Eugenie Clark, The Shark Lady, died on this day 2 years ago at the young age of 92. Here's one of my favorite quotes from her during the National Geographic special called The Sharks from 1982. Her work was quite impacting on all shark research and for marine conservation. She deserves to be remembered for it.
"I want people to understand that the danger from shark attacks is so slight they don’t have to worry about it. People come to me and ask what should do if they go in the water and see a shark. You don’t have to do anything. The chances of that shark coming over to you and especially attacking you is so remote it’s like saying what should I do if I see a car driving down the street.. You shouldn’t spend your time worrying about preparing for a remote accident. The sea should be enjoyed, the animals in it. If you see a shark in the water you should say, how lucky I am to see this beautiful animal in his environment."
- Eugenie Clark – National Geographic - The Sharks (1982)
You can watch the entire documentary below. My grandmother purchased this VHS tape for me when I was just 8 years old. I still put high value in it for driving my career in marine science.
"Clark was considered an international scientific authority, especially on sharks and tropical fishes. Over the course of her career, she authored two books, Lady with a Spear (1953) and The Lady and the Sharks (1969), as well as over 175 scientific articles. Clark was an avid supporter of marine conservation and many of her popular publications and public appearances focused on dispelling assumptions about shark behavior and intelligence in an effort to prevent the killing of sharks and encourage the preservation of marine environments. Publications from within this body of work document that she was the first person to train sharks to press targets, as well as the first scientist to develop “test tube” babies in female fish. She also discovered that the Moses sole produces a natural shark repellent, which has since been employed by researchers aiming to prevent harmful interactions between sharks and humans. Clark’s observation of numerous “sleeping” sharks during her research dives helped to prove sharks do not need to move in order to breathe. Over her decades of research, Clark conducted over 70 submersible dives and led more than 200 field research expeditions around the world. She worked on twenty-four television specials and helped create the first IMAX film." Lifted from her page on Wikipedia.
Now, anytime a shark ends up in the news, it’s always met with criticism. People respond in multiple ways, often culminated due to the media wanting a fearful response to an otherwise normal happening. So this brings me to how the public generation responds.
The first response for sharks is always fear. The general public loves to think sharks don’t exist and when they’re fished up, the only good shark is a dead shark. It’s rather unfortunate, but this attitude has reigned supreme since the movie Jaws successfully damned millions of sharks to die through human ignorance. These sharks used to be relatively common and more frequently larger than this reported size.
Alternatively, there is often an opposite reaction with extreme environmentalists voicing their concerns for the animals. You’ll always to every social media comment of fear, at least someone voicing their concerns for the animal or attacking those interacting with them. I saw one comment on this video of someone believing the shark pregnant, putting down the act of fishing the animal to begin with. Naturally comments like this are meant to gather attention for themselves, especially since not even scientists can tell if a shark is pregnant just by looking at it in the water. While it is important to consider the health, it’s more important to educate those who fear sharks instead of chastising them or the fisherman. There’s a fine line where promoting conservationism can become damaging to future relations with the fisherman. Past that, it's really great that fisherman such as these are now willing to work with scientists. Fishing will never go away, and there must be a common ground between animal conservation and meeting the needs of the people.
Scientists and fisherman working together
The fact that local fisherman, especially one who works with a reputable Sport Fishing business, is reporting and helping tag his catches and not kill them, is incredible. This is exactly the kind of response our public should be giving to these incredible and at-risk animals. Most of us already know about shark finning, and if you don’t please pause and Google that immediately, and there’s ample evidence of how shark populations have dropped across the world and the effects to the ecosystems isn't good.
Here, shark tracking is being implemented on their catches. This is an incredibly beneifical tool scientists use in marine conservation. It reveals to scientists patterns which can prioritize protection zones for nursery and feeding zones as well as evaluate climate change's effects on shark movement and distrubution. Please read more on this exciting research over at National Geographic. Outcast Sport Fishing is working directly with scientists and providing their findings to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
Outcast Sport Fishing video of the great white shark being released post-tagging, 12/31/16.
