Australian Society For Fish Biology

Peter Last

Career comment
Dr Peter Last has made major contributions to Indo-Pacific ichthyology particularly within the fields of systematics, biodiversity and biogeography. He is regarded as a world authority on the taxonomy of elasmobranchs and Indo-Pacific deepwater fishes and is one of only a few world experts on the systematics and biogeography of batoid fishes, in particular the skates. Peter has also been the co-innovator of important work on threatened marine animals such as handfishes and freshwater elasmobranchs and plays an active role in the IUCN Shark Specialist Group assessing the conservation status of Australasian chondrichthyans. Senior Taxonomist at CSIRO, Hobart

Publication record
Since 1978, Peter has published papers that describe 153 species. In total, Peter has published 220 papers with 46 papers completed in 2008. These new species will be included in a revision of the widely acclaimed 500 page book on Australian chondrichthyans, ‘Sharks and Rays of Australia’ (of which Peter is senior author) that was recently published in February 2009.

He is an associate editor of Cybium.

Mentoring students
Peter has supervised two honours and three PhD students and has conducted training programs in Borneo, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia in fish taxonomy.

International Reputation
He discovered the high levels of elasmobranch biodiversity in local endemic species in the Indo-Pacific region which has led to the increasing focus on the conservation of sharks and rays. Peter has studied the elasmobranch faunas in India, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia and New Zealand. Indonesian and the Philippines.  In these countries, sharks and rays are overfished and his work has led to the development of national plans of action for shark management and conservation.

Career History
Peter completed his BSc Honours thesis on the taxonomy and ecology of Tasmanian monacanthids in 1975 at the University of Tasmania going on to complete his PhD on the ecology and zoogeography of Tasmanian shore fishes at the same university in 1983.

In 1978, Peter joined the Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority as a Research Scientist and then moved to the CSIRO Division of Fisheries in 1984 as the curator of the Australian National Fish Collection.He is now a Senior Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart.

Peter received an honorary professorship at the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris) in 1997 and has been invited to join three other leading international elasmobranch specialists in writing and editing the first comprehensive guide to rays of the world.

Significant Career Achievements
Following publication of his popular book ‘Fishes of Tasmania’ (citation index 400), he produced the 1994 edition of ‘Sharks and Rays of Australia’. This book was the first comprehensive revision of Australia’s shark and ray fauna since the 1940s. It identified almost 100 new species, and highlighted the extreme richness (nearly 300 species) and high number of endemic species in the Australian fauna compared to other regions. This book received the prestigious Gilbert Whitley medal in 1995 and was referred to by a reviewer as ‘the definitive text on the subject, and one of the best fish books you will see in a long time’.

Since 1984, Peter has overseen a 70% increase in the CSIRO fish collection which now houses the most diverse collection of sharks, rays and deepwater fishes in the Southern Hemisphere. He has expanded the functionality of the National Fish Collection facility and moulded a research team with diverse and specialised skills to further this work. His dedication to improving data quality is reflected in projects to revamp the Australian fisheries data coding system (CAAB) and establish a comprehensive photographic index of Australian fishes (PIAF). The most recent development of PIAF, a project combining fish names, images, and distributions of the Australian fauna (being developed in collaboration with other Australian ichthyologists), will soon enable customised species lists and faunal atlases to be constructed at any locality in the EEZ.

Peter has a continuing interest in improving Australia’s biological inventory. He co-initiated an international project to survey the deepwater resources of Lord Howe and Norfolk Island (NORFANZ), this voyage was extremely successful, providing images and specimens of more than 500 fishes and 1300 invertebrates, and providing hitherto unavailable basic information to assist marine management in the region. Much of the fauna is new to science and the biota of these ridges is biogeographically distinct from nearby continental Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. These data will be invaluable for investigating faunal affinities and origins in the Australasian region.

Peter has also championed the need for common name stability of seafood and national standards in markets. Early in his career, he noticed that the use of multiple marketing names for each species was creating serious confusion within the fishing industry, as well as for consumers. After more than a decade of involvement in national committees to standardise the names of seafood products, he received an industry supported grant to produce a comprehensive handbook of Australian domestic seafood species (with two co-editors). In an international first, he assembled a team of specialists to provide an identification package to whole fish and fillets using a combination of classical taxonomy, morphology, and molecular biology. This book which sold almost 10 000 copies in the first twelve months, reached best seller lists nation-wide, received major accolades and won a National Print award. Peter has also initiated and developed (in collaboration with a CSIRO team) a novel, rapid assessment project in which species compositions of Asian fish markets are used to characterise fisheries and assess their health. Initial trials have proven fruitful and could provide a more cost effective method of appraising tropical fisheries at regional scales.

Peter (with a colleague) was responsible for the initial development of an expanded habitat and biodiversity classification scheme that has been adopted in Australia as a marine management framework. He has initiated work to produce regionalisations of Australia's fish fauna used as surrogates for mapping the mesoscale spatial structure (provinces and biomes) of biodiversity in Australian seas from the shore to the bottom of the continental slope. The products have been used by the National Oceans Office to define major regional marine planning units. A national regionalisation of the deep sea (in progress) is the most ambitious project of its type attempted anywhere and has led to the development of unique spatial mapping tools and revolutionised our understanding of the composition and distribution of Australia's fish fauna.

