By Arianna Schuck
Toby Daly-Engel, an assistant professor in Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences at Florida Tech, dedicates her time outside the classroom to saving one particular animal: sharks.
Head of the shark conservation lab on campus, Daly-Engel stated that a scientific study has three major parts: the question, the tools used and the application.
“The question always has something to do with evolution, ecology or reproduction [of sharks] or other animals that invest heavily in reproduction which are keystone predators in their environment,” Daly-Engel said.
In the lab, there is an array of tools used to answer these questions. Students are tagging and tracking sharks in the field for data, and DNA is being sequenced and then amplified in a polymerase chain reaction machine for even further study.
The combination of these tools has led to the findings of cryptic species by the lab. This means that visually, one shark could look exactly like another one but is genetically completely different.
“Although the sharks have been here for a while, we’re only now finding out how many different species and how much diversity there is in these unique groups of sharks hiding in plain sight,” Daly-Engel said. She went on to add that unless an animal is recognized as its own species there is no way to protect it.
According to the International Union of the Conservation of Nature, about 45 percent of sharks and rays are classified as “data deficient,” meaning that there is insufficient information for a proper assessment of conservation status to be made.
“We are worried that some species are going extinct before they are even described,” Daley-Engel said.
With plenty of more research needed to be conducted within the field, the shark conservation lab aims to conduct research for a better understanding of the species and the importance of conserving them. If you work in a lab on campus that you are interested in the Crimson featuring, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.