On most days, USF graduate student Dan Huber can be found working in a laboratory researching the biomechanics of shark feeding. But this Sunday, he can be found on the Discovery Channel’s new television series Animal Face-off.
The show uses mechanical or computerized models of animals and chooses two each week for a simulated battle. The mechanics of each animal are developed according to each animal’s size, strength and weaknesses to find which animal would survive if the two happened to cross paths.
“They take two major predators and build elaborate mechanical models and provide experts to represent each one,” Huber said.
On Sunday at 9 p.m., Huber will represent a bull shark that will go against a hippopotamus.
The Discovery Channel contacted Huber in October to request his appearance on the show, which is taped in New Zealand.
“They called and said ‘We start filming in six days,'” Huber said. “I was totally shocked and said ‘If they’re paying the bill, I’ll be anywhere they want me to be.”
Huber said it was a three-week trip, however, because of responsibilities at USF he had to make two trips to New Zealand to complete work between filming. The first episode Huber appeared on featured a fight between a great white shark and a saltwater crocodile that was broadcast March 21.
“The show relies on the expert to go through footage and provide the important aspects,” Huber said. “What the Discovery Channel is trying to do with this series is water-cooler knowledge and through special effects, plug in the important points and biological relevant information (about the animals).”
The Discovery Channel became aware of Huber’s research through his Web site, which measures the bite force of sharks and the three common types of feeding behaviors in sharks.
Huber is the only person to have taken bite force measurements in sharks and the three feeding behaviors he is researching includes crushing, suction and gouging of prey. Using the mechanical models he designed in USF’s laboratories, he can receive force measurements and obtain a better understanding of the shark’s muscle use in the jaw and cranium.
“It lets me compare the information of the three and get a feel of how the different mechanics evolved,” Huber said.
Using transducers, Huber said he can also get estimates of a shark’s bite force. Huber said bait is wrapped around a transducer so that when the shark bites down a measurement is taken of its force.
Huber said the transducer acts similar to a meat scale when taking measurements in that no matter where the shark bites down on the transducer the force of its bite will be the same.
Learning about the shark bite forces, Huber said, can better help researchers understand how the feeding behaviors evolved and learn more about sharks’ ecology.
Huber said his adviser Philip Motta once conducted a study of shark damage to Naval equipment. In cases such as this, Huber said, it may be able to help develop material that sharks would be more resistant to attacking.
After receiving his bachelor of science in biology from Duke University, Huber began working on his Ph.D. at USF.
Huber said he came to USF in August 2000 and since then he said he’s received about $10,000 to help fund his research. Currently, he and his colleagues are trying to get a large grant from the National Science Foundation.
“That will take this work to state of the art,” Huber said. “But the nature of being a grad student is to figure out answers with limited resources.”