I am a marine biologist and the author of the new book "why sharks matter: a deep dive with the world's most misunderstood predator."

EDIT: Will try to answer other questions later today, but have done the one hour scheduled for this. Thanks everyone for your fun and interesting questions!

My Proof: https://twitter.com/WhySharksMatter/status/1531305697362776067?s=20&t=RSp8ZYHLofaM4Lzq5NWvyw

Comments: 369 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

thecheesesteak411 karma

Have you ever had to pull a golf ball from a blowhole?

Whysharksmatter405 karma

This does not happen as often as people think. I really only have to do it once or twice a day.

onlysmokereg219 karma

If Sharks matter so much then why did they cancel Street Sharks, hmmmm?

Whysharksmatter483 karma

The global media is controlled by Big Dolphin.

Madoopadoo138 karma

Do some shark species matter more than others (e.g in terms of their effect on their ecosystem) or are they all on an equal footing?

Whysharksmatter230 karma

A great question! The short answer is predators are always important, but those with unique ecological niches (i.e., the only species that eats a particular prey, the only species that's a top predator in a region, etc) have larger ecological impacts.

Kineticwizzy124 karma

What's your favourite species of shark?

Whysharksmatter200 karma

My favorite species of shark is the sandbar shark! Follow #BestShark on twitter and Instagram for years of me talking about these animals and why I love them. They're also my corporate logo.

Madoopadoo100 karma

What is the deal with the small fish we see swimming alongside sharks, and do they ever get eaten by their shark?

Whysharksmatter188 karma

Remoras and pilotfish hardly ever get eaten. They tend to eat scraps from sharks' meals, or eat parasites and such directly off the shark. By hanging out near sharks, other predators leave them alone.

WiremanC369 karma

Are there any commonly held misconceptions about sharks that you think the general public should know about?

Whysharksmatter52 karma

There are many, many misconceptions about sharks, and correcting these was a big part of why I wanted to write this book (and a focus of my long term outreach on social media @ WhySharksMatter on twitter facebook and instagram.

MidwestJourney61 karma

Hello Dr. Shiffman,

First, thank you for doing this AMA. As a current grad student studying wildlife conservation, I always appreciate seeing others talk about species/groups of conservation concern.

Recently, I took Ichthyology and I chose to do a presentation on shark conservation (as they’re my favorite group of fish). When researching the subject, I was horrified to learn that in the shark finning practice, most sharks are kept alive when their fins are cut and then dumped back into the ocean.

So, my question is if there is anything more that can be done regarding shark finning besides just countries banning it (e.g., U.S.)?

Whysharksmatter115 karma

Hi! So the short answer is that shark finning is happening much, much, much less now than it used to, because countries and regional fisheries management organizations have already banned it, and there's a ton of misunderstanding about it. It is not anywhere close to the biggest threat to sharks. So I would encourage you to broaden your concerns to include overfishing, which is the biggest threat, and includes but is not limited to finning.

iranmeba47 karma

Serious: What would happen if sharks were wiped out by some sort of disease or over fishing?

Less serious: have you ever had shark fin soup and, if so, did you like it?

Whysharksmatter74 karma

Predators help keep the food web in balance, and since billions of humans depend on the ocean for food and tens of millions depend on the ocean for jobs, we very much want the food web to be in balance. Disease is not a threat but overfishing very much is.

Trikethedogfish36 karma

I get mixed messages about Great White Sharks, should I be afraid to go in the water, or shouldn’t I?.

Whysharksmatter118 karma

Sharks biting people is always tragic, but it is incredibly rare. More people die in a typical year not paying attention and falling off cliffs while trying to take scenery selfies. I go in the ocean.

Vighy234 karma

Thanks for doing this! My son wants to know why sharks always look for blood or go crazy for blood?

Whysharksmatter80 karma

So sharks do not react around blood the way it's often portrayed in fictional movies, but they do react to it, and the short answer is blood = food.

bootymane332 karma

As marine creatures, I imagine sharks are exposed to alot more/diverse pathogens than we land-dwelling junts. Do you think any biomedical applications can be derived from the adaptive immune systems of sharks?

Whysharksmatter61 karma

Great question, and there are indeed many active research projects focused on the immunology and healing ability of sharks.

