two Oceans Aquarium is looking forward to welcoming these and many other significant players to the 5th Symposium in October. 

Registration for the Symposium is now open and abstracts for presentations must be submitted by 31 May 2019. Keynote speakers and the full programme will be announced after this date.

The Symposium Organising Committee is chaired by Dr Nathalie Viljoen, Conservation and Research Manager for the recently formed Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, and is supported by Maryke Musson, Curator; Tinus Beukes, Operations Manager; Alichia Nortje, Guest Experience Manager; Ingrid Sinclair, Marketing Manager; Devon Bowen, Online Content Executive; and Sarah Waries, CEO of Shark Spotters.

The theme of this year’s Symposium is “Elasmobranchs in the blue economy”, and the session themes will address biology, conservation, tourism, policy-making and education. There is growing consensus in the scientific world that it is imperative to look at the whole picture – conservation, fisheries, tourism, economies, and dynamic environments – in order to better understand elasmobranchs and the role they play in global ecosystems.

For us, the emerging concept of the “blue economy” means just that – a holistic, inclusive approach to understanding our ocean and its resources, while paying special attention to the connections between the ocean, climate change and the wellbeing of all living beings. Furthermore, we ask how we as the scientific community can ensure the sustainable use of these resources while not jeopardising, but instead nurturing, human wellbeing and social equity.

Given this interpretation, the 5th Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium invites delegates from diverse disciplines and interest groups to participate to ensure meaningful and robust discussions which will deliver outcomes beneficial to elasmobranch species, marine ecosystems and human communities.

In addition to showcasing cutting edge elasmobranch research, there is also a big focus on the student community this year. The Two Oceans Aquarium has made 10 student registrations available, and the Save our Seas Foundation will generously contribute to the travel costs of four students from the Africa continent outside of South Africa. We will also be hosting a Presentations Skills workshop specifically for students.

To enquire about these opportunities, please email

Elasmobranchs are a sub-class of cartilaginous fishes and include sharks, rays and skates. The word elasmobranch comes from the Latin elasmobranchii which comes from the Greek elasmos meaning beaten metal and brankhia meaning gills. The waters off southern Africa are home to approximately 117 species of sharks, 79 batoid (skates and rays) species and 8 chimaera species which include St Joseph sharks (elephantfish). Approximately 54 of these species are endemic to southern Africa and many are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN’s Red List and are listed Red by WWF-SASSI.  

A recent update of the Red List by the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group indicates that seventeen of the fifty-eight shark species assessed now face extinction, including the shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). According to Professor Nicholas Dulvy, SSG Co-chair based at Simon Fraser University,  “Our results are alarming and yet not surprising, as we find the sharks that are especially slow-growing, sought-after, and unprotected from overfishing tend to be the most threatened,”. He went on to say “Of particular concern is the fast and iconic Shortfin Mako Shark, which we’ve assessed as Endangered based on serious depletion around the globe, including a 60% decline in the Atlantic over about 75 years.”

Since opening in 1995 the Two Oceans Aquarium has not only exhibited several species of sharks and rays, but has also actively participated in conservation and research programmes. In collaboration with the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance and Professor Malcolm Smale at Bayworld, Port Elizabeth, we released several ragged-tooth sharks and fitted them with satellite tags to monitor their behaviour once they returned to the wild. Wild ragged-tooth sharks were also tagged in order to compare the behaviour between captive released sharks and wild sharks.

The Aquarium is currently involved in a five-year research project on broadnose sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as cowsharks). Aquarium staff assist the researchers by accompanying them on tagging trips and assisting with the catch, sampling, tagging and release of the sharks.

As a public aquarium dedicated to marine education and conservation, the Two Oceans Aquarium aims to inform the public of the role of sharks in the oceans and the importance of the larger species as apex predators. One of our key focus areas over the years has been the task of changing people’s perceptions and attitudes towards sharks – this we have done through our various education and communication platforms.

Some of the elasmobranch species on display in the Two Oceans Aquarium include ragged-tooth sharks (Carcharias taurus), St Joseph sharks (Callorhinchus capensis), blue stingrays (Dasyatis chrysonota), dark shysharks (Haploblepharus pictus), eagle rays (Myliobatis aquila), leopard catsharks (Poroderma pantherinum), short-tail stingrays (Dasyatis brevicaudata), and a honeycomb stingray (Himantura uarnak) among others.

We look forward to hosting the 2019 Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium and contributing further to the sustainable use, protection and conservation of elasmobranch species in Southern Africa.

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