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Miami Researcher Stars In TV Special On Great White Sharks

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Miami-based shark researcher Neil Hammerschlag, whose work WLRN has covered in the past, is getting international attention with his latest study on the feeding habits of the ocean's most feared and misunderstood creature: the great white shark. 

Hammerschlag was recently featured on Discovery Channel's Daily Planet where he described a veritable "buffet" with dozens of white sharks feasting on whale carcasses off the coast of South Africa's famed Seal Island. His observations of the shark scavenging activity were part of a recently-released study he co-authored on predator feeding behaviors. Watch the entire interview segment here (it includes footage of sharks). 

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During the interview, Hammerschlag described the communal feeding frenzies as surprisingly non-competitive, with each shark laser-focused on the task at hand. "You'd think it would cause aggression," Hammerschlag said. He described one shark that worked its way down a carcass, much as a human would with corn on the cob. In the process, the shark mistakenly bit into the head of one of its fellow diners, leaving behind two teeth in the skin. Hammerschlag said both sharks seemed un-phased by the incident. 

The study, titled "White Sharks (Carcharodoncarcharias) Scavenging on Whales and Its Potential Role in Further Shaping the Ecology of an Apex Predator," was published April 9 by PLOS ONE, with funding provided by University of Miami's RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program and Apex Expeditions.

Hammerschlag and his team of researchers at RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program frequently lead shark research and tagging expeditions out of Miami and the Keys. Students and the general public have the opportunity to participate in some of these trips, which a focus on common Florida species like bull, hammerheads, and tiger sharks. 

Although infrequent visitors to Florida waters, "there have been five reports off Florida of Carcharodon carcharias" so far this year, according to the Sun Sentinel. The most newsworthy white shark sighting was on April 9, when a group of teens hooked a 13-foot shark during a fishing trip off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. The great white shark, a federally and internationally protected species, was released after a lengthy battle.