Dr. Bryan Franks, “Shark Guy,” Launches Marine Biology Program

Jul 16, 2014

by Cary McMullen
Publications Editor

Whenever Bryan Franks went fishing with his father as a boy and they caught a shark, he didn’t want to throw it back. He wanted to study it. “A lot of young kids have a fascination with sharks. I never grew out of it,” he says. 

Dr. Franks is an assistant professor of marine biology, the College’s first faculty member in this new major offered to students as of fall 2013. Known around campus as “the shark guy” for his particular field of study, Dr. Franks spent three years as managing director of the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas, where he studied almost every species of shark except for the great white.

“I mostly studied their physiology and their role in the marine ecosystem, with the goal of conserving these animals,” he says.

Dr. Franks came to Florida Southern out of a desire to teach, and the opportunity to start a new program was irresistible.

“Being a small school, we can offer an innovative curriculum. I’d like to tailor the program to what the students need,” he says.

Research is a major part of the discipline of marine biology, and Dr. Franks plans to incorporate both on-campus and field research into the program. Because of Lakeland’s central location, students can study the organisms and ecology of the Gulf or the Atlantic, and

Dr. Franks intends to take students to marine laboratories, including the Bimini Biological Field Station, to conduct research.

“Being able to take them out into the field to see how these scientific principles work is very effective. I hope to get a few projects going in the Gulf, like a shark population assessment. There’s a blacktip shark nursery off the coast, and we could follow movement patterns and track these animals. We could study their diet, trying to determine essential fish habitats,” Dr. Franks says.

Junior Dayna Hunn and other FSC students accompanied Dr. Franks to Bimini during fall break in October for a week of observation and lectures on shark anatomy and behavior. The experience included hanging onto a line pulled by a boat while sharks were being fed nearby.

“That was pretty intense. I didn’t tell my parents about it until later,” she jokes.

Hunn was interested in marine biology even before the new major was launched, and she eagerly applied to be one of Dr. Franks’ first students. She hasn’t been disappointed.

“He’s a great teacher and definitely knows his subject. I’ve learned a lot already,” says Hunn, who plans to pursue a research career in marine biology.

Dr. Franks recounts several other research possibilities, some that could be carried out on campus, but he also has his sights set on equipment and facilities that would let the program really take off.

“I’d love to get a small bay boat, about 18 to 20 feet, that we could take into the Gulf. And a small facility on the Gulf to do classes and research would be perfect. That would put us a cut above,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities here.”