What killed this lemon shark? University of Miami scientists perform necropsy to solve this mystery

Last week, volunteers monitoring a sea turtle nesting beach on Virginia Key came across a beached lemon shark. They called in scientists from the University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation program, including myself . Dunlap program director Dr. Neil Hammerschlag decided to film the necropsy to use as an online teaching tool. The end result, edited together by Dunlap program multimedia specialist Christine Shepard, is below. Check it out to learn about the internal anatomy of a shark, as well as the process that scientists use to determine causes of death in marine organisms. If you have any questions about the process or about the animal, please leave them as comments below.

Shark Research with RJD: necropsy on mysteriously beached lemon shark from R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation on Vimeo.



  1. Jeetendra Singh Rathour · August 16, 2011

    Lemon Sharks may be toxicological with marine pollution. So, Human approach to the aquatic fraternity should be limited legally. Thanks

  2. Amber Humphreys · August 16, 2011

    I would have loved to have heard what it died from !!

    • WhySharksMatter · August 16, 2011

      We’re still waiting for the results of our toxicology tests to come back. I’ll keep everyone posted.

  3. Irene Cooper · August 16, 2011


  4. Ben Otero · August 16, 2011

    Have you thought of some kind of variation in the earth magnetic field that had misguided this sharks to that specific beach?

  5. Dolly Fogarty · August 17, 2011

    A lot of sharks are turning up sick or dead along the Gulf coast, from a big tiger shark off of Sarasota Florida that appeared sick and dying on youtube video. 15 dead sharks in Manatee County Florida and over 200 dead sharks in and around Alabama Mobile Bay, plus other dead and dying marine life, just seems strange. Mote Marine Research seems to be pointing the finger at man made pollution, but where on Earth can this pollution be coming from? Could it be the jet planes just started dropping fuel oil into the Gulf of Mexico, when the fly over it- since 2010, when this problem started? Any ideas what is REALLY causing this?!

  6. Crush · August 18, 2011

    I would be interested to see video of the ocean bottom where the oil was deposited to see any interactions of life near the spill. Also what ever happened to the oil that was floating in the mid-range? Did it just dissolve?

  7. tina forhan · August 18, 2011

    Just about two hours ago, a small 3-4 foot lemon shark washed up on the beach in front of us at Kitty Hawk North Carolina. It bumped in to my neice’s fiance in the water. They notified the life guards who came and proceeded to retrieve it from the ocean. The rescue squad said that it was a juvenile. They buried it in the sand. We did not see any real sign of trauma on the shark. Very sad.

  8. Kayla · August 28, 2011

    Well now I am waiting on the toxicology report! Like you guys I thought it was a mature female based on size… I was wrong. Now I want to know what killed her. I did a necropsy on a young dolphin before so this stuff always fasinates me.

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