With Discovery Channel’s Shark Week underway, we're lining up interviews with shark scientists from around the globe to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what life is like when every week is shark week!

Image: Cecilia Krahforst

Chuck Bangley is a PhD candidate in the Coastal Resources Management program at East Carolina University. His research interests include interactions between fisheries and apex predators, marine predator-prey interactions, migration behaviour and habitat selection involving sharks whenever possible. Chuck can be followed on Twitter and writes posts (far less often than he'd like) at Southern Fried Science and on his own research blog Ya Like Dags.

What inspired you to get into shark science?

I've been a shark enthusiast for as long as I can remember, and at this point it just seems ingrained from childhood. My parents have a story about me being fascinated by a washed-up dogfish as a toddler, but this happened too far back for me to remember it. Whatever caused my interested in sharks, it definitely stuck!

Many people probably don't know dogfish are sharks – can you tell us some of your favourite things about them? 

The term "dogfish" is often used as a catch-all term for any small shark that travels in groups, but there is a true dogfish family, the Squalidae. The most famous member of this family is the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), which is most famous for showing up in huge numbers and disrupting fishing days. Though spiny dogfish are often used as an example of a "typical" shark, they're pretty unique for a number of reasons. First off, they're the ultimate "generalist", with jaws designed to utilise ram feeding, biting or suction depending on the prey they're after. This allows them to take advantage of just about any available food source, from comb jellies to fishes larger than the sharks themselves. Second, they're highly social and can be found in massive schools of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. Finally, they have one of the longest pregnancies in the animal kingdom, with their pups taking up to two years to develop before birth!

Is there anything especially challenging about working with dogfish? 

They tend to be a little easier to work with than other sharks thanks to a combination of small size, hardiness, and usually fairly high abundance. Sometimes the most challenging part of working with dogfish is keeping up and not getting overwhelmed when you find a big school of them! That said, like any marine organism they sometimes decide not to show up even if all the conditions are right. Other than that, spiny dogfish prefer cool water and dogfish research can lead to some cold days at sea.

Can you tell us about an encounter that was exciting for you?

One of my favourite shark encounters was actually accidental. I was diving in North Carolina on a relatively shallow wreck known more for inshore reef species like triggerfish and small groupers than big toothy fish. That day, the first thing I saw after getting in the water was a 5-6 foot sandbar shark with a big bite out of its dorsal fin! Then, once we got to the wreck, we watched a school of blacktip sharks feeding on baitfish above us. It was the best shark dive I've ever been on, and it was completely unintentional.

Image: Cecilia Krahforst

Do you have any advice for people who are afraid of sharks?

One thing that's been eye-opening for me working on sharks in North Carolina waters is the sheer number and variety of sharks in the local area – and yet bites on people are extremely rare (even in an unusually high year like this one). The odds are good that there is a shark within less than a football field away from you at any given time in North Carolina waters, yet well over 99.9% of the time even the big aggressive species will just pass by and go about their business without even being noticed by humans. On top of that, the vast majority of shark species won't bite a person unless they're being caught or harassed.

When it comes to saving sharks, why is it important that scientists and fishermen work together?

I consider working with fishermen one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Most fishermen understand the need to keep a healthy marine ecosystem, but end up resisting some conservation policies because they're most directly affected by them. It's essential for anyone interested in marine science or conservation to work on a fishing vessel at least once – it's really the only way to understand what people working in fisheries do. If you have to support a policy that might work against fishermen, it's essential to have firsthand knowledge of how that policy might affect them. On the flipside, collaboration also allows fishermen to get a close look at what researchers are doing and how their findings (hopefully) end up informing policy. Some of the most effective fishery management policies have been developed out of collaborations like this, and it's something I think should happen more often.

And just for some fun, if you could create the ultimate shark mashup/hybrid, what would it look like?

If you were to give the spiny dogfish a size and speed boost, bump up its metabolism and make it warm-bodied by adding some shortfin mako and porbeagle DNA, you'd have an impressive beast indeed! Think of a hundred 6-8 foot long sharks moving as one huge pack, capable of inhaling fish and crabs right out of their hiding places, dismembering sea mammals larger than themselves, or running down prey at speeds over 40 miles per hour.  Megalodon wouldn't stand a chance. I'd definitely watch a movie about that!

Top header image: Ben Thompson/Flickr