NOAA Research Fishery Biologist and Shark Expert Dr. Eric Hoffmayer who came upon 100 whale sharks at one time.

The thought of seeing that sleek gray fin moving swiftly through the water might send shivers through some, but for others what lies below the ocean surface, under that fin, is exciting and has become their life’s work.

NOAA’s shark scientists have collectively spent many years studying various shark species. Some of their experts became interested in sharks as children, while others didn’t know much about them until a graduate research project introduced them to elasmobranchs.

Below are Q&A’s featuring one NOAA shark expert, Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, and what he has learned studying these creatures in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

1. Your earliest memory…how did you become interested in studying sharks?

I can remember vacationing on the New Jersey coast and fishing with my dad.  We would often catch small coastal sharks and skates. They seemed so different for the bony fish and I was fascinated with them.

2. Describe the most interesting encounter you have had with a shark.

My most interesting encounter with a shark(s) was back in 2010 when I was lucky enough to participate in a scientific encounter with over 100 whale sharks at a single location.  I must have spent 8 hours in the water that day photographing, tagging, and collecting samples from as many of the sharks as I could.

3. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in this line of work?

One of the biggest challenges is the lack of available data.  For example, we still know very little about the reproductive biology of whale sharks or their pupping or nursery areas.

4. What would you say is your biggest accomplishment to date?

My biggest accomplishment to date was to develop a Shark Research Program at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (USM-GCRL).  Though I now work for NOAA, I still collaborate with the scientists at USM-GCRL on various shark related projects.

5. What do you like most/least about your work?

My favorite aspect of my work is the fieldwork, whether it is in the water or on a boat.  My least favorite aspect is all the time spent in the office conducting administrative work.

6. Any advice to those wanting to study sharks (elasmobranchs)?

Many folks want to study elasmobranchs, making this a competitive field.  I would recommend that anyone interested in studying elasmobranchs determines what aspect of their biology or ecology interests them and find a scientist with similar interests to mentor them.

7. What mystery about sharks would you like to solve?

I would love to determine the location of newborn whale sharks.  Up to this point, this remains a mystery to science.

Myth:  If dolphins are present, sharks are not.
Fact: Shark and dolphins are often present together as they feed on similar prey species.

Myth: Sharks are mindless eating machines and will eat anything.

Fact: Many shark species have very specific diets and will only eat certain prey species.  Other species are more opportunistic, but still are very selective on what they consume compared to what they encounter on a daily basis.

Click here to meet additional NOAA shark experts and read what they have learned about these fascinating creatures.  The difference between Hollywood fishtales and actual facts might surprise you.