University of Florida researchers explored the Pacific Northwest’s deep waters this summer to learn about the mystifying ghost shark.
The researchers discovered a way to locate ghost shark eggs using remotely-operated vehicles. From there, the researchers can study the shark’s teeth to understand teeth regeneration better.
Gareth Fraser, a UF associate professor of biology, teaches and researches teeth, specifically tooth regeneration. He said studying animals like ghost sharks is important since it adds a really important aspect to humans’ evolutionary story.
“This is a group of fishes that split from sharks and other organisms 400 million years ago,” Fraser said. “Being able to retrace the sort of evolutionary steps and developmental steps of the process that lead to these strange, diverse organisms is really useful for understanding evolutionary biology.”
Fraser added that if more ghost sharks are studied, it might give a clue into the human evolutionary history of human teeth and how they can develop and regenerate for future therapies.
Fraser’s postdoctoral researcher, Karly Cohen, joined Frasher on the dental shark expedition. She studies the “replacement of weird teeth” on sharks, rays, or closely related fish.
“One of the things that we study is their tenaculum, which is in the males, which is this little, tooth-like club that comes off of their forehead,” Cohen said.
Cohen had the idea of using remotely operated vehicles to look for eggs in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Although the ROVs can reach deeper levels of water than a scuba diving team, finding these eggs has been difficult due to the dark waters.
She added some sharks have different ways of making babies.
“Some sharks have a lot of ways that they make babies,” Cohen said. “They can have some direct developers or they can, they can give birth to live young. Others lay them in eggs, often called mermaid’s purses. And you’ll sometimes see these washed up on shore.”
Both researchers said they hope to plan more trips in the coming weeks.