The Long Beach State Shark Lab plans to donate close to 5,000 illegally obtained shark jaws to schools and museums for research and education.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contacted the Shark Lab in June 2018 regarding 4,865 shark jaws obtained from an importer during an inspection at the Port of Long Beach. The official who procured the jaws noticed there were more than just bull shark jaws in the crates and hoped the Shark Lab could identify them. In testing, the lab discovered that a variety of jaws belonged to endangered and protected shark species.
USFWS later contacted the importer, ordering him to relinquish the jaws to avoid a fine. After contacting the importer, the USFWS officials planned to destroy the illegally obtained jaws.
“We told [the USFWS] that we would take them and identify all of them and then we will send them out to schools and universities who want them,” said Gwen Goodmanlowe, a marine mammalogist who oversees the shark jaws.
Of the 27 crates of shark jaws that were obtained, the LBSU Shark Lab plans to keep three of the crates for further scientific study and research and eventually donate all of them.
The shark lab successfully identified 18 shark species and their jaws by looking at the shape of the teeth and the size of the jaw. These characteristics vary by species and some of the jaws can even determine the age and sex of the shark. Identification of the shark jaws concluded the 2018 fall semester.
Three of the species were endangered and protected shark species, the smooth hammerhead shark, the scalloped hammerhead shark and the silky shark. This semester the shark lab is working toward compiling the data they found in studying the jaws to publish the research and donate the jaws to universities, museums and K-12 schools.
The facilities who receive the jaws can do further testing and research to learn more about the various species and sharks. K-12 schools who are interested in receiving jaws will also receive a teaching guide to help teachers and students to learn more about shark biology.
“Students get to hold shark jaws in their hands instead of just seeing them in an aquarium and we are going to have lesson plans for them, providing information on the different species,” Goodmanlowe said. “Students may [even] be able to learn how to identify the sharks based on their teeth.”
No timeline has been set for the donation of the jaws, but Goodmanlowe said over 50 schools and museums have expressed interest in having a set for their own reference.
“We have no deadline, when they’re gone, they’re gone,“ Goodmanlowe said.