Speaking out about sexual harassment in shark science

Academic lifeNovember 21, 20173

Dr. Lisa Whitenack is an Associate Professor of Biology of Allegheny College. She is a shark paleobiologist, studying modern and fossil shark teeth over their 400 million year history. While she is also a member of the Board of Directors and acting chair of the Equity and Diversity committee of the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), this piece is not written under the umbrella of AES. Follow her on twitter at @WhitenackLab.

Author’s note: italicized quotations in this piece come from many different female shark researchers who gave Lisa permission to share their stories in this post.


“Funny that all of this Harvey Weinstein nonsense triggers feelings of AES in me…”

Back in mid-October, a colleague of mine sent the above to me in a private message on social media.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in stories of sexual harassment and assault coming out of the scientific community. There have been papers and commentary published on the prevalence of harassment and assault in STEM fields such as anthropologyastronomy, and geology. There have been some high profile cases that have made it into the popular media as well. It’s easy to point to the fact that some of these fields are male-dominated as an excuse or a reason. Despite the fact that women are well represented in the biosciences, earning approximately 58% of the Bachelors degrees, 57% of the Masters degrees, and 53% of the Doctorates in 2014, the field of biology is not immune from these issues (see these articles about allegations against Ebola researcher Michael Katzemammalogist Miguel Pinto, and molecular biologist Jason Lieb.)

I arranged my desk so he couldn’t sneak up and rub my shoulders anymore.”

Even before the Weinstein news broke, harassment and assault have been at the forefront of my mind, and have been for the last 3 years or so. Until July 2017, part of my committee work at the institution I work at was to evaluate our student code of conduct and to serve on panels for student misconduct cases, including Title IX related cases. As is typical for many female faculty, students tend to visit my office looking for a sympathetic ear or help. Most recently, I have been helping American Elasmobranch Society (AES) write a Code of Conduct for its meetings and am serving as chair of the Equity & Diversity committee. It’s hard to escape these topics when it’s your job. But, it’s really more than just my job. These are issues that infiltrate most aspects of my life, and have for a long time.

“I’ve been told that women can’t do fieldwork.”

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Farting oysters, bombing sea lions, and a new trash island? It must be the Monday Morning Salvage! November 20, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageNovember 20, 20170

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

  • It’s Native American History Month. Southern Fried Science recognizes that our servers are housed on the occupied land of the Timpanogos people while the majority of our writers live on unceded Powhatan territory. This November, Try Something New: Decolonize Your Mind.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Think water comes in just liquid, ice and gas? Think again!

biology, Fun Science Friday, PhysicsNovember 17, 20170

One of the most basic things that we learn when growing up is that water can exist in 3 different states of matter: as a gas (water vapor), as a liquid (water… water), and as a solid (ice). This basic and fundamental concept has recently been turned upside down as scientist have discovered that water might also exists in a fourth state; liquid water it appears might actually come in two different states. A collaborative team of researchers led by Dr. Laura Maestro at Oxford University, found that the  physical properties of water changed their behavior between 50 and 60℃ potentially changing to a second physical state of water.

(Photo credit: Pixabay/Public Domain Pictures via CC0 Public Domain)

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Upside-down fish, shellfish poaching, and the value of whale poop: Thursday Afternoon Dredging: November 16, 2017

Thursday Afternoon DredgingNovember 16, 20170

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

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Shark species names and hurricane sharks: Dear Shark Man, Volume 2

Dear Shark ManNovember 15, 20170

Welcome to volume #2 of Dear Shark Man, an advice column inspired by a ridiculous e-mail I received. You can send your questions to me via twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or e-mail (WhySharksMatter at gmail).


Dear Shark Man,

I know how you feel about sandbar sharks (even though I’m still #teamgoblinshark), but can we agree that Ninja Lanternshark is the best common name for a shark? Also, if you had an opportunity to name a shark, what would you name it? I’d name mine Storm Shark, not because of the meteorological event, but because Storm is Aquaman’s mighty seahorse steed.

Sincerely,
La Requin in Lake Buena Vista

Dear La Requin,

Ninja Lanternshark is a pretty sweet common name. My friend Vicky Vasquez was involved in the discovery and description of that species, which also has a cool scientific name (benchleyi, named after Jaws author and eventual shark conservationist Peter Benchley). If you haven’t read the great Hakai magazine story about this species, you should.

