California State University Long Beach just received thousands of shark jaws. The jaws were relinquished at the Port of Long Beach.
A team has been spending hours going through them and now they’re about to donate most of them.
Each jaw has a “Made in Taiwan” sticker on it. Obviously that has to be removed. Then they write “not for sale” so the jaws don’t ever again end up on the market.
Lisa Jane McWilliams is a student researcher who has spent hours going through the trove. She has scars to prove it.
“Well, they’re shark teeth,” said McWilliams.
With precise measuring McWilliams found the majority of the jaws could be sold legally. The importer slapped the “Made in Taiwan” stickers on them all and claimed everything was legal, but a few of them actually come from protected species.
It’s hard to pick out the illegal ones. That’s why the importer gave up the entire collection to authorities, to avoid more trouble.
It’s taken months to examine each jaw. Barely visible differences in the teeth determine the species.
“I love what I do so I don’t consider it work,” said McWilliams.
McWilliams has worked closely with marine biologist Gwen Goodmanlowe. Goodmanlowe spends most of her time teaching, but managed to devise a labeling system and an efficient way to process all the jaws. Goodmanlowe wasn’t afraid to take her work home with her literally.
“I couldn’t wait for box 27 to be done… I did want those boxes out of the garage because they smelled,” said Goodmanlowe.
The Smithsonian say humans kill 100 million sharks every year. The collection at CSULB represents almost 5,000.
The two-woman team will soon be finished with all their measurements. Then, the illegal jaws will go to museums and most of the others will go to classrooms all over Southern California for educational purposes.
McWilliams is coming up with lesson plans teachers could use to introduce students to zoology and ecology.
This was the last project McWilliams completed as an undergraduate, perfect preparation to get her on her way to a graduate degree in marine biology some day.
“This is my life. I love it. I love coming into work every single day,” said McWilliams.
Goodmanlowe has a spreadsheet containing every single jaw. They’ve logged nearly 20 species. She’s excited to share her results with young students.
“You don’t do this for the money. You do it for the love of the research, learning new things,” said Goodmanlowe.
This project has afforded both women the opportunity to grow in a field they both feel intense passion for.