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 anthropology, astronomy, 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 Katze, mammalogist 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.”
Heather Cooke graduated with an environmental science degree from George Mason University and studied marine biology. She is now a dive instructor and runs Culebra Divers on Culebra Island. This article was written during brief moments of power on Culebra Island.
As General Manager of Culebra Divers in Culebra, Puerto Rico for the last 2.5 years, I have enjoyed our semi-arid island with its brief storms. Known for one of the safer harbors in the Caribbean, my husband and I watched tropical storm after tropical storm and hurricane after hurricane pass us by. What I am writing is based on our experiences and what others around me have experienced or shared from their families on our sister islands.
Culebra the smallest of 3 islands that make up what you know as Puerto Rico (the “mainland”, Vieques, and us) and we’re 17 miles from the mainland itself. To get here you fly from San Juan or take a ferry from the mainland’s east coast. We get all our food and fuel via that same ferry system. Our water and power travel under the ocean from the mainland through Vieques and then to us so if anything happens to either of those islands, we are screwed. The island has a rag tag rental generator and no desalination plant.
As I write this, it has been 34 days since Maria and 48 since Irma and we still lack non-generator power, reliable daily water, and cell service not provided by some other island.
Alastair Harry is a fisheries science practitioner based in Perth, Australia. He assists in implementing ecosystem based fisheries management to support the sustainable use of wild-capture fish resources. He is a generalist and works across multiple areas including stock assessment, bycatch, and threatened species. He also holds an adjunct position at James Cook University and has a specific interest in the conservation and sustainable management of sharks and rays.
In August I published a review paper entitled Evidence for systemic age underestimation in shark and ray ageing studies. In it I suggest that many sharks and rays live considerably longer than is currently recognised. This increased life expectancy isn’t due to medical advancements or a more nutritious diet (or even better fisheries management), but rather the result of ageing error.
Carlotta Leon Guerrero is a former Member of the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Guam Senate. She was also a two-term president of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures and previously worked as a radio and television journalist in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
In April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to examine 27 protected areas established by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama using the 1906 Antiquities Act. Included in the list were four marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (sometimes referred to as Pacific Remote Island Areas or PRIA), which is made up several isolated islands and atolls under American control. This should have all of us on Guam and in the Pacific concerned, because we are the people who will have to live with the outcome.
Travis Nielsen is the founder and CEO of Azurigen Management and Consulting Solutions Inc. A STEM project management firm that specializes in linking conservation based science to business and government. He is a published scientist specializing in Marine Biology with 10 years experience in STEM, and 10 years of experience in management and leadership. He has been responsible for projects with budgets up to $500,000, working with multiple stakeholders, large public engagement mandates, and with staffs up to 100 people in locations all across the globe.
Attending Conferences is one of the main ways that academics get their ideas out there. If you’re lucky, your school or business will reimburse the money that you spend to go to conferences, but you still have to put the money upfront first. Sometimes, they will only reimburse up to a certain amount and the rest has to come out of your pocket. I have picked up a few tricks and suggestions in my years of conferencing that may help others plan a great conference trip, without succumbing to the pitfalls.
Plan ahead – Though I realize this isn’t always possible, if you know in advance what you want to do, then plan ahead as much as you can. Research the location, figure travel documents, check ticket prices, accommodation options, food availability, etc. The more time you have to plan, the better prepared you will be, plus you may find deals if you plan earlier, or find someone to share the expense.
Experiment with travel plans BEFORE booking – NEVER book the first option or what you are told to book. If you are paying for things always ALWAYS look to see if there is a creative solution to your travel. Is it cheaper to book a trip as two round trips? A series of one way tickets? Are certain airports cheaper to fly through than others? Is there hostel accommodations nearby? Is it cheaper if you book a few days early? If you are being reimbursed for your travel, then your business will appreciate you trying to make it as cost effective as possible. It can be easier that you think, use sites like kayak.com or expedia and with a little bit of goofing around you can end up doing things like spending 7 weeks circumnavigating the globe for less than $800.00 a month.
Mariah Pfleger is a marine scientist at Oceana, an international marine conservation non-profit, advising both the responsible fishing and sharks campaigns. She graduated from Florida State University in 2012 where she studied coastal sharks and their relatives. In 2016 she earned her Master’s degree from the University of West Florida where she researched both coastal and deep-water sharks and rays. Mariah worked for 3 years as a field assistant, and during her Master’s an additional 3 years as a field manager, on the Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery Program. She has also conducted research using environmental DNA to detect rare and endangered sturgeon. Her twitter handle is @MariahPfleger.
The demand for shark fins is widely recognized as one of the major contributors to shark mortality around the world. However, solutions to decrease this demand are hotly debated, especially in the scientific community. Southern Fried Science and other websites have published opinions that debate the effectiveness of shark fin bans, but as a shark scientist working to implement this policy I would like to present the case for shark fin trade bans.
The conversation is newly relevant with the introduction of the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act in the Senate on March 30th by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV) and in the House on March 9th by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-MP). If passed, the bill would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States – thereby removing the United States from the global shark fin trade altogether. The bill is championed by Oceana, where I work as the scientist on the sharks campaign.
