Friday, December 20, 2013

Kids Against the Shark Cull

Mr. Grabowski’s Grade 6 Class was my first visit as part of Skype Classroom’s month of Exploring Oceans.  As a diver himself, Mr. Grabowski has a passion for the ocean that he is sharing with his students.  We talked about my work as a shark diver and underwater videographer, but I also emphasized the importance of sharks in our ocean ecosystems.  The students had some great ideas when I asked them what they thought they could do to help sharks. Despite being landlocked, it is critical for them to know they have a voice and they can make a difference. No matter the topic of the lesson or talk, my goal is to inspire students and offer them tools to feel empowered. We are all connected and we have a very important job to help this planet.

Mr. Grabowski has brought numerous scientists, conservationists and ocean adventurers into his classroom through the month of Exploring Oceans, creating a classroom of global citizens.  When the recent news about the proposed shark cull in Western Australia went viral, his students decided to speak up and their voices have definitely been heard. I noticed "Her Deepness" Dr. Sylvia Earle even responded to their letter on Twitter!

The class drafted a letter to Premier Colin Barnett and they actually received a perfectly nondescript response in return. They did not get discouraged discouraged though, writing another very well informed and passionate response. They did not go off topic, ranting about finning or some other peripheral shark issues, often the kiss of death when drafting letters to government officials.  For example: NOAA-NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) proposed to open the 2014 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season throughout their Atlantic coastal range, beginning January 1, 2014 instead of the previous July 1 opening date. Lemon sharks aggregate off the coast of Jupiter, Florida and are a highly vulnerable, regionally specific shark population. They are protected in state waters, but not Federal waters, making them even more susceptible to overfishing during this critical aggregation time ranging from January to April.  During the open comment period, I saw several aggressive comments against shark finning. Yes, shark finning is terrible, but this was not the issue at hand.

Mr. Grabowski’s students are setting a strong example for not only for other students, but also for the general public and other conservationists. You can speak from the heart, but you also need to stay on topic and fact check.

“Human life is very important and when lives are lost through shark attacks it is very unfortunate. However, sharks have been in our oceans for 400 million years, we can’t fault them for that. How do you ‘mitigate’ animals in their own environment? Where are they supposed to go? How do you tell a shark that tourism dollars are more important and we’ll worry about environmental and biodiversity implications later? “

I look forward to continuing my collaboration with Mr. Grabowski and his incredible students. Thank you again for inviting me into your classroom.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exploring Shark Filled Oceans: Week 3

As I sit here and write this I am completely overwhelmed with the amazing week that has just passed. I did fifteen Skype Classroom visits from Northern France to California with students ranging in age from f1st grade to 7th. One teacher actually asked me to do a video message about why I do Skype visits. There are a lot of reasons why I love doing these visits, but I wanted to give her a concise answer. I have been visiting classrooms for about ten years, but physical visits are limited by time and location. Skype Classroom allows me to speak with students in France at 8:00 EST and then a school in Georgia at 9:00 EST and a school in California at 11:00 EST.

The current plight of sharks is devastating, but I honestly believe children offer hope not only for sharks, but also for our oceans and the planet. No matter where children live they need to understand that we are connected and their actions can make a difference around the world. I want them to feel empowered and able to speak up on behalf of the voiceless and I can only hope these talks inspire them to do so. Via Skype I was able to share my love of sharks and why they are so important with over 300 students this week alone. I was able to give them facts and tools to help spread the word for sharks!
I began the week with Mrs. Garland’s students in Boston, Massachusetts. This is by far one of the most incredible visits I have ever done. They had great questions and knew a lot about sharks already. Below is the note she sent me after the visit, which made me tear up. This is why I love my job. Connecting with people all around the world and sharing my passion with them.

“Thank you so much for Skyping with our class today. Not all students were visible to you (several chose to sit outside the viewing box). They have been waiting for this opportunity for weeks. These students have emotional and social needs that often get in the way of their abilities to function with a traditional class, but you touched them - I have NEVER seen them sit for such an extended period of time. Many thanks!”

I also visited with two great groups of 3rd and 1st graders. The 1st graders in Illinois had a lot of questions and were really excited to know that things they were already doing (recycling) could help sharks.

The following day I started off in Georgia with some super excited 1st and 2nd graders followed by a group of 2nd graders in California that were actually a little nervous about sharks. We talked a lot about how sharks are not monsters or man-eaters, but are actually in a lot of trouble and need our help. I could see the change as students looked at pictures and thought the sharks were cute.  It is amazing how just a short amount of time can change perceptions. It also shows how critical it is to educate children at a young age, so they do not carry those incorrect stereotypes into adulthood.