But I want to note here that there's a common myth about sharks that is false and harmful- that they don't get cancer and that therefore eating shark can cure cancer in a human. This is not true.

-send_me_bitcoin-28 karma

How accurate was the scene where George pulled the golf ball from the blowhole?

Whysharksmatter52 karma

I love Seinfeld (I have a signed poster from the Soup Nazi that says "no shark fin soup for you" in my office, but I am afraid that the scene in which a fictional character pretends to have technical training in a technical job is not entirely accurate.

Maybe_not_a_chicken22 karma

Did you know sharks are smooth?

Whysharksmatter63 karma

Smooth as hell in all directions, sure.

(People reading this to learn, this is a meme and is not true, shark skin is actually extremely smooth nose to tail but extremely rough in the other direction, it's a whole thing)

Maybe_not_a_chicken24 karma

Dammit I was hoping you’d fall for it and I could have a nice haha

Oh well thanks for helping save sharks and congrats on the book doing well I guess

Whysharksmatter83 karma

Do not speak to me of the deep magic memes, witch, I was there when they were written

boario19 karma

Longtime fan! I actually met you at IMCC 2014 in Glasgow! Your session about science communication through social media has helped me in my career ever since.

A question local to me, how do you feel about plans to "rewild" marine areas. Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland has had all large predators removed and the mussel beds have been damaged and can't re-establish because of the number of meso-predators like crabs. There was talk of reintroducing nursehounds and skate in order to suppress the meso-predators. What is your opinion on projects like this?

Whysharksmatter25 karma

Hi there!

Re-wilding can work, as long as the conditions that led to the original local extinction are removed. If they're not, you're just putting a bunch of animals into an environment that killed the rest of their species, and that's not especially helpful.

sirkerrald9 karma

Do those nonlinearly patterned wetsuits work? My beach is very sharky (cape cod, nauset area) and I live in fear of going more than a few meters off the shore.

Yes, I said meters, y'all can learn to live with metric.

Whysharksmatter24 karma

I love the "look like a sea snake so sharks won't eat you" wetsuit.

Sharks eat sea snakes.

I think those wetsuits look super cool, but they do not help deter sharks.

Nawaf-Ar9 karma

Sharks are my second favorite animal after dogs.

So thanks for this!

My question is: how are you?

Whysharksmatter19 karma

Let me blow your mind and tell you about dogfish, which are a kind of shark!

I'm doing well, thanks. About to go take a long weekend afternoon nap with my dog here.

_Scarecrow_8 karma

What are the biggest threats to shark populations' well-being today? What actions can ordinary people take to help protect them?

Whysharksmatter31 karma

The biggest threat to sharks BY FAR is unusustainable overfishing, including bycatch as well as targeted fisheries. The single best thing someone can do to help is to not eat unsustainable seafood. Notice that I did not say everyone has to give up seafood and become a vegan, the people who are claiming that the science says we all have to do that or the ocean is doomed are lying to you.

biscaynebystander8 karma

Is there an ideal time of day when I can go swimming in the ocean with little to no fear of being bitten by a shark? I'm in South Florida

Whysharksmatter26 karma

If you have been in the ocean, there was a shark near you, it knew you were there, and it did not bother you. This is a very common experience. If you want a guarantee of not seeing a shark, I might recommend sticking to the pool.

TheBlazingFire1238 karma

What do you typically do at a normal day at work?

Whysharksmatter44 karma

I currently have six (AHHHHHH) part time jobs across the field, where I teach, do research, work for an environmental non-profit, train other scientists, write (both as a science journalist as my new book,) and speak to the public. Every day is a little different.

A_Nerd_With_A_life8 karma

Hey! Thanks for deciding to do this amazing AMA! For starters, what got you into marine biology and sharks? As a scientist, are you seeing injustices against sharks going down as time passes by? Lastly, how does it feel to live with the knowledge that you'll never a cooler marine biologist than Kujo Jotaro?

Whysharksmatter25 karma

I have always wanted to be a marine biologist, as long as my family can remember. Most kids go through a shark thing or a dinosaur thing, I just never grew out of mine.

I am not sure what you mean by "injustices," but sharks face many conservation challenges that require our urgent attention.

iFuJ8 karma

Is this a good book for a 5 year old who's shark obsessed? If not what do you recommend?

