Shark Week: Saving the Mysterious Greenland Shark

by California State University, Fullerton

The Greenland shark is the focus of a study by CSUF marine biologist Ryan Walter and biology graduate student Meaghan Swintek, who are collaborating with Nigel Hussey and Aaron Fisk from the University of Windsor in Canada. Photo courtesy of Nigel Hussey/University of Windsor.

In cold deep waters of the Arctic lives the mysterious and vulnerable Greenland shark, the oldest vertebrate in the world. These sharks, which scientists discovered can live upwards of 400 years old, have a long history of fishing exploitation in the Arctic.

The Greenland shark’s preference for extreme deep water is particularly challenging for studying. But for Cal State Fullerton marine biologist Ryan Walter and  biology graduate student Meaghan Swintek, the researchers are using genetics to study the population patterns of the Greenland shark, one the largest shark species.

As the Discovery Channel hosts its traditional summer Shark Week (Aug. 9-16) about innovative shark research and insights on shark species, CSUF marine scientists and their students are working on research projects to learn more about these misunderstood predators of the seas. Their research is continuing, in spite of the pandemic. See related story:  Whale shark research.

With shark populations around the globe declining, Walter, assistant professor of biological science, and Swintek hope their study contributes to improving not only a better understanding of the Greenland shark, but also aids in their conservation. These long-lived marine predators have endured various harvesting pressures, yet their conservation is hindered by little knowledge of their populations.

The researchers developed molecular tools to measure genetic diversity and detect populations spanning the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

“These methods have not been previously applied to Greenland sharks, so the tools that we have developed will be beneficial for monitoring present and future populations,” said Swintek, who presented her Greenland shark genetics research virtually at last week’s (Aug. 3-6) annual meeting of the  Ecological Society of America.

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