Teacher at Sea Shows Us the Science Behind Studying Sharks
Teacher at Sea Steven Frantz holds a Black-nose Shark.
For More Information
This year, 25 teachers from across the country will set out to sea to work and live alongside NOAA scientists through NOAA Teacher at Sea—a program that bridges science with education. In its 22nd year, the program has provided more than 600 teachers hands-on marine research experiences varying from fish surveys in Alaskan waters to atmospheric research in the Atlantic Ocean.
Upon return, the teachers bring their greater understanding and excitement back to the classroom, giving their students a glimpse into a scientific world that is otherwise inaccessible. To meet all 30 teachers of the 2012 season and follow their adventures on research cruises, visit their blogs at the NOAA Teacher at Sea website.
Q: What's the most unusual shark Frantz spotted on his trip?
A: Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Once on board the Oregon II they seemed to be docile (for a shark), however, their eyes on the far ends of their head were always watching what was going on. Even scientists don’t know why their head is shaped like that for sure. Some think it acts as a hydrofoil to help it move through the water. Other scientists think (because of its large size) it helps detect electrical impulses in the water—like a sixth sense.
Teacher at Sea Steven Frantz helps scientists measure a Caribbean Reef Shark.
September 11, 2012
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to study all different kinds of sharks with scientists? Get the details from Steven Frantz, a middle school science teacher at Roswell Kent Middle School in Akron, Ohio, who recently boarded NOAA Ship Oregon II to help scientists study snappers and sharks in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Tell me about the research done on the Oregon II.
I was on a Shark/Snapper Longline survey aboard the Oregon II from July 27 – August 8. The ship was celebrating its 300th research mission so it was an exciting time to be at sea. After we caught a shark, we had to identify its species and sex. We took measurements such as weight and three different lengths. Many sharks were tagged and a tissue sample was taken. We even took a biopsy on one shark that had a parasite on its skin. This information was available for other NOAA scientists to use back at home—NOAA scientists share the data that they collect at sea, so that others unable to make the trip can also benefit from the research. The majority of the research conducted was about fish and sharks, but there was also a plankton study going on at the same time.
What are some common myths about sharks?
The overwhelming majority of sharks we caught were very small and don’t pose a huge threat to humans. I think the public assumes all sharks are large and threatening. The scientists showed me that many species of sharks aren’t necessarily aggressive, but they are curious. You could think of it like a car. The majority of trips in a car are safe, but there is a potential for danger if there is an accident of if it is handled improperly.
What is one example of science someone following your blog would learn?
One piece of data scientists collect is a clip of flesh from a fin. This is a non-lethal way for scientists to obtain DNA for genetics studies and possibly for use in population structure for identification purposes. We must be safe when collecting data. Shark’s skin is like sandpaper, so if the teeth or tail doesn’t get you, you can also be given a pretty red rash by the scrapping of their skin against your skin.
What’s your favorite shark you've seen so far?
So far, the prettiest shark (at least to me) is the tiger shark. They can get to be three meters long or more. The ones we’ve found have been smaller and the one I’m holding in this picture is very young—the umbilical scar was still visible. Tiger shark teeth are different from most sharks in that their teeth are made to slice their prey, like the shells of sea turtles.
Tiger shark teeth.
Any other cool shark facts?
Sharks don’t have eyelids, like we have eyelids, to protect their eyes. They have what is called a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes. Here is a picture of the nictitating membrane partially covering a sharpnose shark’s eye.
What’s the most common shark you’ve seen on the trip?
We’ve found many sharpnose sharks, both sharpnose and blacknose sharks are considered to be small coastal sharks by NOAA Fisheries. While similar in size to the black nose shark, the sharpnose shark is spotted. When brought on board, their size is nothing compared to their strength. I guess you have to act tough when you’re little.
How will you bring your experiences with sharks back to the classroom?
I would be interested in creating a deck of cards with sharks on each card for my students who are 11 and 12. This would be a great way to expose them to a variety of species. I also can’t wait to highlight all the different careers that are available on a NOAA Ship, there’s such a wide variety of jobs available on a NOAA vessel. One lesson I am going to bring back is knot-tying and how important certain knots are. Without proper knots, a ship would not be safe.