Jaida Elcock is a graduate student at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on elasmobranch ecology and conservation. She is particularly interested in the movement ecology of migratory elasmobranchs, as this information is still unknown for many species. Jaida received her B.S. in Biology with University Honors from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. She has been recognized as an American Elasmobranch Society Young Professional Recruitment Fund Scholar and an Honorable Mention for the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She is also one of the founders of MISS ( Minorities in Shark Science) organization.
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1: What is your favorite shark and why?
My favorite shark is the thresher shark because rather than using its mouth to hunt like most sharks, it uses it's tail.
2. What is one shark you would like to dive with/ study?
I would love to dive with whale sharks. They are the largest fish on the planet and I think it would be a breathtaking experience to swim beside one.
3. How did you get started studying sharks?
I got started in shark science by watching Shark Week. As I learned about sharks from Shark Week and other documentaries, I learned that they are terribly misunderstood and incredibly important pieces of oceans ecosystems. They deserve to be respected and treated much better than we currently treat them. I realized that if there were a group of animals that needed my help the most, it would be sharks. From that point on, I have had my sights set on being a shark scientist and I haven't looked back.
4. Why do you think science/research is so important for shark conservation?
Science and research is incredibly important for shark conservation because you cannot protect something that you know nothing about. If we know where these animals are migrating, breeding, birthing pups, etc., we can work to protect those areas of critical habitat and conserve many endangered shark species.
5. What is the coolest/most interesting thing you've seen while studying sharks?
Since I am an incoming graduate student, I haven't had the chance to study/interact with wild sharks just yet. But I have had the opportunity to intern at an aquarium and I loved trying to identify individual sharks of the same species by their markings and by behavior. It is incredibly special to see how each shark has its own unique personality.
6. Can you tell us a little about your research? What does a typical day in the field look like?
The research that I have done so far has focused on skates and their egg cases. I have been on a few different trawls to obtain egg cases. Trawls are always fun, as you catch so many different species of fishes and invertebrates and you get to spend time with your friends on a boat looking out at how beautiful the ocean is.
In this image I am holding an egg case of the Aleutian Skate, a species commonly found in the Bering Sea in Alaska. Skates are related to sharks and stingrays are they are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs.
7. What is the most challenging thing about studying sharks?
As I have mentioned, I haven't started my research with sharks just yet. But I imagine just the fact that they are in the ocean is a very difficult aspect of the research. They are less accessible, you may not catch the species you were hoping to catch that day, and you have to plan your trips around the weather and potentially migration patterns as well. There is so much that goes into tagging sharks in the field, but the challenge is all part of the fun.
8. What is one thing you wish everyone knew about sharks?
The one thing I wish everyone knew about sharks is that they are not vicious, blood-thirsty, killing machines. People like to look at sharks as villain that don't belong near beaches. But the reality of it is that that is where they live, and we need to respect that. Yes, shark attacks happen, but you're more likely to be killed by a cow, a lightning strike, or even a vending machine than a shark. We can't let fear get in the way of the respect we should have for these animals.