For generations raised on Jaws and Sharknado, putting your hands within snapping distance of the ocean’s most awesome apex predator might seem like a very scary prospect — and does the boilerplate “we’re-more-dangerous-to-them-than-they-are-to-us” disclaimer really make anyone feel any better? But selachii-phile David Shiffman gets hands-on with the beasts on a weekly basis.

When not tweeting on behalf of sharks at @whysharksmatter, the 30-year-old PhD candidate helps run shark-tagging research trips for the University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program. Before you can tag a shark, you have to wrest it out of the ocean, hold it down, and get awfully close to those ripsaw teeth without harming the animal, or yourself. Shiffman shared some wisdom from a life spent wrangling sharks for science — including how you can do it, too.

Choose sharks over dinosaurs.

David Shiffman
David Shiffman

I feel like most kids go through a shark or dinosaur phase. I went through both of those but had to choose. Though I grew up [inland] in Pittsburgh, I read every book I could get my hands on, watched every documentary, went to the PPG Aquarium. In my teens, I got scuba certified and went to marine biology camp in the Florida Keys. Now I’m studying the feeding ecology and food web dynamics of sharks along the Florida coast — basically what happens to the food chain if we lose sharks. Both my masters and PhD research have involved a lot of fieldwork. I’ve tagged close to 2,000 sharks.

Catching sharks requires big lines, big hooks, and big smelly bait.