Shark research includes regular residents at the Shedd

(Published March 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

This month, as gray skies finally give way to blue, some residents will be sailing around the Bahamas.

It may sound like an ideal vacation—but there are sharks. Lots and lots of sharks. The Shedd Aquarium is taking regular people along on a shark research expedition as part of an ongoing series of citizen scientist projects.

Dr. Steve Kessel, director of marine research at Shedd Aquarium, said the trips are valuable both for science and for the regular people who sign up.

“The participants that join these expeditions get authentic hands-on experiences conducting field research with sharks,” Kessel said. “This includes opportunities to get up close and personal with wild sharks, contributing to the ultimate and very necessary goal of improving shark conservation management.”

The groups are small, about 15 people, and of those, eight are citizen researchers. Kessel said those eight people get so excited by studying sharks that they often turn into citizen shark advocates. Plus, he said, the scientists need the help.

“The inclusion of participants alone makes this specific research expedition possible,” he said. “We get a whole other research trip to an area of the Bahamas that would otherwise go un-surveyed. This will represent a very important spatial data point that will be invaluable in the broader understanding of the shark populations that use the protected waters of The Bahamas, and how we maintain and improve shark conservation in this region moving forward.”

While the trip is fun, it is actual work and Kessel said before anyone signs up, they should be ready to work.  

“People who will get the most out of this trip are those who revel in the opportunity to get their hands dirty and want to contribute important scientific data to Shedd Aquarium’s shark and ray conservation research program,” he said.

A typical research day starts with breakfast and then teams break up for team assignments. Some researchers tag sharks while others take underwater video. Evenings are spent entering data, studding marine samples or learning about sharks and marine ecology. There is an occasional movie night and some days citizen researchers can kick back for a bit.

“This is a research trip rather than a pleasure trip and as such the activities can be quite physically demanding,” Kesssel said. “This isn’t to say that we won’t have any fun, some more relaxing activities are also built in.”

The next research trip will be an iguana study in June.

Check the Shedd’s website, sheddaquarium.org, for details.

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