Selected References

Compagno, L.J.V., White, W.T. & Last, P.R. (2008) Glyphis garricki sp. nov., a new species of river shark (Carcharhiniformes: Carcharhinidae) from northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, with a redescription of Glyphis glyphis (Müller & Henle, 1839), pp. 203–225. In: P.R. Last, W.T. White & J.J. Pogonoski (eds). Descriptions of New Australian Chondrichthyans. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Paper 022, 358 pp.

Last, P.R. & Yearsley, G.K. (2008) Trygonoptera galba sp. nov., a new stingaree (Myliobatoidei: Urolophidae) from southwestern Australia, pp. 269–274. In: P.R. Last, W.T. White & J.J. Pogonoski (eds). Descriptions of New Australian Chondrichthyans. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Paper 022, 358 pp

Last, P.R. & White, W.T. (2008) Three new angel sharks (Chondrichthyes: Squatinidae) from the Indo–Australian region. Zootaxa 1734: 1–26

Last, P.R. and Chidlow, J.A (2008) Two new wobbegong sharks, Orectolobus floridus sp. nov. and Orectolobus parvimaculatus sp. nov. (Orectolobiformes: Orectolobidae) from southwestern Australia, Zootaxa, 1673, 49-67.

Last, P.R. (2007). The state of chondrichthyan taxonomy and systematics. Marine and Freshwater Research 58(1): 7-9.

Motomura, H., Last, P.R. & Yearsley, G.K. (2007). Scopelarchoides kreffti (Actinopterygii: Aulopiformes: Scopelarchidae) from off Tasmania, Australia: first records from outside the South Atlantic Ocean. Species Diversity 12: 9-15.

Last, P.R. & McEachran, J.D. (2006). New softnose skate genus Brochiraja from New Zealand (Rajidae: Arhynchobatinae) with description of four new species. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 40(1): 65-90

Motomura, H., Last, P.R. & Gomon, M.F. (2006). A new species of the scorpionfish genus Maxillicosta from the southeast coast of Australia, with a redescription of M. whitleyi (Scorpaeniformes: Neosebastidae). Copeia (3): 445-459.

White, W.T. & Last, P.R. (2006). Description of two new species of smooth-hounds, Mustelus widodoi and M. ravidus (Carcharhiniformes: Triakidae) from the Western Central Pacific. Cybium 30(3): 235–246

Manjaji-Matsumoto, B.M. & Last, P.R. (2006). Himantura lobistoma, a new whipray (Rajiformes: Dasyatidae) from Borneo, with comments on the status of Dasyatis microphthalmus. Ichthyological Research 53(3): 290-297.

Day, J.W., Hewson, H., Fagg, M., Doran, J., Turnbull, J., Ilac, J., Jeffrey, S.W., Last, P.R., Graham, A., Chesser, T. & Bougher, N. (2004). The biological collections in CSIRO: a national heritage? Historical Records of Australian Science 15(1): 1-19.

Williams, A., Koslow, J.A. & Last, P.R. (2001). Diversity, density and community structure of the demersal fish fauna of the continental slope off Western Australia (20 to 35ºS). Marine Ecology Progress Series 212: 247-263.

Sazonov, Y.I. & Last, P.R. (2000). Redescription of the rare slickhead Mirognathus normani (Salmoniformes: Alepocephalidae) with the first record from the western South Pacific. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 34(2): 385-389. 

Edgar, G.J., Barrett, N.S. & Last, P.R. (1999). The distribution of macroinvertebrates and fishes in Tasmanian estuaries. Journal of Biogeography 26: 1169-1189.

Moron, J., Bertrand, B. & Last, P.R. (1998). A check-list of sharks and rays of western Sri Lanka. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of India 40(1 & 2): 142-157.

Moteki, M., Fujita, K. & Last, P.R. (1995). Brama pauciradiata, a new bramid fish from the seas off tropical Australia and the central Pacific Ocean. Japanese Journal of Ichthyology 41(4): 421-427.

Bolch, C.J.S., Ward, R.D. & Last, P.R. (1994). Biochemical systematics of the marine fish family Centrolophidae (Teleostei: Stromateoidei) from Australian waters. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 45(7): 1157-1172.

Pavlov, A., Ivantsoff, W., Last, P.R. & Crowley, L.E.L.M. (1988). Kestratherina brevirostris, a new genus and species of silverside (Pisces: Atherinidae) with a review of atherinid marine and estuarine genera of southern Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 39(4): 385-397.

Gomon, M.F. & Last, P.R. (1987). New Australian fishes. Part 1. Introduction. Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria 48(1): 1-2.

Gomon, M.F. & Last, P.R. (1987). New Australian fishes. Part 9. New species of Kathetostoma (Uranoscopidae). Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria 48(1): 31-33.

Last, P.R. & Gomon, M.F. (2008) Family Brachionichthyidae, Handfishes, pp. 375-376. In: M. Gomon, D. Bray & R. Kuiter (eds). Fishes of Australia’s Southern Coast. Museum Victoria, Melbourne, 928.

Gomon, M.F. & Last, P.R. (2008) Family Bramidae, Pomfrets, Ray’s Bream, Fanfishes, pp. 582-584. In: M. Gomon, D. Bray & R. Kuiter (eds). Fishes of Australia’s Southern Coast. Museum Victoria, Melbourne, 928 pp.

Gomon, M.F. & Last, P.R. (2008) Family Triglidae, Gurnards, Sea Robins, pp. 508-515. In: M. Gomon, D. Bray & R. Kuiter (eds). Fishes of Australia’s Southern Coast. Museum Victoria, Melbourne, 928.