Austin, Texas - Sharks are splashing across TV screens all week as viewers who love (or fear) the kings of the sea are tuning into shows about the allure (or revulsion) of great whites, hamnmerheads, makos and more.

But if you want to unravel a great shark mystery – and learn why it gives researchers hope about the future of threatened shark populations – turn off your TV and listen to what this UT student helped discover.

Moisés A. Bernal, a Ph.D. candidate at UT’s Marine Science Institute, and a team of researchers found that brownbanded bamboo sharks have a surprising way of producing offspring – a way that gives hope to the future of wild sharks threatened by overfishing and habitat loss.

Bernal and the other scientists found that the female brownbanded bamboo sharks can be separated from the male fathers of their pups for an astounding 45 months – nearly four years – and still have a viable baby.

The female sharks are able to produce young regardless of whether or not they are ovulating or when mating occurs, and the discovery affirms the long-suspected (but little-documented) ability to produce offspring even under challenging conditions.

  • To study how marine animals move, two scientists from UT’s Marine Science Institute, Benjamin Walther and Lee Fuiman, invited colleagues from across the world to report on various aspects of migration, habitat use and dispersal in the ocean by animals. In that project, they found whale sharks play a killer game of hide-and-seek, disappearing from human sight.
  • Brad Erisman, an assistant professor in the Department of Marine Science, conducted research in Palau and studied how tens of thousands of fish will form tight, tornado-like columns to avoid the threat of large black-tip sharks. Erisman has also studied the growth of sharks and other aquatic-life populations in Mexico’s Baja peninsula. In the 10 years studied, his team saw the number of tiger, bull and black-tip reef sharks increase significantly. 
  • After learning to scuba dive while a student at UT, Tabitha Lipkin (B.J. ’12) won the inimitable title of Scuba Queen International in 2014. During the pageant, judges scored Lipkin and the other competitors on diving skills and marine conservation knowledge. Once she won the crown, she traveled the world speaking about conservation topics, with a big focus on “saying no to shark fin [soup].”
  • When Adm. William McRaven (B.J. ’77) delivered his epic (and viral) commencement speech to the class of 2014, he talked about Navy SEALs training in shark-infested waters. McRaven, who is now chancellor of the UT System, says the sharks haven't attacked in the past. Nonetheless, he advises that, should a shark begin to circle you, “stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid.” Then, with all your strength, “punch him the snout.” If you want to change the world, McRaven says, “Don’t back down from the sharks.”

"If you want to change the world, don't back down from the sharks." Adm. William McRaven (B.J. '77)

  • One student, Nicole Pazary, followed McRaven’s advice – literally. During a study abroad trip, Pazary, a self-described “sharkophobe,” faced her fears despite the possibility of seeing a shark and went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Vouching for McRaven, Pazary says facing the sharks can help you “gain something really wonderful.” (And, yes, she is still “terrified of sharks.”)
  • If you’re a McCombs School of Business student, you might find yourself in a different kind of shark tank. Several Longhorns have appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, including some who have even gotten a $1 million offer. If you think you have the next big idea, brush up on these tips for hooking an investor from some of the UT students and alumni who have been on the show and two of the sharks – Daymond John and Mark Cuban, who have each recently visited campus to speak.
  • In the early 1990s, a dentist in Austin was searching for fossilized shark teeth along Shoal Creek when he found something a bit more surprising – the fossilized skeleton of a 14-to-18 foot long Plesiosaur, which is now displayed in the Texas Memorial Museum.
  • The Texas Memorial Museum also has an impressive collection of fossilized shark teeth.