Science teachers around Southern California are receiving boxes full of shark jaws to help students understand life under the waves, courtesy of the Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab.
The Shark Lab’s distribution of the specimens to schools and other educational institutions follows the work of marine biologist Gwen Goodmanlowe, her students and Florida Fisheries Consultants to study about 5,000 shark jaws that importers relinquished to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in turn handed the specimens over to the Shark Lab for identification.
In December, the Shark Lab announced plans to provide the jaws and educational materials to educators. The lab has since received more than 150 requests for materials, and is responding by sending collections of about 25 jaws to educators.
“They’re very excited when they get them,” Goodmanlowe said.
The jaws initially were destined to be sold as souvenirs before being claimed by federal officials, according to the Shark Lab.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Goodmanlowe said. “Otherwise, they would just be destroyed, and that’s a huge waste.”
The lab team and consultants determined which specimens had belonged to different shark species by examining jaw and tooth structures. Their work revealed that some 4,000 jaws within a cache of nearly 5,000 belonged to the spot-tail shark, which is not a protected species. That collection also included specimens of the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark, as well as the protected smooth hammerhead and silky sharks.
An additional cache of some 250 jaws also contained hammerhead and silky shark jaws, despite being falsely labeled as a collection of bull shark specimens.
In the classrooms, teachers are able to use the jaws while delivering lessons on such topics as ocean ecology, the biology of a particular species and what kinds of human activities result in a shark species becoming endangered.
There also are lesson plans that guide students through the process of examining shark jaw and tooth forms in order to consider what kind of prey species a given shark tends to hunt for, or to estimate how large a particular shark had been when it was alive.
“Hopefully, it piques some interest in some future shark scientists,” Shark Lab science educator Dan DiMarzo said.