Students Study Gulf's Sharks With Researchers

In movies they often strike up scary images, but this summer they're the focus of a program by that's pushing the University of Southern Mississippi into uncharted waters. For the first time Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs is offering a three week intensive course on sharks. The classroom is the Gulf of Mexico.

In deeper waters than many of the students have ever sailed the "Tommy Munro" ventured 30 miles out in search of sharks. U.S.M. professor and researcher Eric Hoffmayer wants students to get a better handle on how sharks really live.

"It's really intriguing what sharks do in the wild and how they live in the wild as well as how they live in captivity," Hoffmayer said.

Hoffmayer created the class at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory that gives students the same up close experience his own research has given him.

"I try to bring that to my course to make it as field oriented as possible to show them how we collect these animals in the field as well as what type of research in the field here in the Northern Gulf of Mexico," Hoffmayer said.

The group caught several sharks, and most of were tagged and released. The future marine biologists feel they are on the cutting edge of marine research. Rachel Schoen says taking marine biology in a classroom called the Gulf is pleasantly different from what her school the University of Wisconsin offers.

"There's not any hands on. It's all just sit in lecture and fall asleep and here there is always something exciting going on," Schoen said.

As the sun set it was time to move on to a new fishing spot, just off an oil rig. Shani Bourne tried to capture the moment for the children of Hancock High School. She is one of several teachers turned student.

"Some of the population I teach are juniors and seniors and they're already looking towards career options and career choices," said Bourne. "If they want to chose something in the biological sciences then I feel it's part of my responsibility to let them know what kind of research they might be looking forward to."

Bourne believes continuing to expand it's program is a plus for Gulf Coast Research Lab, keeping it competitive with the technology of top universities.

"I feel like it also encourages, students to return back to the classroom because it's not the same of same old course that you took 10 years ago or even 5 years age," she said.

Professor Hoffmayer says voyages like these will let students know what they're in for if they pursue a career studying the ocean and hopefully his own love of sharks.

"If you see somebody getting all excited about their job and loving their job over someone who is just sitting there talking and putting you to sleep, you're definitely more inspired," Schoen said.