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Atlantic Tarpon in the Tropical Eastern Pacific 80 years after it first crossed the Panama Canal

  • Castellanos-Galindo, Gustavo A.1
  • Robertson, D. Ross2
  • Pacheco-Chaves, Bernald3
  • Angulo, Arturo4, 5
  • Chong-Montenegro, Carolina6
  • 1 Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Fahrenheitstr. 6, Bremen, 28359, Germany , Bremen (Germany)
  • 2 Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Panama , Balboa (Panama)
  • 3 Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura, Departamento de Investigación y Desarrollo, Puntarenas, 333-5400, Costa Rica , Puntarenas (Costa Rica)
  • 4 Universidad de Costa Rica, Museo de Zoología and Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnologia (CIMAR), San Pedro de Montes de Oca, San José, 11501–2060, Costa Rica , San José (Costa Rica)
  • 5 UNESP, Universidade Estadual Paulista “Júlio de Mesquita Filho”, Laboratório de Ictiologia, Departamento de Zoologia e Botânica, Rua Cristóvão Colombo, 2265, São José do Rio Preto, SP, CEP 15054–000, Brazil , São José do Rio Preto (Brazil)
  • 6 Stony Brook University, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook, NY, 11794, USA , Stony Brook (United States)
Published Article
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries
Publication Date
Apr 29, 2019
DOI: 10.1007/s11160-019-09565-z
Springer Nature


The opening of the Panama Canal ~ 100 years ago created a migration pathway between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean for euryhaline marine organisms that can cope with passage through 65 km of freshwater. The Atlantic Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, a prized recreational-fishery species in its native geographic range, where it is considered “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List, is one species that has swum through the canal to the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP). Since Tarpon were first seen in the Pacific locks of the Panama Canal in the late 1930′s, ~ 25 y after the opening of the canal, and large adults were subsequently observed in Panama Bay over many years, it has remained unclear whether this species has become established and is reproducing in the TEP. Here we review evidence showing that the Tarpon’s TEP geographic range now extends along ~ 2600 km of the coastline (Guatemala to the Colombia/Ecuador border), and that adults are moderately common in the southern parts of that area. General ichthyoplankton surveys in the TEP over the last 50 year have not detected any Tarpon larvae. Small juveniles have been found throughout the main part of its TEP range, up to 700 km from the Panama Canal. As such fish typically are sedentary and have never been seen inside the Panama Canal, they most likely were spawned in the TEP. At present, nothing is known about the basic ecology of Tarpon in the TEP and possible effects it might have on native ecosystems there.

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