Buzzzzz! Merlin the drone launches into the sky. The controller screen in my hands displays a bird's eye view of sandy shores and seafoam green waves. A grey-purple smudge slowly swishes in the corner.
“Hey- is this what I think it is!?”
“Yeah! I think you just spotted a white shark!”
This moment captures the thrill of my time with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy(AWSC) as a MISS fellow. Who knew a conversation at the POSea conference would lead me to meet white sharks on Cape Cod? Assisting the research team was one of many roles I dived into this summer.
Thanks to the generosity of MISS and AWSC, I was able to extend my fellowship from 6 to 13 weeks. Over the course of that time, I've honed my communication skills, met fin-tastic people, and weaved art and science into several masterpieces. A year ago I was a lab assistant with a bachelors in Marine Science studying intertidal anemones, snails, and limpets. Through MISS, I dived head first into sensational shark science and surfaced as a fired up artist and scientist. Stepping into the future, my goal is to use multi-modial art to increase accessibility to science for people and groups historically excluded from 'academia' with the intent of empowering them with connections and knowledge to protect what they love. I plan to apply for my masters degree in scientific illustration and someday do a PhD in conservation science. I can now envision myself soaring into a career of science communication- whether it be in shark science or beyond the elasmo-verse!... Read the rest below!
When I received my fellowship acceptance, I knew my life would be changed forever. I recognized that the experience and knowledge that I would gain during my time as a Eugenie Clark Fellow would be something that I likely would not have had otherwise due to financial barriers in this field. As a female first-generation student who identifies with historically excluded groups, I have faced several hardships throughout my academic and early-career scientific journey. This fellowship acceptance meant absolutely everything to me because I knew that I would be able to fully exist in a safe space for an extended period of time. This also meant that I would get the chance to learn and grow with the support of so many amazing and diverse groups of people I would meet along the way.
During the fellowship, I had the opportunity to participate in fieldwork, education, outreach, and even attend a conference, along with many other extraordinary experiences. In doing so, I was surrounded by supportive mentors and worked alongside the other fellows who were selected this past summer. I am very grateful that I met so many memorable people and created lasting relationships that I will forever cherish and value. These experiences created a sense of community which I had been seeking for so long in this field. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so many supportive people who uplifted each other. I hope to carry this on beyond the fellowship and create these spaces for others throughout my academic and career journey.
I am currently a master’s student and have always had the desire to continue my education to earn a PhD to become a shark researcher, and eventually, a professor and mentor. After serving as a camp instructor at the MISS Summer Camp during the fellowship, I realized at that moment that my passion for teaching and mentoring was firmly established from that experience. This is something that I will always be grateful to MISS for, along with numerous other things. Despite the difficulties that some of us face in this field, MISS is a constant reminder that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and I hope to inspire that in others as well.
It was an absolute honor to be a Eugenie Clark Fellow and I would especially like to thank MISS, Havenworth Coastal Conservation, and Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program for this opportunity. I will never forget all of the support, great memories, and experiences from my time as a Eugenie Clark Fellow.
Upon reflecting on my experience with the Eugenie Clark Fellowship, I am filled with gratitude for the unique opportunity that came my way. Initially, I couldn't help but wonder how fortunate I was to be selected for such a prestigious position. Taking into account the expectations placed on me, I felt confident in my ability to handle the physical demands of the fellowship. However, I couldn't help but question whether I possessed the intellectual prowess and contributions necessary to make a meaningful impact in the world of shark sciences.
Being a minority, a woman, and a single parent, I was already well aware of the additional challenges that these characteristics might bring. It made me question if I would be able to fully embrace and succeed in this exceptional opportunity. Nevertheless, I embarked on this incredible journey of fieldwork, which not only involved studying sharks but also extended to dolphins, their prey, and stingrays. The experience was enriched by various modalities of fieldwork, including data analysis and science communication.
The heart of the fellowship lay in the opportunity to work as a summer camp leader, a role that allowed me to express my own unique scientific voice. It was a chance to inspire and educate others about the wonders of the marine world. Throughout this journey, I was fortunate to be guided by mentors who not only generously shared their scientific expertise but also provided invaluable emotional support.
