HRI Researcher Makes Big Splash as Part of Discovery’s Shark Week

Press Release
Researcher tagging a shark

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Just the mere mention of a shark sighting is enough to raise the heart rate of any beachgoer. Thanks to pop culture, movies, and books, sharks have been saddled with the most notorious of reputations. For Dr. Kesley Banks ’19, who has now made a name for herself as an expert on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, it was love at first sight.

It all started with a fishing trip to a place called Rabbit Creek in Mobile, Alabama. It’s there that 5-year-old Kesley cast her line from her grandparent’s dock. She was hoping to hook a brim or a sunfish. Instead, she caught something that eventually hooked her into a career.

“I had no idea what I had at the end of my line. I was both excited and scared when I saw that it was a gar,” Banks said, as she described her first encounter with one of the stranger-looking fish of the open water. “I was stunned and intrigued to see its snakelike body and long tooth-studded jaw. From that point, I was hooked.”

Banks soon charted a path similar to her father’s, a marine geologist who studies ancient oceans. Her brother also stayed in the family business by becoming a taphonomist, someone that traces the history of marine life from fossils to current form.

“We are a bunch of nerds,” Banks said. “My dad definitely grew up supporting science, and so did my mom. And I love science too. It’s a love I carry and cherish to this day.”

Banks earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Tennessee at Martin and her master’s degree in environmental science from Troy University in Alabama. In 2019, she graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) with a doctorate in marine biology. Since then, she has been named Associate Research Scientist in the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at TAMU-CC.

“It’s been great to continue that research I started as a student,” Banks said. “I get to see a lot of projects make it to the finish line. And now I get to teach students here where I earned my degree.”

In the summer of 2023, Banks was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The goal of the council is to sustain and maintain responsible management of fisheries around the nation. But perhaps Banks’ biggest claim to fame comes courtesy of the Discovery Channel and its popular Shark Week programming, a week filled with shows devoted to the ocean’s most misunderstood creature.

“Sharks provide an excellent platform to educate children and adults on the critical importance of healthy oceans for the well-being of both people and the planet. An ocean without sharks is a much scarier place than one with them,” said HRI Executive Director Dr. Greg Stunz. “Having our scientists participate in Shark Week and attend our community events can inspire future generations to respect and admire these remarkable animals, fostering a sense of conservation and sustainability for our World’s oceans and especially the Gulf of Mexico.”

This year will mark the fifth time Banks has appeared on Shark Week, and the eighth year a researcher from HRI has appeared. It’s an opportunity for Banks to change the misconception associated with sharks. She says they are not the predators they are made out to be, but an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem.

“If you enjoy eating seafood at all you want sharks in your ocean as the great balance-keepers and promoting sustainability for those populations.” Banks said.

The Shark Week coverage also allows Banks to highlight some of the cutting-edge research being done at HRI on sharks who call the Gulf of Mexico home. Right now, she is working to tag sharks to learn more about their migration habits.  

“Shark Week is a great avenue to get research out of the lab and into people’s day-to-day conversations,” Banks said. “It gives people a chance to start digging deeper in shark science and seek answers to the questions they have – not only about sharks, but about having a healthy ocean general, from which we all benefit.”

This year, Banks will be featured in an episode entitled “Caught! When Sharks Attack”. It will be airing at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST on July 11 on Discovery.  Check the Discovery website for additional information and airtimes for Shark Week shows.

To celebrate HRI’s and TAMU-CC’s involvement with Shark Week, the university is putting on an outstanding series of events throughout the week: