USF Research News

USF Shark Expert, Students Get Behind the Bite

April 10, 2017

Professor Phil Motta and his students join expeditions to measure sharks’ bite force to understand how they became top predators

Student Releases Shark
A USF student prepares to release a tagged shark in the Biology of Sharks class. (Photo credit: Phil Motta)

USF Integrative Biology Professor Phil Motta is known worldwide for his expertise on sharks and rays, and in recent years his research has focused on form, function and evolution of how sharks feed. To do that, Dr. Motta and his students go where few would dare – into the mouths of sharks to measure the bite force of difference species.

Recently, Motta joined an expedition with OCEARCH, a nonprofit shark research institute, off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where the group tagged and took bite measurements from sharks before returning them to the ocean. Their first shark tagged was Hilton, a 1,326-pound, 12.5-foot, mature male great white shark named after the community in Hilton Head Island.

Motta and his students have led multiple expeditions for measure bite force in smaller species off the Florida coast, including a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2016. The data from the bite force measurement will help scientists understand how sharks have modified their feeding mechanisms over the past 400 million years to become one of the most efficient predators in the animal kingdom.

Phil Motta Shark
Scientists aboard the R/V OCEARCH take a bite measurement from Hilton, a white shark tagged during the expedition. The researchers gather data on the ecology, physiology, and behavior of sharks in the North Atlantic Ocean. (Photo credit: OCEARCH)

Phil Motta
Professor Motta measures bite force on a shark during the class field trip. The shark was released unharmed after taking the measurements. (Photo credit: Phil Motta)

Shark Research
The shark is ventilated with seawater during the measurements then released alive as part of the Biology of Sharks class field trip. (Photo credit: Phil Motta)

Shark Research
Professor Motta and students measure a shark before releasing it during the Biology of Sharks and Rays class field trip. (Photo credit: Phil Motta)

Shark Research
A USF student prepares to release a tagged shark in the Biology of Sharks class. (Photo credit: Phil Motta)