Over the years I have been asked all sorts of questions about sharks, covering a broad range of pretty much everything, from; “Do sharks fart?” to “How do sharks grow?”
Let’s start with the latter, this was asked by an Ecologist friend; Heather Lyons, and is a particular favourite of mine, not least because the answer takes you on a journey of discovery on both a physiological and evolutionary level.
Biofluorescence is essentially the ability of an organism, to absorb electromagnetic wavelengths from the visible light spectrum by fluorescent compounds, and the subsequent emission of this at a lower energy level.
“Tonight Matthew i’m going to be…..” OK, enough of the British TV show references (of a particular era)! I actually want to talk about Smooth-hound sharks, Starry Smooth-hound identification to be exact (Mustelus asterias).
Recently i was given a box of trawl captured smooth-hound sharks from a local fish wholesaler for fecundity research as well as for ‘shark school’ my outreach programme. These sharks had been caught in the North Sea and upon initial external inspection provide a perfect example of how difficult it is to separate the Common Smooth-hound (Mustelus mustelus) from the Starry (M. asterias), when the white spots are used as the principal method of distinguishing between species (as they often are).
As you can see from the above photo, white spots can be clear or absent as well as feint, in individuals of the same species. Thus, spots are a poor taxonomic indicator. Differences in other external characteristics can be employed including; fin position and morphological characteristics of dermal denticles. However these can also be ambiguous, with the only definitive method of discrimination being the differences between their forms of viviparity (reproductive methods). The common smooth-hounds develop a placental connection with the mother through the interaction of the yolk sac, egg envelope and uterine wall whereas the Starry have no physical connection to the mother and rely on the yolk sac during early stages of development. Of course this is simply not a practical method for live animals and is obviously no use for males.
A study by Farrell et al back in 2009, developed a genetic identification method to distinguish between mustelus and asterias. During that study samples were collected from 431 animals caught in the North East Atlantic, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea, the Bristol Channel and the North Sea. Of these 43 had been visually identified as mustelus species. However genetic analyses proved that in fact ALL of these individuals were in fact asterias. So, if you see a smooth-hound around the British coastline be it with or without those stars, it’s pretty reasonable to assume you’re looking at a Starry Smooth-hound Mustelus asterias.
I have been taking part in, organizing and coordinating beach cleans for over 7 years now, my actions are a direct result of what i see on a daily basis; more and more rubbish ending up around our coastline. Having spent a reasonable amount of time frequenting some of the most remote Scottish beaches and coastal areas, i simply do not remember the last time i visited a beach that was rubbish free.
Just over a month ago i held a beach clean in Ullapool, this clean was just one of the 487 beaches, rivers & lakes that were tackled as part of the Surfers Against Sewage Autumn Clean Series. This year an incredible 21,200 volunteers took part in autumn cleans across the UK, removing a staggering 35.9 tonnes of marine plastic pollution, as well as other rubbish such as metal oil drums, tin cans and car parts!
The increased awareness amongst the public led to 100 more cleans in 2018 than at the same time last year. This increase in support was mirrored by the doubling of volunteers taking part in the Marine Conservation Societies ‘Great British Beach Clean’, this year when compared to 2017.
When i first started beach cleaning the objective would be to just pick up as much as you can and get it off the beach, whilst this is still a primary focus, cleans now endeavour to document the type and size of particular items. This helps to inform governments and provide much needed data to direct policy and look at longer-term solutions within industry, manufacturing and recycling.
A huge thankyou to everyone who took part in this years cleans, we had a truly international effort with volunteers from Canada, Lithuania & Slovenia who were visiting this area during the clean and kindly volunteered their time. As well as plenty of local support within the community here in Ullapool.
This is my third blog for The Guardian, this time I am looking at Shark Conservation within the UK following on from the success of Fin Fighters organisation and the first ever “Shark Fest” held in the UK:
An interactive shark program is now available for children of primary school age, from P2 through to P7 (ages 5-11). This specially designed outreach program enables pupils to understand basic shark biology, ecology and conservation. By identifying what makes a shark different from other fish – with a special investigation into the shark senses, looking at the sharks habitat and where they can be found, and taking a look at the sharks role in the Ocean, seeing what threats they face and why they are important.
The program consists of a power-point talk, with interactive participation from the pupils. Additional support material will also be on display including a sharks jaw, dive gear and underwater camera set-ups – allowing students to get hands on with the type of equipment used to study the shark and its world, as well as supplementary material provided by the Shark Trust UK.
Developed with the Scottish Curriculum in mind, this outreach program ties in well to the ‘Planet Earth; biodiversity and interdependence’ and ‘Topical Science’ categories of the Science Curriculum and also covers aspects of the Social Studies Curriculum specifically ‘People, place & environment’.
To find out more about this outreach program or to arrange a booking please drop me an email; email@example.com
LOL – Lauren on Location – Earth Day 2010 – Lauren gives a talk, cleans up and discusses dangerous toilets.
Thursday the 22nd April 2010 was Earth Day; originally founded in 1970 in the US by Senator G. Nelson it is now celebrated by more than 175 countries worldwide and is designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment.
Earlier in the week, Helen King TSRCP’s Education and Community Officer had spoken to the Barangay Captain (Rex) who had agreed to participate in a series of lectures given by ourselves to the Barangay Officials on earth day designed to highlight the importance of coral reefs, the effect of global warming on coral reefs, the importance of the coral reef to elasmobranches and waste management strategies to protect the reefs and to help prevent global warming continue at it’s current rate. The Barangay is the Filipino word for village, and so the Barangay Officials are responsible for things occurring within their area. It was fantastic news and an honour to be allowed to take part in this event (I spoke on the importance of coral reefs to elasmobranches).
We also gave a similar series of lectures to the local kids of all ages and got them involved in a beach cleanup, the day was a huge success everyone had a fantastic time and hopefully learnt something useful. Also some promising initial discussions (prompted by Claire Horseman’s lecture – a visiting Science Officer from Coral Cay Conservation) began with the Barangay Captain about setting up Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) around Malapascua Island.
Getting involved teaching the local children about the importance of sharks and how toilets kill more people each year than sharks!