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Shark Week: Meet Marine Conservationist Jess Cramp

Jess Cramp is an American shark researcher and marine conservationist. She is passionate about stopping the overexploitation of sharks and the degradation of the ocean—and believes that fostering a lasting impact requires a comprehensive approach and local buy-in. Because of this, Cramp prioritizes listening to local perspectives while actively engaging community members, community leaders, and government officials in her research and advocacy efforts. In 2011, while living in the Cook Islands, she co-championed a grassroots campaign that resulted in the 2-million-square-kilometer Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary. Cramp is currently pursuing a Ph.D. through James Cook University while residing in the Cook Islands. She is also a National Geographic Explorer. Thanks for sharing your shark story with us Jess !

Follow Jess on TWITTER and Instagram to see her shark adventures

Image credit: National Geographic

1. What is your favorite shark and why?

My favorite sharks are hammerhead sharks. I like that hammerheads have extra sensitive sensory receptions — and that they’re comfortable in deep water and in shallow water. I also like that they’re unique looking — no one could mistake them for another species of shark!

2. If you could see/swim/study one species of shark, what would it be?

I am currently studying oceanic whitetips and silky sharks. I’m looking at how they move in and out of our country’s waters here in the Cook Islands.

3. Can you tell us a little about your current research?

I’m studying sharks in the Cook Islands. We are conducting the first shark research and trying to create baseline data, meaning we want to know which species are here. For reef sharks, we’re also trying to look at the approximate numbers of reef sharks. For the pelagic sharks, I’m looking at the movements of two species (oceanic whitetips and silkies) that are commonly caught on boats fishing for tuna. These sharks are currently overfished, so I’m hoping my data will help design better policies to protect them.

Jess, Terii (@teriip) and Marino (@marinoevans) caught a Dusky shark in Penrhyn, Cook Islands. Photo credit: Kirby Morejohn (@kirbymorejohn).

4. What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learned about sharks while studying?

I’ve learned that many species of sharks are very shy — and even if you do have bait (fish) in the water, they will often take a long time before coming into view.

5. What is the most challenging part of studying sharks?

For me, the species that I am looking for travel very long distances and we haven’t found any nurseries or aggregations for them here in the Cooks. So, it takes me a very long time to find the sharks that I want to tag. I have to spend a lot of time with fishermen and many days, we do not find the sharks we are looking for. In the past, finding these species may have been much easier, but since their populations have declined, when you combine that with the fact that they travel such long distances, it makes the work challenging.

6. Why is science important for conservation?

Science not only tells us where and when animals use specific areas — it also tells us when populations have reached a point where new management and conservation is required. It also allows us to test whether our conservation has been successful or not by providing a rigorous framework for repeated testing.

Jess, Aru and Vainetini in Penrhyn, Cook Islands— working with students is one of my favorite parts of my research. Photo credit: Michael White

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