Basking Sharks: DIY DNA Sampling

Written by on November 12, 2012 in Marine Life
Basking shark.

Basking shark. Photo Credit: NOAA.

A team of shark experts from the Isle of Man have created a DIY (do it yourself) kit for collecting DNA of basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus).

Their creative design involves using only a rough sponge (pan scourer, brillo pad) and a window cleaning pole, making it inexpensive and minimally disruptive to the animal.

“This kit is about getting back to basics to help global conservation efforts- we are combining practical solutions with cutting-edge science,” explained Jackie Hall, coordinator of Manx Basking Shark Watch.  Hall and her husband Graham, have been granted a special permit to get close to the sharks for research purposes.

A basking shark’s dorsal fin (top fin) is covered in a black slime that is perfect for non-invasive DNA sampling.

“Having worked with the sharks for several years I thought the best way to collect the slime would be with a brillo pad, well it’s not really a brillo pad, it’s a green scrubby pad, wrapped round some stainless steel, and attached to the end of a window cleaning pole – it’s ideal really because it doesn’t harm the shark at all,” said Mr. Hall.

This new technique involves four simple steps:

  1. Create the sampling device by attaching a sterilized, rough sponge to a window cleaning pole
  2. Swipe the shark’s dorsal fin with the sponge
  3. Cut up the sponge and place in container with alcohol to prevent contamination
  4. Label the sample and send off for analysis

“Another advantage is speed, it’s just a quick swipe of the fin,” Mr. Hall added.  “It’s a simple and low cost way of sampling the DNA.”

This new method of DNA sampling is helping the basking shark conservation cause.  Basking sharks are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, so the more we learn about them, the more we will be able to help them.

“If we can provide governments with accurate scientific information about the movements of the sharks informed decisions can then be made about how to manage the marine environment to protect them – it’s really important that we find as much information out as quickly as possible because we think there may only be between eight and ten thousand of these amazing creatures left.”

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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