Eimear works in Seahorse Aquariums, an aquatic retailer on the outside, but a conservation heavan on the inside! She studied marine science in Univerity College Dublin (Ireland), and is continuing her research in partner with several organisations around the world. Eimear will be offering shark education programs around Dublin, Ireland.
1. What is your favorite shark and why? This seems to be a very popular opinion among us Sharks4kids ambassadors (I guess that just means this shark is REALLY cool!). My favourite shark is the common thresher shark. I love how it can use it's extraordinary tail to whip it's prey into a stunned state to make it easier to eat. But if I had to pick another favourite, it would be the basking shark. This is a shark that migrates into Irish waters in summer. It's the second largest shark after the whale shark, and it has no teeth. This means it only eats tiny fish and plankton. It's pretty awesome that something can grow that big when they only eat microorganisms!
2. What is one species of shark you would like to see/swim with? This may seem crazy, but I'd love to see a goblin shark in the wild. Goblin sharks are deep sea sharks that have a very usual jaw that can extend forward to snap up unsuspecting prey, which they then swallow whole. It is known as "the world's ugliest shark" - but I can still see its beauty! If anyone finds a deep-sea submarine, let me know!
3. Can you tell us a little about your experience working with/studying sharks?
I've only really gotten to work with small sharks so far. I studied young sandbar sharks as part of my Master’s degree, and I've worked with blacktip reef sharks, bonnethead sharks, cownose rays, Atlantic stingrays etc. in my job as an aquarist. I'd love to work with bigger sharks in the future though, which is why currently I'm trying to get my PhD started.
I think the highlight of my shark career was during my Master's degree when my academic adviser said he believes I could be the first person in the world to discover something! Sharks need oxygen to breathe, just like us. I was testing what happens to sandbar sharks' and summer flounder's eyes when you drop the oxygen levels in the water (this is something that has been happening naturally to parts of the ocean due to climate change). I found out that these species start to go blind when you lower the oxygen levels (which people before me knew), but I decided to try to bring the oxygen levels back up to their normal amount after dropping them down, and I may have been the first person to discover that if a shark/flounder has gone blind from low oxygen levels, they can actually get their vision back almost 100% if the oxygen is put back into the water. This means, if everyone works to combat climate change, those fish that may be losing their sight in badly affected areas of low oxygen, could start to see again!
4. Why do you want to teach shark education? Why do you think it is important?
I've worked as an education and outreach coordinator ever since I finished my Master's degree in Marine Sustainability. I was lucky in that I came from a family that knew the importance of education both inside, and outside the classroom. My parents loved documentaries, so I used to watch a lot of them as a child (my favourite were the ocean documentaries, of course!). When I grew older I realised that I probably wouldn't have had the experience to love something this much if it weren't for the passion of the people around me. My mother always spoke about following your dreams, and my father always spoke about science and logic. They showed me their interest, they took the time to educate me, and share their experiences. In turn, this gave me a huge appreciation for all things science – but in particular the oceans. I'd love to be able to inspire that passion in future generations, just as it was inspired in me. I believe education regarding sharks is hugely important because not many people understand just how vital sharks are for the health and well-being of our planet. Sharks are becoming rare in our oceans, and if we lose sharks this could have terrible effects on a huge array of species below them (which in turn, could have a terrible effect on us). Not only that, but sharks are so misunderstood. I think teaching someone about the real personalities of sharks is a great life lesson to realise that sometimes TV and movies can be wrong about how scary or dangerous something is!
5. Why do you want to teach kids in Ireland about sharks?
Teaching about sharks in Ireland is always interesting because people here never seem to think we have sharks in Ireland at all, when in fact... we have over 70 species! Sharks and rays are a huge part of Irish oceans, and our coasts even give homes to some of the rarest sharks in the world (such as the angelshark, the bottlenose skate, and the porbeagle shark). And these amazing creatures need our help, but how are we supposed to help them when no one knows they're there and/or how to protect them? I know the kids of this tiny country can make a huge difference!
6. Why did you want to study marine science? I've loved sharks and the ocean since I was a child. My parents say they can’t remember when my obsession with sharks began as a child, but it certainly hasn't slowed over the years! But believe it or not, I was very close to going down a completely different route. I actually studied to be a teacher for my Bachelor's degree, but when I finished I realised that I didn't want to teach anything other than marine science. It took a lot of persuasion, but I managed to convince the Head of Biology in my university to let me attempt one semester of a Masters degree in Marine Sustainability. I passed that semester with all A's and B's; so seeing my effort and my passion, she let me stay and finish the degree. Initially, when picking my Bachelor's degree, I was worried that I wouldn't be good enough at the maths and science parts of marine biology. However, as I got older and finished my Bachelor's degree I realised that if I wanted to work with sharks I had to work for it. So I did. And I still am! But you know what? I've never been happier. As one of the best teachers in my life (my mum!) always says: "Life is for living" - and I've decided I want to live for sharks.