I finished off the day with Mrs. Thiessen’s students in Surrey, British Columbia and wow, they JAWSOME. They had a microphone and ipads going! It was such a fun visit! Absolutely blown away by the technology being used in the classroom. It has really changed education and opened up the world. Check out their Video Blog Here! 

FINS UP For Sharks: Group Photo 

The following day was another busy one with four visits to schools in Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska. I love visiting such a dynamic range of ages and locations in a single day because it really highlights the importance of ocean education for everyone. Just because students cannot be near the ocean does not mean they should not care. The fifth graders in Texas were really keen to help sharks and seem pleasantly surprised that some of the things they were already doing were in fact helping sharks and our oceans. 

Some feedback from that day :

From Mr. Horst in Nebraska on twitter:  This group of 80 students knew a lot about sharks even though they do not live near the ocean! 

“Want keep kids riveted for 45 minutes?  Have @SharkyJillian skype your school!  "

From Mrs. Pender:

“Thank you so much! My kiddos have done nothing but talked about this morning. They are so excited. In fact, they are even taking about how you said your husband dives, so now they want to Skype with him! Lol thank you so much! “   I think Duncan might have to make an appearance on the other side of the camera!

My final day start all the way in Northern France with Mrs. Silvert’s 7th grade students. The students asked about La Reunion, a location recently made infamous by several shark attacks. I was impressed that they were concerned and wanted more information about the situation. We spoke a long time about efforts being made to protect beach goers and the sharks in the area. I was also thoroughly impressed with their English. My French is not even worth mentioning, save the content of this sentence.  Friday also took me to a group of very enthralled first graders in Canada followed up with some extremely well informed 4th graders. They had each picked a shark to learn about and had some of the best questions a class has asked me.

This entire month of Exploring Oceans with Skype Classroom has been nothing short of remarkable. The smiles, laughs and excitement that each visit brings are priceless. I know these kids will make a difference. They will speak up and fight to save sharks. I know this in the way they listen, the questions they ask and follow up feedback I get from teachers and parents. I love the synchronized “WHOA,” I get when I show them an image of me filming a great hammerhead and the, “awww, it’s so cute,” reaction from an image of a baby nurse shark. They also seem to really understand the fact that sharks are in trouble and life for a shark can be pretty tough. I feel blessed and truly treasure these moments.

I even got a note from the principle this week! Luckily it was a good one! Thank you Mr. Schuyler for taking the time to send such a kind note.

“I want to thank Jillian for the great experience she provided our grade 1 students and teachers at Briardale School this morning.  They were very impressed and excited about the lesson.  The kids and teachers learned a lot!”

Thank you to Mrs. Brokaw, Mrs. Lachel, Mrs. Garland, Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Thiessen, Mr. Hernandez, Mrs. Mendoza, Mrs. Pender, Mr. Horst, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Rios, Mme. Silvert, Mr. Hyman and Mme. Moccio for inviting me into your class and for sharing sharks with your students! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sharks in Ireland: A JAWSOME Visit with Mr. Russell's Grade 4 Boys

 Due to filming commitments and travel, my Skype Classroom schedule this week was limited to 3 visits, but wow what a week.  I started off visiting with Mr. Russell’s grade 4 boys all the way in Ireland. The whole concept is so remarkable and breathes a new sense of energy and hope into the conservation and shark education movement.  

Mr. Russell’s class was JAWESOME! They were really enthusiastic and had some great questions including, “if baby birds get food from the mom, do shark babies also get food from their moms?” This seems very logical, but no, sharks do not get any maternal care. The world is tough for a baby shark. Most people think of sharks as these mighty predators ruling the ocean, but in reality life is pretty tough for sharks. When lemon sharks are born they are on their own immediately. 

In Bimini, they must seek refuge in the mangroves for the first three to four years of their lives. Very few of the pups born each spring make it to see their first birthday.  Barracudas and other sharks, including larger lemon sharks, will happily make a meal out of a neonate or juvenile lemon shark. 

