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Institute Shark Expert Takes Samples from Dead Shark on Long Island's Gilgo Beach
Dozens of amazed onlookers watch as flesh, spinal cord sampled from 26-foot shark
July 14, 2009

Shark expert Dr. Demian Chapman of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University was the first researcher on the scene yesterday at Long Island's Gilgo Beach, where a 26-foot basking shark washed up and died.

With a gathering crowd of astonished beachgoers looking on, Dr. Chapman and colleagues took DNA samples that he will use to study its movements, and removed its spinal column, which will be tested to determine the shark's age. Cause of the shark's death is still unknown.

The beaching of this plankton-eating shark, and the scientific sampling efforts, were chronicled on CNN, in a Newsday article by Sophia Chang (posted below), and on Fox 5 News (link below).

 

Dying Shark Washes Up on Gilgo Beach
by Sophia Chang

Eager to scrutinize a species with few samples available for study, researchers Tuesday sliced up the carcass of an enormous basking shark that washed up on Gilgo Beach in Babylon, with plans to send samples of the animal around the world.

The barely alive 26-foot shark startled beachgoers when it appeared on shore Tuesday.

"It came in alive, wasn't in good shape and died," said Demian Chapman, 34, assistant professor at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and shark expert with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.

It's not clear why the shark died, but researchers speculated it was ill or had been injured. The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation will determine the cause of death, state parks spokesman George Gorman said.

Tracy Marcus of Cornell Cooperative Extension told The Associated Press the dead shark weighed about a ton. She said it is unusual for ailing basking sharks to come ashore.

No one is allowed to kill basking sharks, an important species that researchers are eager to study, Chapman said.

DNA from the shark's biological samples will be used to study its movement, its backbone will be tested to determine its age and its reproductive organs will help determine its maturity, Chapman said.

"Most of the shark will be buried, but a large number of biological samples will go to biologists all over the country and world to study," Chapman said.

Chapman and three members of the Riverhead Foundation began cutting up the shark around 3 p.m., said Robert DiGiovanni, director of the foundation.

"We want to make this difficult process more manageable," DiGiovanni said. "It will take a couple of hours to cut it into smaller pieces for study, but the rest of the shark will become part of the ecosystem."

A large crowd formed a semicircle around the shark Tuesday and snapped shots with their camera phones, their mouths open.

"I can't believe something so big is in our waters," said Susan Webb, of Westchester.

Later, others watched the shark's dismemberment. "It's a bloody affair," said Bob Saenz, 45, of West Islip. "They cut the shark's flesh into cubes. You don't see that every day."

Watch video of beached shark and read Newsday article
Watch TV report on Fox 5 News

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