In the end, the fellowship proved to be a transformative experience. I surpassed my own expectations and discovered untapped potential within myself. I learned that being a minority, a woman, and a single parent did not hinder my capabilities but instead enriched my perspective in the world of shark sciences. The fellowship provided me with the confidence and skills to contribute meaningfully to the field, and I now look forward to continuing my journey of exploration and discovery in the realm of marine biology. I am an empowered Science Communicator. I am a scientist. An adventurer, explorer, and a badass.
In the quiet corridors of memory, I often find myself revisiting the vivid tapestry of my journey as a shark researcher. As I sit down to reflect on my journey through the Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS) fellowship, I am struck by the profound shift in perspective that I have experienced. My name is Meghana, and I am a first-generation graduate from a conservative Indian middle-class family. My path as a shark researcher began in the bustling fish markets of India, where I predominantly worked with thousands of dead sharks and rays, collecting fisheries dependent data and gaining insights into the dynamics of overharvesting, livelihood dependency, and the role these threatened species played in our ecosystems.
The MISS fellowship opened doors to a whole new realm of shark research with the internship opportunity at the Bimini Shark Lab, from participating in research activities in Florida Keys to sharing space with the curious beings in Bimini waters. This experience allowed me to witness firsthand the developments and advances in marine sciences and fishing practices in developed countries, contrasting them with the situations I had encountered back home. One of the most remarkable moments during the fellowship was my first encounter with live sharks while assisting with shark work-ups in Florida keys. The bonnet hammerhead being the first to see. It was an eye-opening experience to observe these creatures in their natural environment and engage in practices that contribute to shark sciences as part of fisheries independent research. Additionally, setting fishing gears like drum lines and longlines as part of this research methodology provided me with a deeper understanding of the gears and techniques employed to study these animals alive. ... Read the rest below!
My involvement in the fellowship encompassing social media management and the administration of non-profits has provided me with invaluable insights into the intersection of science communication and organizational dynamics. These experiences have enhanced my skill set and deepened my understanding of the vital role these aspects play in shaping the success of scientific initiatives.
Delving into the administrative aspects of non-profits taught me the behind-the-scenes intricacies that enable impactful initiatives to thrive. Collaborating with dedicated individuals passionate about our cause, I gained insights into grant applications, budget management, and strategic planning. The experience underscored the importance of clear communication, efficient coordination, and adaptability to the ever-changing landscape of non-profit work. I discovered that the passion that fuels scientific research must be complemented by organized and effective administration to ensure sustainability.
Crafting engaging posts about our research endeavors, fieldwork, and the diverse backgrounds of our participants allowed me to convey the human side of scientific pursuit. I strived to break down complex concepts through carefully curated content, making them accessible to a lay audience.
Reflecting on these experiences, I am struck by the symbiotic relationship between effective science communication and well-organized administration. While social media serves as a bridge, connecting researchers with a global audience, proficient non-profit management ensures that the infrastructure supporting these endeavors remains robust.
The Eugenie Clark fellowship was a very special opportunity for me. Prior to this fellowship, despite having some field work experience, I had never felt I was part of the science community. I felt I had so many gaps in my knowledge and to be a part of shark science, I needed to be more prepared and experienced. It felt out of reach. Therefore, handling and working with sharks was always something that I wanted to be a part of, but couldn’t. I just didn’t know how I could get there. Having access to so many resources, advice and guidance from our mentors, and exposure to a variety of scientists and like-minded people that by the end, not only did I realize that to be part of science was easier than I had imagined but that I already was there.
What I loved about this fellowship was that it armed us with an insane amount of skills. I knew it would be very hands-on, but I couldn’t have imagined the various types of fieldwork and experiences we would be doing and the different types of species we would be handling and learning from. This left me feeling more confident in what I wanted to do and what I could do.
I will always be grateful for the knowledge and skills I gained from being a part of this opportunity. With that said, what I feel I will hold closer to me, are the special connections and people I met and made friends with along the way. I know it sounds cliché and kind of corny, but I think at the end of the day it’s the people around us that impact us the most. Yes, it was super cool to handle a shark, take muscle biopsies, fins clips, to measuring little fish and spotted eagle rays, taking photo ID’s of bottlenose dolphins, but that isn’t going to be my initial memory of the fellowship years from now. What will stay embedded in me are the amazing conversations I had with the other fellows at Ben & Jerry’s, the laughs I had with the best roommate ever at the JMIH conference, or facing the fact that I might like kids more than I thought I did. This is what made being part of fellowship so special to me.
