Australia has a rich diversity of sharks and rays.

Definitive guide to Sharks and Rays of Australia

More than 320 shark, ray and chimaerid species are described and illustrated in the new edition of Sharks and Rays of Australia – a definitive reference by Peter Last and John Stevens of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship.

  • 18 February 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011

The new descriptions by Dr Last and Dr Stevens, and their striking portraits by watercolourist Roger Swainston, will help to guide the identification, wise use and conservation of these species, many of which are vulnerable to human activities.

Australia’s sharks, rays and chimaerids – collectively known as Chondrichthyans – are just as intriguing as their names suggest.

Spookfish, numbfish, stingarees, fiddler rays and cookie-cutter sharks are just some of the 322 species featured in the book. Their eclectic colours, shapes and patterns reflect environments ranging from remote estuaries to ocean depths.

Dr Last is curator of the Australian National Fish Collection which is based at the Hobart laboratories of CSIRO Marine and Atmsopheric Research (CMAR). He specialises in the taxonomy, biogeography and systematics of the Australian fish fauna and is a world authority on the taxonomy of sharks, skates and rays.

Dr John Stevens who also is based at CMAR in Hobart, has more than 30 years' experience working on the systematics, biology, ecology, fisheries and conservation biology of chondrichthyan fishes.

They wrote the the first edition of Sharks and Rays of Australia in 1994. Since then, 29 species have been discovered in Australian seas and more than 100 species have been named and formally described.

Indispensible reference

As well as documenting these advances, the new edition – published by CSIRO Publishing – includes updated species classifications and descriptions, distribution m

“The book catalogues a rich seam of Australia’s marine biodiversity, providing an indispensible compendium for scientists and the fishing industry.”

aps, line illustrations, family keys and outlines of chondrichthyan biology and interactions with humans.

The book catalogues a rich seam of Australia’s marine biodiversity, providing an indispensible compendium for scientists and a baseline reference for the fishing industry in its search for sustainability.

“More than a quarter of the world’s chondrichthyan fauna is found in Australian seas, and many of the species that live on the continental slope have only been discovered in the past three decades,” says Dr Last.

“In the same period, growth in the trade of shark fins has fuelled increasing demand for shark and ray products, driving significant increases in shark take by commercial fisheries worldwide."

Dr Stevens says sharks and rays live at the top of the food chain and play an important role in marine ecosystems, but many do not reach sexual maturity until 10–12 years old, so the number of young they produce is closely linked to the size of the adult population.

"There is growing concern about the sustainability of stocks throughout the world, and several species are listed by national and international bodies as endangered,” he says.

Shark and ray species featured in the book include:

  • Harrisson's Dogfish, Centrophorus harrissoni, is found mainly off south-eastern Australia, and matures late giving birth to litters of only two pups. Populations have declined by more than 95% due to fishing by trawl, net and longline gear across its range. Current management controls include trip limits and closed areas. The species has been nominated for protection under the EPBC Act, and is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red list.
  • The Blue Shark, Prionace glauca, is a relatively fast growing and wide ranging species that makes trans-Atlantic and trans-hemisphere migrations. It is one of the world’s most heavily fished sharks with huge numbers caught, particularly by oceanic longline fleets.
  • The Maugean Skate, Zearaja maugeana, is confined to estuarine habitats in the Bathurst and Macquarie harbours off south-western Tasmania, mainly in shallow waters. Its populations are small and could easily be further reduced by human activity and climate change.

Read more about the Australian National Fish Collection.