Spring 2024 Issue:

Alumni Stories

A Shark Tale

A Shark Tale

By Therese Ciesinski, Spring 2024

For Maria Manz ’18, every week is Shark Week.

That’s because Manz studies sharks—specifically their movement, habitat use, and food chain in relationship to the ecology of their community. Her current project researches how their migration patterns and habitat use are affected by the electromagnetic fields emitted by undersea wind farm cables. “On the East Coast, offshore wind farms are developing rapidly,” she says. “How will they affect the environment?”

Marine biology wasn’t the subject Manz planned to study when she came to Moravian as a freshman. She was leaning towards a major in religion. Once at the university, however, an open and inquisitive mind met a supportive and encouraging faculty. The combination sparked an interest that culminated in her obtaining a bachelor’s degree in environmental science.

“I was not a science buff in high school,” she says. “As a sophomore, I took environmental science and really liked it. I was encouraged to switch in my junior year by Dr. Frank Kuserk (director of the environmental studies and sciences program). Then I had to catch up with all the classes I needed!” With Kuserk as her mentor, Manz participated in the Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) program, studying “Painted Turtle Inter-Pond Movement and Nest Predation in the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.”

Manz received her master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Rhode Island in 2021. Now a doctoral student in Marine Science at Stony Brook University, she studies shark activity as it relates to the soon-to-be-completed South Fork Wind Farm located 35 miles east of Long Island. When the project is finished, cables on the seabed will transmit the energy created by the turbines to land. These cables produce electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Sharks can sense these fields, which they use to find prey—the marine life that sharks consume emits them, too.

Manz is studying how EMFs from the cables influence shark behavior. “Will they be attracted to them?” she asks. “Will they bite the cables, thinking they are prey? Will these EMFs be too much stimulation for the sharks?” She is one of a team of researchers that travel to wreck sites in a part of the ocean called the Mid-Atlantic Bight, a coastal region stretching from Cape Hatteras to Martha’s Vineyard. The sharks they catch are examined, measured, and implanted with electronic tags to track their movements. “We’re studying the before, during, and after impact of the wind farm,” she says. “It’s a long-term project. We have the ‘before’ studies. Now we’re in the ‘during’ phase.”

After she earns her PhD, Manz hopes to continue what she is doing now: studying the movement ecology of sharks, including how individual species time their migrations, what comprises suitable shark habitat, and how that might change due to global warming.

Manz credits her career to Moravian’s openness to inquiry and a faculty willing to encourage a student who wasn’t an obvious candidate for a scientific track. She expresses gratitude for the “patience and support” of Kuserk, Lord, and Assistant Professor of Biology Daniel Proud.

“It’s the structure of Moravian, being a liberal arts college, that led to finding my passion and my work,” she says.

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