Being a Eugenie Clark fellow solidified my love for sharks, my love of working with sharks, my love in shark science and ignited within me a new love for science communication. I finally feel that I am part of this world and have amazing friends and mentors I can count on. I can confidently say that this fellowship changed my life.
I have always been intrigued and passionate about the ocean from a very young age. This love was sparked by joining my dad on fishing trips and watching natural geographic documentaries with him. I therefore dedicated my whole life to making my dream of becoming a marine biologist a reality. I chose science related subjects in high school and completed marine science courses at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa and thereafter become a volunteer. I then moved onto studying towards a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in marine biology and oceanography at the University of Cape Town. I am now currently completing my honours degree in oceanography specializing in environmental influences on killer whales at Marion Island.
Although I have plenty of experience regarding theory work, I felt that I needed more field experience. I wanted to apply everything I learnt during university to a more practical setting. An internship opportunity appeared at the Oceans Research Institute in Mossel Bay and I thought this was exactly what I needed. I was able to expand my researching skills as well as learn new skills.
Before my arrival on the 1st of August, I was filled with a mixture of emotions. This month would be the longest I’ve been away from home and my family. I was feeling nervous about leaving home and learning to live and work with new people. On arrival, all my fears dissipated. Everyone was extremely welcoming and kind. Our group of interns consisted of a mixture of people from different countries and expertise. We were led by amazing field specialists that we both knowledgeable and patient. I could learn from everyone present.
My first day on the boat, I saw my first great white shark, it was unreal! Our job was to note the different morphological features of the sharks we saw and identify them based on these features. In the moment, I was in too much shock to notice any small details. They were so much larger when seen in real-life. I became much more efficient at doing this job overtime. I was also made aware of how crucial these magnificent animals were to the functioning of the ecosystems, not only in Mossel Bay, but along the whole Southern coast of South Africa. It was a great interest of mine to learn about great white shark population dynamics and the various research being done to answer questions about them. I was grateful to contribute even the slightest bit towards great white shark research, even if it was just through the process of data collection.
Other than the thrilling experience of sighting white sharks, there has been various noteworthy projects that we worked on. These include tracking bottlenose & humpback dolphins across the bay, performing intertidal surveys, fishing, animal husbandry, marine plastic analyses, snorkelling, bioacoustics and tagging small catsharks. Fishing was the most exciting project as we were never aware of the fish species we would catch that day. Some species included Pajama sharks, leopard catsharks, puffadder shysharks, starry smoothhound sharks, soupfin sharks and even yellow-bellied rockcods. It was such a fulfilling experience to be working first-hand with these animals.
We were able to not only gain practical skills, but also knowledge in the form of short theory courses. These ranged from marine mammal stranding, dissection, tagging, bioacoustics, science communication, white shark population dynamics, sea turtles to various shark research studies. I learnt so much and now have a much better idea of the kind of research work I would like to partake in in the future. I am even able to apply some of the knowledge gained from the bioacoustics and science communication courses in my honours research project that I am currently working on.
One of the most important lessons I have learnt at Oceans Research Institute is that “teamwork makes the dreamwork”, taught to us by our head field specialist. Working as a team allows the daily shifts to flow easier and efficiently, allowing for the least amount of stress to be put on the animals we are studying. We also uplift and support one another, creating an amazing working environment. Lastly, when out in the field, we often get lost in the work of data collection. It is important to take a step back and appreciate the beauty of our work and be proud of becoming the person our younger selves always dreamed of becoming.
Where do I begin? Participating in this fellowship this summer has made it one of the most fun summers I’ve ever had. I met so many great people and had so many experiences that that I likely would not have had otherwise. Were many of the days exhausting? Yes. Would I change it? No. Our very first day we got to meet each other, have a little pizza party, and meet all of the mentors. From the very first working day we had a full and fun experience, we woke up bright and early (some days as the fellowship went on, we woke up ‘dark and early’) and loaded up the boat and I don’t think I fully expected how many sharks and rays we would catch on the first day (31 blacktips, 9 bonnetheads, 7 cownose rays, 1 scalloped hammerhead, and 1 bluntnose ray). What a day! What was cool about the whole beginning of the process is that the mentors really made us feel like we were very prepared and capable of doing all of this from day one, even though some or a lot of the things we were doing we had not done before. They let us learn by doing and if we made a mistake, we weren’t made to feel bad about it but instead it was used a learning opportunity and personally that is how I prefer to learn. So instead of “hey, you did that wrong” it was more like “Good attempt, but here’s why we don’t do it that way. Try again” and then we’d just try again.
What was cool about this experience is the mentors wanted to make sure we gained a wide variety of experience and knowledge. So they set up the fellowship so that we had a mixed bag of things to do. From being on the boat to working with the public and kids during a week long summer camp, where we had the opportunity to do some really cool things, like build ROVs, come up with activities and experiments and teach some kids how to work with sharks! We did something called GULFSPAN where we would get to catch, work up and release sharks. We learned a variety of field techniques, we learned how to take biopsies, how to draw blood, how to take fin clips, how to do microbiome swabs and we learned how to equip the sharks with various types of tags. Because we were working with so many different species of shark so often we got really good at identifying them, whereas before at least personally my identification skills were not that strong. Another thing I really enjoyed is that I was able to exercise my problem-solving skills. We were given a lot of opportunities to try to solve problems on our own and one of my stronger skills before coming to this fellowship was my problem-solving skills, so I felt that I was able to really use those and strengthen them even more. We were able to work closely with spotted eagle rays as well, which up until this internship I had never seen in person, so to get hands one experience with them was amazing. They are so cool and extremely beautiful. Working with the Eagles Rays we were exercised a lot of the same field techniques we used when working with the sharks with other new techniques and modifications also. I never thought that seeing and getting hands on experience with sharks and rays would be the norm for me and it became just part of the daily routine. To the point where when the fellowship ended it felt weird to not be on a boat, working with sharks.
The mentors we worked with also gave us some opportunities here and there to learn new or extra techniques that weren’t necessarily planned things for the fellowship. I was excited to take advantage of those opportunities and I did! What was nice was throughout the fellowship we had an opportunity to meet one on one with each of the mentors and ask them anything we wanted or get help with anything we wanted and not only was I able to talk and learn from my mentors but Kristin one of the mentors was able to connect me to someone who was able to give me really helpful information that would help me in my own grad school research. What was cool about meeting him was that he connected me with ANOTHER person who is able to assist me with things in my own research as well. Which made an already positive experience even more beneficial, and I am very grateful for that.
Lastly, I loved being able to participate in shark con as more than just a visitor. We had an opportunity to work the M.I.S.S. booth during the event and strengthen our outreach skills. During this time we were able to meet a lot of people and talk with them about what we do and what M.I.S.S. does. We also had times during shark con where we were able to experience it as visitors, so it was a really nice balance. It was a fun first experience with shark con. Overall, I had an amazing summer and there isn’t really much I would change. I wish I could do it all again, even thought I got the weirdest tan lines of my life. I am excited to be able to take the knowledge, experiences and the people I met with me throughout my career and I am so grateful for the opportunity.
I was given the privilege to work alongside amazing people in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. To put into words my experience is difficult, but I will give it a shot. The day I received the email that I got accepted for this fellowship, I literally screamed out loud. That was by far the happiest day of my life because I was given an experience of a lifetime thanks to MISS. This opportunity helped broaden my knowledge about specifically White Sharks and helped me get over my subtle fears of them.
The day I arrived to the shark center, I was nervous of meeting everyone. I had just flown in the night before and the next day ubered to the center. I arrived, and the first person I met was the lovely Ms. Heather, who is in charge of the shark center in Cape Cod. She was very kind and full of energy which made me feel reassured. From the mentors to my intern mates, I had a blast meeting them and learning from them for as long as possible. I was empowered by being surrounded by intelligent women of science, even as a minority.
My first two weeks there, I was training and learning with my intern mates. We learned about many different things, from what the shark center does to the research team to the education team to even the sharks in general. My brain was enhanced with so much knowledge from each department of the AWSC. My favorite had to be the research team which was presented by Victoria and Kelly, who were previous AWSC interns. They made it interesting and fun with games in order to learn the material with ease.
