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Sharks & Rays Conservation Research

Over 70 Years of Shark Research

Today's Research for Tomorrow's Oceans
Two men and two women examine a shark jaw at a picnic table outside.
From left to right: Dr. Perry Gilbert, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Eugenie Clark and William R. Mote.

Sharks and rays have inhabited the oceans and some freshwater systems for hundreds of millions of years and constitute a diverse group of sophisticated predators. Mote scientists including our Founding Director, Dr. Eugenie Clark, and former Lab Director Perry W. Gilbert pioneered research into the biology of these fascinating animals from the 1950s. Early studies ranged from basic descriptions of the local species to ground-breaking studies of shark learning and sensory biology. Subsequent Mote research has harnessed emerging technologies to gain an even more comprehensive picture of their lives, ranging from how they are able to avoid hurricanes to how different species reduce competition by being active at different times. Today we study sharks and rays using an array of tools, including DNA, electronic tracking devices, bio-loggers, and animal-borne cameras. Some of our main research questions include:

  • What do sharks and rays eat and much food do they need to survive, grow, and reproduce? It is important to understand what species fall prey to sharks and rays and how many of them are consumed to understand the prey base required to support these predators and to predict what will happen through the ecosystem if they are removed.
  • How do sharks and rays affect other species in their ecosystems? Our research has revealed some fascinating insights about these interactions, for example, on coral reefs where sharks have been overfished moray eels- competitors and prey of sharks- are more commonly seen. Sarasota is the shark bite capital of the world- for dolphins, where over a third of them exhibit shark bit scars. Not only that, but Sarasota dolphins are occasionally killed by stingrays.