The demand for fins fuels finning – the act of slicing off a shark’s fins and dumping the body back into the ocean. The United States recognized this practice was a problem and implemented the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 followed by the Shark Conservation Act (SCA) in 2010, which required that all sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached (except for smooth dogfish, which can be landed under a fin-to-carcass ratio). However, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the United States is still importing fins from places like Hong Kong, China, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Indonesia, to name a few. Not all of these countries have anti-finning laws, which means that the United States may be, and likely is, purchasing fins from finned sharks. Once in the United States market, there is no way to tell whether a fin came from a finned shark or not. By purchasing these fins, the United States is sustaining the demand for this unsustainable practice. Read More
Dr. Bernie Kuhajda joined the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute staff in May 2012 after 25 years at the University of Alabama, where he managed a museum collection of one million specimens of preserved fishes from all around the world. Though his studies of fishes and other aquatic organisms have taken him around the United States, Mexico, and Central Asia, his particular expertise is surveying and monitoring threatened and endangered species from aquatic systems in the Southeast, in part to help evaluate the effectiveness of conservation programs. He currently teaches weekend courses at the University of Alabama Gadsden Campus and on the main campus in Tuscaloosa every summer. He serves on multiple USFWS Recovery Teams/Groups for endangered and threatened species.
Imagine possessing untold wealth but lacking the means to keep it safe. That is the broad-strokes reality faced by those of us who work to protect the Southeast’s rich aquatic biodiversity.
Our waterways are home to an incredible natural profusion, one that is unrivaled in the temperate world. More than 1,400 aquatic species reside in waterways within a 500-mile radius of the Tennessee Aquarium’s home in Chattanooga, including about three-quarters (73.1 percent) of all native fish species in the United States. More than 90 percent of all American mussels and crayfish species live within that same area, as do 80 percent of North America’s salamander species and half of its turtle species.
Paul J. Clerkin is a graduate researcher at the Pacific Shark Research Center of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Moss Landing, California. Clerkin specializes in rare and deep-sea chondrichthyans and is focusing on new species descriptions and life histories of poorly understood sharks species. His thesis work is with Dr. David A. Ebert studying sharks encountered during two surveys in the Southern Indian Ocean in 2012 and 2014, a total of 126 days at sea. He has also conducted research for other projects aboard ships in the Bering Sea, South East Atlantic, Philippine Sea, and across the Pacific. He was featured in the “Alien Sharks” series on Shark Week.
This week, Travel Channel is airing a pilot for my new series, Deep Sea Mysteries (“like” our page on Facebook!). In the course of research, I visit extraordinary fishing communities to find and study rare, poorly known and even undescribed species. This show is the first of its kind, different from the Shark Week programs I’ve done in the past. It continues a focus on sharks and other deep-sea animals, but is notably (and pleasantly) more educational. There are more species, more facts, more science, and an emphasis on conservation effort.
Also, as a travel show, the series combs through the beautiful regions, interesting people and unique stories behind each expedition.
Seb Pardo is a biologist currently doing a PhD at Simon Fraser University in Canada. He is broadly interested in the biology, ecology, and conservation of sharks and rays. At present, his research is focused on borrowing tools from evolutionary biology to predict the biology and extinction risk of poorly studied sharks and rays. By using these data-poor methods, he hopes to make the most out of currently available data to inform policy decisions relevant for the sustainable management of sharks and rays. His twitter handle is @sebpardo
Chilean Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) swimming in the Azores.
© Daniel Van Duinkerken — http://danielvandphoto.com — Instagram: daniel.van.d
Rays rarely get the same amount of attention as sharks do. Perhaps the most notable exception are the manta rays (genus Manta), which are charismatic, filter-feeding rays that inhabit warm waters throughout the world’s oceans. Their closest relatives, the devil rays (genus Mobula), are not nearly as “famous” — even though they are the only other members of the family Mobulidae. There are nine species of devil rays found throughout the world’s tropical and temperate oceans, and while they are smaller than mantas (only reach over 3 metres in width), devil and manta rays are so similar that they are sometimes confused with each other. Because devil rays garner less public interest, the are very few studies on their basic biology and ecology, hindering our ability to assess their status.
Devil and manta rays face similar threats. Both are often caught as bycatch in industrial and artisanal fishing operations, which may result in considerable mortality even after being released. On top of this, there has been an increase in the international demand for their gill plates, which are used a health tonic in Chinese medicine. This has increased targeted fishing and bycatch retention in many places around the world. However, because of the lack of information on devil rays, it is very difficult assess whether this level of catch and trade is sustainable. This is the key question we set out to answer.
Erin Dillon is a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara studying how shark communities on coral reefs have changed over time. She graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology and Honors in Marine Biology. Erin spent the following two years working with Dr. Aaron O’Dea as a fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, where she started exploring dermal denticles preserved in sediments as a paleoecological tool to reconstruct shark communities. She aims to develop this technique further as part of her dissertation to establish quantitative shark baselines and investigate spatial and temporal variation in shark assemblages on reefs. To do so, she has now set her sights on Curaçao, which is located in the southern Caribbean. There, she will work on validating the tool, explore differences in denticle assemblages between reef habitats, and provide estimates of relative shark abundance in data-limited parts of the island. Sharks are notoriously difficult to census, and it can be difficult to protect something that we rarely see. Therefore, the information provided by denticle assemblages extracted from reef sediments has critical implications for shark conservation, both in the Caribbean and worldwide. Erin is raising funds until September 22nd as part of Experiment’s Coral Reef Grant Challenge to unravel a pre-historical baseline of Caribbean sharks.
Sharks are important players on coral reefs. However, understanding the temporal and spatial dynamics of shark communities and how they are affected by human activities is challenging. Surveys and fisheries catch statistics reveal that shark populations worldwide have suffered significant declines over the past several decades due to overfishing and habitat degradation. But how many sharks should there be in a healthy coral reef ecosystem? The answer to this question is locked in the past. To address this issue, we turn to the recent fossil record to uncover clues about the sharks that used to roam the reefs of lore and paint a picture of how their communities have changed over time.