Christian Jones Home Page

Holding shark


Christian Jones

Official Title: Research Fisheries Biologist

Location - where you are based: Pascagoula, Mississippi

Where you were born or grew up: I was born in Granite City, Illinois but grew up in Murphysboro, Illinois.

Education - where you went to college both undergrad and graduate: I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina and my Ph.D., also in Marine Science, is from the University of South Alabama.


1. Your earliest did you become interested in studying sharks? (elasmobranchs)?

 There are a lot of things that came together to lead me to want to study sharks. As with many of my generation, the movie Jaws had a profound effect on me. In addition, my father lived in southern Florida when I was growing up and my brother and I would go and visit him each summer, spending a lot of time at the beach and fishing piers. I remember distinctly the first time I saw a shark caught by a fisherman. However, my earliest memory of a fascination with sharks is from looking at Zoobooks. We had a lot of them but the issue dealing with sharks was by far my favorite. I remember particularly spending a lot of time examining the pages dealing with anatomy, which is still my favorite area of study.


2. What research are you currently working on? 

I am currently working on several projects. We are building and testing a handheld laser measurement system for use on our longline surveys. This device would allow us to gather accurate length measurement data on sharks that cannot be landed and measured by hand. I am working on collaborative research concerning the comparative morphology and life histories of several species of lanternsharks (Etmopterus spp.) in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to these and other projects, the research that consumes the majority of my time concerns a taxonomic revision of the cownose rays (Rhinopteridae). Close relatives of the sharks, batoids (skates and rays) are arguably one of the most endangered groups of marine fishes. However, unlike the sharks, batoids receive relatively little attention and most of the skates and rays are not currently protected under any management plans. The cownose rays are no exception and the fact that the species comprising this group are difficult to tell apart, and geographical ranges overlap for many, make species specific conservation action difficult. My research aims to determine how many species of cownose rays there are in the World’s oceans and to better describe morphological differences, as well as geographical ranges, for these species, to better inform conservation and management decisions.


3. Describe the most interesting encounter you have had with a shark.

 Last year on our longline survey, we captured a bull shark that was completely missing one of its eyes. It appeared to be a result of trauma, but the wound was completely healed over. I have never seen anything like it. It was as if the eye was never there. However, other than missing the eye, the shark appeared to be in good physical condition. So the fact that the eye had been lost, seemingly a long time past, had not had too great of an effect on the fitness of the animal.


4. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in this line of work? 

Conservation, in theory and in practice, is a difficult thing to convince the majority of people is worthwhile. It requires changing our perceptions and behaviors, neither of which do any of us really like to do. Convincing people that there are better, more sustainable ways of doing things is, I think, the greatest challenge of conservation and natural resource management as a whole. 


Photo of measuring shark5. What would you say is your biggest accomplishment to date?

 I am fortunate to have been invited to contribute as a co-author to the chapter concerning cownose rays in the upcoming Rays of the World book. My co-authors are world renowned experts on the highly diverse batoid taxa and to be included in this work is a great honor.


6. What do you like most/least about your work?

I like the flexibility I am allowed. At the Mississippi Laboratory, we gather data on an amazingly large number of species, which allows for a great number of research possibilities. I am pretty much only limited by time and my own imagination in that respect. I would say that my least favorite aspect is spending time at sea, which I admittedly do very little of. However, that is the price to pay for having great data to work with.


7. Any advice to those wanting to study sharks (elasmobranchs)?

Do it, and when you do, focus on answering questions that will shed light on the vulnerabilities and conservation requirements of species for which there are current data gaps, which there are many.


8. What mystery about sharks would you like to solve?

It has long been assumed, with little direct evidence, that oviparity is the ancestral form of reproduction in the chondrichthyan fishes. Recently however, it has been suggested that this is likely not the case. By overlaying reproductive modes on robust phylogenies, we find that the most parsimonious explanation is that viviparity is the ancestral state. This conclusion is further reinforced by what we know from the fossil record. However, we do not have direct fossil evidence of viviparity in the earliest chondrichthyan ancestors. So while we can speculate from the evidence at hand, and make a pretty compelling argument that viviparity is the ancestral state, we don’t have the smoking gun. That would be a pretty amazing discovery.


Myth: Sharks are apex predators

Fact: Not all sharks are apex predators. The majority of sharks are preyed upon by other sharks, as well as the toothed whales and in some cases even large bony fish. Even the great white and tiger sharks are at least occasionally preyed upon by killer whales, although these are probably rare occurrences.


Please include any links to publications you would like to share:

All publications that I have authored or co-authored can be found on my ResearchGate page


When you are not studying sharks what do you like to do? 

I spend the majority of my time outside of work with my wife and three children. Watching my children grow and teaching them about the natural world only makes me want to work harder at my job, so that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of our diverse natural resources as well.

Photo of pulling hook from shark