Talking Shark Week 2024 With Marine Biologist Austin Gallagher, Who Studied Great Whites From Inside a Fake Whale Carcass


What do Great Whites look like up close?

These animals are inherently rare, they take a long time to reach those sizes. They don’t reach maturity until 20 feet long, and they can get much bigger than that even, and they can live to maybe a hundred years old. So they see a lot of things and they’re warriors. It’s almost like they have their own fashion sense because some of them have scars, some of them have parasites, some of them are very bold, have different colorations and markings, and they really… It’s funny because a lot of those things that we see on their skin and their body are really reflected in their personalities too. So the sharks that are the most bold and aggressive and risk taking and most feral are the ones that look feral and the ones that are scratched up and have a million parasites on them.

Is there anything that you think audiences would be surprised to learn about what it’s like filming for Shark Week?

It’s often a lot harder to get the sharks to come to the boat or to show up sometimes than people think. In many cases you have only a seven, maybe eight-day window to mobilize an entire production team with scientists, film crew, audio, directors, safety, first aid, production, boats. And you need the animals to show up to make it all come together. So sometimes it takes a long time, days, for the animals to show up. You see these awesome sequences and a beautiful five act story unfold on the screen, but it’s usually 1-1.5 days where most of the good stuff gets shot that makes it into the show.

What’s the biggest or coolest discovery you’ve made in your career?

The biggest discovery that I’ve made is also the coolest, which was partnering with tiger sharks to discover the largest underwater meadow of grass that’s known as seagrass. And it ended up being the ocean’s largest carbon sink. So these plants trap and store massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. We put cameras on the tiger sharks and they helped us make this discovery and it was hiding in plain sight all along. So if we hadn’t partnered and collaborated with the sharks themselves, we probably would’ve never seen it.

What’s life is like as a modern-day shark scientist?

Being a modern-day shark scientist is awesome because there’s never been a greater set of tools and opportunities out there to connect with people digitally around what we’re doing. And it really gives me the chance to be myself. Of course I’m a scientist, but I’m a pretty normal person just like anybody else.

Are we seeing an increase in shark attacks globally? If so, why?

It appears as if shark attacks are increasing. And it makes sense, because, in many cases, off of both coasts here in America, particularly the East Coast off of North America, shark populations are either largely stable, or slightly increasing as well. Conservation efforts have created protections that have allowed sharks to, in some cases, replenish their populations, so there’s more of them. And it’s taken 5, 7, 10, 15 years for some species, but now there are more of them, and they’re coming in contact with an increasing human population. More people, more sharks, more social media, more phones. It creates a formula that will definitely increase the encounters, and the reporting of the encounters.



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