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This Shark Week, Ask the Experts on Twitter

We get it. You might not want to get up close and personal, but you just can’t get enough of sharks. Neither can we. This summer, we hope to satiate your shark appetite and give you a bite of the inside shark scenes here at NOAA Fisheries. Throughout Shark Week, you’ll meet our scientists and learn about how and why we study sharks—but the pièce de résistance—that’s the tweet chat with Antonella Preti and Lisa Natanson when you can test their sharkpertise—Thursday, August 8, at 2 p.m. EST @NOAAFisheries.

The Science Inside A Shortfin Mako

Just a few weeks ago, Preti performed a gut analysis on a shortfin mako shark weighing in at 1,323 pounds and 12 feet long. The recreational fishermen who caught it donated its stomach and backbone to science, and we gladly accepted the challenge. So what do we hope to learn from a large shark sample like this? 

Shark Diet and Age

Understanding a shark’s diet means finding out more about how the food chain works, as well as gaining clues about shark ecology and biology. All of this information helps scientists build a stronger ecosystem-based management strategy and helps us to better manage fisheries. Scientists also look at how fast sharks grow and how old they are when they mature. Shark vertebrae contain pairs of opaque and translucent bands, which scientists count—like rings on a tree—to determine the shark’s age.

What Was the Mako's Last Meal?

Back to Preti and the mako gut analysis. The anticipation around NOAA Fisheries was high as we awaited Preti to perform the gut analysis to learn more about this shark’s last meal…er, its feeding habits. We all wanted to see, so we sent our videographer into the lab. The outcome—well, it’s gross. But that didn’t faze Preti who has more than 2,000 gut analyses on her resume. The question is—do you have the guts to watch The Science Behind A Mako Shark’s Last Meal?

How Old Was the Mako? 

Before you figure that out, on to Natanson. Sure, we’ve seen her slice through shark backbones, examine them under the microscope, and count the rings to determine their age, but she has much more to tell us about sharks. She did tease us with a video of her unloading the shortfin mako shark backbone after it was shipped to her from across the country. But, you'll have to follow us on Twitter using #sharkweekchat to see if Natanson reveals the age of the massive mako. 
 

Below see videos of Preti and Natanson in action. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @NOAAFisheries and “Like” us on Facebook. Watch them now:


Shortfin mako shark. Credit: NOAA.

 


Meet the two scientists on the tweet chat. 

Antonella Preti

Title: Shark Biologist

Lab: Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California

Claim to fame:  I have dissected more than 2,000 swordfish and shark stomachs, including 200 mako shark stomachs.

Research focus: I study the feeding ecology of shortfin mako, blue, and thresher sharks. I study their feeding habits through analyses of stomach contents, stable isotopes, and fatty acids.

Favorite shark: I love all sharks but if I had to pick one, it would be the blue shark. To quote Jean-Michel Cousteau, the blue shark is "fluid grace wrapped in iridescent blue skin." I adore how blue sharks swim, their amazing color, slim figure, and curious, mysterious look.

Most memorable shark experience: The dissection of the giant shortfin mako—the biggest dissection I have ever performed. A stomach of that size and a prey sea lion of those proportions was something I'd never experienced before. Being in touch with one of the biggest shortfin makos on the planet was a very intense experience at a professional and emotional level. When I opened the stomach and found a sea lion with the flippers, head severed, and numerous teeth marks, I will never forget the feeling I had. Not only was it unforgettable, it made me contemplate nature and how life works—a shark can be a killer first and then a victim in a very short time.

Coolest thing about being a shark scientist: Being a scientist gives you the opportunity to discover new amazing things about these wonderful animals, the way they live, and how they are connected to every other creature in the ocean’s ecosystems.


 

Lisa Natanson

Title: Fisheries Biologist

Lab: Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Narragansett, Rhode Island, but the shark research I conduct at sea reaches as far as the Grand Banks off Newfoundland to Florida. 

Claim to fame: I have tagged over 10,000 sharks for the NOAA Fisheries Cooperative Shark Tagging Program.

Research focus: I study the life history of sharks, with a particular focus on age, growth, and reproduction. I attend dozens of shark tournaments and go on research and commercial fishing boats to gather biological samples and tag sharks. To help determine a shark’s age, I inject the live tagged shark with tetracycline, which adheres to the calcium in the shark's backbone. If that shark is later recaptured and dissected, the tetracycline mark will glow, but growth before and after the mark will not. This technique can help validate age studies of sharks.

Favorite shark: I can't say I have one favorite shark—it's usually the one I am working on at that moment. If I absolutely had to choose, I would pick angel, porbeagle, and tiger sharks. These sharks are all very interesting and lower profile than some other, better known sharks. 

Most memorable shark experience: Watching a 300+ pound mako jump and do a flip 20 feet in front of me.

Coolest thing about being a shark scientist: Being a scientist lets me go out to sea to fish for sharks to tag and sample, and that's an incredible job.