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Meet Shark Biologist Dr. Jodie Rummer

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Jodie is originally from the USA where she completed honours, BSc, and MSc degrees in Biology and Marine Biology in Illinois and West Florida before moving to Vancouver, Canada to commence a PhD at the University of British Columbia. Her PhD research investigated oxygen uptake and delivery mechanisms in fish during stress, but she has also done extensive research on buoyancy, exercise, and oxygen and temperature stress in fish. After a post-doctoral fellowship in Hong Kong (2010-2011), she joined the ARC CoECRS ( James Cook University) where she is applying her broad research interests in conservation physiology. Jodie’s research aims to understand how evolutionary pressures have shaped physiological systems and the degree to which adaptation and acclimation to natural and environmental perturbations, such as anthropogenic climate change, can occur.

You can follow her shark adventures on Instagram and Twitter or her WEBSITE

1. What is your favorite shark and why?

My favorite shark tends to be whichever shark I’m currently studying… I find just about every fish, whether it has bones or cartilage, interesting and fascinating! My team is currently working with blacktip reef, sicklefin lemon, and epaulette sharks… so it’s a three-way tie. We work with the first two as newborns because they live in challenging environmental conditions as babies with the odds seemingly stacked against them… a problem that is already intensifying and will continue to do so with climate change and other human-induced stressors. We work with the latter species from adults, pregnant females, eggs as they develop, and even new hatchlings, also because they inhabit challenging environmental conditions of the coral reef flats around Australia.

Dr. Rummer on their field site in Moorea Credit: Tom Vierus

2. What is one species of shark you would like to see on Shark Week?

The odder, the better… I am fascinated by the Greenland shark right now because they are long lived and may have some interesting metabolic traits.

3. What is one thing you wish people knew about sharks?

One thing… well, we (the collective “we”) are trying to communicate a thousand things with our efforts toward education, outreach, and the use of social media platforms, which I think is helping with conservation efforts… isolating that one nugget of crucial information, however, is a challenge. I guess I’d really like to emphasize that sharks have been on the planet for about 450 million years… that’s well over 2000-times longer that we humans have been on the planet… and well before even the dinosaurs! Sharks “know” what they’re doing, from an evolutionary and adaptive perspective. However, we humans need to stop changing the oceans at such an alarming rate with our greenhouse gas emissions; otherwise, sharks really won’t be able to keep adapting at a pace fast enough and may disappear altogether. We critically need these middle and top predators for the health of ALL marine ecosystems. If they disappear, so does the rest of ocean life and so do we. We are all connected.

Dr. Rummer with a neonate epaulette shark as part of her research on the effects of climate change Credit: R.Davis

4. Can you tell us a little about your current work with sharks?

My team and I study the effects of climate change (ocean warming, acidification, and de-oxygenation) and other human-induced stressors (noise, pollution, turbidity, fishing pressure) on the physiological performance of sharks, rays, and other fishes. We simulate ocean conditions for the middle and end of this century under various climate change models and maintain our study animals under those conditions. We study these animals as athletes… using similar approaches and technologies that we use to test athletic performance and recovery and the effects of various stressors on performance in human athletes. If any aspect of performance is reduced under any one stressor or combination of stressors, that could affect their ability to survive, thrive, and produce a next generation and therefore upset the balance of their ecosystem.

Jodie ready to release a juvenile blacktip reef shark Credit: Tom Vierus

5. What has been one of the coolest/most interesting things you have seen/learned working with sharks?

Our newborn reef sharks have belly buttons! Upon birth, they have umbilical scars, similar to us humans. From our research, we know that they close up within 4-5 weeks or so as well. So, we can use that to know how “newborn” our babies are. Plus, we started connecting that rapid healing with other wounds too. Apparently, sharks – especially the females – have a superpower of rapid wound healing! See this PAPER for details.

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