After training, it was go time! I had the opportunity and privilege to work with the research team for the next two weeks. Victoria was my carpool buddy and my mentor during the experience. She assigned me to work such as white shake identification and creating infographics for the public to better understand what the research team does and the tools they use. From 9 AM to 5 PM, I would work almost non-stop because I wanted to get as much exposure as I could. I was stubborn to stop, and I just wanted to keep going. Victoria was kind to understand my feelings because she kept asking me if I wanted to leave earlier like the other interns, and I did not want to. So for the next two weeks, I worked on infographics and, if not that, then shark identification. Another exciting opportunity for me was being able to fly the drone both on land and on the boat. When I wasn’t in the office, I was with Kelly and Victoria out on Nauset Beach flying the drone. When we practiced enough on the land, we decided to take it out for a test on the boat. I, of course, made sure to pack my necessities because sea sickness was my enemy. We headed out to sea, and I was doing great with the wind in my face, but as soon as we stopped to fly out the drones, sea sickness took over, and I died (metaphorically speaking). I sadly had to come back inland, so my trip was cut short with the team, and I felt bad. I was glad that Victoria kept reassuring me that it was okay and not my fault, which helped calm me down. After that experience, I made sure to do everything I could to be prepared for the next time I went out to sea.
After participating with the research team, I dove into the education aspect of the AWSC, which was community outreach. I participated in my first outreach with Ms. Kristin and Ms. Hayley. It was at a children’s museum, and we basically educated families, especially the kids, about white sharks using props we had for hands-on experience. While multitasking with the education team,
I also went out to beaches with the Shark Smart team. Shark smart was in charge of educating the public at the beaches and answering any of their questions or misconceptions they have about white sharks. I also spent time in the shark center answering the public questions while then walked around the center, and I was even in the fossil pit making necklaces for the kids when they found a shark tooth.
My whole time there, I built amazing connections with intelligent females and created beautiful memories together. This experience changed my life on how I view the apex predator. When I was able to meet my first white shark, I shed tears because they were just majestic creatures labeled with a bad name. This was truly one for the books, and I couldn’t be more honored and proud of myself for applying to MISS and given the opportunity to be surrounded by females in the science field that I am pursuing.
There isn't a word in existence that could accurately convey how it felt the moment I received the news of my fellowship acceptance. To know that this one experience and the knowledge gained will put me that much closer to propelling my life quality and career is unmatched. Unknowingly, I have successfully fortified my legacy and am living proof of my ancestors' wildest dreams.
Since the moment I stepped onto the New college campus, I knew this opportunity would not only be life-changing but invaluable. From the mentors to the other fellows in the fellowship, there was a special connection from the very beginning. I went from being the only African American woman in all of my stem classes to being surrounded by amazing women from different backgrounds, and it was extremely refreshing.
On the very first day we hit the ground running, in pure M.I.S.S fashion. From 4 am alarms to packing, baiting, and prepping the boat, I always managed to stop and sneak in glimpses of the spectacular Florida sunrise to remind myself to always stop and smell the flowers. I went from losing gear in the water while setting long lines to becoming an expert on all things shark fishing, each set helped me to grow as a scientist and gain more confidence in the field.
A lot of the time we put such a negative connotation around failing or incorrectly doing a task when really some of the best gains of knowledge and experience have been taught through struggling and critical-thinking. This opportunity gave me exactly that in terms of being able to fail and having the support to learn and try again. Scientists have to do a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving, which is arguably one of the most important skills you’ll use as a scientist. I was able to hone this skill, and I know that it will be useful in future research experiences.
Understandably there are some things you just can't prepare for and catching over 55+ sharks on our second day of surveying was one of them. The rush mixed with excitement and nerves were jolted right out of my body when the first shark hit the bow, and in an instant it was like my body knew what my brain had never been taught to do. As the instincts kicked in and our instructors' voices guided my hands, I could feel the knots in my stomach rush out in communicative chaos and excitement. One after the other we perfected prepping, working up, and releasing each shark more efficiently each time. While this fellowship was packed with full days and exhausting nights, I wish I could do it all again. After this experience, I can honestly say I swam with an 8.5ft Great Hammerhead we called Genie after Eugenie Clark, got
to name and helped coax two spotted eagle rays, and help an amazing group of summer campers’ learn about Marine Biology, and that is something that most people can only dream of.
I am truly grateful for this opportunity and all it has provided for me as well as the spectacular group of women involved in my personal journey and marine biology career. I have not only gained knowledge and experience but more importantly I have gained mentors that I trust, friends that I will have life long relationships with, and stories my grandkids will hardly believe!