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New forensic technique gives clues about sharks from bite damage
Date:12/1/2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Hit-and-run attacks by sharks can be solved with a new technique that identifies the culprits by the unique chomp they put on their victims, according to a University of Florida researcher and shark expert.

In a method analogous to analyzing human fingerprints, scientists can make identifications by precisely comparing shark bites to the jaws and teeth of the powerful predators, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History.

"Every time we investigate a shark attack one of the pieces of information that we want to have is what species was involved and what size it was," he said. "Because I've been looking at shark attack victims for 30 years I can estimate what did the damage, but I have never been able to actually prove it."

Now scientists can say with a degree of certainty whether the beast was a 14-foot tiger shark or a 9-foot bull shark, a distinction that has unforeseen emotional, ecological and even monetary benefits, said Burgess, who collaborated with researchers from the University of South Florida. Their findings are published in the November issue of Marine Biology.

"There's a psychological need for many shark attack victims to know what bit them," Burgess said. "One of the few things shark attack victims have going for them after a bite is bragging rights and the bragging rights include knowing what did the damage."

Because of the hype surrounding shark attacks, off-the-cuff estimates of shark size are often exaggerated, he said. "This will give an actual basis for determining what species was involved and the size, not that that's going to affect the size claimed by the victim in a bar," he said.

Using dried shark jaws from museums and private collections, the researchers were able to identify bite patterns of particular sizes and species of sharks by measuring jaw circumference and the d
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Contact: George Burgess
gburgess@flmnh.ufl.edu
352-392-2360
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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