As an ecologist and conservation biologist, I am unlikely to get the opportunity to name a shark, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about this. I’d love to see shark species named after influential shark conservation advocates, particularly those who engage in science-based conservation advocacy. If a new species of cownose ray is discovered, I hope that folks will consider naming it after Shark Advocates International President and frequent Southern Fried Science guest blogger Sonja Fordham, for example. And I certainly wouldn’t turn down a species named after me, if any taxonomists are reading this, though there are certainly plenty of more deserving people.

Incidentally, I have a colleague who studies marine mammal parasites. I’ve told her that I will donate to a conservation charity or her choice if a parasite that significantly annoys (but does not kill) dolphins is named after Southern Fried Science.

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Nature Publishes Top 100 List for Ecology Papers. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.

Academic life, Focus on Nuance, Science publishingNovember 14, 20170

This morning, I sat down at my desk to clear out my morning emails, make my to-do list, and go about my day. Through several of these channels, I was pointed to a new article in Nature detailing the top 100 articles every ecologist should read. There were already critiques of it flowing through social media, mainly about the representativeness of the list. Depending on which kind of professional hat I’m wearing at the moment, I tend to agree with these assessments. While I recognize – and have read – most of the papers on the list in my early ecological education, I think it misses the mark on defining ecology. (more…)

Twitter Ocean Chess, lessons from the Vaquita, awe of the deep, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: November 13, 2017

Monday Morning SalvageNovember 13, 20170

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

  • Ocean policy news breaking this week. We’ll have a comment template ready to go when it does. Please check back. We can’t announce until we know exactly what we’re dealing with.
  • Still time to register for OceanDotComm! Science Communication folks! Are you ready for OceanDotComm? Register now!

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Wine bottle found in the deep North Atlantic. Laura Robinson, University of Bristol, and the Natural Environment Research Council. Expedition JC094 was funded by the European Research Council.

My wife, on the other hand, is a social scientist who works on development here in Mexico. When we first started dating, I used to tease her for being a soft little scientist in her soft little science. I now understand that helping a community pull itself out of poverty is more complex than brain surgery or quantum physics.

There is no magic equation for community organizing but she begins by understanding that “the community” isn’t some monolithic creature that thinks as a unit. There are complex politics and power dynamics at work that can either aid or destroy all her efforts.

I now understand why the vaquita is going extinct. They sent too many people like me into the region and not enough like her.

source.

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What is a Sand Shark?

biodiversity, Conservation, Public perceptions of wildlife, sharksNovember 12, 20171

I’d like to take a moment rant about a particular pet peeve of mine, which involves the seemingly-dull subject of species common names.  As you may have learned in biology class, all identified and described species are assigned a Latin scientific name, which is intended to be a universal identifier of that species regardless of where it’s coming up in conversation.  However, scientific names are not typically very familiar to non-scientists, so common names remain the most, well, common way to refer to a species.

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Ocean Noise, Parasite Extinction, and Jellyfish Blooms: Thursday Afternoon Dredging: November 9th, 2017

Thursday Afternoon DredgingNovember 9, 20170

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

 

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Shark protections, shark careers, and sharky grammar: Dear Shark Man, Volume 1

Dear Shark ManNovember 8, 20170

Welcome to volume #1 of Dear Shark Man, an advice column inspired by a ridiculous e-mail I received. You can send your questions to me via twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or e-mail (WhySharksMatter at gmail).


Dear Shark Man,

Have you seen this New Scientist article (“Sharks now protected no matter whose waters they swim in?)
Is this good news? It seems too good to be true.

Sincerely,
Skeptical in Seattle

Dear Skeptical,

You are correct to be, um, skeptical. At best, this article is an oversimplification of a very complex problem. Many shark species migrate through the territorial waters of multiple nations, which complicates any conservation and management plans for these species. The Convention on Migratory Species, which is what the New Scientist article is about, is an attempt to help. However, a CMS listing is only the first step, and it does not inherently require any legal protections. Thus far, CMS listings for sharks have not resulted in any concrete legal protections for these species. The World Wildlife Fund’s shark expert, Ian Campbell, has written a great summary of why this CMS news is not the be-all end-all solution that many seem to believe, check it out here:

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