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

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Thanks to pop culture, movies, and books, sharks have been saddled with the most notorious of reputations. Just the mere mention of a shark sighting is enough to raise the heart rate of any beachgoer. 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 who 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 with a doctorate in marine biology. Since then, she has been named Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies 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 at the Island where I earned my degree.”

In summer 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. This year, Shark Week will be held July 7-14.

“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,” said HRI Executive Director Dr. Greg Stunz. “An ocean without sharks is a much scarier place than one with them. 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 instead, 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 that promote sustainability,” Banks said.

The Shark Week broadcast coverage, which reaches a national audience, 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 in an effort 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 just about sharks, but about a healthy ocean in general, something we all benefit from.”

This year, Banks will be featured in the episode, “Caught! When Sharks Attack.” It will debut on Thursday, July 11, from 8-9 p.m. CST on Discovery. On the same night, the university will hold its popular Shark Week LIVE! Community Event at Brewster Street Icehouse Downtown from 6-9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. In addition, the university is hosting a variety of Shark Week-related events throughout July, both on and off campus. Learn more at

The public can contribute to HRI’s shark research by donating online. These funds help facilitate critical studies on shark behavior, population dynamics, and conservation efforts. By donating, individuals can play a vital role in advancing our understanding and protection of these important marine predators.