Other questions included who would win in a shark vs. piranha battle and shark vs. a moray eel battle. These cracked me up because boys will be boys.  I did my best to answer in a fun and logical way and the kids exchanged high fives.  The students took turns asking questions and also sharing shark facts they already knew. I get really excited when students already know some interesting and important information about sharks.  The lesson flew by and I look forward to connecting with the students again on a shark project they will work on in the spring.  
A student asking a question via Skype

After the lesson Mr. Russell hit Twitter and some wonderful things to say.
“We learned about underwater filming, looking after our oceans and all about different types of sharks. It was SO good we're calling it epic! “

He also emailed me this note a couple of days later.
 It was the highlight of the school year for our class. The boys were so excited coming in to school today having been looking forward to this lesson for weeks - and it didn't disappoint! You could have heard a pin drop in our room for 46 minutes today as Jillian us about underwater photography and filming, about the different kinds of sharks, how we can all help to save these magnificent creatures, care for the oceans and our planet, before then taking some (a lot in fact!) of questions about her work with sharks, the sharks themselves and much more.

You've such a wonderful way with the kids, it really comes across that you're so into your work and really got the best from the class - they were hooked on every word and so enthusiastic to get involved and ask questions - as I'm sure you noticed with the sheer volume of them!

I feel that if things don't go well people are very quick to send emails/make phone calls and highlight it. Today, I felt that I had to let you know about what a positive experience we had in our class.

Thanks for making it a memorable Monday in our 4th Class!

I'm working on the photos at the moment. I'll let you know later when I have them all done.

Best Wishes,

I was absolutely floored with his kind words. I by no means do this for recognition, but it makes my heart so happy and hopeful when I know that I am really connecting with kids.
You can check out more images on Mr. Russell’s website and hear a podcast from his students HERE.

Thank you so much Mr. Russell. You are offering students and incredibly opportunity and encouraging them to be global citizens. I look forward to collaborating in the future. 

I also visited with Mrs. Crahen's second graders in New York and Mrs. Whyte's first graders in Canada. Both classes had great questions including, 
"What is my favorite shark?"
"What is the biggest shark?"
"How old was I when I saw my first shark?"
"When did I first go diving with sharks?"
"Why do I like sharks so much?"
I absolutely love answering the questions and hope the experience makes an impact. It is so critical to get students at this age excited about sharks and our oceans and really push the fact that they can make a difference. Hopefully there are a few more shark advocates out there in the world going home and telling their parents they want to swim with sharks!
 Thanks to Mrs. Whyte and Mrs. Crahen for encouraging your students to care about sharks and our oceans! Keep up the amazing work. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Month of Exploring Oceans: Week 1 Skype Classroom Visits

Inspired by Fabien Cousteau's record-breaking Mission 31 expedition, Skype Classroom is celebrating our oceans during the entire month of November. I am really excited to be participating in the Exploring Oceans program and kicked off the event with 9 classroom visits last week. This provides such an incredible experience for students around the world, whether they live near the coast or are completely landlocked. No matter where or what, we all need to know about our oceans and this is a great way to connect the world.

I started off visiting a third grade class in Texas, who were also Skyping with a class in South Africa. The technology is remarkable and really opens new doors for educators on a global scale. My next visit was with 5th graders in Connecticut followed up by 4th graders in New Hampshire. This class was a lot of fun because I was familiar with the area, being that my parents live about 90 minutes away.

A student asking my a question via Skype 

Lots of great sharky questions!

I started my next day of visits in North Carolina with a group of special needs students ranging in age from 16 to 22. I am really honored that I was asked to speak to such an incredible group and this was by far, one of my favorite lessons. Thanks Ms. Katie for reaching out! I always tell teachers they can email me additional questions if we run out of time or students think of new ones. Ms. Katie’s class asked if sharks speak English? I answered that I assume sharks speak, “shark,” whatever language they may be. We know they communicate, but there is not yet a full understanding of how this is done.

I then spoke with a group of 3rd graders from Indiana before heading back to North Carolina to finish of the day with another group of 3rd graders. My final day of visits included classes in North Carolina, Canada and Oklahoma. Blows my mind to think about my travels and how many more students I am able to reach through the Skype Classroom program. There is no way I could fly around and do all these visits in person, but through the computer we are connecting the world and creating an army of global citizens.

Speaking to Mrs. Davie's Students in Oklahoma

Hammerheads were pretty popular during the week with questions about their eyes, vision and head shape. Talking about hammerheads is always fun for me because great hammerheads are my favorite animal on the planet. I always get excited when students ask about them or want to see more images or videos. I try to include time for as many questions as possible because I think the interaction is the most important part of the lesson. I have a message about sharks I want to spread, but I also want to make sure students are feeling as though they are being heard and hopefully by answering their questions I am doing this.

Each visit is different and tailored to the age of the students and to their questions. Some classes just want to know more about sharks, while others want to know more about what I actually do. I love the diversity, as it keeps it excited and keeps me on my toes. Looking forward to nearly 30 visits during November, so stay tuned.

Thanks to Ms. Musa, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Ferguson, Mrs. Benevides, Ms. Katie, Ms. Jackson, Mrs. Weaver, Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Davies for such a JAWSOME week and for encouraging your classes to care about sharks and our oceans.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ending October with a Very Sharky Week

Another amazing week of Skype Classroom Visits has come and gone and I am still reveling in the unique, yet always inspirational experience of each visit. The Internet gods have been smiling on our little island and the connection has held for each visit. Writing that statement, though, will surely doom me for a Murphy’s Law moment of Internet failure in the near future. Fingers crossed for continued smooth sailing.

I kicked off the week speaking to 4th graders in Michigan followed by Kindergarteners in Wisconsin. I think Kindergarten and first grade might be my favorite age group to speak with. They have so much energy and excitement about the world around them and it is contagious. The way a child’s mind works at age 5, 6 or 7 is fascinating and I am always amazed at the statements and questions I get. Often times they are random, but I can usually find the logic that might have lead them to a certain conclusion and the journey is always a lot of fun.

Mrs. Harmann’s Kindergarten class wrote in their Skype journals after my visit and here are some of the JAWSOME things they had to say.

Sharks do not have bones-Jacob
Sharks lay eggs called a Mermaid’s purse –Cate
We should not be afraid of sharks –Adam
Sharks can smell their food before they see it –Bennett

This is continuously a learning process for me as well. The world is always changing and the interests often vary from class to class. I am constantly adding new elements and adjusting information to suit the needs of each classroom. They way kids interpret the information is also fascinating. What do they fixate on? What do they remember? What do they think is awesome? My lesson is about being a shark diver and underwater videographer, but is heavy on shark conservation as well. This is a lot of information and the direction each conversation goes depends entirely on questions the students have. I also ask the students a lot of questions because I want to know their ideas and thoughts about sharks. This is critical in providing information to them about sharks and shark conservation, while also making it fun. It is not about driving home the cruel reality of shark finning, it is about providing them with cool facts about sharks, debunking the man-eater myth and instilling the idea that they can make a difference. I want to encourage them to speak up and not be afraid to ask questions. They have a voice and it is important for them to gain confidence in using it.

I still get the, “have you ever been bitten by a shark question,” but not as frequently and I also get different versions including, “do I know someone who has been bitten,” and “has a shark ever tried to attack me when I am diving?” I (touch wood) have never been bitten, but I do know people who have and in each case it was the person’s fault. I am not going to say shark attacks do not happen, but I will always reiterate that we are NOT on the menu for sharks.

This week I was also asked by a few students whether I touch the animals I am filming, like sharks or dolphins. My answer is no. I ask them if they would want some stranger coming up to them and grabbing their shirt? No way, so why would an animal want someone to grab onto it? I talk about respect for wild animals and how important it is. I can see them processing the thought of a person grabbing their shirtsleeve and it not being okay and I know they understand this analogy in relation to wild animals. I do not grab sharks. I do not ride sharks or other wildlife. I don’t see the point and it is not something I support. Yes, sometimes we do swim sharks if they are not doing well and we need to get oxygen into their system, but it is not a joyride. “Sharks are NOT underwater scooters,” as a dear and respected friend in the industry, says.

After an awesome time in Wisconsin I spent 4 visits in North Carolina with Ms. Smith’s third and fifth graders. I finished up the week in New England speaking to fifth graders in Rhode Island. Always good to go home!
A lot of the students this week were very interested in goblin and cookie cutter sharks. I love when students ask about a more diverse range of species. Tigers, great whites and whale sharks are consistent, but goblin shark is rarely mentioned, but definitely deserves the attention for being such a cool animal. I think my favorite reactions came from discussions about tiger sharks being able to invert their stomachs and the fact that bull sharks pee more frequently in fresh and brackish water than they do in the ocean. The “ughhhh,” that is so gross, but so awesome reaction is one of the most fun parts of my classroom visits.

It has been another rewarding week and something I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do. Skype Classroom is celebrating Ocean Exploration during the month of November and I am honored to be a part of it. I have nine visits next week and I cannot wait to recruit more shark advocates around the world!

Thank you to Ms. Smith, Mrs. Naasko, Mrs. Harmann and Mrs. VanRossum for encouraging your students to care about sharks and our oceans.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

School is Back in Session: Skype Classroom Visits

I love spending time in the classroom speaking with kids about sharks, but work over the past few months has really limited my ability to do so. My audience is slightly limited because I live on a tiny island, but Skype Classroom has really changed the way the world learns and has opened a lot more doors for me. (Classroom doors that is) I remember having guest speakers as a child growing up in Maine, but it didn’t happen very often and they were always local. I am blown away at the ability to broaden horizons and expand a child’s sense of the world, through a small window on the computer.

