Sharks Form and Function

Sharks and their relatives are of major importance to the oceans, not only as apex predators but as indicators of the ocean’s general health. As the oldest living group of fish, they are considered by many to be primitive animals. Yet to have been so successful from an evolutionary perspective their body plan and biology is actually very advanced and give the elasmobranchs a significant evolutionary advantage. Although their general anatomy is similar to what it was when they first evolved 420 million years ago, they can be considered to be very advanced fish. Sharks and their relatives have the longest evolutionary record of any vertebrate evolving over 420 million years ago.

Students taking this course explore the anatomy, histology and body plan of a shark relating their basic vertebrate body plan to the fundamental anatomical structures found in all vertebrates and why the body plan of sharks is so successful 420 million years after they first evolved.

As Sylvia Earle said “Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks”. Sharks’ importance to our ecosystem must not be underestimated and one of this courses’ main deliverables is to show how important such flagship species are to the history of vertebrate life on earth.

Objectives of Course

The primary objective of this course is to provide a sound understanding of shark and elasmobranch anatomy. To achieve this, we will take an evolutionary and comparative anatomy journey through the basic body plan of a shark. Towards the end of the course, we will briefly look at a recently deceased shark, caught as bycatch. The students will dissect this animal as part of the assessment using their new skills to investigate an anatomical system in some detail and comparing it to what they saw and learnt in the specimen dissection.

Instructor: Prof. Ian Bricknell & Prof. Walt Golet

  • Dates: 7/22/24-7/26/24
  • Darling Marine Center in Walpole, ME
  • For 2024, Sharks Form and Function will be offered as a Summer University course through UMaine, the details of which can be found here under SMS 491 Problems in Marine Science. 
  • Travel tips and driving directions.
  • For more information about the DMC, accommodations and workshop logistics, please contact the DMC staff.