Whysharksmatter23 karma

This book is a little advanced for younger kids. I recommend the Smithsonian Animal Answer Guide for that age group

Ct-5736-Bladez7 karma

I have a few questions if you don’t mind answering them.

  • As someone who loves sharks (my favorite being black tip reef) and being a recreational fisherman, and someone who is interested in conservation what is something we can do on an individual level to help sharks? I know shark finning is very damning to shark populations and I personally always try to avoid catching sharks when I fish in the ocean.

  • are you excited for shark week this year?

  • is your book for sale yet? If so where can it be bought?

Whysharksmatter26 karma

Hi! The book is for sale via Johns Hopkins University Press, and is on Amazon and at science museums, zoos and aquariums, and indy bookstores around the US, Canada, and UK.

I've answered your question 1 in response to some other peoples threads.

I am not excited for shark week- google my name + shark week and have fun reading my decade of rants.

wa33ab16 karma

Hi Dr. Shiffman,

Do you have a favorite shark movie?

I recently watched Deep Blue Sea 3 on Netflix and I've learned that the location they chose for the film, which is the coast of Mozambique, is actually an amazing area to find large diverse range of sharks.

Whysharksmatter15 karma

Between SharkNado 2: The Second One and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

SharkNado 2 is thanked in my Ph.D. dissertation.

largomargo6 karma

My 10 year old daughter wants to go on a path like yours- any advice??

Whysharksmatter11 karma

I cannot figure out how to put links in replies here (sorry) but I answered this in detail in my "ask a marine biologist" column for Sport Diver magazine and would encourage you to check that out.

luigitrumpsmario6 karma

Have you swam with sharks? (hi marine biologist student wannabe here kudos to all you do)

Whysharksmatter13 karma

Sure, lots of times. But notably not for work. Most marine biology research does not involve SCUBA diving, I do that for fun.

marwachine6 karma


What compelled you to pursue your profession? How did you go about writing the book?

Whysharksmatter6 karma

I've been writing this book for over a decade and I'm thrilled it's finally out. A lot of it is a synthesis of my research, some lessons I've taught to my students, and my writings for the public, while some is original to the book.

Famousguy115 karma

Hello! My question is: How sharp are Sharks' sense of electroreception? I've read about ampullae of lorenzini and I find the ability to sense electrical fields fascinating. Could a shark sense electrical signals in the brains of living organisms? Can they only sense movement? What exactly are they sensing?

Whysharksmatter22 karma

Hi! I just wrote an article about this for American Scientist magazine and would encourage you to check it out. The short answer is we don't know what it feels like to sense electric fields, but know they can use it to find prey buried in the sand even if they can't see it or hear it or smell it, and to navigate in the open ocean using the Earth's magnetic field. Pretty cool!

043Admirer5 karma

If you were given the opportunity to name a newly found type of shark, what are you calling it?

Whysharksmatter7 karma

I would love to see heroes of ocean conservation honored with things like this.

adacayi4 karma

How is Manta a shark?

Whysharksmatter38 karma

Manta rays are rays, which are not sharks. Sharks, rays, skates, and chimeras are all closely related, and are all fishes, but are not the same thing.

ballzdeep-inur_mum3 karma

when did you realise you wanted to be a marine biologist and is it difficult? fun? any suggestions for people wanting to get into the field and work with sharks and rays?

Whysharksmatter10 karma

I love my job and have a blast, but it's very challenging. In marine conservation biology specifically, an "important" discovery is usually very bad news for a species we care about deeply. It's hard.

The job market is also very competitive but that's true of a lot of jobs.

johnny_briggs3 karma

Hi. With the current information we have, which is the most intelligent shark out there, and how do we measure this?

Whysharksmatter7 karma

I cannot figure out how to insert links in replies (sorry) but I recently interviewed Dr. Kara Yopak, who studies shark brains, for Discover Magazine. I'd encourage you to check that out, it goes into much more detail than I can here.

i_did_ur_mom_AMA1 karma

How accurate is that recent documentary called like Seaspiracy I think? Are we truly and utterly fucked?

Whysharksmatter15 karma

Not at all accurate. It is full of tons of misinformation and lies.