CCU marine science professor featured in 2020 Nat Geo Sharkfest series

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CONWAY. SC (WBTW) – A Coastal Carolina University professor was was recently featured on two shows produced for National Geographic’s Sharkfest 2020 series.

Shark expert Dan Abel, a professor of marine science in the Gupta College of Science at CCU, led two film crews from Optomen Productions in late October and November of 2019 out on Winyah Bay to catch and release sharks for the series, “When Sharks Attack.”

In the first show, “Four Strikes Summer,” which aired on July 20, he said scientists examined some of the conjectures related to specific shark attacks.

Abel said the first show they filmed focused on research he did more than 30 years ago about stress physiology in sharks.

“When you catch an animal, or a boney fish or a shark on a hook and line, it stresses it out and there are ways of measuring that stress,” he explained. “The segment I was on, asked the question, is a stressed out shark a dangerous shark and would attack people, and I dispelled that.”

The second show, “10 Minutes of Terror,” aired on July 22. During that episode, scientists investigated four shark attacks that occurred within 10 minutes of each other near Myrtle Beach.

“We had much better fishing luck with the second production crew, catching and releasing six Sandbar Sharks, one 6-ft. Bull Shark, one 7.5-ft. Lemon Shark, one Cownose Ray, which was our first one in 20 years, and two Bull Red Drums,” Abel said.

This isn’t Abel’s first appearance on National Geographic and says though he didn’t say ‘yes’ as quickly this time as he did the first, it was worthwhile to bring recognition to the Shark Program and the work his students do.

Abel said the crew conducted about four hours of interviews.

“There is a scene of me walking onto the vessel and that took about 20 minutes of filming; following me walk onto the vessel, leading me walk onto the vessel,” he explained.

The crew also filmed many of his students, including graduate students Jeremy Arnt, Alex Oathout, Gabrielle Donatelli, Andrew Sitlinger, Meredith Langford, Lily Rios-Brady, and Matt Rodriguez.

The undergraduate students included Rachel Hildebrand and Brittani Bryce, an exchange student from Exeter University.

The captains included Edwin Jayroe, Sam Gary, and Paul Kenny. Cecilia Krahforst, a visiting assistant professor of marine science, also participated.

Abel’s research is part of the CCU Shark Project, which is an ongoing longline survey of sharks of Winyah Bay and nearby estuarine and coastal waters.

Abel says the project was started in part because “many shark species aren’t doing well.”

“There’s over 500 kinds of sharks and some seem to be doing very very well, and some that have been over fished have recovered,” he said.

The CCU Shark Project has both an educational and research component. The former involves training students how to design and implement demographic and other field and lab studies involving sharks, including how to prepare for and conduct longline cruises.

Abel says while the pandemic has put a halt to their research, it has been good for some wildlife in the short-term.

“Some wildlife seem to be doing better without as many humans interacting with them,” he explained. “It’s not as noisy out there anymore because people are staying in their houses, animals, they seem to be re-entering their old habitats.”

His forthcoming book, “Shark Biology and Conservation: Essentials for Educators, Students and Enthusiasts,” is a comprehensive overview of the diversity, evolution, ecology, behavior, physiology, anatomy, and conservation of sharks.

Abel, who joined the CCU faculty in 1994, is serving as the first Distinguished Honors Faculty Fellow of the HTC Honors College and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at CCU. His areas of scholarly interest include sharks, environmental issues, sustainability, land use, pollution, overpopulation, energy consumption, green building, and sting rays.

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