New study of Panama shark, ray fossils sheds light on ancient ocean connections

October 14th, 2013
Pimiento measuring tooth

Lead researcher Catalina Pimiento measures a shark tooth at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study led by University of Florida researchers provides evidence of an interchange between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans nine to 11 million years ago despite the ongoing formation of the Isthmus of Panama.

Seeking to provide the most complete description to date of 10-million-year-old shark and ray fossils in an outcrop on the Caribbean side of Panama, the researchers identified species that today are restricted to the Pacific Ocean, suggesting the oceans were connected at the time. The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Paleontology.

The research has significant implications for the evolutionary history of sharks and possibly other marine animals, said lead researcher Catalina Pimiento, a doctoral candidate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. (more…)

University of Florida reports 2012 U.S. shark attacks highest since 2000

February 11th, 2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks in the U.S. reached a decade high in 2012, while worldwide fatalities remained average, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File report released today.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, displays a dusky shark jaw and sharpnose shark embryo specimens in Dickinson Hall on the University of Florida campus. ©Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, displays shark specimens in Dickinson Hall on the University of Florida campus.
©Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

The U.S. saw an upturn in attacks with 53, the most since 2000. There were seven fatalities worldwide, which is lower than 2011 but higher than the yearly average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2010. It is the second consecutive year for multiple shark attacks in Western Australia (5) and Reunion Island (3) in the southwest Indian Ocean, which indicates the localities have developed problematic situations, said George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“Those two areas are sort of hot spots in the world – Western Australia is a function of white shark incidents and Reunion is a function most likely of bull shark incidents,” Burgess said. “What I’ve seen in all situations when there’s been a sudden upswing in an area is that human-causative factors are involved, such as changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance, or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we’re doing.” (more…)

Florida Museum shark expert to speak in Senegal regarding work leading to sawfish addition to U.S. endangered list

July 21st, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida shark expert George Burgess is slated to speak at an international conference Monday about research that allowed the largetooth sawfish to be named a U.S. endangered species last week.

Burgess and other UF scientists conducted the documentary research allowing the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the largetooth sawfish as endangered July 12. He is scheduled as a keynote speaker to discuss sawfish populations during the 2011 International Symposium on Sharks in Dakar, Senegal, Monday through Wednesday.

“It’s a fairly desperate situation,” said Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “Anything that swims is eligible to be eaten – you have poor countries reaping their resources because they have no choice.” (more…)

Florida Museum shark expert to investigate recent Mexico attacks

May 31st, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History shark expert George Burgess departs for Mexico today to research three shark attacks near Cancun on Jan. 31 and March 21 and 24.

This marks Burgess’ fourth trip to Mexico to investigate shark incidents in the last 20 years. While attacks in Mexico are not as common as in more populated areas, the events of early 2011 drew media attention because of the tourists involved, Burgess said.

“It’s the same thing as Egypt in December, just a different language,” said Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at the Florida Museum, whose work is featured in the current issue of Playboy magazine. (more…)

Florida Museum hosts second annual ‘Sawfish In Peril Educator Workshop’

May 16th, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers are hosting educators from throughout the state for its annual “Sawfish In Peril Educator Workshop” from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

As one of the few institutions tracking and protecting the endangered sawfish, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Florida Program for Shark Research developed the workshop to help educators facilitate sawfish awareness and conservation programs in their local school districts and environmental education facilities.

“Sawfish are animals that can go extinct if we’re not very careful,” said Florida Program for Shark Research Director George Burgess. “Part of our mission here as a program is to not only conduct research on these animals, but to give them the maximum amount of protection they can receive.” (more…)

New UF study shows some sharks follow ‘mental map’ to navigate seas

March 9th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study led by a University of Florida researcher uses tracking data of three shark species to provide the first evidence some of the fish swim directly to targeted locations.

Researchers found tiger and thresher sharks showed the ability to orient at large distances, with tiger sharks swimming in direct paths at least 4 miles away and reaching specific resource areas about 30 miles away, said lead author Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine biologist in the division of ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. (more…)

Shark attacks increase worldwide; Florida continues four-year decline

February 7th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The number of reported shark attacks last year increased worldwide, but declined in Florida, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File annual report released today.

Ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said Florida typically has the highest number of attacks worldwide, but 2010 marked the state’s fourth straight year of decline. Florida led the U.S. with 13 reported attacks, but the total was significantly lower than the yearly average of 23 over the past decade.

“Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12,” Burgess said. “Maybe it’s a reflection of the downturn in the economy and the number of tourists coming to Florida, or the amount of money native Floridians can spend taking holidays and going to the beach.” (more…)

UF researchers track ocean-crossing migration of blue shark

January 5th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Blue sharks are strong enough to cross the Southern Atlantic Ocean but need human protection at their destinations and points of departure, a University of Florida collaborative international tagging project finds.

The discovery of the shark’s wide ranging ways shows that the species, which is subjected to heavy fishing pressure, needs multinational regulations to manage them on both sides of the Southern Atlantic, said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. (more…)

UF alumni give Florida Museum research boat for shark program

October 11th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Hell’s Bay Boatworks Inc. are donating a custom boat and trailer valued at more than $50,000 to support the University of Florida’s Program for Shark Research.

The 18-foot flats boat features an exclusive shark-themed wrap designed by renowned marine wildlife artist and scientist Guy Harvey. It is entered in the University of Florida Homecoming parade Friday and will be displayed afterward at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at 1904 W. University Ave. (more…)

Florida Museum case study analyzes why, where and when of leading shark attack site

May 26th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks are most likely to occur on Sunday, in less than 6 feet of water, during a new moon and involve surfers wearing black and white bathing suits, a first-of-its-kind study from the University of Florida suggests.

Researchers analyzed statistics from shark attacks that occurred in Florida’s Volusia County, dubbed the “Shark Attack Capital of the World,” between 1956 and 2008. They also spent a year observing people between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. (more…)

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