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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Shark and other fish eye lenses – a window to cryptic life history behaviours.

Currently Active: 

How old are sharks? Where do eels migrate from? Do deep water fish have pelagic juvenile stages? Where do juvenile basking sharks live? All these questions arise as information on the juvenile stages of pelagic fish is extremely difficult to obtain. Small juvenile life stages of fish may be difficult to identify, and hard to sample in open marine environments.

Shows the reflective layer that increaases the sensitivity of the eye in low light conditions, plus lens lying outside of eye (Source:
Dissection of a shark eye


Incrementally-grown tissues such as otoliths provide retrospective information on the biology of juvenile stages, and are intensively studied. Eye lenses also form incrementally, through a progressive dehydration of lens crystallin proteins, and have great potential to record chemical information about juvenile ecology, but have received very little analytical attention.




portuguese dogfish (Centroscymnus coelolepis) (Source:
Centroscymnus coelolepis


Using stable isotope analysis (SIA) of eye lenses, this project will address ecological questions pertaining to the life histories of sharks and fishes. Understanding migration routes, population connectivity etc. is key to setting effective management strategies. Conserving remaining stocks is essential, given that migratory predators have declined in abundance by >90% in the last 25 years and that many shark and pelagic predatory fish species are now endangered.

Project Aims

  1. Determine what ecological information is contained within the chemistry of fish eye lenses - stable isotope analysis (carbon and nitrogen).
  2. Develop a protocol for extracting information from fish eye lenses.
  3. Apply to the study of:
  • Salmon - validation
  • Eel migration
  • Shark migration and movement
  • Shark ageing -radiocarbon dating
  • Deep-sea fishes - lateral movement

Key Contacts

Miss Katie Quaeck (Postgraduate Research Student)

Dr Clive Trueman (Supervisor)

Dr Kirsteen MacKenzie (Supervisor)

Prof Martin Palmer (Supervisor)

Victoria Bendall

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Geochemical Ecology

Related research groups


Key Publication

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