A conversation with Expedition: Great White’s Dr. Micheal Domeier

Filed Under (On TV, Sharks) by Alexa & Cindy on 11-07-2010

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This summer, we’ve become hooked on NatGeo’s Expedition: Great White. We’ve got a little think called the Summer Sharktakular coming up in a week – btw, have you sent in your photo contest entry yet?

Anyway… we don’t want the series to end, as it does tonight at 10 p.m. eastern time on the NatGeo Channel. So we decided to talk to its lead scientist, Dr. Michael Domeier, to get some answers to our questions and feel like we’re delaying the inevitable a bit.

 Here’s what Alexa wanted to know from Dr. Domeier, and a preview of the series’ final episode. Don’t miss it!

Alexa: What made you want to study Great Whites?

Michael Domeier: I get asked that question a lot, Alexa.  It really is an interesting story, since truth be told I never intentionally decided to start studying white sharks.  I had initiated a bluefin tuna project with a friend and donor name Tom Pfleger.  The intent of the project was to electronically tag and track a very unique population of very large bluefin tuna that resided at Guadalupe Island, Mexico.  In the late 90’s Tom and I took several trips to Guadalupe Island to catch and tag these big bluefin, the only problem was that the bluefin had either left or been fished out of existence.  However, we did find a number of white sharks at the island.  During our last trip to catch bluefin we tagged a few white sharks simply because we couldn’t find the bluefin and the batteries in our electronic tags were going to expire.  The results from these first few tagged sharks were so astonishing, that we gradually grew into what is now, arguably, the most comprehensive white shark research project in the world.

A:  How did you feel when that first female broke the hook [in the first episode]?

MD:  I was shocked.  I was also concerned that the hooks I had made for this project were not going to be up to the task.  There weren’t any circle hooks that size available, so I had to make that one by heating and bending a J-hook.  I think the heating and bending compromised the integrity of the metal alloy.  Fortunately the hooks did work well enough to get us started, and now a hook manufacturer (Mustad) makes these hooks for us and that are much stronger.

A: You said in the first episode that sharks have an important role in our marine ecosystem, and that if we lose sharks, that ecosystem changes – for the worse. Can you speak to that some more? We are very interested in your views, as we are hosting a shark conservation week on Oceans 4Ever starting July 19th.

MD:  Sharks occupy many niches in the marine environment, from scavengers to apex predators.  Our marine ecosystems evolved with sharks in these important roles, and if they disappear the ecosystem could get out of balance.  I think the huge increase in the populations of the predatory squid species, Dosidicus gigas, may be a good example.  Sharks, and other top predators like tuna and marlin, normally eat lots of squid and keep these critters in check.  Now that we have wiped out many of the squid’s predators, the squid population has dramatically increased and many more reach a very large size (100+ lbs).  Now the squid are eating everything in sight, and this predatory pressure by large squid could actually prevent the other predators from rebounding, since the squid can eat all of their young offspring.

A:  How do you feel about Keiko’s scars?

MD:  All of the white sharks we observe and capture have many scars.  Most of these scars were inflicted by other white sharks.  White sharks do not like each other and they seem to fight often.  Also, male white sharks bite down on the females when they mate…how’s that for romance!
A:  How do you think we will need protect Great Whites going forward? What do we need more of and what do we need to change?

MD: I think we need to identify the preferred habitats and geographic regions that the different life history stages of white sharks prefer.  By doing this we can identify the times and places when this species is most vulnerable, at which times governments can take steps to protect them.
A:  What’s next for you in your research? Where do you hope to be with it next year at this time?

MD:  I think we have made huge strides in unraveling the secrets of adult white sharks.  I have to make a few more trips to increase sample sizes for adults, but I want to turn my attention to juveniles and sub adults…those stages we know very little about and they are most likely the most vulnerable.  I also want to begin to study a wider array of species.

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