I have done classroom sessions before via Skype, as well as interviews for various shark projects, but last week I did my first visit organized through the Skype Classroom program. I was nervous and excited as I waited to connect with Mr. Grabowski’s 6th grade class, located in Guelph, Ontario.

I spent forty minutes speaking about sharks, shark diving and underwater video. The kids had really great questions about why sharks are important and what they can do to help. The time flew by and I closed the connection feeling a renewed sense of inspiration. The world of shark conservation is full of ups and downs and these classroom visits are the peaks that renew my resolve and challenge me to do more.

I did two more visits this week, one with second graders from Connecticut and one with an 8-year-old home school student in Michigan. I wanted to do a few to start and see how the logistics would be before I dove in completely. I think the experience is amazing and I have seven visits booked next week. It really opens the doors for students who do not have access to the ocean or maybe have never even seen the ocean. We all need the ocean and every child needs to know how important our oceans are and how important sharks are. It is also essential that every child realize he or she has a voice and that they can make a difference. Think global, but act local. We need to create the next generation of global citizens by initiating a conversation about things every person can do each day or each week to make a change.

I highly recommend this program to teachers and parents alike. You can bring the world to your classroom or to your children and make connections that cannot be found in any textbook.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shark Products: Beware and Be Warned

There is a disproportionate percentage of the population that seems unaware of the shark killing, consumption and demand lurking in their own backyard. Yes, the demand for shark fin soup is pushing many species to the edge, but this is not the only issue and it is not something happening only in Asian countries. Rainforest destruction, coral reefs dying, global warming and pollution; it can all seem overwhelming and the easy stance is, “ well it’s not happening where I live, so what can I even do.” When it comes to shark conservation I guarantee there is a lot you can do and yes, it is happening where you live!

You do not need to be an expert, scientist of even a diver to make a difference; we can all do something. You might be sitting in Colorado right now thinking, no way, there is nothing happening in my backyard that is impacting our oceans. Wrong! Have you checked out any natural or Asian grocery stores? Been to Target or a local fish market? Many different marine animals are used in ancient medicine including ground up shark cartilage, but you can also find it in pill form at modern stores like GNC and Target. See where I am going? This isn’t just happening in a far away land, it is happening everywhere.

I wrote a blog a few years ago about tourist shops in South Florida and their propensity for selling shark jaws and sharks in jars. Yep, apparently nothing says, “I went to the Sunshine State,” like a shark fetus in a jar. Duncan and I walked into at least five stores in South Beach and each one was the same, hawking the same dried animal parts. Lemon shark jaws put me over the edge because the state of Florida had recently established a law protecting them. I asked a clerk if he knew where they purchased animals parts from and he got the manager. I was told a company called Holiday Souvenirs was the distributor for not only this store, but also most of the shops along the beach.

When we got home I did some research and contacted the Fort Lauderdale based company. It took a few attempts to get connected to a person that was willing to answer my questions and actually “knew” the answers. The conversation started out polite and I expressed my consumer concerns about the sale of lemon shark jaws. I asked the woman on the other end if she was aware these sharks had recently gained protection in Florida waters. She assured me they came from “overseas” making everything okay! Ha! I pushed further asking where overseas? Overseas was her answer, which clearly she felt should satiate my inquiry. I asked how they were acquired? Apparently, wait for it, poor fishermen catch sharks to feed their families and the jaws are just a byproduct they sell to make a little extra money. Wow, a lot of poor fishermen “overseas,” are trying to feed their families and this company is being very civic by purchasing those jaws. I continued to push. “ So thousands of shark jaws are only collected as a byproduct from poor fisherman? “


“What about the shark fetuses?”

“ Sometimes the sharks they catch to feed their families are pregnant and they collect the fetuses as another byproduct to make a little extra money.”

“ I see, so you guys are really doing a great service for these poor fishermen?”

“Yes, yes we are.”

I then jumped on my soapbox, ever so politely, and informed the woman about the current status of global shark populations. There is no way they are stocking shelves across the country with shark jaws and jars by just getting them as byproducts. The sharks are being targeted and yes, other parts may be sold, but it not the sob story she was telling me. She got flustered and finally ridiculed me for not caring about these poor people and hung up. I took a breath and waited. Calling back would not make a difference, but hopefully I had gotten into her head and maybe she would think a little differently. She is only a pawn and not actually the person giving the green light on purchases. I made a few other calls and the story was mostly the same, but her human-interest story was the highlight. I don’t blame her because she was obviously drinking the Kool-Aid being served to her, but it was insightful.

If you look at Holiday Souvenirs or Wonders of the Sea, you will see a wide range of dried and creepy animals. I grew up in Maine and deer heads or antlers are quite popular as interior d├ęcor, but I have never been a fan. Dried or dead animals are not something I want in my home and whether sharks are in trouble or not, who wants and animal fetus in a jar as trinket on the mantel?

All of this relevant because you can speak up! As a consumer you have the right to know where products are coming from. Think about this the next time you go to the fish counter at your grocery store or the local fish market. Ask what the fish is and how it was caught. Now the teenager working the counter might not know, but someone at that store should or they should know where you could find out. You are not being rude or inappropriate; so do not be afraid to ask. Same thing at restaurants, find out where they get their fish? Is it really what they say it is? A recent study done by Oceana found a massive proportion of seafood in the United States mislabeled.

“Nationally, the worst offenders were sushi venues, where fish was mislabeled an average of 74% of the time, followed by restaurants with 38%, and grocery stores at 18%. “ I want to know what I am eating, don’t you?

You might be wondering how asking can make a difference? It will. Yes, you are only one person, but it adds up and one person becomes twenty very quickly and so on. Share this information with friends and family and encourage them to do the same. Write a letter or make a phone call to voice your concerns. They might be able to ignore one call or one email, but word spreads and they cannot ignore an onslaught of concerned consumers. I have seen restaurants pull menu items because of barrage on social media. One comment from one person multiplied and a change was made.

These are all actions anyone can take, but remember to be polite and do your research. Flying off the handle like a crazy person is not going to get them to listen. Believe me this is easier said than done especially when you are up against ignorance, as they say,” you can’t argue with stupid.” You will get frustrated and it might seem like a waste of time, but I assure you it is not. If you are not sure of what to say or write, there are a lot of sources online that can help. Make sure you get information and seek guidance from a reliable source. I was recently on twitter chatting about accurate information when it comes to shark education and conservation. I agree that people do not need to be experts or scientists to do their part for our oceans, but please get your information from a reliable source. There are so many groups and people popping up on social media it can be hard to wade through the muck and find the truth, but I assure you it can be done.Science and research provides facts to strengthen the fight to protect our oceans, but the masses can take this information and use it to change the demand.

Below I have listed some sites you can contact to express your concerns about shark conservation as well as sources to gather reliable information about sharks, shark conservation and how you can help.

Recommended Websites

Bimini Biological Field Station

Guy Harvey Shark Research Institute
Shark Savers
Shark Trust

Stores & Restaurants to Contact

Holiday Souvenirs
Wonders of the Sea
Wings Beachwear
Hilton Hotels

For HI RES copies of these posters please email me

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wild Kids: Creating the Next Generation of Explorers and Environmental Advocates

When you are a kid everything is big; cars, buildings, people and the size of the world itself is unfathomable. Our curiosity, compassion and dreams are also massive and as adults we should hold onto those traits for as long as we can.

I cherish my time working with kids and teaching them about sharks and shark conservation. During their formidable years it is crucial to give them facts and the skills the ask questions about the world around them. They are bombarded with media each day either on the Internet or television and a lot of it provides incorrect information. Megalodon is not swimming around and sharks are not man-eating monsters. Just because you see it on TV does not mean it is real. Shame on companies who produce content, knowing full well people are susceptible to believing the hype and hysteria. That being said there is a still a lot of great programming out there and we need to encourage people, kids included, to steer their attention toward it.

We recently had to opportunity to work with the Kratt Brothers while they were filming an episode of their PBS morning show,Wild Kratts. Together Chris and Martin highlight the weird and wonderful creatures of the animal kingdom in real life and as their adventure loving cartoon alter egos. Watching the guys interact with the natural world was a great experience. They do not turn it “on” for the camera, but genuinely love nature and love sharing it with others. Their excitement is contagious and is something every child should be exposed to. Nature is cool. Animals are weird, interesting, gross and remarkable all on their own without CGI or a plot to take over mankind.

During most of my school visits I talk to students about media and the bad reputation sharks get. We talk about movies like, Sharknado or Shark Night 3D and what they think about them. I encourage them to ask questions and be good junior scientists. Just because they are young does not mean they have to believe everything they see or hear. Sharing factual shark information allows them to have a voice and to speak up when something doesn’t seem right. They are the hope for the future of our oceans and we need to arm them with facts and reality, not Hollywood monster myths.

