Posts Tagged ‘sharks’

Seeking new species of Ghost Shark

February 3, 2016

White Sharks, Manta Rays and Tiger Sharks are easily identifiable to most, but there are more than 1,200 species of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, collectively called Chondrichthyans, known to science.

For my Master’s thesis I study a unique group of fish known as ghost sharks, chimaeras or ratfish. They are related to sharks and rays because of their cartilage skeleton, but look quite different. They have large pectoral fins, rabbit-like teeth and a long tapering body (check out an amazing video here). We know very little about these deep-sea creatures, in some cases something as simple as their name.


The Spotted Ratfish is a species of Ghost Shark found in California.

There are 49 species of Ghost Shark, however several additional species are known to exist, but have yet to be officially named. Under Dr. Dave Ebert, director of the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC), graduate students at MLML have named five new species of Ghost Shark since 2006. In fact the PSRC has described 25 new species of Chondrichthyans since its inception in efforts to help the ‘Lost Sharks’ of our oceans.  The most recent edition, the Ninja Lanternshark was officially published last month and received quite the media buzz!

DSC_6505Last year fellow graduate student Paul Clerkin and I traveled to South Africa to search for new Ghost Shark species. For more than 15 years local researchers speculated two new species existed in the region, but no one had taken the time to look for them. It may seem counterintuitive, but a museum is a great place to find unknown species. If researcher or fisherman encounters an unidentified chimaera, it’s often placed in the museum collection and forgotten.


The South African Museum houses hundreds upon thousands of fish in their collection.

We arrived at the South African Museum in Cape Town to gather morphometrics, a series of 96 measurements per animals that we use to describe and differentiate species. Together we measured 90 specimens for a total of nearly 9,000 unique measurements. Finding and measuring specimens isn’t as glorious as it sounds, the specimens are preserved in alcohol and stored in large tubs; one never knows what you might find. It’s a smelly job, but stay tuned over the next few months for several new species of Ghost Shark!

Whalefest: Not Just a Tale of Whales

February 3, 2014

By Melissa Nehmens, PSRC

Whalefest banner 2014

Whalefest banner 2014

On January 25th and 26th, the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf held its 4th annual Whalefest event to celebrate the migration of grey whales. Thanks to the efforts of fellow Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) student, Kristin Walovich, the PSRC and Friends of Moss Landing Marine Labs, hosted a booth at the event, speaking to attendees and passersby about what Moss Landing Marine Labs is all about!

Table attractions for the PSRC included a dehydrated Mako shark head and shark fin from our museum collection, and an anatomical model of a great white that allows you to see the inside of a shark. An interactive matching game, created by PSRC student Jessica Jang, was another favorite allowing people to test their shark knowledge by matching a shark to its description and name. We also showcased a story done by Central Coast News, interviewing PSRC director, Dave Ebert, about the lab’s role in international shark research.

How well do you know your sharks? PSRC student, Vicky Vasquez, helps a girl figure it out.

How well do you know your sharks? PSRC student, Vicky Vasquez, helps a girl figure it out.


Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2013

By Melissa Nehmens

This time of year offers the chance to provide a romanticized explanation of autumn on the central coast. I could explain how here at Moss Landing the weather is turning colder, the leaves are changing color, and the storm clouds bring a scented promise of the rains to come.  However, we have more important things to discuss: Halloween!

This past weekend was Moss Landing Marine Labs’ annual Halloween Party. Everyone came in costumes and as part of the tradition, each lab or group brought their pumpkin to be judged by the student body in the pumpkin carving contest. Though officially there was only one winner, I think everyone did a great job. What do you think?

assorted pumpkins

Front Desk, Biological Oceanography lab, Shop, and PSRC pumpkins

scuba pumpkin

Scuba Pumpkin


99 bottles of fish on the wall? Try 200,000!

September 29, 2013

Pacific Shark Research Center graduate student Catarina Pien and researcher Dave Ebert observe some of the unique sharks from the CAS collection.

By Kristin Walovich

Fellow grad student Catarina Pien and I were lucky enough to visit to the California Academy of Science in San Francisco to check out their extensive museum collection, home to nearly 1.2 million specimens!   We were on a mission to observe a variety of sharks, rays and chimaeras and to bring back specimens on loan from the South African Museum. We were greeted on a foggy San Francisco Friday by Dave Catania, the senior collections manager for the Department of Ichthyology.

The California Academy of Science (CAS) Department of Ichthyology houses one of the largest and most important research collections of fish in the world. There are nearly 200,000 jars of preserved fish in the collection, representing nearly 11,000 different species. That is more than a third of fish known to science!

