George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the university's Florida Museum of Natural History, said the technique is similar to analyzing human fingerprints. Scientists can make identifications by precisely comparing shark bites to the jaws and teeth of the powerful predators.
"Every time we investigate a shark attack, one of the pieces of information we want to have is what species was involved and what size it was," he said. "Because I've been looking at shark attack victims for 30 years, I can estimate what did the damage, but I have never been able to actually prove it."
Burgess said the new technique allows scientists to say with a degree of certainty whether the beast was a 14-foot tiger shark or a 9-foot bull shark.
The ability to make predictions from bite patterns is important to understanding the behavioral underpinnings of shark attacks and their prey habits, said lead researcher Dayv Lowry, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who did the work as a graduate student at the University of South Florida.
The new technique was developed in collaboration with researchers from the University of South Florida. The research appears in the November issue of the journal Marine Biology.