Claudio Flavio Barria Oyarzo is in Barcelona doing work we all love- with sharks! Check out his very important work with these animals in this region of the world in this Behind the Fins series interview.
The Fins United Initiative: Thanks for meeting with us! First off, we want to know why you decided to study the ocean and its marine creatures? What drew you to them?
Claudio Flavio Barria Oyarzo: I study the marine ecosystems because I feel a great fascination towards them. Much of my family worked in the marine environment and since childhood my life has been linked to the sea and everything that lives there. Every time I get on a boat or I go to the beach I feel the aroma of my childhood that awakens that curiosity that encourages me to know what is happening inside, how many animals there are, how they are, how they move, what they eat, how they live and many other questions that I would like to answer. I have always seen humans as the continuation of fish on earth.
TFUI: What is your day-to-day schedule like?
CFBO: Ufff ... my days are quite moved. I live in the neighbourhood of El Born, very close to the ICM-CSIC, my place of work. So in the morning I wake up I have breakfast in a bar that I have on my way to work and start my day. In the first hour I see my email and start working in my office, writing and analysing the results of my studies; also I go to the dissection laboratory where we usually have to collect samples and dissect the animals we are working with. I also try to help my students as much as possible so I spend some time of the day answering questions and
integrating them in the study of elasmobranches. Then at the end of the day I try to go play beach volleyball with some co-workers.
TFUI: Can you tell us a little bit about the research you all currently do?
CFBO: Currently my work is focused on understanding the trophic ecology of sharks, rays and chimaeras. I am also working on the effect of protected areas on the abundance and distribution of sharks and rays of the Mediterranean Sea. In parallel with other researchers we are trying to outreach to make know the results of our studies and the importance of sharks and rays in the marine ecosystems. We generally upload these activities on our Facebook page "Catsharks."
TFUI: Why is your research important?
CFBO: I think my research has great relevance to understand how ecosystems work. Knowing the ecological role of sharks and rays is essential to understand the role of these species in the Mediterranean Sea, and to study what would happen if the populations of these species continue to decline. There is still much to do to take care of the populations of these animals; at this time we are also trying to diversify our research in order to determine the abundance and diversity patterns of the elasmobranches and identify the main threats facing this diverse group.
TFUI: What are some difficulties you have had in conducting research in your country if any?
CFBO: The main difficulties are economic. The European Union and Spain are coming from a great crisis where science and research budgets were ostensibly reduced. If we add to this that sharks and rays are unknown to most people in the country, we obtain an almost non-existent budget for the study of sharks and rays; although these species are on the menu of many people in Spain and we are one of the main exporters of shark fins worldwide.
TFUI: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
CFBO: What gives me more satisfaction is to communicate what I have learned to the rest of the people, especially the children. My father said that scientists have a social responsibility with the rest of the people; we cannot hide the knowledge in the laboratories we must communicate it, which is how the societies advance.
TFUI: Do you think people in your country have a good relationship with the ocean environment? If not, what can be done to better it?
CFBO: Although I am Chilean, much of my scientific work has been done in Spain and I will answer this question from the point of view of the Spanish society. Spain has a very close relationship with the sea since much of its territory has sea, and much of its economic activities are linked to this environment, such as tourism and fishing. From tourism there is a positive relationship and they try to take care of the coastal areas. Fishing has problems globally and Spain is not an exception. Many stocks are over exploited, there are fishing gears that are less selective than others and generate a great impact on marine species, also some gear degrade the bottom preventing species from living in these areas, among many other problems. To improve this, a management system must be consolidated that benefits all the sectors involved in these economic activities and that privileges the ecosystem. Right now in Catalonia, measures are being established such as the co-management of some fisheries where the recovery of species is being carried out, and regional authorities (Generalitat de Catalunya), scientists (ICM-CSIC) and fishermen (Cofradias Pesqueras) are taking part. It is a work that has just begun but that glimpses a good future.
TFUI: What do you hope 2018 changes for sharks in regards to their conservation/protection?
CFBO: This 2018 I have just been designated IUCN specialist. I hope this can contribute to establish more contact with the authorities and in this way establish priorities in the conservation of rays and sharks. Specifically we hope to enter to the list of endangered species in Spain the sharks closest to extinction; and its subsequent entry into the catalog that is where conservation actions for these species are established.
TFUI: What has been your most exciting discovery/trip?
CFBO: I think our most important discovery has been to make known the zone of El Hierro (Canary Islands) as an area where pregnant females of Odontaspis ferox spend a time before giving birth to their offspring. This shark is one of the great unknown and to provide discoveries such as these can help protect this species.
TFUI: What is something about Barcelona that most people don't know when it comes to their attitudes towards sharks?
CFBO: There are many people who know that sharks are important in ecosystems, especially underwater divers and some people who engage in other marine activities. There are also some who think that in the Mediterranean there are no sharks and are surprised when we tell them that there are more than 40 species. There are others that consume sharks and rays and are unaware of the threat of extinction of many species of elasmobranchs. There is still much work to be done to raise awareness of the importance of sharks in the ecosystems and the problems of their disappearance in the Mediterranean Sea.
More information of Claudio Barría sharks and rays in the following links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13.
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK claudio FOR HIS TIME AND
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
A proud #LatinainSTEM, Marquez is a marine biologist who focuses on shark habitat use and movements; she is also a science communicator (follow her on Twitter) who focuses on diverse Chondrichthyan education and who focuses on the media coverage of sharks. You can learn more about her on her website.