By looking up the unique identification number assigned by CAS,  our guide Dave was able to bring us a whole cart of jars filled with old and unique animals. Catarina is working on a project to describe the sharks and rays from Oman, a country to the south east of Saudi Arabia. She photographed several specimens, including this Gulper Shark, to compare to other specimens from the region.


This species of Gulper Shark (Centrophorus granulosus sp.) is found worldwide, living at depths of over 3,000 feet.

Just like a library, scientists can check out specimens from the museum like a book on loan. I was lucky enough to do just that with a new species of chimaera from the South African Museum.  Chimaeras, or ghost sharks, are deep water fish with a skeleton made of cartilage, making them close relatives of sharks and rays.

When a new species is discovered a single animal is chosen, called the holotype, to represent the entire species. From this one animal I will record dozens of body measurements, take photographs and make observations in order to identify this chimaera to other scientists.  After the specimen is described it will be added to a museum collection like the one at CAS for other scientists to observe in the future, a process called accession.

ImageProper identification and detailed observations are very important when describing a species. Take for example these two species of small catsharks from the Indo-Pacific Ocean. They are very similar in size, color and shape, but because they are available for scientists to look at, subtle differences start to emerge. Without detailed records and a holotype, identifying sharks (or any animal for that matter) can be difficult.


With jars in hand and our camera memory cards full, we make our way back to Moss Landing Marine Labs for more photos, notes and measurements.

How long is that tail?

September 8, 2013

On Labor Day weekend, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ own Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) had the opportunity to dissect a 14.7 feet long common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus). The female shark was found washed up on the beach on Moss Landing already dead.

Program Director, Dave Ebert, PSRC students, and UROC students posing with the thresher shark

Program Director Dave Ebert, PSRC students, and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) students posing with the thresher shark

The PSRC is part of the National Shark Research Consortium for the West Coast. Currently there are 7 students enrolled in this department led by the program director, Dr. David Ebert, also a MLML alumni, and a handful of undergraduate volunteers from San Jose State University and California State University: Monterey Bay all who are ready to learn more about elasmobranchs!

The students were pretty amazed to see such small teeth on such a large shark. Thresher shark head The teeth on this animal say a lot about what it eats. Schooling fish such as sardines and anchovies, as well as cephalopods are its preferred prey. Thresher sharks are part of the mackerel shark order (Lamniformes) and excel at speed and long distances. A few examples of this order include, the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the makos, shorfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), longfin mako (Isurus paucus), the salmon shark (Lamna ditropis), and the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus). These species in particular are endothermic, meaning that they can thermoregulate their own body temperature to several degrees warmer than the ocean water, allowing better foraging opportunities.

Large gills for breathing

Large gills for breathing


‘Spot a Basking Shark’ Project. How can you help save this endangered shark?

April 9, 2013
Photo by Greg Skomal

You can help the PSRC collect information to save the Basking Shark! Photo by Greg Skomal

By Kristin Walovich, Pacific Shark Research Center

Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of gigantic man-eating sharks, the three largest species of shark spend their time peacefully roaming the ocean’s surface munching on the ocean’s smallest creatures.  Basking Sharks, the second largest species of shark, cruise the seas in search of plankton, filtering up to 2,000 tons of water across its gills per hour. Reaching lengths of thirty five feet, this shark exists worldwide, yet very little is known about how they live or where they go.

To discover more information about this vulnerable species, scientists from the Pacific Shark Research Center (PSRC) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have begun a new type of shark hunt. Unlike the crazed and frantic scenes from the JAWS movie, this shark hunt only requires a boat, camera and telephone! The Spot a Basking Shark Project enlists the help of local sea-farers to uncover the demographics and distribution of the California Basking Shark.

Once common along the California coast, these gentle giants are now a rare sight. In the past, these social creatures were seen in schools of hundreds or thousands; however since 1993 no more than three basking sharks have been spotted together. Fishing and eradication efforts by fishermen who believed them to be ‘man-eaters’ contributed heavily to their population decline. Despite the fishery closure in the late 1950s, Basking Shark numbers have remained low, mostly due to human impacts like vessel strikes, fisheries bycatch and illegal shark fining. Based on the decline of Basking Shark numbers and lack of species information, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed this species as endangered.

If you see a Basking Shark, the PSRC and NMFS want to know! These sharks can be identified by their large size, pointed snouts, and large gill slits that encircle the head. Basking sharks have dorsal fins up to three feet tall that are visible as they slowly swim along the surface with mouths wide open catching plankton.  If you see a Basking Shark, call or email the PSRC with your location, date and time of the sighting and any photos or videos. Your information helps the PSRC document and understand these majestic and peaceful creatures.

Visit the PSRC Website to report a sighting and to learn more about Basking Sharks!