As for the shark being declared a monster (see CBS News) this is a news grab at drawing fear and attention from their readers. It’s very unfortunate that these sharks are not reported in such a scientific or ecological light. They’re very important apex predators in maintaining a balance in the food webs. Their sizes have overall come down over the years as most the giants have been fished and killed off. So the average size of great whites around 50 years ago was several feet larger than today. Behemoths used to be seen commonly over 20+ feet in size. Today, that’s an unheard of figure. Another reason these sharks are no longer seen at these sizes has to do with fisherman’s preferences for catching and killing the largest sharks they can find. This means that sharks with genetics for being big, are being removed from the ecosystem. Big sharks make big sharks; small sharks make small sharks. It’s the same with people, it’s the same with fish. This is called overfishing and it’s something humans are doing which is depleting the quantity and reducing the size of sharks and all consumable fish, while also altering the populations of those fishes’ prey items.
While attending a music festival in Baltimore, I couldn't help but stop by a natural park nearby. The Patuxent is definitely more of an urbanized park, but a little further in there were some gorgeous wetlands; albeit surrounding by signs that read, "Caution: Unexploded Munitions."
Anyway, the wetlands were teaming with wildlife as there were many amphibians, crayfish, turtles, fish, insects, and even a surprise black rat snake at the bank's edge.
Eastern American Toad
Not a lot to say about this regular staple of the Eastern United States. Toads are voracious insect killing machines and are commonly seen by people near porch lights or in driveways. This is what one looks like in it's natural habitat. As you can see, they're quite camouflaged!
Tiger Beetles in Copulation (mating).
While walking back in easily 100 degree heat coming off the road, I stumbled upon a group of Tiger Beetles mating. These beetles are remarkable as they are one of the fastest animals in the world. Nat Geo recently published an article about how they move so fast they have to stop, because they temporarily go blind due to the speed at which they travel. Bone-on, my Coleopteran friends.
Black Rat Snake
Near the waters edge, I stumbled upon this beautiful fully grown black rat snake. This snake was about 6' in length and spent its entire time trying to flee, only rearing back after grabbing it. These are extremely docile snakes which serve extremely important functions in our ecosystem. Judging by this snake's location, it's likely been helping keep the amphibian population in check.
So really, you can look at this update as a walk through the food web. On the simplistic scale, the frog eats the beetles, the snake eats the frog. If we killed all the snakes, the frogs would overpopulate, eat too many beetles and then eventually starve and drop off and the birds of prey that eat the snakes would also lose that important food item (eagles, hawks, etc).
It's that time of year when Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) can be regularly spotted darting around in the United States! I spotted this one in Durham, North Carolina while in the field where a group of them were feeding. They did so by flying high, divebombing towards the water and pulling up at the last moment while also doing some other fantastic aerobatic maneuvers and this 'dance' lasted a full 30 minutes at high speeds. An incredible sight to come across, and a simple one to miss if you're not looking.
Barn Swallows can commonly be found here during the summer months and breed around this time of the year. During the winter, they fly southward. These birds have huge ranges and are not at all threatened, but can become less common in places due to human development.
Photo credit: Joseph Bursey (I'm proud of this one)!
It's that time of the year when turtles are on the prowl for mates or new ponds. If you can, stop and help a turtle out! If you don't, the car behind you is probably texting, and likely going to turtleslaughter the poor thing.
In the Carolinas, we regularly have 3 types of turtles which you should familiarize yourself with if you ever encounter one on the roadways.
Box turtles - Easily recognizable as they have a hinged plastron which allows them to hide from potential predators. These turtles do well in deciduous forests and should not be tossed into a pond! Though, they can swim, it's just not their ideal setting.
Terrapins - Aquatic turtles recognizable by their webbed feet! Yellow and red eared sliders are the most common you will find. Occasionally a mud turtle or diamondback terrapin can be found depending on your distance to and from the coast.
Snapping turtles - These turtles are truly remnants of a previous eon. They're large, capable of defending themselves, and commonly found in the roads. Unfortunately, they're also not easily moved. Do not attempt to move one of these unless you have skill in doing so and never, ever, move one by the tail as you can cause spinal damage to them. I suggest scooping them with a laundry basket in order to safely pick them up and move them to a better location.
I typically move these turtles over a mile away from a busy road, either to a forest or another pond that isn't the one the turtle is closest to just in case those turtles are attempting to relocate themselves.
Pictured is a healthy common snapping turtle I named Jefferson. I've come across him twice now as he lives close to my home. This recent time he was laying directly in a busy road so I tossed him into my trunk carefully and found him a new pond.
All photos are a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) by Joseph Bursey.