CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Some folktales are passed on down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and the legend of Big Mo is no different.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Professor, Dr. David Portnoy, has been working on a research project for a television show since last fall.
The Professor of Life Sciences and Ruth A.Campbell Professor of Marine Biology was contacted last fall to do research on a TV program for Discovery Channel's super-popular, "Shark Week."
According to a social media post from TAMU-CC, the Florida Key’s "Legend of Big Mo", an abnormally large hammerhead that patrols a bridge where locals like to fish, is what motivated TV producers.
“We don’t know a lot about great hammerheads,” Portnoy said. “There are four large hammerhead species in the western North Atlantic Ocean; we know a good deal about scalloped hammerheads but much less about Carolina, smooth, and great hammerheads.”
Dr. Portnoy says he was asked to do research on a few questions pertaining to Big Mo.
Portnoy says producers wanted to know whether Big Mo was a cryptic species that would account for its large size or whether Big Mo was an individual hammerhead from a population specific to the Florida Keys.
“The producers wanted us to do genetic work to complement fieldwork they were doing,” said Dr. Portnoy.
In order to analyze samples for the project, Dr. Portnoy turned to Islander doctoral student Amanda Barker, a Graduate Research Assistant in the Marine Genomics Lab.
According to TAMU-CC officials, Baker's research focuses on the conservation genetics of scalloped and Carolina hammerheads.
Dr. Portnoy said TV programs like “Monster Under the Bridge” offer scientists a chance to discuss the need for conservation, as well as the science behind the data in an unconventional way.
“Nature programming – when done properly – is entertainment that helps people learn about animals, plants, or ecosystems that need to be conserved,” Portnoy said. “One of the things about this program is that there will be a conservation message associated with it. And that’s important because it informs the public about how they can help out with the effort.”
Shark Week kicks off Sunday, August 9 on the Discovery Channel and "Monsters Under the Bridge" airs at 7 p.m on Wednesday, August 12.