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.

Getting Back into The Swim of Things at the ‘U’

R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program multimedia specialist and University of Miami School of Communication alumus Christine Shepard shows her school spirit during a shark tagging trip.  The team is getting ready to welcome a new group of interns and dive into the new school year! Check out RJD’s site for the lastest news and info, including an appearance on NatGeo TV’s “Monster Fish.”


Sharks of the Devonian

“The Golden Age of Fishes” is known for, among many things, its incredible ichthyologic diversity. As life on land began its own rapid radiation of terrestrial forms, including the earliest ferns and the insects that ate them, marine ecosystems flourished below the ocean’s surface. Between 416 and 359 million years ago, the Devonian Period saw the evolution and diversification of the first bony fishes, the armored placoderms, and the cartilaginous sharks—the forebears of the vertebrates that dominate aquatic environments today.

The Devonian Earth consisted of two supercontinents, Gondwana and Laurussia, and a deep, global Panthalassic Ocean that covered the rest of the planet. While the placoderms gave the world its first vertebrate superpredator (the 33-foot-long Dunkleosteus, seen above), the sharks gave them a run for their money with an incredible array of species.

One of the earliest and most abundant sharks was Cladoselache, a 6-foot-long predator known for its streamlined body and aquadynamic agility. It is one of the best-known Devonian sharks because of the large number of well-preserved specimens that currently exist in museum collections. During this period, it hunted bony fish and smaller sharks in the oceans that once covered North America. Cladoselache is unique because it lacked the scales and claspers possessed by other sharks. However, it must have been successful because the genus survived 100 million years.

Stethacanthus is another species from the Devonian, famous for its dorsal appendage. Found in North America, this two-foot-long fish resembled modern varieties except for one major anatomical difference. Unlike other sharks (let alone other organisms), male Stethacanthids possessed dorsal fins that resembled upside-down irons covered in teeth (see below). It is believed that these strange headpieces existed for mating displays and were products of sexual selection.

Another two-foot-long shark from places as far away as Kansas and Scotland also lived during the Devonian. This one, called Ctenacanthus (comb-spine shark), is known from fossilized fin spines uncovered in shallow-water marine deposits. It closely resembles modern sharks. Though the earliest traces of this group were dated to the Late Devonian, fossils have been found from the Mesozoic 150 million years later.
This indicates considerable evolutionary success, a trait possessed by all other shark species.

Other groups of sharks from the Late Devonian include the bizarre Iniopteryx, or flying shark; the extinct freshwater Xenacanthids; and the Holocephalids (or chimeras) that survive to this day.

“The Golden Age of Fishes” was short-lived and ended catastrophically with a mass extinction that wiped out more than half of the life on Earth, including the placoderms. Sharks survived and radiated across the planet. The period that followed, the Carboniferous, became “The Golden Age of Sharks”. During the Carboniferous, sharks occupied every niche. Freshwater, saltwater, and brackish varieties were common, and they placed themselves at the top of the food chain. To this day, they remain unchallenged and largely unchanged from the Devonian. Today, 700 species of sharks, rays, and chimeras survive—each one a living testimony of the lineage’s evolutionary prowess.

As human continue to prey on sharks for their fins and for bragging rights, the future of this great predatory fish is threatened. Now, with some areas having more than a 90% decline in some shark species populations, we have the power to save these magnificent creatures from extinction—a fate they have avoided for more than 400 million years.

Andrew Blitman
Masters of Professional Science: Marine Conservation
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Clap Your Hands for Sharks

How many of you are having Shark Week withdrawal? I know I am. It is true that Shark Week doesn’t always have themes of education or conservation in mind (insert mental image of a hydraulic-powered Megalodon biting kegs in half from this years lineup). But despite this, there is obvious value in making ocean science cool for the masses, even if only for one week a year. But alas, Shark Week has come and gone and we are left with a year of waiting before our television screens light up with that hypnotic blue that only the ocean can deliver.

If you find yourself reeling in despair over this, fear not, the sharks are coming! Next week a group of RSMAS graduate students from Waterlust will be releasing a video that delivers sharks, sharks, and more sharks. Created by Ph.D candidate and R.J Dunlap shark guru Austin Gallagher, Coastguards explores how childhood fears can evolve into fascination of arguably the most misunderstood animal on the planet. Always at the forefront of social media technology, Waterlust has teamed up with a New York based startup called Thunderclap to add some spice to the release of the short film. What is a Thunderclap you ask? More than just an information sharing service, a Thunderclap allows users to coordinate the release of a certain message (in this case a video release) by a large group simultaneously – essentially sending a shockwave of awesomeness through the interwebs.

Will this strategy of crowdspeaking allow groups like Waterlust to get their content to more people? Find out next Wednesday, September 12 at High Noon when Coastguards goes public.

Join the Thunderclap here.

Patrick Rynne
Waterlust Founder/AMP Graduate Student
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RSMAS Science Highlights of 2011

RSMAS was a busy place for cutting-edge science this year. Here’s a look back at the top research studies that made headlines in 2011 and the latest science and education from Virginia Key and beyond.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag’s study of one hammerhead shark’s lone journey to New Jersey made headlines in early 2011 as did Dr. Lisa Beal’s ongoing research on the Agulhas Current and its link to global change change.

Coral reefs made news this year, including from a newly published study by Dr. Diego Lirman that showed Florida’s reefs cannot endure a ‘cold snap’ and from a study of Papua New Guinea reefs by Dr. Chris Langdon that suggests ocean acidification may reduce reef diversity.


Before the year closed, Dr. Shimon Wdowinski presented a new study at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco that showed tropical cyclones could trigger earthquakes.

RSMAS scientists and student were part of many new and ongoing research expeditions. Researchers and students from RSMAS joined an international team on a six-month field campaign in the Indian Ocean, known as DYNAMO. They are studying how tropical weather brews over the region and moves eastward along the equator, with reverberating effects around the entire globe. Follow the ongoing work from the scientists.

Meanwhile, it was a busy end of the year for Lisa Beal and her research team who embarked on a month-long expedition to the waters off of South Africa to understand how one of the world’s strongest ocean currents – the Agulhas Current – is both affected by climate change and also has an effect on climate change.

On the academic side of RSMAS life, the Masters of Professional Science program was in full swing this year and the newly acquired Broad Key Research Station welcomed its first cohort of students to study the coral reef ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Finally, joint degrees in law and marine affairs was launched at UM to provide students with a unique educational opportunity to tackle environmental issues.

As 2011 comes to a close, RSMAS faculty, researchers and students are looking forward to another busy and exciting year in 2012 filled with new scientific discoveries and educational opportunities.

Tell us about your research plans for 2012.

R.J. Dunlap Student Vies To Win $10K For Shark Conservation

Rosenstiel School student David Shiffman is a finalist for a $10,000 scholarship for his work with online conservation, advocacy and science education. It’s a close race and the final decision comes to votes! He needs your help! David is the only marine science candidate.

If he wins, the money will be used to support ongoing research and outreach at RSMAS, including adopting a satellite tagged shark (this long-term project recently resulted in the protection of four shark species in Florida waters) and continuing the RJ Dunlap‘s program of taking hundreds of high school students and teachers into the field to learn about science and conservation while they catch sharks.

Please Vote for David on the College Scholarships website once per day.

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