Wild Lunch: Shark Tales

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For yesterday's Wild Lunch event we met ZSL scientist David Curnick, who is a researcher within the Institute of Zoology at ZSL. 

Since 2014, David has been carrying out fieldwork in the Indian Ocean, researching the movement and behaviour of marine predators, in particular species of tuna and shark. We focused on David's experiences with sharks during the event, and how he tracks and studies these animals out at sea.

If you missed the event, you can catch-up here:

As usual, we had lots of great audience questions during the event. Ranging from the lifespan of great white sharks to David's most memorable fieldwork experience. We managed to cover quite a few of them, but there were several that we didn't have time for. So here are David's responses to some of those outstanding questions...

Q. What groups and projects are there in the UK that people can get involved with voluntarily?

Q. What would you say to a person who says they're afraid of sharks?
A. First, a fear of the sharks is not completely irrational, many of the well-known species are large predators after all. However, there are over 400 species of sharks, with the vast majority posing no risk to humans. Furthermore, none of the potentially dangerous sharks have ever been reported in the UK and, according to the Shark Trust, there have been no unprovoked shark bites in British waters since records began in 1847.  

ZSL researcher David Curnick diving underwater

Q. Were sharks around in dinosaur times and did they get on with other sea creatures?   (Theo, aged 6)
A. Yes, they definitely co-existed with dinosaurs. The first fossil evidence of shark-like animals dates back to about 450 million years ago. However, the golden age for sharks is reported to have been during the Carboniferous Period (which began 359 million years ago) after they survived the mass extinction at the end of the Devonian era.

Q. How long do sharks take to reproduce (you say they are slow)?
A. Sexual maturity is highly variable between species, sexes (males often mature faster than females) and location.  As an example, it is reported that great white sharks in the North Atlantic mature at 26 years old (males) and 33 years old (female).

Q. Do sharks get cancer? (Mckenzie, aged 9)
A. Yes, they do, although documented cases are rare. 

David Curnick and colleagues on-board their research vessel in the Indian Ocean

Q. What's your favourite shark in the UK?
A. The basking shark, it was the first shark I remember seeing as a child. We saw one from a cliff in Cornwall. 

Q. What is sustainable fish?  How can we know it has been caught sustainably?
This is a good question, and it can be very difficult to assess. We certainly need greater transparency and traceability in this regard, but there are plenty of well managed fisheries out there. There are steps we can take as individuals. First, I would strongly recommend sourcing local produce wherever possible. This often has the added benefit of supporting local businesses and fishing communities.  Also, don't be afraid to ask questions of your fishmonger, fish and chip shop, restaurant etc. about where your fish comes from and how it was caught.  You can then refer to the Marine Conservation Society's Good Fish Guide to make an informed decision.

We've extended our series of Wild Lunch events into April, so I hope you're able to join us as we discover some tiny geckos in the forests of Colombia and search for tigers in Nepal!  Find out more here: www.zsl.org/wildlunchwednesdays 


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