Justin A. Cordova
I started my research career at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in the summer of 2012, through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Center (UROC) program in Cal State Monterey Bay. I was initially working on a project that dealt with invasive invertebrate species in the Monterey Harbor and during this time I came across Dr. David Ebert and Paul Clerkin. My colleague, Paul Clerkin had the opportunity to go to the South Western Indian Ocean on the F/V Will Watch in order to assist as a part of the broader Tree of Life project being conducted through the College of Charleston, South Carolina. At that time Paul had recently returned from his first trip from the Southern Indian Ocean (SIO) and had hundreds of deep-sea sharks to organize and measure. I offered to help them and ended up working there until I graduated in the spring of 2014. I had the opportunity to present my work at conferences like the North Eastern Pacific Shark Symposium in Seattle, Washington and the Sharks International Conference in Durban, South Africa. Following the conference in South Africa, I went to the Island of Mauritius where I met up with Paul from his second expedition to the SIO. There I helped him prepare samples to bring back to the states to continue our research on the elasmobranch species in the area.
My thesis is currently on the revision of the genus Apristurus in the South Western Indian Ocean. The genus is comprised of a large group of deep-sea cat sharks that can be taxonomically confusing to distinguish between species. New species are being discovered almost yearly and this makes the genus one of the largest groups of sharks and most confusing to tell apart due to their similarities in morphology. They are located all over the world except the poles, which makes this genus a common bycatch in deep water trawls. Management of these animals can’t be implemented if we’re not sure what we are catching. Among the species collected during the two expeditions there were multiple species of Apristurus that were brought back. As of now we are only aware of three species that are relatively close to the areas where they were caught but while studying the literature there are some inconsistencies which means I have the job to figure out what these shark species are. I would like to use both genetic and taxonomic techniques to distinguish the possible species in this area to broaden our understanding of what species of Apristurus are in this area of the world.
I am also currently working on identifying Apristurus that were found off the coast of Central America. I’m collecting literature and morphological data from specimens of the known species in the area along with possible species in the Pacific Ocean, in order to find any similarities that I can trace to these Apristurus. If there are no similarities or more unique morphological traits, I will use genetics to test to confirm if this is a known species or possibly a new one!