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University researchers star in Shark Week special

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Harte Research Institute researcher demonstrates tagging technique to local child

JONATHAN FORNEY
@jb4nay 

Researchers from the Harte Research Institute (HRI) which operates in conjunction with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, participated in a special for Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week”.

“The Lost Cage” followed the journey of HRI researchers as they attempted to learn how sharks respond to artificial reefs. The episode is the latest and fourth consecutive year Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been involved with “Shark Week”.

Marine biology professor Greg Stunz wanted to shark conservation to be viewers’ main takeaway from the special.

“We like to say an ocean without sharks is much scarier than an ocean with them.” Stunz said.

Brewster Street Icehouse hosted a watching party for the event featuring the stars of the special taking part in a meet and greet with attendees. The researchers also took audience questions and demonstrated their shark tagging methods at a demonstration table prior to show time.

Before “The Lost Cage” aired, attendees watched “Monster Mako”, which is the special featuring Islander researchers from 2016’s “Shark Week”. Afterwards, a raffle for shark-themed prizes was held. Then the main event began.

“The Lost Cage” centers around the research team as they construct an artificial reef on a diving cage and allow it drift around the Gulf of Mexico for seven days. They did this to determine if artificial reefs constructed by commercial fishermen, or man-made fish aggregating devices, also inadvertently draw sharks into their nets.

The research team lived aboard a barge, nicknamed the Man o’ War, that floated above the reef they constructed. Along the way, they tagged some of the sharks they encountered. At the viewing, attendees were encouraged to track the sharks themselves using a provided website linked to the tags the team applied.

Devon Massyn, a researcher featured in the special, felt the team got the information they were looking for on their journey.

“I think it’s safe to say, this trip was a success.” Massyn said.

Ultimately, the team determined that man-made reefs can in fact draw sharks. This information may lead to new regulations being required for commercial fisherman when using these fish aggregating devices.

Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” has received criticism in recent years for catering more to the violent aspects of sharks, such as attacks and bite stories instead of informing the public on the animals.

“It’s interesting that my school is involved with ‘Shark Week’, but I wish the theme of the shows was more education-based rather than scaring people for ratings.” senior marine biology major Teresa Bennett said.

As the special ended, Dr. Stunz reminded audience members that what humans do on land has an effect on sharks and other creatures in the ocean.

“We hope to find a balance between our actions and how they impact the world of sharks.” Stunz said.

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