Bite Size Wins Prize in Ocean Video Challenge

1397354_10152193972993265_1324283571_o Bite Size: Bull shark predation of tarpon from UM Rosenstiel School Research Assistant Professor Neil Hammerschlag and Gareth Burghes of Lagomorph Films claimed third place honors in the Ocean 180 video Challenge. This video highlights a collaborative research project with Rosenstiel researchers Dr. Jerry Ault and Dr. Jiangang Luo.

Using three-minute videos, ocean scientists explored a piece of their own recently published research, highlighting its significance and purpose.

To determine who was best at engaging and explaining these new discoveries, the Ocean 180 Video Challenge looked to a group of potential future scientists: a team of nearly 31,000 middle school students from around the world. Viewing each of the finalists, students were asked to evaluate the films for their clarity and message. They were also asked to consider which videos made them excited about the scientists’ research. After 5 weeks of classroom viewing, deliberation, discussion and voting, the three winners emerged.

“The competition is both a great opportunity to communicate our science as well as evaluate how our outreach efforts resonate with young audiences,” said Hammerschlag.


Finalists had their videos viewed by thousands of classrooms around the world, exposing diverse and new audiences to their research. Students also provided scientists with feedback on how to improve their video storytelling and technical skills and ways to make science more relatable to the public.

For some middle school students, and budding scientists, sharing science might be the best part of Ocean 180. As one student judge explained, “It’s not very good to keep information that’s valuable to the world cooped up in a little box. You need to open the box and let everybody see it so they’re more aware of the environment and what’s in it.”

Sponsored by the Florida Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE Florida) and funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Ocean 180 Video Challenge was designed to inspire scientists to communicate the meaning and significance of scientific research with a broader audience.

Click here to learn more about the research study – Hammerschlag N, Luo J, Irschick DJ, Ault JS (2012) A Comparison of Spatial and Movement Patterns between Sympatric Predators: Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and Atlantic Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus). PLoS ONE 7(9): e45958. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045958.


Photo credit: Joe Romeiro

A Catch of Another Kind

When Miami fisherman Tim O’Neill went fishing off Key Biscayne one morning in search of swordfish he returned with a much rarer specimen than he had in mind. When he finally reeled in the big chunk of ocean bottom he realized he had hooked a giant tooth.

“I couldn’t grab the rock fast enough,” said O’Neill, captain of the F/V Cacique.


What he reeled in that day from 1800 feet below was an exceptional find – a crustal rock from the ocean floor with a large fossilized shark tooth jutting out. He contacted UM Rosenstiel School scientists to help him identify his unusual find.

According to Rosenstiel School scientists the fossilized upper front tooth encased in rock he caught is from the now extinct relative of the great white shark, Carcharodon megalodon, which is known for its “mega teeth” and estimated to be 10-15 million years old.

“The great white shark that exists today is more closely related to the prehistoric Mako shark than the megalodon,” says Rosenstiel research assistant professor Neil Hammerschlag and director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program.

Rosenstiel School marine geology professor Gregor Eberli examined the rock first hand to discover that the black-colored megalodon tooth was well preserved in the limestone rock coated with a mixture of iron and manganese.


O’Neill caught his one-of-a kind find about 10 miles off the coast of Miami in an area known as the Miami Terrace. University of Miami scientists conducting an echo-sounding survey first discovered the region in 1958. The area is of interest to scientists for its mix of geological and biological finds.

“At approximately 1800 feet depth, the Miami Terrace is a large, current-swept submarine plateau whose flank down to the floor of the Straits of Florida at 2600 feet is covered with 100 foot ridges, which provides habitat for deep-water corals, sponges, lobsters and fish,” said Eberli.

Tim O’Neill pulled the rock off the edge of the Terrace. He is planning to keep his million-year-old ocean treasure at home as a reminder that great whites once roamed the Straits of Florida.

— RSMAS Communications

— Photos: Diana Udel

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A Bull of a Challenge

RSMAS Researcher Assistant Professor Neil Hammerschlag is one of 10 finalists in the Ocean180 video challenge. His research video, ”Bite Size: Bull Shark Predation of Tarpon,” delves into a recent study on the movements of bull sharks and tarpon in South Florida waters. Through satellite tracking, the study reveals some unique behaviors by the large predatory fish in order to avoid becoming bull shark prey.

Sponsored by the Florida Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE Florida) and funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Ocean 180 Video Challenge was designed to inspire scientists to communicate the meaning and significance of scientific research with a broader audience.

Over 40,000 middle-school student judges from around the world are now reviewing the top 10 video abstracts. The winners will be announced in late February 2014.

2014 Sea Secrets Begins Jan 15!

The 2014 Sea Secrets lectures kick off next Wednesday, Jan. 15 with a talk on the enigmatic tiger shark by R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program Director Neil Hammerschlag.

