Introduction: Preserving Shark Jaws and Skin From Start to Finish

Picture of Preserving Shark Jaws and Skin From Start to Finish

I went fishing on the Gulf coast recently, and sadly saw a fisherman killing all the sharks he caught and throwing them back. I think it will take a lot more education and outreach to convince the general public that sharks are not mindless killing drones, but are actually very essential in maintaining population and trophic structures in marine ecosystems. 

So I asked if I could keep the last shark I saw him kill, as I hate to see things go to waste. 
I planned to preserve the jaw and skin, and eat the meat (I didn't know at that if you plan on eating a shark, you must prepare the meat immediately, or the urea in its blood will cause the meat to be not so tasty). 

I think that this will also work for any fish with bony/cartilaginous mouths.

A big thanks to my fellow biologist and good friend, Daniel Warren for tips and advice.

Warning: this instructable contains graphic images.

Step 1: Supplies and Materials

Picture of Supplies and Materials
Things you will need:
  • Sharp filet knife
  • Pliers
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Dissection kit or exacto knife (optional)
  • Nails
  • Board
  • String
  • Broken glass (beer bottle will do)
  • Salt
  • Dremmel or sandpaper
  • Acrylic spray coating

Step 2: Step 1: Skin the Shark and Extract the Jaw

Picture of Step 1: Skin the Shark and Extract the Jaw
The first step is to skin the shark using your filet knife. I left the most graphic pictures out, but I will walk you through the necessary  steps. 
  1. Make cuts along the length of the shark, along the sides (lateral) and top (dorsal) from the back of the head all the way down to the tail. 
  2. Using your pliers, peel the skin off the body starting from the head. 
  3. Sever the head from the body

Step 3: Step 2: Cure the Skin

Picture of Step 2: Cure the Skin
There are a ton of resources online on this topic, and vary depending on the texture of skin you desire. If you want the skin to come out soft, apparently you are suppose to soak the skin overnight or a couple of nights in urine.  The urea helps break things down. If you want the skin to come out stiffer, skip this step, and proceed...
  1. Use a piece of broken glass (broken beer bottle after the bar fight will do just fine) and scrap any remaining meat off the skin. Be careful not to puncture the skin (don't scrap with too low of an angle)
  2. Secure the skin to a board using small nails, stretching the skin taut. 
  3. Salt the skin to prevent any rotting of the meat
  4. After a few days outside, the skin should be dry. 

Step 4: Step 3: Extract the Jaw

Picture of Step 3: Extract the Jaw

This takes some work. Use a very sharp knife to carefully remove the skin and flesh. Cut around the jaw, taking care not to cut the cartilage.  


Step 5: Step 4: Clean and Whiten the Jaw

Picture of Step 4: Clean and Whiten the Jaw

There are a lot of variations on this concoction- some people use Clorox and some use Peroxide. 

I used a Hydrogen Peroxide, since it is softer on hands, and supposedly is also softer on the jaw. 

Hydrogen Peroxide : H20 (1:3 ratio)

Let the jaw soak for a day or so, and check it periodically.

Step 6: Step 5: More Cleaning

Picture of Step 5: More Cleaning

After a day or so, check on the jaw. The jaw should be whiter and the meat should have softened up a bit. If you didn't already, remove the gums carefully. A scalpel or exacto knife works well here. 

Also, scrape any remaining meat off the jaw

If needed, let the jaw soak again and repeat until the jaw is clear of flesh.

Step 7: Step 6: Dry the Jaw

Picture of Step 6: Dry the Jaw

Secure the jaw with some string and nails to a board, and let it dry for a few days. Some people say that direct sunlight will cause the jaw to yellow over time.

It is also a good idea to salt the jaw, to prevent it from stinking.

Step 8: Step 7: Sand the Jaw

Picture of Step 7: Sand the Jaw

Use a dremmel and/or sanding paper to remove any tiny bits of remaining flesh. 

I used a soft wire bit and some coarse grain sanding paper.

If needed, soak again in hydrogen peroxide: H20 (1:3) for an hour or so to whiten it. 
Then let it dry once more.

Step 9: Step 8: Coat With Varnish

Picture of Step 8: Coat With Varnish

Use Acrylic clear coat varnish to coat the jaw. Let it dry for 30 mins or so and repeat if desired. 

Now hang it up, scare your friends, and/or mount your new shark jaw!

Comments

RandyB70 (author)2016-06-14

Awesome better than some video on youtube. Going shark fishing for the first time with my son in July.

KristyAndKids (author)2016-01-22

Thats great info. Thankyou.

Cole Rorich (author)2015-12-03

what do you do with the skins?

CandyLove11 (author)2015-06-07

That's awesome!! I'm gunna try it, thanks!!

nanaverm (author)2014-08-15

I wonder how black soldier fly larvae would clean bones. They eat fast!

For more on how to clean bones, check out Jake's Bones blog. He's a 12 yr. old in Scotland who has been doing this for 6 yrs! and goes over the pros and cons of many cleaning techniques.

ShutterEye (author)2012-11-25

Awesome Instructable, Slylee! What concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide do you use? I use 40 volume for preserving skeletons and skulls from terrestrial animals, but is it safe to use on a shark jaw?

I'm not going to do this Instructable, just curious if it matters, you see I live in the middle of the Kalahari desert so my chances of bumping into a shark are pretty damn small!

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2012-07-23

I didn't know you were going to show us everything starting with the shark! Very thorough and informative Instructable :)

slylee (author)Penolopy Bulnick2012-07-23

Surprise!...Thanks, I tried my best. Sharks are not my field of expertise, but they are one of my favorite top predators of the sea. Glad you liked it!

Penolopy Bulnick (author)slylee2012-07-23

Where did you get the shark?

slylee (author)Penolopy Bulnick2012-07-23

near Ocean Springs, MS. I asked the fisherman if I could keep it since I hate seeing things go to waste.

Arkasha (author)slylee2012-07-24

That fisherman strikes me as pretty nasty. That was a very small shark, totally harmless to people.

slylee (author)Arkasha2012-07-24

It's not that he was a bad human being. The fundamental problem is just lack of education combined with how society and culture value sharks. Yeah it was a tiny shark-some fisherman kill them because they think it "ruins" fishing, which is totally false.

ThatKnottyguy (author)2012-07-23

This is great!
Now, Im going to go try and catch a shark in Utah.

About This Instructable

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Bio: I'm a Coral Reef Ecologist with a passion for photography. Check out my latest project at www.thehydro.us
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