Researchers sniff shark vomit to figure out what it ate before capture, video shows
A queasy 10-foot-long shark being tagged off the East Coast resorted to vomiting up its lunch on a research vessel, giving scientists a disgusting challenge they simply could not resist.
What had the tiger shark been eating?
In a video posted by OCEARCH, one of the world’s leading shark research nonprofits, the scientists are shown not only handling regurgitated food, but employing old fashioned sniff testing as well. The video has been viewed more than 29,000 times since being posted April 10.
“Sometimes science can be a little gross,” said OCEARCH, in its Facebook post. “The good news for scientists is that it presents a valuable chance to learn more about tiger shark diets.”
In the video, Gavin Naylor of the Florida Program for Shark Research explains the stomach contents included “very, very dark red meat and some structure here which is really peculiar. It’s kind of spongy.”
It could be cartilage, he says.
“We’re not quite sure what it is,” he says in the one-minute video. “I’m guessing all three (pieces) are from the same animal...We’ll take samples of DNA from them, and then we’ll sequence it and find out what it was.”
It could have been a turtle, he guesses. However, the video shows fellow scientist Bryan Franks sniffing chunks of stomach content and concluding “it doesn’t smell like a turtle.”
“It smells more mammal to me,” Franks says, holding chewed red meat to his nose.
The point, Naylor says in the video, is to figure out where sharks are feeding. Scientists can do that more easily if they learn what sharks eat, and where those food sources congregate off the coast, he says in the video.
The tiger shark in the video, named Lando, was temporarily plucked from the ocean as part of the OCEARCH Northwest Atlantic Shared Foraging Area study, which includes waters between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Cape Canavera, Florida.
Facebook commenters immediately took to ribbing the scientists about the video, particularly Franks for seeming to know what a consumed mammal smells like.
Others found humor in the fact the jovial researchers appeared to forget they were smelling regurgitated stomach contents.
“Oh boy! This is gonna get good!” wrote Jamie Dawson Osborne on OCEARCH’s Facebook page.
“So glad no one tasted it,” posted Becky Speth.
“The diet? They have no diet, they eat anything,” wrote Bruce McCluskey.
“Thank you OCEARCH,” posted Linda Marie. “As afraid as I was, now I’m enthralled by what you do!”