The Flinders University marine ecologist does this by fearlessly examining the foods ingested by the ocean’s top predators.
Her studies into shark diet and behaviour, which have involved her developing biochemical tools to assess a shark’s dietary intake, are bringing scientific clarity to these oft-maligned and widely misunderstood sea creatures.
“Gaps in research knowledge plug into our fears of sharks because we really don’t know these creatures,” says Dr Meyer. “I want my research to help change that.”
To monitor the impact of microplastics being ingested by tiger sharks, she is reviewing materials from research colleagues in the Reunion Island, Madagascar, Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the USA, the Galapagos Islands, Brazil, Japan, South Africa and around Australia – with all the samples coming to Flinders University for analysis. “The sharks eat a lot of turtles and seabirds, which are notorious for ingesting a lot of microplastics. We need to know what this means for some of the ocean’s top predators.”
This research – part-funded by the Georgia Aquarium in the US (which made contact with Dr Meyer after being impressed by her biochemistry presentation at the 2018 Sharks International conference in Brazil) – illustrates the flow-on effect of damaging litter and waste products in oceans that are spreading throughout the oceanic food chain.
In studying a shark’s diet through biochemical methods rather than the traditional process of examining its stomach contents, Dr Meyer is able to identify such intricate details as the amount of microplastics ingested by alpha predators and the related threat posed to wider habitats. It’s a process she says can be applied across many marine species.