Aug
10
2007

# Getting to know Jaws.

A shark, doing it's best: Mostly he just wants to be left alone. (photo by Mshai on flickr.com)
Scientists in New South Wales and Florida are testing a new method of measuring the biting force of a great white shark using computer models.

Attempts have been made to measure sharks’ biting force underwater, in captivity and in the wild, although these are known to provide inadequate results. Sharks will generally do weak a “test bite” before applying the full force of their jaws, and these test bites are generally all that’s measured.

In this new experiment, researchers are dissecting a 2.4-meter long great white shark, in part to make an extremely accurate computer model of its anatomy, and in part to drive home the point that the animal should have just allowed them to measure its bite while it was alive. Advanced computing methods, originally developed for “calculating stresses in structures such as bridges,” will then be applied to the model, and should provide a much more accurate range of the shark’s biting force.

This process contrasts sharply with my own, I believe, much more elegant test of shark biting power. There are several simple steps involved in my method: Step 1 – gather a variety of small to medium sized objects. Step 2 - Rate the hardness of these objects, not on an objectively quantified scale, but relatively (for example: The kitten is harder than the pillow, but not as hard as the dictionary). Step 3 - Take these objects to your nearest shark. Get the shark to bite the objects (this can be difficult, but the right combination of chum and verbal abuse should do the trick). You will then have a simple and easy to understand scale of shark biting strength (for example: the shark could crush the pillow, the kitten, the dictionary, and the cookie jar, but not the lawn mower engine). If you still feel, at this point, that you need a measurement that uses more universally accepted units, you can then crush similar objects by yourself, far away from the shark, using free weights, or forty-pound bags of dog food. These can then be easily converted into newtons, or pounds per square inch, or whatever your physics teacher requires.

If the computer model method proves to give reasonably accurate results, I suppose it will then be up to individual researchers to choose that method or mine. It will just depend on whether someone doesn’t want to get their hands dirty, or if they care about style and integrity.

I read another article about this study yesterday. In this one, they say that it's unlikely that the great white has a very strong bite, especially when compared to other sharks. The great white has a relatively narrow head, and less space for jaw muscles; the effectiveness of the bite probably comes more from the sharp, saw-edged teeth, and the shark's tendency to shake it's prey after latching on.
I do the same thing, and it works.

posted on Sun, 09/02/2007 - 10:31am

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