The Life of a Shark Scientist
Not all research is done out in the field, but in a laboratory setting as well. This can range from muscle biopsies, stomach content analysis, dissections, genetic (DNA) runs and isotope analysis, etc. This isn't something quick, either. It's hours at a time, carefully organizing and cataloging specimens or certain vials containing what have you. If you don't do something right, it can mess up your whole analysis and you're stuck in that laboratory for even longer (I've had gel runs last 6+ hours).
There's prep work for your lab work, too. Finding the correct chemicals, tools and/or machines for your analysis. As for those labels? You have to make those beforehand. I've spent a few hours pre-labeling stuff (cutting up little pieces of paper to put in a small vial... it's exactly as much fun as it sounds).
Notes from the field - kind of. In this case 'the field' is the lab! I thought I would post this picture so you can see a little bit of what goes on in the lab. When we're collecting DNA data from our shark and ray species, the first step is to shear the DNA into small pieces so its easier for us to sequence. That machine in the top left does that job for us, it's called an ultrasonicator and uses sound energy to chop up the DNA. You can see an image of how the DNA looks once its been fragmented in the bottom right. It's basically a smear which tells me there are lots of pieces all around the same size, which is a good thing! I worked on some interesting species this day, including a new species of whaler shark, Carcharhinus humani, which was just described a few weeks ago.
The following are notes from featured scientists in Gills Club:
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I joined Dr. Greg Skomal, Gills Club co-founder Cynthia Wigren, and Atlantic White Shark Conservancy on the water today, looking for white sharks to tag and photograph. I am helping out with the Massachusetts Shark Research Program's Population Study, meant to determine the population size of white sharks around Cape Cod, MA. Today we observed and photographed at least 5 white sharks, and tagged a beautiful 13-foot shark off Chatham!! The shark stuck around for awhile after and let us get real close to take nice footage. We were put on the sharks by a spotter pilot. I had the task of taking notes while in the field today; we make detailed observations about location, water depth, weather, and
NOTES FROM THE FIELD
Hello Gills! Today I am on the water with Cynthia Wigren and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy looking for white sharks! We are aided by a spotter plane which is flying up and down the coast looking for the sharks. If the spotter pilot sees one, he will direct us to it! Right now he is reporting good visibility for shark spotting. while we look around, we are also listening for acoustically tagged sharks with a VR100 hydrophone; any shark that has an acoustic tag on it will be detected and report back a characteristic ping sequence and ID number which tells us which shark it is! Conditions are good and we're seeing lots of seals. Fingers crossed!
In the beginning of the video, you can see the adult seals (big grey ones) approach the boat and "check us out" beneath the water, but otherwise the behaviour of the adults and young seals (tiny black pups towards the rocks) is pretty normal. There's a surprise visitor to our vessel as we turn around - which - NONE of us knew was there until we downloaded the video! Then, you can see the seals make a few quick dives for the safety of the rocks once we pass. In groups, the seals are able to identify threats quicker and respond faster, making them a very difficult target.
Meaghen McCord Gray
Five years later, this remains my greatest field moment. The scientific discovery of bull sharks in the Breede River helped rewrite existing literature on the species, describing a new maximum size (4m total length), an ~400km range extension for the species in South Africa and a previously undescribed habitat. Since this discovery, we have conducted five years of research on bull sharks in the river, including groundbreaking large-scale movement studies using satellite telemetry.
Here are my experiences: