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SHARK!! Dan Abel takes the insides out on the streets of Morocco



Aug 13, 2012

Education, Science

SHARK!! Dan Abel takes the insides out on the streets of Morocco

Professor Dan Abel teaches Marine Science at Coastal Carolina University. On the MV Explorer he’s known as The Shark Guy. His enthusiasm for marine life is infectious. During the ship’s first day in Casablanca, Morocco Abel stumbled across the local fish market where he saw several species of sharks. He immediately emailed the class to meet on the last day in port for an exploration of the market and shark dissection. What ensued was an electric combination of biology, teaching, learning, smelling, and street performance.

*Note: the shark used in this dissection was too old to eat (in fact the market director didn’t want us to take it in fear we might get sick). The best possible use of this shark was for education, rather than going straight to the trash.

After setting up his working space with dissecting kit and specimens, Abel talks about the two fish in front of the group. He has a young Short Fin Mako shark which was caught about four days ago (too old for eating), and a Spotted Cat shark which is more common but too small for dissection.
Abel uses his dissection kit to open up the Mako shark. Students, and locals, gather around anxious to learn why this shark is considered to be “the ocean’s perfect predator.”
Students touch the skin of the Spotted Cat shark. It’s rough in one direction and smooth in the other, making the skin hydra-dynamic and helping the shark swim faster and more efficiently. Abel explains that shark skin is so rough that it will dull any knife.
As the dissection begins, Abel brings the classroom to the streets of Morocco. He asks the students, what part of the shark is this? It’s the digestive tract leading to the stomach, which he opens to reveal the fish this predator ate shortly before it was caught.
Abel shows the students, and locals, what the inside of the shark’s stomach looks like. He specifically points out all the folds which provide greater surface area for digestion.
Abel cuts a cross section of the vertebral column. He points out the spinal cord that extends all the way to the end of the shark’s tail, giving it one of the strongest tails of any shark. Most other sharks swim making an S like movement with their whole body, but the Mako shark has such a strong tail that it can rely more on just the tail fin.
Abel explains that the Mako shark, like all advanced sharks, can thrust its jaw out in order to catch prey. If sharks had a jaw like humans Abel says “eating would be like bobbing for apples.”
Abel removes the jaw and passes around the shark’s teeth. He explains “these re-curved teeth are designed so that the minutes a fish gets in, it doesn’t get out.” Each student breaks off a tooth as a keepsake of the experience.
The shark’s heart is positioned close to its gills. Abel explains that a sharks heart is pretty small; if humans were the size of this shark our heart would be double this size.
Students each get the chance to hold the heart, an experience they may never get again. Relative to other sharks the Mako’s heart is bigger than others because it is more active and powerful predator.
Prof. Dan Abel is such an exuberant and engaging guy, he holds the attention of students and locals despite the hustle and bustle that is taking place around them. At one point traffic even stops and locals get out of their cars to check out the demonstration.


  1. Carson
    August 13, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Dr. Able is the coolest. And the fact that this could happen is what makes Semester at Sea is so awesome.Well written piece, Russ!

  2. Bev
    August 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    What a GREAT teacher! Our oceanography professor on the Fall 73 voyage wouldn’t even go out on deck with us to show or explain things. All lectures in the bowels of the ship.

  3. Susan Bryant
    August 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    What an amazingly spontaneous experience. If well planned, it probably would not have been as exciting, captivating or informative. Thankfully, Dr. Abel knows a “teachable” moment when he spots one. This photo essay captures the experience start to finish— all that is missing are the smells and sounds. I know that students will look back on these photos for years to come and smell every aroma and hear every sound. Great job, Russ!

  4. Julianna
    August 31, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I had the pleasure of being a student of Dr. Abel’s years ago at Coastal Carolina. I have to say he is the best Professor I ever had or possibly will ever have. Thank you for all you have taught me Dr. Abel. Great writing Russ to show what a great teacher Dr. Abel is wherever he ends up. 🙂

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