The world of shark conservation can be brutally frustrating, but working with kids always breathes new inspiration into my fight to keep pushing onward, no matter how discouraging present obstacles may be.It always reminds me of Pandora's box. Terrible things were let into the world, but hope was there and children are the hope for the future of our oceans. I recently received this note from a high school friend whose son catalyzed me giving a shark talk at my elementary school Alma mater. To me this is hope, inspiration, drive, passion, compassion and a reason to fight for animals that do not have a voice. We are their voice.

So, cute little story I thought you would like. Dylan had to choose Story Land or the Boston Aquarium for his summer trip. He very quickly decided it was way cooler to visit his shark buddies, of course! We arrived to find that they have an area to touch baby sharks. Long story short they were resting all day then his magical moment came! They moved just enough that he could "pet" them! He tells me beaming ear-to-ear “I waited my WHOLE life for that! And he didn't bite me mom! But there are no such thing as shark attacks anyway, just shark accidents!” Thought you would like that he hopes to work with you one day. Maybe you can hire him on 10 years!

My heart was overflowing with happiness. I have been burning the candle at both ends getting ready to launch a new website and non-profit and this is just the caffeine for the soul I needed!

The very best thing we can do for children is to get them off the couch and outside to experience the incredible world around them. No matter where you live there are things to see and animals to observe. From ants to elephants, every creature has its place and offers something to get excited about. We must teach our children the importance of respecting and caring for the ecosystems of the world and all the magnificent creatures that inhabit them. And if the kids are on the couch we must make sure they are watching programs that encourage them to explore, observe and love the great outdoors.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bimini Shark Week with Deano Cook

In my life every week is Shark Week, but there are definitely weeks more intense than others. A recent visit from photographer, painter, tattoo artist and good friend Deano Cook was one of those weeks. I met Deano in 2007 when I saw him tattooing marine artist Wyland at a convention. As a lover of sharks and tattoos, I knew right then and there I had to have a piece of his art on my body. It took six years of busy dive schedules and missed attempts, but we finally made it happen when he came to visit us in Bimini.

Bimini is one of my favorite places on the planet and I absolutely love sharing my home with people, especially those that have a real passion for the ocean. We wasted no time getting in the water and headed out for a Caribbean reef shark dive. The site here is pretty shallow, which is nice change from most of the deeper shark dive sites throughout the Bahamas. We had about eight reef sharks cruise through and two little blacknose sharks. They are considerably smaller than the reefs, but have no problem getting right in the mix. We spent an hour with these beauties before heading due south in search of stingrays.


Honeymoon Harbour is Bimini’s smaller and less commercialized version of Grand Cayman’s Stingray City. We anchored just off shore and it was only a matter of minutes before the troops came flying in. For years, visitors have interacted with a large population of Southern stingrays and the occasional lemon, blacktip or nurse shark at this location and it is a favorite spot for most visitors. On our last few visits a very precocious nurse shark has made an appearance and seems to have no problem begging for a snack amongst the rays. Animals are really clever and I love seeing large species interact with each other. I know nurse sharks do not garner a lot of excitement from diehard shark enthusiasts, but I love them.

Another regular, a ray we affectionately call, “ The Blanket,” showed up to welcome Deano to the island. This female Southern stingray is probably five feet across and has no etiquette when it comes to interacting with people. She is large and in charge, sitting on your lap, knocking you over and completely smothering your camera. She is definitely the matriarch of the group and quite assertively lets everyone know this. We spend a lot of time with these animals and it is incredible to see their personalities become more defined the more time you share with them. Yes, they are all the same species, but they are definitely not cut from the same mold. I always get the giggles at this site because it is impossible to not laugh when a stingray is tickling your toes.

We returned to the reef sharks the following day and got some great shots with our new Oceanic and Lavacore gear. Our dive was cut short by some nasty squalls moving in. They come is fast and hard during the summer months in Bimini and can quickly knock the visibility to zero. They are so pronounced and confined however, you can usually avoid the brunt of them. We headed out and actually lost power in our port engine, which kicked us around hard on a large swell and sent Deano flying across the boat. We turned to head south towards the medical clinic on Cat Cay. What should have been a fifteen-minute ride, took over an hour with the wind and swells. We arrived and Deano was able to move around, but had definitely sustained an injury to the ribs. We made the slow cruise back to South Bimini and headed to the clinic because the doctor was not available on Cat Cay. The doctor told him he should get x-rayed in Nassau, but Deano was not going to miss out on diving, sharks and tattooing.

