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Lindsay Jennings is a marine biologist based in the St. Petersburg area of Florida. She recently completed her master’s at the University of Miami and just finished a fellowship with the Marine Conservation Institute. While at the University of Miami, Lindsay also worked with the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, tagging sharks in South Florida. We are thrilled to have Lindsay on the team. Stay tuned for updates about events and outreach programs! You can learn more about Lindsay and her shark story below!
1. How old were you when you saw your first shark and what was it?
The first shark I saw wasn’t in the wild, but at the Baltimore Aquarium, when I was about 10 years old. While I had been interested in all marine life, I admit it, I went to the aquarium to see the dolphins. But while I was there, I remember walking through the ‘shark alley’ and seeing the sand tiger sharks swimming around the tank. What struck me the most was their lack of interest in me. They seemed so calm and relaxed in their environment, not at all scary or threatening. It wasn’t until I studied abroad at James Cook University in Australia in 2009 that I saw my first shark in the wild when I went cage diving with great white sharks. Upon realizing that these animals didn’t even flinch at the site of me or the cage, I completely relaxed and was able to understand just how graceful and misunderstood these animals are.
2. What is your favorite shark and why?
My favorite shark is the thresher shark. They’re a more open-ocean, pelagic species, so unfortunately, I’ve never seen one in the wild. I’m probably so fascinated with these sharks because of their incredibly long caudal tails which they use to herd, slap, and stun their prey. It’s hard not to be interested in such a efficient, and majestic, yet vulnerable shark.
3. What is one species of shark you would like to see in the wild?
Besides, of course, a thresher shark, I would love to have the chance to see an oceanic whitetip. They have such unique fin characteristics/
coloration, but are pretty rare due to heavy fishing pressure causing severe population declines.
4. What is one of the coolest/most exciting things you have gotten to because of your job/research?
It wouldn’t be fair just to point out one exciting aspect of my job, since the reason I chose marine conservation is that it can take me down many different paths. From being out on the boat, tagging sharks, to lobbying Congressmen and Congresswomen about illegal fishing legislation, it’s exciting to be a part of the research but also see how that research can be applied to bring about better protection not just for sharks but for all our marine resources. But at the end of my day, beyond anything else, I mostly enjoy sharing my passion and dedication to this field with others, and seeing their curiosity and awareness grow.
5. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges with shark conservation?
I think the biggest challenge in shark conservation (besides inadequate funding) is finding the balance between economic development, sustainability, and educating communities on the importance of sharks’ role in ecosystems. So many people rely on the ocean for financial and nutritional support, that large scale fishing practices (both legal and illegal) are hurting global populations of sharks. I think the key is finding a way to increase awareness and promote the idea that sharks are crucial for the oceans and humans alike. There are more sustainable ways to harvest resources which won’t jeopardize a community’s ability to survive, but can have smaller impacts on global shark populations.
6. What are some of the best things people can do to help protect sharks?
Talk! Talking about the uphill battle sharks face is the easiest and cheapest way to promote awareness, stewardship, and garner support for these animals. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been talking to people about how important, but threatened sharks are and they in turn tell me, “I had no idea!” Whether it is shaping young kids’ minds to be more conscious of how their actions can affect our oceans, convincing adults to switch to a more sustainable seafood choice, or educating Congressional representatives about the importance of shark and fisheries legislation, it all starts with a conversation.
7. Is it important for scientists and conservationists to work together?
Coming out of a fellowship in Washington, D.C. at the Marine Conservation Institute, I cannot tell you how vital it is for scientists and conservationists to work together. Research would be futile if the data scientists collect sits in a notebook or isn’t shared with the public or decision makers. Conservationists cannot develop or implement conservation campaigns without the facts and the hard science. To be the most persuasive and effective in bringing out change is having a team of scientists and conservationists who can not only create and carry out complex and important research projects, but package and disperse that research in such a way to capture people’s attention and make them want to be part of the solution too!