Shark Research & Conservation Program (SRC)

Dr Neil Hammerschlag doing shark research Dr Neil Hammerschlag tagging a shark
It's always Shark Week at the U!

The Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has been home base for a myriad of research efforts since its conception in the 1940s, but one in particular is gaining national attention for its air-time on Discovery Channel’s 30th annual Shark Week. Led by alumnus Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D. ‘10, the Shark Research & Conservation Program (SRC) conducts research on food-web dynamics and the behavioral ecology, conservation biology and movement ecology of marine predators.

On Sunday, July 23, millions of viewers tuned in to the much-anticipated “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White,” which went in-depth on the science behind speed. Dr. Hammerschlag helped to prepare 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who was fitted to race with a specially-designed monofin to mimic that of a great white. Phelps, of course, was no match for the speed of a shark, but as Dr. Hammerschlag said in a Facebook Live session after the show, “The questions we were really trying to answer were ‘What makes Phelps the fastest man in the world?’ ‘What makes a shark the fastest swimmer in the ocean?’”

This was Dr. Hammerschlag’s second year participating in Shark Week – his previous shows, “Tiger Beach” and “Air Jaws: Night Stalker,” were based on his research on tiger sharks in the Bahamas and great whites in South Africa.

Dr. Hammerschlag believes the millions who watch Shark Week help facilitate conservation efforts because it feeds fascination and appreciation for sharks. “It also helps attract good students to UM that support our shark conservation research,” he said. Through research, outreach and citizen science, SRC aims to promote shark conservation and foster STEM academics in youth.

UM Shark Research Expedition with Malone University from Shark Conservation Research @ UM.

Between 2009 and 2015 the program brought in over 6,000 high school students from 40 countries to participate in shark research. In addition to field research, SRC even relies on online education tools, including virtual expeditions, which fully immerse students in online interactive shark tagging excursions, similar to a video game. Students who can’t be in Miami to actively participate especially gain from this innovation. “There is nothing more satisfying than helping to create positive change whether it is through science or inspiring the next generation of ocean ambassadors,” Dr. Hammerschlag said.

“For me, going out there every day, collecting data, asking questions and trying to figure out the answers is what really inspires me.”

Want to know more than what you see on Shark Week? Visit SRC online to learn more about the factors that make the white shark the ocean's top predator. Check out published research on white sharks and their predator prey interactions with fur seals here

To learn more about SRC and find out how you can get involved and participate, click here.