Greetings to everyone watching virtual Early Career Ocean Professionals Day around the world! My name is Dr. David Shiffman, and I’m an interdisciplinary marine conservation biologist based in Washington, DC. I study threatened species of sharks, and how to effectively protect them. I also study the causes and consequences of public misunderstanding of these issues. In addition to research and teaching, I am a public science educator, and I invite you to follow me on twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @ WhySharksMatter, where I’m always happy to answer any questions anyone has about sharks.
Today I’d like to talk to you a little bit about my work on why we should protect sharks, how we can most effectively do that, what people think about this issues, and why all of this is important. First of all, no, sharks are not a threat to you or your family, despite what you may hear in inflammatory fearmongering news reports. Hundreds of millions of humans enter the ocean every year, and a few dozen are bitten—more people are killed by flowerpots falling on their heads from above in a typical year than are killed by sharks. Sharks also play vital roles in the healthy functioning of marine and coastal ecosystems, ecosystems that humans depend on for food security, livelihoods, and recreation. In short, people are better off with healthy shark populations off our coasts than we are without them.
For the past few days I, like many of you, have felt a variety of intense emotions. First and foremost I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of relief. No matter what happens next, Donald Trump is no longer President of the United States, and he and his enablers can no longer work to destroy so much of what we love and value (at least not as easily). We can start the hard work of fixing so many things that have been awful and growing worse every day. I’ve felt hope that we can start to make things better, and I’ve even felt a little bit of joy at the noteworthy progress that’s already been made. All of this was expected, but one thing I haven’t expected is how much of a particular sensation I’m feeling, and have seen other people report feeling as well. For some of my friends it was a totally unfamiliar sensation, but as a marine scientist I recognized it immediately: many of us are basically experiencing landsickness, also called “dock rock” or “mal de debarquement syndrome”.
On Tuesday, August 18th please join us for a (now virtual) European shark conservation symposium as part of the (now virtual) 6th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC!) IMCC is a once-every-two-years event that brings together ocean scientists, conservation and management professionals, and educators from all over the world- register here for just $25 for the virtual version. Follow along on twitter with #IMCCsharks
We have 11 speakers from all over Europe and North America speaking on a variety of issues related to the conservation and management of sharks and their relatives in European waters, and ongoing efforts to scientifically study especially threatened species. The symposium will also feature a panel discussion and informal mingling via a Zoom happy hour with some of the speakers after the symposium ends. The symposium is broken into two 90 minute parts, be sure to check out them both!
Author’s note: This blog post is part of a multi-week assignment for students taking my introduction to marine biology course at Arizona State University, and also part of an exercise in my professional development training workshops on communicating science to the popular press. I am sharing the background information publicly because I believe it’s a topic that is of broad interest.
The internet in general and social media specifically have made it easier than ever before in human history for experts to share information relevant to their area of expertise with the interested public, with journalists, and with policymakers. Unfortunately, these same communications tools have also made it easier than ever before in human history for misinformation to be widely shared. When wrong information goes viral, it can lead to the destruction of democracy and civilization as we know it people believing factually incorrect things about fish.
Therefore, it’s important for anyone and everyone who cares about the future of democracy and civilization as we know it my marine biology students and media training workshop participants to be aware of how to find reliable and accurate news, and how to spot misleading or inaccurate news. If you can do this effectively, you may well save democracy and civilization as we know it do well in my course.
First, I’ll go through some elements of a reliable, accurate science or environment news story. Then I’ll go through red flags of inaccurate, problematic news stories. Throughout, I’ll highlight representative examples. (Students, after reading this you’ll be assigned some articles to look for these elements and red flags in).
Ever since I moved to Washington, DC last summer, I’ve been fascinated by an ad campaign for the DC Metro. The premise of the campaign is simple: taking public transit reduces your carbon footprint compared with driving yourself. It highlights various negative consequences of climate change, and points out how riding the Metro can help fight them.
Many of these ads highlight well-known consequences of climate change:
I wasn’t able to watch live this year, but I DVR-ed all 18 specials and watched them eventually! Here are my reviews, ratings, and thoughts. I did not watch the feature-length movie, which they claim is the first fictional entertainment content they’ve ever produced… causing me to stare in megalodon. Overall, this was not a strong year for science, facts, or diversity (of either sharks or shark researchers).
As a reminder, I grade on the following aspects of a show: is there actual science or natural history educational content / is there made up nonsense, are actual credentialed experts with relevant expertise featured or are they self-proclaimed “shark experts” who say wrong nonsense all the time, what species are featured (with bonus points for species we rarely or never see), and do they feature diverse experts or just the same white men (reminder: my field is more than 50% women)? It’s not a perfect rubric, but it’s better than this actual system for ranking shark news introduced this year in “sharks gone wild 2:”
Just when you thought it was safe to read another decade-in-review listicle…
As the 2010’s come to an end, it’s a time to reflect on the often-problematic decade that was as we plan for a hopeful future. I am a sucker for year-in-review and decade-in-review listicles, and was devastated to learn that no one had yet written a decade-in-review listicle for sharks! Please enjoy my official, scientific list of the most important science, conservation, and pop culture sharks from the past decade.
It’s easy to get discouraged or demoralized as an environmentalist in today’s world. It seems like every day brings more devastating news. Half of the world’s wildlife has died in my parents’ lifetime, and current rates of extinction may be up to 10,000 times higher than the natural background rate. We’re losing a terrifying number of birds and insects, and a million species are considered threatened or endangered. Things are bad enough that “eco anxiety” is now a recognized mental health condition.
It is said that in the environmental movement, all of our victories are temporary, and all of our defeats are permanent. Much of the current focus of environmental advocacy has been described as “playing against the slaughter rule,” hoping not to win but to avoid getting totally wiped out in our inevitable loss.
In the face of all this, I’m often asked how I can remain so optimistic, and so motivated to keep working. Some people are surprised to learn that a large part of my answer comes from my Jewish faith.
My 35th birthday is next week, and I am calling upon the forces of the Internetz to help make it an amusing one. As you all know, sandbar shark is #BestShark. This spectacular shark is even the logo of my new consultancy!
I want you to help me celebrate my birthday by creating sandbar shark #BestShark memes and/or artwork! And my favorites will win prizes! Here’s how it works:
Editors: Jeffrey C. Carrier, Michael R. Heithaus, Colin A. Simpfendorfer. CRC Press, available here.
I can’t imagine a more useful introductory reference guide for new or prospective graduate students starting their career in marine biology than “Shark Research: Emerging Technologies and Applications for the Field And Laboratory”. This book is designed for people who have little to no familiarity with a research discipline but are about to start working in that discipline, a large and important audience that is often ignored by books and review papers geared towards people who are already experts. So many graduate students are told to learn a new research method by reading technical literature that assumes they already know this stuff, resulting in stress and frustration.