USC experts do a deep dive on sharks during “Shark Week”

July 18, 2019

Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water, up pops sharks and academics who study them. Beginning July 28, “Shark Week” returns to TV screens everywhere. Meet USC researchers who explore the cultural phenomenon of sharkmania and the biology of these ocean predators.

Contact: Gary Polakovic (213) 740-9226 or

What good thing can come from sharks anyway?

Mitul Luhar is an assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He studies how objects overcome resistance to move through turbulent air or water. Aided by USC grad student Andrew Chavarin, Luhar developed an algorithm based on shark skin that finds optimal solutions to move things with less drag.

“Many species of shark have tiny surface features, grooves aligned in the direction of motion. The grooves reduce friction in turbulent flows, so a shark expends less energy to swim and can go faster. We would like to transfer those efficiencies into transportation systems like ships and planes. Our algorithm allows us to design and optimize such surface features much more quickly,” Luhar said.

He added:

  • Scientists have studied shark skin properties for nearly 30 years.
  • V-shaped ridges on the skin are a template for engineered surfaces called riblets.
  • Riblets have been added to vessels and swimsuits.
  • 3D printing enables creation of more complex shapes.
  • The new algorithm rapidly pinpoints optimum riblet shapes to achieve reduced-friction surfaces for wide applications. or (213) 740-7212

Duunnn duunnn … dunn dunn … dun dun dun dun dun dun!!!

Jon Burlingame is an assistant adjunct professor at the USC Thornton School of Music. He is a leading expert on music for films and TV. He teaches the history of film music and serves as a consultant for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, the American Film Institute and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s authored four books on topics such as James Bond movie music, motion picture soundtracks and TV hit shows; his next book will be about the history of music in prime-time TV shows.

“The music of ‘Jaws’ was as responsible as filmmaker [and USC Trustee] Steven Spielberg’s imagery for scaring people out of the water in 1975, and continues to be the soundtrack for shark imagery. When you see news about a shark attack, most of us begin to hum the shark’s theme,” Burlingame said.

He added:

  • The “Jaws” motif ranged from sounds of the deep in the orchestra to the speed of the music itself: loud and fast when the shark was attacking, soft and slow when it was lurking.
  • In each movement, the tone of “Jaws” music was always menacing.
  • The music’s sheer intensity and visceral power helped to make the film a global phenomenon.

Contacts: or Jeremy Pepper (213) 740-8606 or

Do people bite sharks more often than sharks bite people?

David Ginsburg is an associate professor (teaching) of environmental studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. At the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island, he studies marine physiology, development, ecology and coastal zone sustainability. He also swims with sharks.

“The world’s shark populations have been in decline a long time due to shark finning, which is a problem in many areas,” Ginsburg said. “It’s not done in California anymore, so sharks are making a comeback, and we’re seeing more sharks – especially great white sharks.”

He added:

  • Juvenile white sharks, up to 5 feet, loiter off Southern California beaches throughout summer.
  • Sharks are curious and often inspect paddle boarders, surfers and divers.
  • Most shark species pose no danger to people, but munch seafood such as crabs, rays and fish. or (310) 991-5551

In-flight food service has been around a long time

Michael Habib is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Anatomical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a researcher at the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He’s an expert on paleontology and biomechanics. He studied a prehistoric shark attack based on a fossil from the museum.

“We have direct evidence that a shark munched a pterosaur, a flying reptile, about 80 million years ago,” Habib said. “It’s a super-sized version of predator-prey interaction we see today, when sharks eat seabirds, and it’s been going on a long time.”

He added:

  • Today’s sharks are torpedo-shaped, compared to early sharks that were long and slender.
  • Sharks had V-shaped, fang-like teeth during the Triassic period.
  • The biggest shark ever was megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) some 40 feet long and 25 tons with teeth big as a man’s hand; it went extinct about 2.5 million years ago. or (443) 280-0181


Photo caption (top shark): Soupfin shark (Galeorhinus galeus) swims through kelp near the USC Dornsife Wrigley Marine Science Center.

Photo credit (top shark): David Ginsburg, USC

Photo credit (bottom shark): Courtesy Mark Witton