8 Jul
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Shark Bites

Image by Andrea Bohl from Pixabay

The following is a short article that I wrote for the August 2019 issue of RI Monthly Magazine.

Rhode Island is home to a feeding frenzy of shark research. Just a few examples:

How not to age a shark: NOAA’s Dr. Lisa Natanson recently published a paper that blew up the way sharks are aged. Until recently, scientists had been relying on pairs of growth rings in shark spines (like the rings of trees) to determine age. “Our whole mission at Marine Fisheries is sustainability for those who want to swim with sharks, fish for them and so forth. Part of sustainability is figuring out how fast they grow, when they reach reproductive age,” Natanson said. Her research disproved the reliability of that accepted method, and a new one is still in the future. Meanwhile, she and her team will be traveling from Maine to Long Island (including Snug Harbor in Wakefield) following shark tournaments to gather the animals for further research.

Image by christels from Pixabay

Shark array: The Atlantic Shark Institute (atlanticsharkinstitute.org) is the new kid on the shark block with a mighty vision: to support shark research around New England, but especially here in Rhode Island. Jon Dodd and Joe Romeiro work to conserve a dwindling shark population. “Rhode Island is like this blank space when it comes to our knowledge about sharks,” said Romeiro. “We have 31 species of sharks right here, and we know next to nothing about what they’re doing.”
One way the team hopes to fill in that blank is a shark array the Institute and DEM will deploy in Rhode Island waters. The system will collect acoustic signals from tagged sharks, spying on their movements for the first time. Dodd and Romeiro hope the research support they provide will lead to people understanding sharks. “I’d love to talk to people about sharks and have them say, ‘Oh, I know that’, said Dodd. “I’d like for people to be better educated.”

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

You find it, you name it: When URI’s Brad Wetherbee was researching deep sea sharks in Hawaii three decades ago, local fishermen brought him a box that held several odd-looking sharks. Wetherbee knew that many fish at 1000’ deep were unusual, but these sharks looked different: possibly a new species?
Finding out for sure was a long, drawn out process, involving extensive research and teams of experts. As Wetherbee’s focus at that time was elsewhere, “Identifying it was something put on the back burner.” As the years past, though, it became increasingly clear that the three-foot shark with huge eyes was indeed a new species. And in the world of science, the person credited with finding a new species gets to name it. Hence came Etmopterus lailae, a lantern shark named for his daughter, Laila Mostello-Wetherbee. “As a ten-year-old, she didn’t seem too impressed with the name,” Wetherbee recalls. Now a senior in high school, Laila has grown to like the notoriety. “For me,” he said, “that was enjoyable: the more people wrote about me, the more my name would pop up in Google searches. That’s what made her change her mind.”

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