We took it easy the next day, but Deano did not want to miss out on opportunities, so we made it work and headed to the Sharklab. We spent time in the pens with some juvenile lemon and nurse sharks and Deano was able to get some images as well as hold a few of the little guys. It really is a special experience and I never get tired of hanging out with those cute little babies. Sharing miniature versions of the ocean’s might predators is a powerful tool for education. Deano is a shark lover, but for many people seeing how “cute” a shark can be really changes their perception about these animals.

The mangroves were next on our list because they are the heart and soul of Bimini and a place everyone should take the time to visit. It may not seem exciting, but the amount of life above and below the surface is remarkable. We showed him the mega resort on the north island and explained the damage that has been done and the impending threats that are looming. Bimini is not a bustling metropolis, nor should it ever be, but the quiet of the mangroves really takes you away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I am not sure how excited Deano was about the mangroves to start, but within minutes he was raving about how incredible they were.

As if on cue, a juvenile lemon shark swam out in front of our boat and cruised through the gin clear water just ahead of us. We know the sharks use the mangroves as a nursery for the first 3-4 years of their life, but it is always exciting to spot one. It was really awesome to see how excited Deano got as well. A tree-lined channel is not where you expect to find baby sharks and these encounters are always surreal. We continued onward spotting schools of snapper, small conch and birds. We paused for pictures and to talk about this incredibly diverse forest and why it is vital for Bimini and the oceans of our planet. These nurseries are critical for healthy populations of not only sharks, but snapper, conch and lobster; all major components of the Bahamian economy.

We hopped in for a snorkel in Bonefish Hole and found schools of silversides dancing in the sunlight, giant stingrays buried in the sand along the edge of the mangroves, hundreds of snapper, tiny butterfly fish and sergeant majors peeking out from behind the roots and dozens of small lobster taking refuge under mangrove root ledges. This forest is literally overflowing with life. I watched a crab eating a snail, while delicately balanced on a single branch. The weather was rough at the edge of the channel, so we didn’t spot any turtles for Deano, who was desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of the juvenile greens that hang around, but regardless the day was amazing.

The week was going by way too fast, like it always does when you are doing what you love and it was time to get down to business. We had spent evenings deciding on the size and Deano enjoyed an ocean view office to do some stenciling. I will admit I was hesitant to have a large back piece, but I knew a lot of the detail would be lost if we went too small. Deano was patient as I taped on the images and then looked at pictures of them on my back. We finally compromised on a size and he laid the stencil on my back. Although he started with a stencil, the true artwork is in his eye as he free hands the shading and brings the animal to life. I did not want a shark tattoo, I wanted a portrait of the most amazing animal on the planet; Deano Cook made this a reality. He is not just a tattoo artist, but someone who has spent time with these animals getting to know how they move, how they act and the tiny intricacies that make them unique and beautiful. As we discussed the details to emphasize on the great hammerhead we were continuously on the same page. The eye, the curve of the tail and even a biopsy notch in the dorsal fin; he brought this magnificent creature to life.

This marks my 7th tattoo, but it the first large piece of artwork I have ever had. As I sat on the stool in the make shift tattoo studio we created in our living room, I was excited and nervous. There is such a rush when you get inked. It hurts, yes it hurts a lot and people are full of crap if they say it doesn’t. Deano spent six hours the first day and then we enjoyed grilled conch prepared by my amazing husband. We talked about sharks, adventures and chasing our dreams. Deano and I had never dived together, so the days building up to the tattoo were really special and were definitely brought into the piece. Deano is a friend painting his love of sharks using my back as a canvas. I say, “using,” because we are not done.

We started earlier the next day because we had “Lobster Fest 2013,” to attend that evening and we didn’t want to miss out. Lobster season had opened the day before and our good friend and neighbor Leesa was preparing several dishes including HANDMADE lobster ravioli. Another 5 hours of pain, stories, art and ocean passion went into my back. We rocked out to a great band called Slightly Stupid and some Maroon 5. Lobster fest was beyond words and we all really enjoyed another random and epic night on the island. Bimini is small, but always full of impromptu moments of awesomeness with great people. I love this island!

A final hour long session on his last day left the total at 12 hours of work creating an incredible portrait of, in my opinion, the most magnificent animal on Earth. 12 hours is pretty is a long time, but he did it with FRACTURED RIBS! Yeah, he is a rock star. Diving, playing with sharks and tattooing while he was busted up; now that is dedication. I have to say I was nervous about the size of the artwork, but looking at it now and the way it flows with my back, I couldn’t imagine it any different.

Thank you Deano for an absolutely epic BIMINI SHARKWEEK. Cannot wait for our next adventure.