Sharks Play a Crucial Role in a Healthy Ocean Ecology
Often vilified in pop culture as a predator circling in dark waters, eager to attack an unsuspecting swimmer, the shark has an undeniably menacing reputation. But ask shark biologist Toby Daly-Engel what these ancient fish are really like and a different portrait emerges.
“Sharks are much more complicated than people give them credit for,” she said. “They don’t attack humans on purpose and are actually intelligent and curious.”
Daly-Engel, who joined Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Science faculty this fall after five years at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, works both in the field and in the lab to study genetic clues about sharks’ ecology and how they have changed over the 450 million years they’ve been on the planet.
Daly-Engel is quick to offer up numbers beyond that amazing evolutionary lifespan. Such as the 100 million sharks that are killed every year at the hands of humans, whether victims of by-catch in fishing nets, the practice of cutting off their fins for shark fin soup or their popularity in sport fishing.
Or this: The U.S. averages about 15 attacks per year, with an average of one fatality every two years. Globally, sharks kill about five people annually. (In one of her presentations, Daly-Engel notes the odd variety of things that kill more people than sharks every year, from Christmas trees and vending machines to ants and hippos.)
Through research and outreach, Daly-Engel hopes to raise awareness about these highly evolved animals and their important contribution to ocean ecology. Her expertise and enthusiasm for sharks of all kinds have led to partnerships with television shows produced by National Geographic and Discovery.
Daly-Engel is available to talk about a variety of topics concerning sharks, including:
- Shark attacks: misconceptions and myths, why they happen, how to prevent them.
- Shark biology: reproduction, mating habits, genetics and evolution.
- Diversity of sharks in the wild: from hammerheads, great whites, lemon sharks and rarely observed deep-sea sharks.
- Shark conservation.
“I am passionate about these creatures,” Daly-Engel said. “There is still so much to learn about sharks and what they can teach us about how organisms, including humans, evolve and become more specialized over time.”