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NSU Oceanographic Center

Biology of Sharks & Rays


: NSU Oceanographic Center : Registration Form :

Course Description

Sharks and rays (collectively termed "elasmobranchs") are creatures of biological elegance and perennial fascination. In recent years, new technologies have revealed fascinating details about the heretofore secret lives of elasmobranchs as well as demonstrated their population declines on an unprecedented and global scale.This unique 12-week course is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary introduction to the evolution, biology, ecology, and conservation of elasmobranch fishes.

Topics covered include evolution, classification, diversity, anatomy, physiology, sensory biology, locomotion, feeding, reproduction, life history, behavior, distribution, ecology, and conservation of sharks and rays.
Student Base:

A credit course for advanced undergraduate students (transfer credit is available for students from other institutions) and general interest distance learners. Elasmobranchs are important components in virtually all marine ecosystems and in a few tropical freshwater ones as well. Sharks and rays are commercially exploited and vulnerable to directed fisheries, bycatch, and anthropogenic habitat erosion. This course will play an important role in enriching the educational background and professional understanding of marine biology, zoology, or coastal management degree students.

Credits: 3

Prerequisites: If taken toward an undergraduate degree, it is recommended that students have completed at least second-year biology courses. No prerequisites for those taking the course for general interest.

Course Objectives

This course 1) integrates and amplifies scientific learning from basic biology, physics, and chemistry, and 2) provides students with a comprehensive, well-rounded, and up-to-date understanding of the biology of elasmobranch fishes, 3) building toward pursuit of careers in marine ecology, zoology, ichthyology, and fisheries management.

Class Format: This course is taught on-line, based on peer-reviewed literature in the anthology selected as the course textbook (see below). Selected readings will be assigned each week for background reading, and classroom discussions. The estimated time commitment is five to ten hours per unit, on average, to complete readings and participate in course activities.

Course Materials: Course content is delivered as self-guided narrated and illustrated lectures and Biology of Sharks and their Relatives (Carrier et al. [eds], CRC Press, May 2004), a newly published review volume selected by the course instructor as a source of supplementary readings; additional supplementary material includes on-line video clips and use of selected Internet resources. Interaction with the course instructor is via E-mail and participation in on-line discussions centering on topics set by the instructor.

Course Resources

Print and Web-CT. Unit Plan: see NSU website for more information & course syllabus


Students are expected read all material provided. Attendance will be gauged by participation in on-line discussion and submission of research projects.


If enough participation can be secured, a formal shark-watching field trip in the Florida-Bahamas region can be arranged, in which students will apply what they have learned about shark behavior in the course.


Participation in on-line discussions (20%), an on-line mid-term test (short answer, 25%), a term project on an elasmobranch-related topic of the student's choice but subject to approval by the course instructor (25%), and a final examination consisting of short answers plus a choice of two of six integrative essay questions, to be submitted via E-mail attachment and graded by the instructor (30%).


All exercises, including exams and submissions must be E-mailed to instructor. Grading will take into consideration: content, organization, accuracy and quality of presentation. Late assignments will incur in a 20-point reduction (out of a possible maximum of 100).

About the Instructor

R. Aidan Martin is the Director of the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research, a Research Associate of the Zoology Department of the University of British Columbia, and an Adjunct Professor of the Oceanographic Center of Nova Southeastern University.

Aidan is internationally recognized as an expert in shark biology and behaviour. He has studied elasmobranch fishes for over 30 years in some 40 countries or island states. His main areas of research are the evolution, phyletic relationships, functional morphology, life history, behavioral ecology, distribution, and conservation of elasmobranchs. A prolific writer and illustrator, Aidan has published over 130 scientific and popular articles and four books. He has also organized international scientific symposia on the biology of deep-sea cartilaginous fishes and the biology and conservation of freshwater elasmobranchs.

Aidan is much sought after as a public speaker and television presenter. He is also an avid diver, having logged more than 14,000 hours in the ocean with some 90 species of sharks and rays.

If you register for Biology of Sharks and Rays, you will be expected to make contact with the co-ordinator by e-mail. Please address requests for additional information regarding the Biology of Sharks and Rays distance education course to


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