Elasmo.Students's picture

Elasmobranch Lab Q & A: Save Our Seas Shark Research Center & Guy Harvey Research Institute

Lab: Save Our Seas Shark Research Center & Guy Harvey Research Institute

Institution: Nova Southeastern University, Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center

Lead reasearcher: Dr. Mahmood Shivji


What is the central focus of your research group? Are there any big questions you’re guided by?

Our lab uses genetic tools and satellite telemetry to increase knowledge to aid in the understanding, conservation, and management of marine fishes, with a particular focus on elasmobranchs and billfishes.

You can find a more elaborate summary of our focuses here:


How did your lab begin?

The Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) was founded first in 1999 as a collaboration between Dr. Guy Harvey and NSU, led by Dr. Mahmood Shivji. The Save Our Seas Shark Research Center (SOSSRC) was established in 2009 with the Save Our Seas Foundation and NSU, directed by Dr. Shivji.

Check out these links for more information on the beginning of the two institutes:


What projects are graduate students working on?

Dr. Shivji has graduate students working on various projects, but here we will focus on the genetics team. Cristín Keelin Fitzpatrick is a master’s candidate and Cassandra Ruck is a PhD student in the genetics lab. Both Cristín and Cassandra are working on population genomic studies of elasmobranchs (see below for more)


In which parts of the world do you conduct your research – are there specific species or habitats you focus on?

Cassie: The majority of the projects I have worked on (and are currently working on) are global studies. As the lab has grown over the years with many international collaborations, we have the immense privilege of having some large, global sample sets. I actually conducted my Master’s degree under Dr. Shivji before starting my PhD. My master’s research focused on the global population genetics of the oceanic whitetip shark, a pelagic species that has suffered drastic declines in abundance throughout its range. Moving into my PhD, I have recently conducted some work on a more coastally associated species, the great hammerhead. My first publication was just published: “The complete mitochondrial genome of the endangered great hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran”. I look forward to presenting some more of what I’m doing with great hammerheads with a poster at AES this year!

Cristín: In contrast to Cassie, my main project focuses on a very small specific area opposed to a global study. I’m looking into the population structure and dynamics of the angelshark, Squatina squatina in the Canary Islands. As the last stronghold for the critically endangered angelshark, it represents a unique opportunity to look into the genetics of an extremely depleted species.  However, as research assistants in Dr. Shivji’s lab we also undertake other projects, as well as collective lab projects. These can range from shark fin identification for an illegal shipment case in Palau, to assisting and training visiting international scientists with their own research. Overall, the research in our lab involves many species, and takes place across the world.


Do you involve undergraduates in your research – if so, how?

Cassie: As a PhD student, I take on undergraduate mentees. I am only one year into the program, so I took on my first undergraduate mentee this past spring semester, and he has stayed on to work in the lab with me this summer. Our lab has taken on undergraduate volunteers in the past, to help with everything from sampling cataloguing to genetic sequencing. We also involve graduate student volunteers, and often host visiting scientists from other countries.


Has your group been involved in public outreach or science communication – if yes, what has been most successful?

Our most prominent public outreach program is led by Dr. Derek Burkholder of the GHRI. Derek leads local shark tagging trips out of Dania Beach and Pompano to teach children and members of the public about shark research, shark tagging, and our local shark populations. This is probably our most successful outreach endeavour. Many kids in South Florida have never seen a shark, and seeing the look on kid’s faces the first time they pull a shark in is so rewarding.

In terms of science communication, our group contributes to the Save Our Seas blog and the Save Our Seas Magazine. We run a GHRI Facebook page, and also have a public tracking website where anyone can see where our sharks are moving. As a lab, we volunteer yearly at the Tortuga Music Festival Conservation village.

Cassie: I personally take any opportunity to talk to children or members of the public about ocean conservation and the importance of the work we do. I’ve volunteered at outreach events at NSU, the Broward STEM expo, and the Fort Lauderdale boat show, to name a few. I have also recently delved into the Twitter verse (shameless plug: @ThatsFancasstic), which I’m definitely still figuring out, but I have seen Twitter used as an awesome tool for science communication.

Cristín: We each try to do independent outreach as well as assisting with communal lab outreach projects. Like Cassie said, we work to volunteer at events and any opportunities that present that allow us to talk about our research and shark conservation. I have several friends that work as teachers in the Broward County public school district, and am often invited to give talks to classes.


Is there anything else we should know?

Not that we can think of, but if there’s anything else you’d like to know you can always reach us. We’d love to talk conservation, sharks, cats, or whatever!