Photo by Andrew Parsons

The basking shark can filter 2,000 gallons of water per hour while searching for plankton. Photo by Andrew Parsons

Whalefest 2013 this weekend at the Monterey Old Fisherman’s Wharf

January 24, 2013

aa whalefest-logo (5) color

Celebrate the return of the Grey Whales to the Monterey Bay at the Whalefest Monterey 2013 event this weekend Saturday, January 26th and Sunday, January 27th !

This event aims to bring public awareness to the marine non-profits that influence the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary by offering a variety of fun activities, events, and exhibits from over thirty organizations.

Our very own Pacific Shark Research Center will have a booth set up this weekend!  Find us at the Causeway at Old Fisherman’s Wharf from 9am to 5pm.

The grey whale makes one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, traveling nearly 5,000 miles from its northern feeding grounds to warmer winter calving grounds. Photo: Julian Pye

The grey whale makes one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, traveling nearly 5,000 miles from its northern feeding grounds to warmer winter calving grounds. Photo: Julian Pye



Ask a Shark Researcher

August 18, 2012

By Diane Wyse, Physical Oceanography Lab

In the spirit of sharing exciting new student research during Shark Week, we caught up with MLML and Pacific Shark Research Center graduate student Paul Clerkin.  During the spring semester of his first year at MLML he took a two-month cruise aboard a commercial fishing vessel in the Indian Ocean for his thesis research.   During that time, Paul collected sharks that came in as bycatch of the planned fishing activities – sharks that would otherwise have been thrown back overboard because they are not among the targeted species of commercial value.  Clerkin explains that the sharks that he collected were all DOA, that very few survive under the weight of fifty tons of fish.   As part of his bycatch-only collection practices, any sharks that were still alive when the fish and sharks were sorted were promptly sent back overboard to increase their chances of survival.  Below are highlights from our interview with Paul on his latest fieldwork expedition.

Paul identifying sharks from a haul in the factory of the ship.

How long was the cruise?

I spent two months at sea, and then five weeks at Mauritius.  During that time I processed and prepared samples to ship back to MLML. Overall I spent about 100 days out of the US. I remember because I had to get my visa renewed while I was there.

How many specimens did you bring back?

We brought in around 400 to the island, and around 350 made the trip back to MLML. It was just about a ton. On top of that I have hundreds of vertebrae and spines and around 800 tissue samples.

When you collected, was it usually a consistent number per day or catch, or did the numbers vary with time and location?

The catch amounts varied greatly, some mornings I’d wake up and have no sharks to work with, during which time I’d work on data processing, and other days I’d wake up and have 16+ hours of work sitting for me on the deck.  Using bottom roller gear brought in many more sharks.

What will you do with the specimens?  Are they all to be used on your thesis project, or are some saved for other projects?

The specimens will be used both for my thesis research and will be available for future research projects. We’re looking to get a lot of use out of the data. The list of possible projects and papers is pretty long.

Paul working on deck with a false catshark. Paul comments on the critter: “This species isn’t new but it is considered to be rare. I was extremely excited the first time we found one. As we caught more false catsharks over the trip I started to suspect these sharks are not as rare as previously thought. I think they just live in remote locations relatively unexplored by science. Although it is not a new species I gathered data and information on this shark that was previously unknown and will increase our understanding of this strange animal.”

Was this your longest cruise to date?

Yes, my longest cruise before this was out of AK for 90 days, but halfway through we came back to land for one day, then went back out again. After the first two weeks all the days blend together anyway.


New Semester, New Wave!

September 20, 2011

The new Wave from Friends of Moss Landing Marine Labs is here!  Inside are stories on the Drop-In Blog, PSRC’s Spot a Basking Shark Project, and the new Ichthyology faculty Dr. Scott Hamilton.  To download a copy, click the front-page image above, or click here.

If you found out about the Drop-In from your copy of the Wave and are visiting our blog for the first time, welcome!  We hope you’ll enjoy reading about our adventures.  Click on the bullets below to find the stories written about in the Wave:

Drop-In to MLML Open House: See Sharks up Close!

April 5, 2011

Sharks are not as scary after you learn about them.

It’s amazing how many people are scared of sharks.  I have over 500 dives over four years on the west coast and have only seen one large shark.  It was such a neat experience to see a ten foot shark in the water – most likely a sixgill shark, which are not dangerous.  During Open House the sharks will all treat you with respect (as you should them!).  All the sharks we have are preserved, not living specimens, but it is neat to see them and appreciate them up close.  This year we’ll have a salmon shark on display – be sure to come check it out!

MLML Open House 2011 is Saturday, April 30 & Sunday, May 1.


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