BIDDEFORD — Take one step inside James Sulikowski’s office at the University of New England’s Marine Science Center and it’s not hard to tell what makes the 46-year-old Saco resident tick.

Shark jaws, from ones that could barely wrap around a person’s fist to ones that could fit a watermelon, line the walls and fill up the top half of a bookshelf. Sulikowski ”“ a shark researcher and professor of marine science at UNE, who is known to some at the university as “Dr. Shark” ”“ has been studying sharks for the last 15 years, working in the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to the southern tip of Nova Scotia, as well as in places like Alaska, Turkey and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Sharks are fascinating,” he said Thursday. “Here in the Gulf of Maine, most people don’t know this, but we’ve got nine different species. It’s a pretty sharky area, which is pretty cool.”

Currently, Sulikowski and his team of three graduate and 16 undergraduate students are primarily studying the behavior of young porbeagle sharks in the Gulf of Maine ”“ a unique project that will help scientists better understand the porbeagle, a relatively large species of shark typically found in the open ocean of the North Atlantic.

“What makes what we’re doing now unique is that most of the work that you see on ”˜Shark Week’ focuses on the big ones, like white sharks and tiger sharks, which we do study,” he said. “But what often goes overlooked are the babies. Baby sharks are like the next generation, so you have to understand them in order to protect the adults.”

With many young porbeagles having been observed off the southern coast of Maine, Sulikowski said his team ”“ the first group to “really focus on this young, baby group of sharks” ”“ intends to determine how the species, which some fear is close to endangerment, is using Maine waters and how that information can help better manage its population.

The research team has been collecting data for the project by attaching satellite tags to the dorsal fins of young porbeagles found off the coast, said Sulikowski. Although the devices are costly at about $4,000 apiece, he said they are worth it, gathering temperature, depth and geolocation data before popping off and floating to the ocean surface for easy retrieval.

In the Gulf of Maine and in other areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, Sulikowski is also working on projects that explore the viability of fishing certain shark species, such as the spiny dogfish, in place of traditionally fished species, such as Atlantic cod, whose population numbers have been falling sharply for the last several years.

“If we find out that a shark grows faster than we thought, then we can probably fish it a little bit heavier,” he said. “If we find out it takes a lot longer, then we have to get stricter conservation measures.”

Although Sulikowski made headlines a few weeks ago when he debunked a spate of reported great white sightings off the coast of southern Maine, he said given current trends, it is possible great whites could soon be swimming into Maine waters more frequently ”“ and that’s a day Dr. Shark looks forward to seeing.

“We have a pretty good seal population up here and as the white shark population grows down south, I wouldn’t be surprised if they kind of slowly checked things out up here,” he said. “And that’d be awesome for me.”

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]



        Comments are not available on this story.

        filed under: