Q & A with Lauren


Posted on August 11th, by Lauren Smith in Blog Post, Uncategorized. Comments Off on Q & A with Lauren

Q & A with Lauren

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 l.smith@sharkiologist.com 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

Q

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.

A.

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!

Q.

What is fieldwork like?

A.

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.

Q.

Could you recommend some good shark books?

A.

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…..

http://www.amazon.com/Shark-Trouble-Peter-Benchley/dp/0375508244

http://www.amazon.com/Biology-Sharks-Their-Relatives-Marine/dp/084931514X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s;=books&qid;=1292336698&sr;=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Shark-Chronicles-Scientist-Consummate-Predator/dp/B000C4SFD8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie;=UTF8&qid;=1292336771&sr;=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Sharks-Biologist-Mysteries/dp/1416578331/ref=pd_sim_b_1

http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Sharks-ENCY-SHARKS-REV/dp/B001TLM1HO/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie;=UTF8&qid;=1292336839&sr;=1-11

Hope this helps!

Q.

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

A.

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.

Q.

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

A.

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

Q.

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?

A.

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 padi.com for ideas of levels of diving…

Q.

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

A.

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….

Q.

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

A.

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!

Q.

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!

 

Q.

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!

Q&A.;

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,

Lauren.

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

 

Q.

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!

Q.

Which is the most dangerous shark and why?

A.

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.

Q.

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?

A.

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!

Q.

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.

A.

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

ammonia…

Q.

Hello,

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.

A.

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!





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