When we think about sharks, the fierce Great White Shark or Tiger shark comes to mind. Their huge teeth and aggressive nature are known to divers, surfers and anyone else who has seen the movie “Jaws” or read about shark attacks.
But the shark world is much more diverse. More than 500 separate species roam the oceans, many unknown to science or seldom studied. These “lost sharks” are what fascinate Dave Ebert and he spends his waking hours looking for them.
Ebert operates the Pacific Shark Research Center, part of the Moss Landing Research Laboratory in Moss Landing, CA. With the aid of 18 graduate students, Ebert conducts studies on all aspects of shark biology. He will speak about his work during the “Sharktoberfest Nightlife” event to be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Not that studying rare sharks is an easy task. Ebert and his students recently wrestled with a rare Megamouth Shark off the coast of Taiwan trying to attach an expensive probe to the animal to track its movements. The fight was captured on video and can be seen on the “Sharkweek” website.
Megamouths, as the name would suggest, have enormous mouths which they use to trap small krill while swimming through a plume of the tiny creatures. This style of feeding is similar that of Whale Sharks and some species of whales. The krill are attracted to the shark by luminescent tissue within the mouth that acts like a lure, Ebert said.
Evolution has benefited the animal which fits in with the undersea environment at 300 to 600 feet below the surface. “It’s amazing how specialized these things really are,” he said. “They are perfectly adapted to this one kind of prey item.”
The species had never been seen until a U.S. Navy team caught one during the 1970’s and a scientific research team tagged a megamouth they hooked off Dana Point in Southern California in 1990.
The waters off Taiwan are a feeding ground for the species and fisherman angling for sunfish often find megamouths ensnared in their nets, Ebert said. The sharks arrive in late spring when the water conditions are right and the krill are abundant. Ebert and his team are also investigating the presence of megamouths in Southern California waters.
Looking for new species often involves a trip to the local fish market where Ebert gets valuable information from commercial fishermen. “If you talk to the guy there it’s amazing what you will find out,” he said.
Unlike larger research institutions, the research center survives on modest scientific grants to keep operating. Despite the lack of major funds, Ebert’s researchers have discovered 15 new shark species including some types of ghost sharks. Working at the center is a labor of love, despite the scientific community’s obsession with bigger fish, he admits.
“Everybody gets wrapped up in white sharks because they look impressive,” he said. adding “But I’m the guy that finds the species of sharks that nobody looks at.”
Ebert’s talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the academy’s African Hall, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park. Admission is $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Due to the availability of alcohol during the event, no one under 21 will be admitted and proof of age is required. For more information, visit http://www.calacademy.org/nightlife/sharktoberfest-nightlife