The event will take place in the Rosenstiel School auditorium, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Virginia Key, beginning with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by a lecture at 6:00 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. Parking is available at the Miami Seaquarium.

Photo by: Eric Cheng

Photo by: Eric Cheng










The lectures are free and open to the public and designed to provide insight and information about the oceans that cover two-thirds of our planet to a non-scientific audience. For more information on the 2014 Sea Secrets lecture series, click here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Neil Hammerschlag, Ph.D.
Director of R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, and Research Assistant Professor at Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Sharks are one of the most feared and mysterious animals on Earth. However, due to destructive fishing practices, many shark populations globally have drastically declined in recent decades. The tiger shark is the largest predatory shark in tropical seas, renowned for its massive size, beautiful body markings, indiscriminate appetite and occasional bites on humans. By tracking and swimming with tiger sharks, ecologist and shark researcher, Dr. Hammerschlag, has discovered previously unknown migration patterns and behaviors of this super predator. Join Dr. Hammerschlag as he shares his new findings, stories and photos of the enigmatic tiger shark.

Vote by July 26th for UM scientist Neil Hammerschlag to win this year’s Oceana ‘Ocean Hero’ Award!

2013OHA_DrNeilIf you’ve been on a shark tagging trip with the University of Miami, then you probably know him.  He is the intense and charismatic scientist at the helm of UM’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program (RJD Program), Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, who gives high school and college students, as well as others interested in marine conservation the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through “full immersion” shark research. He has taken more than 2,000 students from 40 countries – including many from underserved populations –on shark tagging and diving trips. He also created online classes and expeditions for those who can’t make it to Florida, so they can learn about the importance of our oceans.

Hammerschlag’s work takes him all over the world – from Florida to South Africa, and California to The Bahamas.  He was instrumental in protecting sharks in Florida waters when he testified for new regulations that would prohibit the recreational and commercial harvest of tiger sharks and three types of hammerhead shark. The protections went into effect on January 1, 2012.

Don’t delay!  Please vote for ‘Dr. Neil’ at, deadline is July 26th.


The Biggest Bull Shark…Ever?

Every once in a while, the ocean presents us with something truly amazing – whether it’s a crazy storm or a record catch, these events serve to remind us of the awesome power and beauty of the sea.

It was early June, and we were conducting another day of our continual catch and release shark surveys in the Florida Keys. In general, April, May and June tend to be some of the heaviest months for large sharks in the Keys, a time when these coasts are visited by the “semi-pelagics” that are following the fishes that spawn offshore. As our team hauled in the final drumline (shark-friendly, passive fishing device) of the day, something big tugged on the other end, almost pulling our team into the water.

“It looks bull-y,” remarked Dr. Neil Hammerschlag.

“I see the football-y shape,” I responded, looking 70 feet down on the shadow coming towards me.

Turns out we were right, it was indeed a bull shark – Carcharhinus leucas – a large female. As we brought her closer to the boat, it soon became evident that this wasn’t just any bull—she was over 8 feet long, and was thicker than any shark I have seen in the Caribbean (including 14 foot tigers and 12 foot hammerheads).

Bull sharks are a fascinating species, and our tagging experiments tell us that they are constantly on the move, timing their movements with prey such as tarpon and ladyfish in the Everglades, while also alternating to deeper oceanic locations for mating and birthing. Of the 80 or so bull sharks we have tagged and released in the last several years (one of the more rare species we encounter), most are around 6-6.5 feet, a size representing a mature adult. This bull shark dwarfed every other bull I have seen, and there is no doubt in my mind this bull is part of a very elite club in Florida-and probably Western Atlantic. After measuring her length and sampling her blood for reproductive hormones and stress parameters, she was released in great condition, swimming away to reclaim her seat on the throne of apex marine predators.

Members of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program with the Bull Shark.

Reports of the tagging of the massive bull made national news in a few days, with stories commenting that the animal could have weighed up to 1,000 pounds. While we didn’t have a scale on board, this fish was every bit of 800-850 pounds. There is a chance she could have been close to 1,000 pounds, perhaps making it the largest bull ever caught. And while we will never know her true weight, it would be a slap in nature’s face to ever sacrifice an animal this size for a record book. When the news reports spread of this amazing catch and tag, I was excited – knowing it would be seen by many fishermen worldwide, hopefully serving as an example of not needing to sacrifice large animals to still get an amazing experience. And it is great that many anglers are subscribing to this conservation ethic. Pictures last forever, and so will my memory putting my arms around her belly and feeling truly humbled and impressed.

Austin Gallagher is a PhD student at the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami. He is also a research assistant for the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation program, focusing his doctoral studies on shark conservation biology.

-Austin Gallagher
PhD Student, Research Assistant
RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program
Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy