Shark Education: A Student Perspective
I always felt as if sharks were misunderstood by people which is why I love sharks for kids, this organization truly does an exceptional job at educating kids on how important sharks are to the world. I was fortunate enough to volunteer with sharks for kids at their latest Shark Education Day event in Hollywood, Florida at the Marine Environmental Education Center alongside with so many experienced shark divers, researchers and enthusiast.
Gabby and the Shark Crew ( Derek Burkholder, Tyler Mahler, Jillian Morris, Mariana Sabogal & Michael Wright
The first group of children who arrived were around the ages of 8-10, it was astonishing to see how such a young group of children could understand the importance of shark research and behavior better than some adults! The intro to shark science talk was lead by Jillian Morris Brake, the founder of sharks for kids, and every child was engaged in the discussion. The discussion covered topics that varied from the basis of sharks, why researchers tag sharks, different tools a scientist uses to catch a shark and the devices that are used for tagging. The kids not only got to hear about how cool the process is, but also see the awesome devices that make this possible like hooks and different kinds of tags. After the discussion, the kids were brought downstairs for exciting activities and games. I helped Mariana, an avid shark diver and dedicated sharks for kids ambassador, with a hands-on shark tagging activity.
Students doing scientific 'work ups' Image: Mariana Sabogal
The kids competed against time and each other to tag a toy shark (safely with a clip), take its measurements and write it down as a shark researcher would, and then return the shark safely to water! The kids loved it, they were so competitive! It was amazing to see how focused they were on the activity and how quickly they were able to get it done. After a couple rounds we switched groups with Jillian, who was doing her own activity where the children learnt about the different types of sharks and what they eat. The last activity for that group was watching captain the sea turtle get fed her afternoon meal, not only was this cool for the kids to watch but it was also cool for me to see because seriously, who doesn’t think sea turtles are adorable? By the time the first group left there wasn’t a single child who wasn’t grinning from ear to ear.
Jillian teaching students about acoustic tags Image: Joey Maier
The second group that came was a little older, 11 years old and up. The discussion was around the same parameters as the first one however, since the kids were a little older, it was a little more detailed. After the discussion everyone gathered for the part they had been waiting for…Derek, a co-founder for sharks for kids, was about to perform a shark dissection on an Atlantic sharpnose shark. The shark was caught for tagging purposes but while the team was reeling it in, another shark bit it, killing it. The group gathered to watch as he explained the anatomical details of the shark and explained how certain organs affect the shark’s daily life. This was definitely my favorite part, as a student who takes marine biology, I’ve dissected a dogfish shark before but this was so interesting because it was a unpreserved shark straight from the ocean. After opening up the shark and letting everyone around see how a shark actually works, it was once again time for Captain the sea turtle to eat a snack (which left everyone in a good mood because who doesn’t love a cute sea turtle?). Overall, saying I had a positive experience is a major understatement, I learnt so much about a subject I love and I got to share it with the shark researchers of the future! Sharks for kids is helping to mold future marine biologists, shark taggers, and scientist, which is why volunteering with them was such a privilege.
Derek leading a shark dissection Image: Lily Tougas