The Shark Research and Conservation Program based out of the University of Miami has made a shocking discovery off the Floridian shores, linking young bull sharks to one of the largest female sharks ever caught!
The group of researchers first came across the aquatic behemoth back in 2012, when she was caught swimming off the Florida Keys coast, near Marathon. Scientists did some non-invasive tests and collected her DNA to enable future identification but didn't send the large shark off without first naming her. The enormous mammal was named Big Bull. "It literally took my breath away," Hammerschlag, the research program's director, said.
He continued, "It wasn't so much the length, but the girth. It had this neck that was just bulging, like a wrestler." It was a once-in-a-career moment for Hammerschlag. Or so he thought... With the population of these sharks on the decline, the researcher didn't really expect to come across Big Bull in the near future, nor find any of her relatives.
"I mean, you're literally looking for - not a needle in a haystack - but a needle in the world's oceans," Hammerschlag explained, according to National Geographic. But to his surprise, three adolescent bull sharks caught and tested have come back with matching DNA in recent years. It seemed like a stroke of absolute luck, and the scientists jumped on the opportunity to learn what they could from the chance encounters.
Toby Daly-Engal, the Florida Institute of Technology's molecular ecologist, agreed with how extraordinary it was to have access to a family tree of shark DNA. "You absolutely should not be able to throw out a line and catch sibling bull sharks. It shouldn't be happening, but it is," she shared in disbelief. But this excitement came with a worrisome end. "We're finding out, in general, is that there are really just not that many sharks left," the scientist added.
But, the team is hoping that insights from these specimen collections can help deepen an understanding of how to help the struggling species and build up the population. At the very least, they'll be able to keep an eye on Big Bull's family.