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Posted by Lauren Smith on

The Conservation Status of the Blue Shark

The Conservation Status of the Blue Shark

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca), complete with Pilot Fish Wingman (Finman!), Azores Bank

Over 8 years ago I wrote an essay on the conservation status of the Blue Shark (Prionace glauca), the essay formed part of my BIOL3301 module, which contributed to my final year studying for my BSc in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology degree at the University of Plymouth. The essay in its entirety can be read below (excuse the format!).

Recently whilst training for a charity swim event (Banff Bay Swim for the Shark Trust) i began wandering how much has changed for the blue shark and its conservation status, since i first completed that assignment.

Upon reviewing the current literature i discovered that Prionace glauca is still classed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN Red List 2012, however this classification is based on data from 2005. The species is commonly thought to be the most heavily fished shark species, it is estimated that a 6.2-6.5 million blue sharks taken annually by high seas fisheries globally has risen to nearer 20 million. They account for 34% of the large pelagic catch in the Mediterranean (Megalofonou et al 2005), are amongst the top 3 most frequently caught species in the tuna and swordfish fisheries of the Pacific Ocean (Ward et al 2004), account for 34% of the total catch weight in Canadian large pelagic fisheries (Campana et al 2006), make up around 10% of the total catch weight in US fall fisheries for tuna and swordfish (Kerstetter and Graves 2006) and about 59% of the catch in Japanese tuna longline fisheries (Matsunaga and Nakano 2000). Due to the low commercial value of the meat however most of these sharks were/are discarded at sea (Campana et al 2009).

Worryingly these are the figures being quoted for those sharks caught as by-catch, what is more difficult to ascertain is the numbers caught and targeted for the shark fin industry. With the demand for shark fin still growing (thought to be increasing by 10% each year, with shark fins fetching 500 Euro’s a kilo when dried and a bowl of soup fetching $100 on the Asian market) coupled with the high catch rates of this species it stands to reason that the blue shark is providing a significant number of fins for the market.

On the positive side there is an ever increasing public awareness of the shark fin trade and the need for conservation management of sharks, skates and rays worldwide. However this awareness has also pushed the fin trade further underground with many illegal finning operations being conducted within so called protected areas (eg: Costa Rica).

Significant developments in tagging procedures have allowed a lot more to be learnt about the life history and behaviour of the blue shark (Stevens et al 2009, Campana et al 2009, Campana et al 2011) especially in areas where data was previously lacking i.e. the North East Atlantic (Queiroz et al 2010). Although this allows informed conservation management, the reality of this is that unless protected areas for example with no take zone’s, are properly policed, regulated and enforced, they will make little difference.

A prime example is the EU shark finning regulation passed in 2003 – at first glance a good positive step, until you take a closer look and realise that unless identified loop holes are addressed and changed, the regulation is nigh on useless. It is much more lenient than those imposed by other international bodies and with EU fishermen thought to be responsible for supplying a third of the Asian fin trade a poor regulation such as this is sealing the fate of millions of sharks each year.

For instance; Permits were issued by countries to specific fishing boats allowing finning to continue despite the regulation (many countries have since stopped the issuing of permits with Spain and Portugal the only ones left still participating in this).

The EU regulation states a 5% fin to dressed body weight ratio (with fins allowed to be removed at sea, although the body of the shark must also be landed), which equates to about 2% of the whole weight. Dressed weight is the weight of the shark after its head and guts have been removed, whereas whole weight is the weight of the shark with head and guts intact and fins attached. Imagine a whole shark weighing 100kg, it would weigh around 40kg dressed, a primary fin set (the pectorals, first dorsal and lower caudal) would weigh up to 2kg and would therefore make up 2% of the whole weight and 5% of the dressed weight. However the EU regulation states 5% of the whole weight meaning the fin weight would be 2.5x more than in reality. Thus allowing fishermen to continue finning additional sharks and discarding their bodies until the 5%(kg) allowance of fins for the 40kg dressed weight shark, whilst still remaining within the law!

On top of this it is also legal to land fins and carcasses in separate ports a further loophole to complicate enforcement and undermine the existing policy.
A simple solution would be for the regulation to state sharks must be landed with fins attached, this is something which has been sent for approval by the EU parliament in March 2012.

In short it would appear we are still someway way off from providing effective conservation management worldwide of shark species and the shark fin soup market continues to be an ongoing battle. Prionace glauca is under an immense amount of fishing pressure and the question still remains about how much more this species can take….

“Critically review the conservation status of one named group of marine vertebrates.”

Prionace glauca

The blue shark (Prionace glauca) is a large pelagic carcharhinid that is widely distributed in the world’s oceans (Skomal and Natanson 2003). They are found in both temperate and tropical waters, predominantly in the open ocean, but also within inshore coastal areas. With their distribution, and movements, being strongly influenced by seasonal variations in water temperature, reproductive condition and availability of prey (Kohler et al 2002).
Despite being recognised as some of the most abundant, widespread, fecund and faster growing of the elasmobranches. They are still classified as being at risk (near threatened) by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a global union of States, governmental agencies and non-governmental agencies in a partnership that assess the conservation status of species), Red List Assessments, 2000. Due to them being the most heavily fished sharks in the world. With the impact of an annual fisheries mortality of an estimated ten to twenty million individuals, which is undoubtedly having an adverse effect on the world population, and thus causing considerable concern over the removal of such large numbers of this likely keystone predator from the Oceanic ecosystem (Anon 2000).

The impact of fisheries on Prionace Glauca

There are two main factors recognised as the cause for such a high mortality rate in P. glauca; (i) The commercial practice of finning and (ii) The incidental capture by fisheries targeting other species.


Finning is the process of removing and retaining the fins of a shark and then discarding its body at sea, where unable to move it will drown and bleed to death. Given that the fins comprise only a small proportion of the shark’s body weight the remaining 95-98% of the animal is essentially wasted (Carwardine and Watterson 2002).
This practice is derived from the far Eastern tradition of serving shark fin soup as a means of honouring guests or occasions. However since the mid 1980’s demand has increased immensely with a reported global trade in fins increasing from 3,011 tonnes in 1980 to 11,732 tonnes in 2000 (Anon 2003b), partially as a result of the economic successes of some countries, notably China and Hong Kong (the latter being regarded as the world shark fin trade centre, accounting for an estimated 50-80% of all fins traded worldwide (Anon 2003c)), therefore more people can afford these so called luxury items.

Incidental Capture

Commercial fisheries using drift nets, purse-seine nets and longlines to catch other fish species, capture a significant number of sharks which are then considered by-catch. P. glauca are amongst the most common and dominant species of those sharks caught in this manner. This is related to their highly migratory nature and their wide distribution which make them incredibly vulnerable to this particular threat. For instance, from 1983-88 they represented nearly 95% of all the pelagic shark by-catch caught by Brazilian longliners in the South western Equatorial Atlantic (Hazin et al 1990). They were also the most dominant pelagic shark species landed by the New Zealand tuna longline fishery (Francis et al 2001), and in the Japanese longline fishery P. glauca accounted for 61-79% of by-catch and were also the most dominant shark species landed by all fishing methods in Japan (Matsunga et al 2003).

Incidental capture is therefore is clearly a serious threat for P.glauca, however this factor accompanied by the commercial demand for shark fins outlines a problem far worse. Until recently P.glauca which were caught as by-catch were often thrown back alive (keeping large quantities of their meat is difficult since it ammoniates quickly (Anon 2002b), and it was estimated that 86% of these individuals survived (Carwardine and Watterson 2002). However now it is much more profitable for the fishermen to remove the fins. Therefore, there is little hope of survival for any P. glauca caught as by-catch.

There are other contributors to P. glauca mortality; however these are smaller threats than those posed by finning and incidental capture. Such contributors include recreational fishing; in 2000 the U.S. recreational fishery landed 6,800 P. glauca (Cortes 2002), and the recent demand for shark products (excluding fins) such as shark liver oil, which is added to cosmetics and health care products as it is the nearest thing to natural skin oils, and shark cartilage which is being touted as a miracle cure for cancer (Bright 2003).

An increase in demand for these products has the potential to become a serious threat; they also provide little reason for fishermen to throw back P. glauca caught as by-catch when a substantial profit can be made from other components of the shark as well as their fins.

Are sufficient numbers being lost to seriously threaten the species?

Various fisheries have compiled and recorded catch data of P. glauca, which has been published in both reports and journals, over recent years. However the data available is extremely limited and is concentrated only in certain areas, for instance P. glauca is well documented in the Pacific, South Atlantic and the North West Atlantic, but there is relatively little data available for the North East Atlantic (Henderson et al 2000). Also, the data has not been recorded in a uniformed way, some studies record P. glauca numbers (Hazin et al 1994, Francis et al 2001), while others record the body weight in tons (Matsunga et al 2003). This together with limited catch data; many countries having failed to record any data, and of those which have it is doubtful that all catch data has been recorded honestly when so much profit can be made on shark products by the fishermen, specifically trade in fins is largely unreported as the fins do not pass through normal landing channels and because most of the fin trade is conducted in cash to avoid tax and duties (Anon 2003b), does not provide substantial evidence capable of ascertaining whether sufficient numbers of P. glauca are being lost to cause a serious threat to the species.

Despite this, two opposing views exist, for instance, it has been speculated that individual fisheries e.g.: the New Zealand tuna longline fishery are probably not seriously affecting pelagic shark stocks (Francis et al 2001) and the combined effort of fisheries within the same ocean are not even coming close to the maximum yield, for example the maximum catch for P. glauca set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for the North Pacific is about 160,000 tons a year. A figure, considerably higher than those that are currently being recorded (Martin 2002). Regardless of what the figures suggest however, anecdotal observations from West Coast fishermen indicate that P. glauca are not as common off the continental US as they once were, and Sean Van Sommeran, the Executive Director of the Shark research Foundation, stated that P. glauca are now difficult to find having once been a nuisance by biting fish off the lines when rock fishing off the West Coast of the US (Martin 2002).

However the sheer number of P. glauca being caught and killed is not the only focus of concern, the age of those being caught and killed poses a particular problem. Many juveniles who have not yet reached reproductive maturity get caught as by-catch and because fins of any size are valuable they are targeted for finning also. P. glauca are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young that have hatched from eggs internally, males are believed to mature at 4-5 yrs and at lengths between 6-9 ft, and females from 5-6 yrs, and longer lengths of 7-10.5 ft (Anon 2002b). So, despite maximum catch numbers not being reached, if a significant proportion of those caught are juveniles which have not yet reproduced, then populations will be seriously affected. Unfortunately this appears to be something which has not yet been considered by the majority of fisheries, governments, organisation etc. If populations of sharks were to become permanently absent from specific areas, the consequences for the associated ecosystems are not yet clear, reports have suggested using computer simulation models, that the removal of sharks from an ecosystem would have catastrophic consequences for stocks of other fish species causing them to crash (Anona 2003a), whilst other reports state that there would be little effect on trophic structure or the abundance of other marine organisms within the ecosystem (Anon 2002a). However, with the application of shark management and conservation schemes the disappearance of entire populations will not occur.

What measures have been taken to protect Prionace glauca?

Over the past two decades sharks have become the salvation fishery, and as a consequence are now being over fished as quickly as the traditional resources (Carwardine and Watterson 2002). They are therefore in need of effective management and conservation programs. However, the management of shark species is a considerable challenge, predominantly as a result of their highly migratory nature, which necessitates the coordination of management across political boundaries (Anon 2002a), together with a general lack of baseline information about the practices employed in shark fisheries worldwide, incomplete data on catch, effort, landings, and trade and little information on the shark populations themselves (Anon 2001b).

However despite this, in recent years a number of conservation and management programs have been devised. Few are concerned solely with P. glauca or highly migratory fish stocks but they do exist, for example; P. glauca are currently regulated in the commercial longline shark fishery on the East Coast of the US by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), to a limited landing of 136.5 metric tons, during the summer season. Also in September 2000, the US together with 24 other states and Taiwan concluded negotiations on the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (MHLC). As part of the MHLC’s objective, they are investigating sharks caught as by-catch and recording data on catch, marketing etc. (Anon 2002a), which was previously unknown and therefore a positive step for P. glauca in particular.

Other management programs are concerned with shark species in general, (including P. glauca). The majority tend to be split into two categories; those concerned only with finning, and others with the conservation of shark species overall.

Management and control of finning

On December the 21st 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, which states: Any person under US jurisdiction is prohibited from (i) engaging in the finning of sharks (ii) possessing shark fins aboard a fishing vessel without the corresponding carcass and (iii) landing shark fins without the corresponding carcass (Anon 2002a).

This act was an important breakthrough and was used to encourage other countries to implement a ban on finning, in 2001, Peter Knights of WildAid called for a ban throughout the European Union (Anon 2001a). A subject which was eventually addressed in March 2003 in Brussels, when the EU proposed a regulation which would ban EU registered ships as well as non-EU vessels that operate in EU waters, from landing or selling shark fins that are removed on board. However, fishermen would still be able to remove fins providing they could prove that they were making efficient use of all shark parts by processing them separately on board, although the entire body would still have to be accounted for P. glauca stocks were also discussed and described as ‘declining alarmingly’ by British Liberal Democrat MEP Elspeth Attwooll, who drafted the bill (Anon 2003f).

In response to the EU’s proposal, the IUCN issued an information paper in June 2003, suggesting the simplest way to implement a finning ban is to require that shark carcasses by landed with fins attached, making the possession of detached fins an offence. They believe that landing sharks and rays with fins attached will facilitate species identification, promote standardised data collection and reporting of official catch statistics, and thus eliminate potential enforcement loopholes.

Despite differences of opinion existing in relation to the most appropriate management practices, by October 2003 finning bans existed (and still do) in South Africa, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Palau, Oman, Canada, US, EU and most Australian states and territories (Anon 2003a).

General conservation and management of sharks

In February 1998, at the FAO (Food and Agriculture) committee on fisheries a decision was made to prepare an International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA). The overall IPOA was/is to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long term sustainable use (Anon 2001b). This objective is reiterated by the US National Plan of Action (IPOA), formed in 2001, which is also primarily concerned with data collection and assessment to determine whether the level of total fishing mortality of shark, skate and ray species is sustainable (Anon 2001b). Such work is beneficial, and has allowed fisheries and other organisations to make informed decisions on their own management practices based on new information, for instance in 2003, the NMFS announced new regulations to decrease the annual catch levels of large coastal sharks in the Atlantic by 45%, and to prevent by-catch of juvenile sharks by closing certain areas at times when young sharks are around (Anon 2003e). Because of this however they removed the minimum catch size limit, believing time/area closure would provide sufficient protection for juveniles. However little is known about the age at which highly migratory species such as P. glauca leave these nursery grounds and it is doubtful that a substantial number will have chance to reproduce before becoming viable catch or by-catch.

Are these measures sufficient?

Despite recent steps being taken towards the conservation of shark species, it seems that too little is known about the species themselves for these schemes to be a complete success. At present the monitoring data which exists for P. glauca is inadequate to even assess the scale of a population decline (Anon 2000). Indeed the amount of research undertaken on P. glauca is limited in comparison with other shark species, this is partly due to them being so migratory and partly because they are not as well known as other species, greater knowledge of certain species (e.g.: the White Shark Carcharodon carcharias made famous by Peter Benchley’s bestseller Jaws) makes it easier to get support for conservation programmes etc.

Major threats

As long as finning is still allowed in certain Oceans (genetic markers have been developed from contemporary tissue samples to determine the origin of detached fins, thus facilitating detection of products from at risk species (Shivji 2002), then this will remain a major threat to P. glauca. This problem was addressed to the UN in 2003, suggesting an international ban in finning (Anon 2003a). However perhaps it would be worth attempting to tackle this problem at its source i.e.: by increasing public awareness, which may ultimately result in a decrease in demand. Research in 2001 by WildAid discovered that only 43% of consumers in Taiwan were aware that shark fin soup actually came from shark (Anon, 2001a)! A number of by-catch laws exist, although they do vary on factors such as, catch size limits. Considering the majority of P. glauca are killed in this fashion perhaps an international agreement may also be more appropriate here.

The future

In order for accurate management practices to be developed to aid the conservation of P. glauca more data must be collected determining the number of individual sharks being killed. This can be achieved by accurate monitoring of ocean catches (Francis et al 2001). In addition to this, more information is required on migratory patterns, population and general life history. It has been suggested that P. glauca migrate in a purposeful manner, utilizing different stations for different parts of their life history, mating in the Western Atlantic and giving birth in the Eastern Atlantic off Spain and Portugal (Martin 2002). An expansion of this information, may lead to the restricting of fishing operations at certain locations and times of the year. Some organisations are currently monitoring P. glauca including ICCAT and NEFSC (North East Fisheries Science Centre), however it remains imperative for more to do so.

Monitoring methods

A large scale tagging operation would allow life history information to be obtained. Recent advances in tagging methodologies, will further knowledge on shark movements and migrations, particularly in the areas of resource utilization and management, space utilization and population dynamics (Kohler and Turner 2001) all of which is required to benefit P. glauca in the long term. Over the past 40 years the NMFS have been collecting data on large Atlantic sharks by a cooperative shark tagging program, however in over 30 years only 128,000 sharks were tagged and only 6000 recaptured (Kohler et al 2002). Therefore, tagging needs to occur on a much larger scale concentrating on specific species such as P. glauca Investigation into the genetic effects that exploitation has had on specific species would also inform proposed management programs, for instance the employment of microsatellites could be used to compare previous samples too recent samples, informing conservationists of any significant losses of genetic variation.


The conservation status of P. glauca is currently described as lower risk (near threatened) by the IUCN red list, however this is based on both inadequate and limited data, therefore the reality could be much worse, however a combination of increased data collection, monitoring, public awareness and management schemes will hopefully result in sufficient measures which will provide a stable and sustainable future for Prionace glauca.

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca), complete with Pilot Fish Wingman (Finman!), Azores Bank






Posted by Lauren Smith on

Off season diving in the Maldives

Off season diving in the Maldives
“BANG… BANG… BANG…” I checked my watch, 3am. I lay there quietly cursing the person who was allowing a door in their cabin to bang rhythmically with each pitch and roll of the boat. This was my first time on a liveaboard as well as my first time in the Maldives, and I began to wonder what I would experience diving here over the next week, musing in particular as to what sharks I may see. My thoughts were interrupted with a feeling of idiocy accompanied with an athletic catapult from the bed (by my partner following an instructive nudge from myself) to shut our bathroom door, sleep then returned swiftly with the gentle rocking of the boat.
Technically speaking I was going to be diving the Maldives ‘out of season’, it was the middle of the South West monsoon which runs from May to November and can be accompanied by heavy rain and rougher seas. During this season the wind transports clearer water from the South West, meaning that on the Western side of the atolls you should be rewarded with better visibility during a dive. Of course this ‘off season’ diving also meant a reduced number of liveaboard’s operating. However I managed to book onto a boat that would be running provided there was a minimum of 8 people on board. Thankfully just (an almost heart-stopping) two weeks before the trip a total of 10 of us had confirmed and the trip would go ahead! Phew!!
Getting busy with my new Canon 550D and housing.
The first dive following the standard ‘orientation/test dive’ (which dive operators often use to validate your skills and make sure you are happy underwater) did not disappoint. Masses of reef fish, hawksbill turtle, black stingray and a manta ray. The latter being particularly memorable – we were nearing the end of the dive when I glanced up and spotted a manta coming in with a bit of pace and reasonably close to the surface, just as I thought “I wonder if she’s going to breach?” She charged upwards and turned a full back flip in the air before returning to the water! Spectacular and I must congratulate the Manta ray on her perfectly timed acrobatics as this dive took place on my Birthday, most considerate!

Manta Ray post breach.

Black Stingray.
Over the course of the week we logged a total of eighteen dives with four dives around the N. Male Atoll, two dives around S. Male Atoll and six each around the N. and S. Ari Atolls. All but one of these dives were pinnacle (reef) dives which typically involved a max depth of around 25m. During these dives a wonderful diversity and abundance of reef fish were seen, together with; giant moray, honeycomb, and yellow margin eels, napoleon wrasse, cleaner shrimps, leaf fish, stone fish, lionfish, turtles (hawksbill and green), big schools of jacks and snapper as well as plenty of white-tip reef sharks and grey reef sharks and even a free swimming zebra shark (a new species I could now tick off my list)!

Giant Moray.
Hawksbill Turtle feeding on the Reef.
Honeycomb Eel.
Napoleon Wrasse.
We did 1 wreck dive a fishing vessel called the Kuda Giri, which supports a good resident fish population and allowed for a deeper dive of 37m when investigating the propeller and lower decks. The nearby pinnacle is a few short fin strokes away (the cause of the wreck!) with some smaller caves and swim-throughs to explore on the way up.
Despite not seeing a whale shark when diving, we were fortunate enough to see one and snorkel with it whilst around the S. Ari Atoll. We were on route to our second dive location of the day when we spotted an individual in about 5m of water cruising along the shoreline. We donned our snorkel gear, grabbed our camera’s and abandoned the boat (in my case still wearing half my normal clothes instead of swimwear!). The shark was about 17ft in length, and at this size probably still a juvenile! What an amazing experience as you carefully but quickly swim over to where you think the shark should be, eyes darting back and forth, ready to catch your first glimpse and then BOOM, there it is, emerging out of the plankton rich water! Fantastic!
Young Whale Shark over Reef.
Overall my first time on a liveaboard had been a huge success. I loved having the complete diving experience without having to go to and from a resort every day, and I am sure I got to see a lot more of the Maldives in general as well as more dive sites, the boat allowing us to travel further distances to different atolls than if I would have done a week’s land based diving.
Without a doubt, the huge benefit of diving in this season (if you don’t mind the 5-15m visibility range), is the absence of other divers, every time we dove we had the sites to ourselves, which I am told in the Maldives at peak season (especially December and January) is nigh impossible.
However this brings me to an unapologetic rant about the buoyancy control (or should I say the lack of…) by some divers. I know it can be very difficult to be perfect, I will openly admit an accidental ‘clip of the coral’ with a fin has happened to me in the past, which has been accompanied by an overbearing sense of guilt, a one sided telepathic conversation ensues ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean too…!’. But honestly what about the serial offenders who ignore the dive guide’s request’s and the overpowering looks of scorn mustered up by the other divers, to repeatedly stand on and lie all over the coral, kicking over table corals, snapping off goodness knows how many years of growth, in a matter of seconds with absolutely no show of remorse!
I am all for people enjoying the underwater world, but it is beyond me to understand how such divers fail to realise the consequences of their actions, there needs to be a system put in place as no amount of frowning, grunting, growling and finger wagging as well as topside conversations made any difference. It alarms me to think that it wasn’t bad weather or poor visibility associated with off season diving that had the potential to taint this trip; instead it was the irresponsible attitude or perhaps poor training (?) of other divers…..
Posted by Lauren Smith on

Q & A with Lauren

Q & A with Lauren

Me! Monad Shoal Philippines

Going through my emails today i realised i have had quite a few emails through from people with a variety of questions, some career related, other’s more shark biology orientated. I love hearing from you so please feel free to contact me still However i have decided to post some questions here together with my answers (i have kept all posts anonymous) in the hope that it will help answer any general questions you may have esspecially in terms of career.

Career / Personal Questions


Hi Lauren.

My name is (Anon), I’m in the 11th grade.

I want to become a sharkiologist when I grow up.

Ever since I was little I’ve always been fascinated by sharks and the ocean.

I think this career is amazing and I’d love to know more about it.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your job.

1. What courses did you take in highschool?

2. What did you major in in university?

3. What exactly does a sharkiologist do?

4. Do you use a lot of chemistry, math and physics in your job? If so, what do you use it for?

5. How long did it take you to become a sharkiologist?

6. How long did it take you to get a job after you finished university?

7. Is your job sometimes very stressful?

8. What does a sharkiologist do on a daily basis?

9. Who/What inspired you to become a sharkiologist?

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Thank you so much.


What courses did you take in highschool?

OK so this may be a little tricky as i went to school in England, but perhaps some subjects will match up? Also i will put the ages when i did them down too because of the difference between the UK and the US and Canada.

For my A level’s (completed when i was 18 and was judged on these grades for my place at university), i took the unusual combination of Biology, Geography (accepted as a second science), Art and General Studies (a compulsory topic about world issues)

2. What did you major in in university?

When i was 18 i went to Plymouth University in England and studied for 3 years and got a First Class Honors Degree in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, i then took a year out and went travelling, i was then accepted for a PhD in Marine Biology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, people usually do a Masters degree before doing a PhD but i was lucky enough to get accepted with out the extra degree thanks to my Undergraduate grade!

3. What exactly does a sharkiologist do?

Whatever aspects of shark biology you are interested in! Some people are fascinated by a particular species of shark and want to research everything about that, others want to understand about certain topics eg: migratory behviour in sharks and so investigate that, time can be split between field work (out at sea), laboratory work and office work – analysisng data etc…

4. Do you use a lot of chemistry, math and physics in your job? If so, what do you use it for?

Sometimes, if i need to work out things like concentrations or write a computer program or analyse data then i do use them, but i must admit both maths and chemistry are not my strong points!! The truth is though, if you have a passion for sharks like i do that is the main focus and when you need to analyse a certain data set in a particular way and use statistics you investigate it at the time and you dont store it all in your memory (it would use up too much memory space in my opinion!) All i would say is make sure you have a general understanding in the above mentioned topics but biology/zoology is used the most.

5. How long did it take you to become a sharkiologist?

Well it depends if you include the PhD – as by then i was working full time with sharks anyway, but i was still studying technically so in that case 6 years (3 years undergraduate, 3 years PhD)

6. How long did it take you to get a job after you finished university?

I was very lucky (right place right time), i actually had a contract in place several months before i finished my PhD!

7. Is your job sometimes very stressful?

There can be pressure and it can be very different for example: meetings with funding bodies (hoping you will be given the money to continue research) to being at sea on a boat with a shark on the deck, and being against the clock to get the tag attached to the shark in the minimum amount of time, and with the least amount of stress to the shark!

However i wouldn’t really call it that stressfull, its so rewarding and if there are stressfull times they pass, the job outways the stress :o)

8. What does a sharkiologist do on a daily basis?

Again completely depends on what area you are working in, at the moment i spend time in the laboratory the office and in meetings and then set amounts of time at sea or in the aquarium with the sharks

9. Who/What inspired you to become a sharkiologist?

I have always loved the oceans, completely fascinated by them, when i was doing my undergraduate i got the opportunity to do a project on sharks, i looked at the blue shark and its current conservation threats, i was shocked it was an area that i hadnt even thought about – sharks being vulnerable, i then started looking at all different types of sharks and understanding that they are not your 1 dimensional jaws characters. Studying them has become my passion and has got me where i am today!


I hope my answers are useful, if you have any further questions don’t hesitate to contact me again :o)

I guess the only other thing i would say is that my route is not the only route to working with sharks, i also SCUBA dive and freedive and i’m getting into underwater photography, there are a lot of amazing underwater photographers / filmographers out there that get to work with sharks on a daily basis and so it depends what type of work you would like to do with sharks that will influence the path you take!

Good luck and thanks for getting in touch!


What is fieldwork like?


Field work is my favourite part! It depends on the nature of the project you are doing but can involve, underwater observation with diving or freediving – camera work etc.. You can be using conventional fishing techniques to capture sharks so you can tag – measure up/sex them/take a fin clip and then release them, you could be measuring environmental parameter’s such as water salinity, temperature etc..

I just love being outside and preferably in the water with the sharks for me its the most exciting part! You have to be prepared for all sorts such as the weather (not always on a flat calm sea with the sun shining!) and obviously safety aspects always have to be covered well.


Could you recommend some good shark books?


In terms of the shark books – there are many out there!!! Here are the links to some of the books which i have that i think are excellent, some are biology related and would be quite scientific (and tend to be the most expensive), others have the biology info but are told from the authors perspective, others are about specific species or have a conservation angle…..;=UTF8&qid;=1292336771&sr;=1-1;=UTF8&qid;=1292336839&sr;=1-11

Hope this helps!


1. What kind of math(s) do you use as a sharkiologist?


Totally depends on what you are studying, there are many usefull statistical tests that you learn in the process of doing your undergraduate degree, the support from the universities is usually very good and if you do a research project there are often lecturers on hand that you can go to and ask what you should do, you use statistics to prove a point for example if you obtain lots of data – say you had a tag on a shark and it spent 75% of its time in a water depth of 10-20m and the remainder of its time at 50m, you could use a statistical test to prove that it spends a statistically significant amount of time at 10-20m – v simple example but should help you see what i mean. You use maths as a tool mostly once you have collected data, although is also used to plan experiments.


2. After university where would you go to find a job?


You can sign up to forums for job alerts or you look at univesities, conservation organisations, dive operators, aquariums etc


3. I am very interested in taking a SCUBA diving course; do you know how long it would take to become a professional SCUBA diver?


It depends on what level you want to get to, to do your first qualification it will take a matter of weeks, if you want to become a dive master or instructor it will be a series of dive qualifications which you can do over the course of a few years, you can be a “scientific diver” after only a few courses however – my advice would be to do the standard course and just keep diving and enjoying it then the other qualifications will be a pleasure to do :o) check out for ideas of levels of diving…


4. Can you choose to study different kinds of sharks or do you have to specialize in only 1?


You can do whatever you want! You may find you are interested in a particular species or you may find that your interested in a particular environment that different species live in eg: deepwater sharks or coastal species…. or you may research a particular topic area over many species eg: migration patterns or diet….


5. While studying at university, is there a way you could study sharks at the same time?


I’d say self education or if your university is near an aquarium – hands on experience would be great esspecially for your CV, or perhaps helping out at a shark conservation place if there is one nearby….

Hi (Anon), Glad to hear you are interested in sharks, hopefully i can help you understand more about them, here are my answers to your questions!

What do shark biologists do?

Shark Biologists can have many different roles, some have a preferred species such as Great White Sharks and they are so fascinated by them that they research them as much as they can, they go out to sea and find out where the sharks live, where they swim to, where they give birth etc… They can take samples like a small fin clip (so small the shark doesnt even notice!) and then take that sample back in the laboratory and learn about the sharks genetic make-up, for instance they can look at it’s DNA and if a few samples have been taken from different sharks they can sometimes find out if they are brother’s and sister’s or mother’s etc!!!

Other shark biologists have certain topics they are fascinated with for example: shark migration patterns, sharks swim to different areas of the oceans at different times of the year (usually to do with breeding or feeding) so some shark biologists place special tags on different shark species and they can monitor and track where the sharks are in the oceans!

Usually as a shark biologist you split your time between being at sea and working in the laboratory and office.

What do sharks do?

Sharks have all sorts of different roles to play in the ocean and they are very important for keeping the oceans and everything living in them in balance, many sharks are “apex predators” like great white sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks, they feed on big animals such as seals and tuna’s they keep the ocean in balance because if they weren’t there all the things that they feed on would be without a natural predator, this means that they would breed and there would be so many that they would start eating up all of their food (prey) untill there wasn’t any left and so things would be all unbalanced!

Other sharks are also important to the oceans even if they are plankton eaters like the basking sharks!

Some sharks like to stay in certain areas for their entire lives and others go on huge migrations across the worlds oceans (a bit like if you came on holiday to visit Europe!)

Do you like sharks?

I love sharks!!

Do sharks do anything to you?

I have been lucky enough to SCUBA dive and snorkel with all sorts of sharks including Tiger sharks and Bull sharks. However i never saw them show any aggressive behaviour when i was in the water with them, when you are working with sharks it is important to be cautious but confident, it is good to understand as much as you can about the sharks but always remember they are wild animals. I have been in the water with whale sharks which are the biggest fish in the world and although they dont have teeth they are so big that if you accidently got a little too close to them and they caught you with their fin it would really hurt!

Is it fun to be a shark biologist?

Loads of fun! I love doing what i do, sharks fascinate me and i always want to learn more about them and help to make them safe in their environment, a lot of sharks are caught and killed these days and it is important to look after them, my job allows me to do this so i really feel like i am making a difference too!

I hope that was of some help to you and i hope that someday you will work with sharks too!


Hi (Anon),

Thanks for getting in touch, its always great to hear from young people with an interest in sharks!

I think the best advice i can give you is probably from my own experience, when i was about 15 i wanted to be a marine biologist but because i knew that to get on a course you most likely needed an A level (UK system – grades to get into University), in Biology, Chemistry and Maths. The biology was no problem but i just didnt enjoy Chemistry and Maths enough. So i thought that marine bio was not an option for me, as it was i got lucky as i took Biology Geography & Art (ended up just going for subjects i enjoyed) and when it came to picking a university i had by pure chance looked at the Plymouth University prospectus (England South Coast) and i found that they would accept Geography as a second science on the “Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology” course!


This is one of the first things to bare in mind – there are ways around subjects, you dont need to do straight marine biology, there are things like marine oceanography, marine ecology etc…. and with these courses they will give you a good background for marine biology and you can often tailor the courses to your needs – when i did mine i did more marine than coastal ecology modules for instance. I would also recommend that you look further afield than Canada (if there are not many marine bio courses), you may not feel ready now but you may do in a couple of years and if this means getting on a course that suits you then it will be worth it!

As for the PhD route – i never thought i would end up doing a PhD, not in a million years! After i finished my undergraduate degree i went travelling for a year. I thought about doing a masters but not a PhD, but after a while i started to think that if i could do a PhD on shark research then it would be worthwhile, i simply couldnt have done a PhD and worked that hard if i wasnt motivated in the subject!

However i dont think you need a PhD or even a Masters to work with sharks, i think depending on what you want to do you may not even need a degree in marine biology! I’ll break some career choices down for you and list things about them;

Academic research career (undergrad degree & post grad degree, then positions such as postdocs or lecturing)

Shark Diving (SCUBA qualifications, can tye in with research or conservation etc)

Shark photography (combine with SCUBA qualifications, conservation work eg: whale shark id studies, commercial images, documentary making)

Aquarium work (either climb the ladder within an aquarium – get the most basic job possible with high school education then progress within the industry, or get a marine biology degree or even an aquaculture degree and then go for shark exhibit jobs in aquariums)

Shark conservation (can be voluntary which turn into paid positions, from desk job work with basic school qualifications, or an active research role for big projects – marine biology type degree, or be bought in as an expert to advise – PhD in shark research)

The question to ask yourself is; why do Marine Biology? If you enjoy learning more or want to use it as a stepping stone then go for it!

Ultimately i would say do what you enjoy, because if you do something you are passionate about nothing else matters, that and believe you can do it! I grew up in the middle of England and went to a school that at the time didnt encourage anything resembling a coastal career, luckily that didnt put me off!

Hope this helps a bit (rather a long email sorry!!), let me know how you get on!



Hi (Anon),

Thanks for the email and of course i’ll answer your questions, no problem!

1. How did you become a “Sharkiologist?”

3. What Academic requirements do you need in order to enter this field?

I have placed these questions together because they are so closely linked, i essentially became a sharkiologist by the academic path i chose.

Now the UK system is a little different to the US but there will be an equivalent route thats pretty similar;

In high school i completed my GCSE’s (you take these when you are 16 if your grades are high enough you get to do A’Levels or AS levels as they are now known)

I did slightly unusual A’levels – Biology, Geography, Art and General Studies (the latter was compulsary) when i was 18, these grades allowed me to get into university to do my Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology undergraduate degree which i did at Plymouth University in the UK

I then took a year out travelling around the world but while i was away applied to do my PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Marine Biology – specialising in Shark Research

As i had obtained a good undergraduate degree (First class with honors) i was able to go straight into a PhD and didnt have to do a Masters of Science (MSc) degree first, which saved a bit of time hence i became a Dr in Marine Biology by the age of 25….

2. What inspired you into becoming a “Sharkiologist?”

I love marine biology but Sharks fascinate me, i want to know as much as i can about them, they are an integral part of the oceanic ecosystem and play a vital role, without them the marine food web would be in trouble and as a result so would the rest of the planet, with todays environmental factors such as pollution and overfishing sharks need as much protection as possible and the best way to do this is to have an informed understanding of the animals and their environment.

4. How much money do you earn?

This really depends on who you end up working for – in academia (university) this can depend on whether you have a permenant contract – you research your own work and do lecturing, wages start around £40,000 per year in the UK and you get about 35 days fully paid holiday if not more. If you become an independent researcher this depends on the size of the grant you are going for and your age as to how they calculate your wage…

If you work for an environmental company this tends to start at around £30,000 per year, or an aquarium, oil company etc would all be different wage catagories….

5. What is it like scuba diving with the sharks and marine life?

Brilliant, the best thing !! Getting the chance to explore places rarely seen by other people is too great to describe!! You never know what you may see, i was once on a “normal dive” in Palau and a great hammerhead cruised right by me!!

6. What is the best part about your job?

Getting to be as hands on as possible – aquarium work and field work eg: diving. Inspiring other people to get excited about sharks. To learn more myself and teach others, and of course helping protect sharks.

7. What was the most exciting moment in your career?

Its difficult to pick one! I have had countless experiences in the wild that are tough to beat – freediving with Tiger sharks was phenomenal, scuba diving with schooling reef sharks, thresher sharks, manta rays,and of course the hammerhead.

Also when your research suddenly gets picked up by the media and becomes popular you get some nice suprises – eg: when Discovery Channel called me to arrange a live show (i thought it was someone joking at first, i couldnt believe it! :o) !)

Good luck with your school report, i hope this helps and i hope you stick with it and who knows maybe i’ll see you shark diving someday!


Firstly it is really great to hear from you, i am always so glad to hear from the up and coming generation of shark lovers!!

To answer your first questions;

I had always been fascinated by the Oceans – spent a lot of time as a young child going rock-pooling on holiday and seeing what i could find (tended to be a bit cold in the UK haha!!), as i went through school i retained an interest in Biology, but was not that great at chemistry, physics or maths!! However i was lucky enough to find a University (we go when we are 18 years old) on the south coast of England – Plymouth who accepted my slightly unusual combination of A levels (we study these from 16-18 years old this allows us to get into university), which was Biology, Geography and Art (and the cumpulsory General Studies).

I completed my Undergraduate BSc Hons in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, i then took a year out to go travelling and diving etc… I then decided to do my PhD which is a post graduate degree in Marine Biology, specifically shark research.

You will have a different school system in New Jersey, but it will still be possible to find a way to persue shark biology esspecially when you are already thinking about what you want to do as a career!

The best advice i can give for now is to just keep informed of things going on with sharks, if there is a shark conservation group you can join then do that, if you fancy learning to dive and have the opportunity to do that then go for it, all these different things will add to your knowledge and help you along the way 🙂

Best of luck and thanks again,


p.s. what makes me love my job? Easy, getting in the water and seeing sharks in their natural environment absolutely blows me away i love it!!

Shark Orientated Questions



Hello Lauren!

My name is (Anon). I am a sophomore attending High School in California. I am currently working on a research paper for my English class. I have been researching for quite a while now on Galeophobia, since I have been overly fearful of sharks my entire life. I would be extatic if you could possibly send me your thoughts on my inquiries I have listed below:

Are sharks really creatures to fear?

There are many different species of sharks, some are small bottom dwelling animals which are about as threatening as a goldfish! Others are large coastal or open ocean dwelling predators with the classic shark shape, still very few of these species have ever been known to attack a human. I think unless you put yourself in a situation where you are threatening a shark (one which is large enough to attack and do some damage) then its is extremely unlikely a shark will attack and thus the trigger/need for fear is greatly reduced/non existant.

What exactly convinces a shark that something is its next meal? Are there certain characteristics in prey sharks search for?

Once again different species of shark have different diets, horn sharks feed on shellfish, blue sharks feed mostly on squid, great whites feed on large fish and seals, although some sharks are scavengers (esspecially deep dwelling bottom living sharks – they feed on whatever drops through the water column) most actively hunt their prey for example blue sharks show rhythmic deep dives and it has been found that they are diving to the correct depth for schools of squid, sharks will feed on an optimal food source – when great whites feed on seals it is so they can ingest all the blubber/fat, also sharks do not actually eat that much – sometimes they may gorge so they do not need to eat for a while but if they are eating regularly it will only be around 5% of their body weight which is a very small amount. Sharks rely on visual, olfactory, electrosensory cues to indicate a viable food source.

Exactly how dangerous are sharks?

This does depend on the shark, and how you perceive danger, for me a great white would only be dangerous if i was being reckless for example jumping into a well know seal hunting ground! Danger and fear reduce when knowledge increases, the more i know and understand about a sharks behaviour the “safer” i will be when in the water with them. Sharks are wild animals and will always have a certain degree of unpredictability and it is important to rememeber this (the same is true for all animals…)

How long have you been working with these creatures?

Hands on actively working with them for 6 years.

I’m in great need of a primary source, and you seem quite qualified to give me a legitimate answer as a professional. I would really appreciate it if you could reply as soon as possible.

Thank you so much!


Which is the most dangerous shark and why?


This is quite a difficult question to answer as i have not worked with every single species of shark. In my experience i have found bull sharks to be the most unpredictable but this does not necersarily mean they are dangerous.

If you are talking about sharks being dangerous in the number of attacks on humans sense, then this is quite subjective for example:

If a bather is bitten in near shore coastal waters then it is more often than not by a shark which regularly inhabits inshore coastal waters, but if you get a ship wreck in the middle of the ocean far from land and shark attacks occur on the ship-wrecked victims then these could be by sharks that spend the majority of their time in open ocean.


Dear Lauren:

I am hoping you can help me with some information. I spend most every summer weekend in Assateague Island, MD. There is a big surf fishing community there that fish mostly for sharks. I’ve seen a lot of sharks reeled in. Most are reeled in and kept in calf deep water while the angler removes the hook. Others drag the shark into angle deep water with the water still washing over the gills while removing the hook. Some anglers then turn the shark around by the belly and it swims away. However, I have seen some fisherman actually pick up the shark (some weighing 75 lbs. or better) and walking it over to the water and gently putting it in as it swims away. This brings me to my question. Are there any negative ramifications from picking up and carrying a shark of this size?


Good to hear from you and thanks for your question!

It all depends on the way the sharks are being picked up, without the support of the water there will be more pressure on the shark’s organs when lifted up, however if done in a careful way for example supporting the sharks body as equally as possible then this is unlikely to do serious damage. If on the other hand people are picking them up with 2 hands wrapped around the middle so the sharks internal organs are being squashed either side then this is not exactly great for the shark.

Ideally the less you handle sharks the better, their skin can often have a sort of protective mucous or membrane which acts as a barrier from bacteria and prevents infections, therefore the more you handle them the more you remove. However i am really glad to hear that the sharks are being released by the anglers this is great news!


Hi Lauren

A friend and myself were wondering whether sharks emit an odour that

would be detectable by humans . I cannot seem to find anything on this topic, all

internet searches seem to point to various sharks’ sense of smell as

opposed to what they smell like, so to speak. We have been told they

smell like sulphur but not sure how true this is…

Any help would be appreciated.


As sharks retain high urea concentrations (amongst other things to

counter-act the salinity of the seawater and to prevent them from losing

water through osmosis) quite often they can smell fairly strongly of




I’m a student, and would appreciate it if you could help me on a project. I have a physics project in which I’m comparing the speed of a shark to how aerodynamic it is and will be creating two model sharks, a shortfin mako, and a whale shark. To create these I need to know the dimensions of them, I have found the average lengths of them, but still need the widths. If you know their widths or know somebody else who might I’d greatly appreciate it.


Whale Shark dimensions:

An individual accidently caught and measured off South Africa in 1983 measured

12.18m in length its mouth measured 1.36m (can extend 2 or 3 times this when feeding!), this serves as a measurement for the head the widest part of the shark… however if you want to take the pectoral fins into consideration you are probably looking at a total width of at least 5.36m (pectoral fins being over 2m in length). This is of course based on this shark but is a good guideline – also the first dorsal fin on this specimen was 1.37m high – important when you consider the shortfin mako has just that “shortfin” and a much reduced dorsal fin!

Shortfin Mako dimensions:

Maximum length recorded 4.5m!!! More commonly around 2m in length, pectoral fins are around 21% length of the total body length so in a 2m shark the pectoral fins would be around 42cm, the mouth width varies from 0.9 to 1.5 that of the total length so say around 25cm of a 2m individual, however its mouth is not the widest part and you would need to estimate the additional widths i would say between 30-35cm widest part of the body for a 2m sharks and then + the pectoral fins!

Posted by Lauren Smith on


Just reported another Whale Shark sighting to ECOCEAN. This shark was first spotted in about 5m of water off the coast of an island, in the S.Ari Atoll chain in the Maldives. Here are the photo’s submitted for shark number #10820116269

This picture (above) is particularly useful for identification purposes, as you can see the 2nd dorsal fin has some damage to it, with the tip being alot flatter than it should be.
Posted by Lauren Smith on

Sponsored Swim 14th October 2010

When i was about 10 years old i used to play this game when i was in the swimming pool, you know those vents where the heated water comes out of around the sides of the pool? Well i used to imagine that Great White Sharks would break through these vents and chase me around the pool – very James Bond i suppose, but it definately helped me to win some races using that psychology!

Me with the Shark Week Poster
I was reflecting on this when i was 3 hours into my (hopefully) 8 hour swim yesterday and thinking that although my motives had changed, 17 years down the line i am still relating sharks to swimming pools.
This swim was born out of one of my usual enthusiastic and optimistic (not to mention outlandish) statements; that i would do an 8 hour swim to raise awarness for European Shark Week, whose main push for 2010 is to strengthen the finning ban, and to raise money for a local Scottish shark charity to go towards tagging studies (Scottish Shark Tagging Program), and so after 3 weeks of not particularly serious training squeezed around work i jumped in!
I have to say i found the mental side of things more of a challenge than the physical – yes after 3 hours i was cold and yes after 6 hours i thought my arms were going to pop out of my shoulder sockets but that can be pushed through a lot easier than the “oh wow i’ve still got 6 hours to go…” or the “half an hour must have gone by… what? only 10 minutes?! that clock can’t be right?!!” , of course i had initially said i would aim for 8 hours but my collapse before. However for those of you who know me should know by now that it would be 8 hours or nothing! I did it, i swam for 8 hours, i covered 12 miles and i burnt over 4000 calories. Its true i enjoyed the physical challenge as much as i enjoyed raising awareness and collecting money for the European Shark Week and the SSTP!
I think i have raised close to £400 although will post an update to this once everything has been collected and totalled up! I will also post up my training and nutrition schedule for those of you who are interested…

Fuel and European Shark Week Badges on my “wave mat” at home!

I hope i have made a small bit of difference by doing the swim, on Wednesday night i watched SharkWater for the umpteenth time to fuel my mind and make me go for it on the swim even more so, shark finning is a horrendous practice and utterly wasteful, sharks are caught, hauled up on board the fishing vessels their fins are sliced off and then their bodies are thrown back overboard leaving the shark to either drown or bleed to death, its a huge problem to overcome on so many different levels from the people who go out and actually fin the sharks, to the consumers of the (chicken/pork flavoured) “shark fin” soup, to the shark finning mafia driving the finning operations. But basic laws are in place, these need to be strengthened, tightened and policed to close loop holes and rid this practice in its entirety.
Its a large undertaking but it’s no good just reflecting on how awfull a situation is, stand up, take action, be heard and change things for the better!
Well thats my opinion anyway……
Posted by Lauren Smith on

A Major Lesson from Palau June 2010

A major lesson from Palau

Palau is unlike many other countries in that it actually recognizes what it has i.e.: world class dive sites and instead of ruining and exploiting such a resource it embraces it and protects it.

I was particularly interested in how they were putting into practice their shark sanctuary policy (as unveiled to the world in September 2009) which banned the landing of sharks or shark fins by local or international vessels in Palauan waters. How is it policed? Does it work?

It is likely that to make such a bold statement as to declare your national waters a shark sanctuary you would have to be sure it would work, and of course it does.

Although in truth I believe if it was going to work anywhere it would be here due to a number of reasons; there was no existing international trade of shark meat or shark products, local fishermen avoid catching shark as they cannot sell it and Palauan’s do not eat it themselves.

Most of the islands are considered National Parks and so permits are required for visitors which are inspected by park rangers and finally the dive companies are savvy when it comes to issuing visitors with permits (it reflects badly on the company if their customers are not in possession of a valid permit and has consequences to boot) as well as their almost daily presence within their waters which must act as a strong deterrent to any international fishing vessels.

The ocean itself is also fundamental to the story of the creation of Palau (the country being born from a giant clam) as well as ocean practices such as fishing being featured in numerous folklore; being used to teach several morals and values.

For a country which only claimed independence in 1994 (having been owned/occupied by Spain, Germany, Japan and the United States). Palau stands in its own right as an example I wish we all could follow as a haven for sharks and other reef life. I must leave now, however I am keen to return especially during March time which is the Grey Reef Shark breeding season, which see’s specific dive sites teem with hundreds of shark’s (imagine that – perfection!).

So as I return to Manila for a final time, I can reflect on what an amazing time I have had both in the Philippines and Palau.

I would like to express my gratitude to Donsol Eco-Tour who enabled me to have some truly amazing encounters with Whale sharks which I will never forget, The TSRCP which gave me Thresher Sharks and so much more besides, Fish N’ Fins a super-duper dive experience in Palau and of course the guys at SSACN and SSTP who without which my computer illiterate self would never have been able to make this blog possible!

Finally thanks to all who kept up to date with this blog, I hope you found it informative and entertaining and I hope that in the future there will be plenty more like it!

Am I ready to go home for a while? Am I heck … bring on the next adventure!

Cheers to that!

Posted by Lauren Smith on

Round and About Palau June 2010

Round and about Palau

Once we had done the majority of our dives we decided to rent a car for a couple of days and investigate some of the main land based attractions that Palau has on offer.
First on the list was the stone monolith’s on the Northern tip of Babeldaob (big island) in Ngarchelong. These huge stone pillars of volcanic rock have been dated to c.1000 BC, but no-one is sure of how they got there. They sort of look like supports for a large structure (maybe a large Bai – a men’s meeting house), as some are lined up with the tops carved out as though to support something resting on top.

However I prefer the explanation provided by the guy looking after the site – : “The stones were made from creatures that are half human and half spirit that only work at night, one time one of these creatures was outcast from the group and so in an act of revenge carved a coconut into the shape of a cockerel, this turned into a real cockerel and was made to crow during the night whilst the half human and half spirit creatures were working, this made the sun rise and when dawn broke early all the creatures turned to stone! ”

The stone monolith’s in Ngarchelong.

We learnt that there were other stone monoliths around Palau and some of these had faces carved into them, one of these was in Melekeok which was next on our list of places to visit, so off we headed back South down the east coast road.

The first thing that strikes you about Melekeok is the huge Capitol Building, it is unlike anything else in Palau and was built when Melekeok was confirmed as the capital of Palau. Some people think the building is too much, I thought it was ok, as to whether it has been worth the reported $44 million spent on its creation, is another matter. As we continued down into the village we found the stone monolith with a face carved into it, which now acts as a rather grand addition to the edge of someone’s driveway!

The Capitol.

While in Melekeok we ate at one (situated to the right of the road which turns into the village – oh yes there are no road names in Palau!) of the two café’s available in the Palauan capital (we couldn’t find the second!). Where-upon we began chatting to a couple of guys in there about Captain Wilson – who was the first foreigner to ‘land’ in Palau, he was a British captain who ran aground near Ulong Channel in 1783, he rebuilt his ship in 3 months with the help of Koror’s High Chief Ibedul. As a mark of thanks Captain Wilson offered to take his son Prince Lebuu back to England for schooling, sadly a few months after his arrival he died of smallpox, his grave can still be found today and I am told a street was named after him, I must remember to have a look when I’m next in London.

The stone face of Melekeok.

We then headed back to Koror and to the Etpison museum which houses a fantastic collection of old photographs and maps of Palau, alongside money discs made from giant clams and money beads from around Oceania. That evening we ate at the ‘Suriyothai at Kaldos’ which provided me with the best Thai Red Curry I have ever tasted (I asked for extra hot) and a tankard of ‘Red Rooster – local beer’ which was as big as my head!

The following day we headed up the Western side of Babeldaob to Ngardmau falls, Palau’s largest waterfall. Here you hike downhill through the jungle and across a river, at one point following an old railway line dating from the Japanese occupation during the 1940’s, until you get to the falls, this takes around 25 minutes. Once at the falls you can go and stand underneath and get (painfully) pounded by the rapidly falling water, this provided a perfect way to cool down as well as a needlelike exfoliation for the skin!

Ngardmau falls – Ouch!

We then headed off in search of ‘Malsol’s tomb’ despite a good deal of searching in 40°C heat and taking our hire car to the max along the crazy tracks, we never did find the tomb… if anyone does please set my mind at ease and let me know where it is!?

Posted by Lauren Smith on

End of the Rainbow June 2010

End of the Rainbow

It would be fair to say I was in love with Palau before I had even left the Philippines, this had been born from various conversations I had had with diver’s around Malapascua Island who had previously been to Palau. As soon as you mention Palau you are greeted with a beaming smile and a glint in the eye, the sort of reaction anyone might give when they are remembering a place which not only met but exceeded their expectations and allowed them to fully indulge in their passion.

By the time I boarded the flight in Manila I was bordering on anxiety, had I put Palau up on an airy pedestal that just couldn’t be reached? During the flight I was put at ease somewhat when the immigration and customs declaration card was headed with the slogan “Welcome to Palau the end of the rainbow”, I mean as long as the pot of gold translated to bucket loads of sharks I would be happy! On arrival in Palau I was further reassured when the customs declaration guy waved me on telling me that I had come to the right place after reading that I was a Marine Biologist, and when I stepped outside of the airport there was an underwater mural complete with reef sharks adorning the walls of the airport.

But the point is I needn’t have worried, Palau is an incredible place; the people are so warm, friendly and helpful, the land is lush and the Sea’s, Oceans and Lagoons vary from turquoise to emerald green in colour and literally teem with life. For this reason alone the diving is sensational, but add to this the abundance of underground caves, channels, walls and wrecks and you have yourself a diving location which is phenomenal.

Big Drop Off


Gordon and I dived with Fish N’ Fins who I would recommend to anyone diving in Palau, during our stay we did 12 dives at the following sites; Big-Drop-Off (Ngemelis wall), Siaes Tunnel, Ulong Channel, Virgin Blue Hole, New-Drop-Off, Blue Holes, German Channel, Helmet Wreck, Chandelier Cave and of course the infamous Blue Corner (this we did 3 times). All dives were amazing and I could dive them all again for the rest of my life quite happily, but really we just scratched the surface as there are so many dive sites that you would need ideally a year or more to get a true feel for the diving available here.

Chandelier Cave system

The rumours are true !! – If you don’t want to see a shark while you dive here then you will have to dive with your eyes shut! My wishes came true with an abundance of grey reef sharks, white-tip reef sharks and black-tip reef sharks, however the pièce-de-résistance was a single mind blowing encounter at German Channel; best known for its Manta rays which come into the cleaning stations in the channel, shortly after decent we saw a manta ray cruise by and then we went to explore other areas of the site. I was about to turn away from one area when I felt an urgent prod from Gordon as I turned I could not believe my eyes – a lone female Great Hammerhead around 3m in length was passing by! Only 3 of us in the group saw her and I felt the need to confirm what I had seen continuously by making the hammer shape with my arms and head – I honestly thought at first that I was “Narked” or that I had finally succumbed to some sort of fantasy shark hallucinations! I later found out we were very lucky to see such a sight with large sharks such as the hammerheads or tiger sharks only seen about once every 6 months, so I thank my lucky shark stars!!!

Grey Reef sharks off Blue Corner

Whitetip reef sharks

Big fish freeway at Blue Corner

Posted by Lauren Smith on

A Wedding 29th May 2010

A Wedding

LOL – Lauren on Location – Calanggaman Island diving, a wedding, and the final dive at Monad Shoal.

On the 29th of May Gordon and I headed across to Calanggaman Island, a few hours South from Malapascua on a fun dive with Divelink. The first dive was an incredible wall dive, with huge soft corals and sponges, caves which pocket the wall and lots of reef fish as well as invertebrates to keep everyone happy.

Calanggaman Island

During the surface interval we pulled alongside the impressive sandspit at Calanggaman Island which gets exposed at low tide, and joined a wedding reception! Perhaps not the usual surface interval – but I wish it was! Nick & Flor Martorano were the perfect hosts and didn’t mind one bit that a bunch of diver’s some in wetsuits some in bikini’s had effectively crashed their wedding! To be fair it wasn’t as random as it sounds, Nick is good friends with Gary Cases (owner of Divelink) who was the best man and Nick & Flor had spent several days on Malapascua in the run up to the wedding where we were all introduced. By happy coincidence they live in Palau (where I am headed on the 9th of June) where Nick works as a dive instructor and underwater photographer/videographer (see so hopefully we can catch up there.

The Bride and myself (probably the strangest wedding outfit I will ever wear!)

Following great food and a cheeky beer we completed a second dive (which the newly wedded couple joined us on) and then headed back to Malapascua, we had barely left Calanggaman when we were fortunate enough to see a whale (which is believed to be a sperm whale) at the surface then diving down raising its tail fluke in the air! Incredible!

A Sperm Whale

This week was my last diving Monad Shoal, and I was treated to a fantastic final display of Thresher sharks, Manta Rays, banded Sea Craite (Sea Snake) and spotted dolphins. Also a particular highlight for me was a Grey reef shark which came on to the cleaning station when I was conducting a fish census, I wouldn’t perhaps get so excited over a grey reef shark under normal circumstances, but although the grey reefs have been captured on an unmanned video camera no-one has seen them in person at Monad Shoal, so I was delighted with that unique sighting!

Well ‘Tempus fugit’ as they say… I can hardly believe that this weekend marks my last few days on Malapascua Island working for the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project, I will be going to Palau shortly and will continue the blog from there, from what I have learnt so far I cannot wait to dive there and hope for some more amazing experiences!

I would just like to thank everyone – staff and volunteers of the TSRCP for my time here which has been incredible, but of course the real star’s of the show, that have literally taken my breath away are all the inhabitants of Monad Shoal, with special mention to the Thresher Sharks and Manta Rays!

Can I pick a favourite? Staying true to form I would have to pick the Thresher Sharks…..