Words by Baylie Fadool
Photos by Baylie Fadool, Chelle Blais, Jasmine Nyce, and Matt Smukall
Aug 23, 2023
The summer has consisted of lots of travel, education, and diving! We have met so many new people and have continued to expand our outreach programs. Outreach and education is just as important as all the science that we do, and that is why we have focused on disseminating the work we do to other scientists, students, educators, and the general public this summer. Read below all about what we have been up to the past few months!
Last year, we started our first teacher’s/educator’s course. The course is a scholarship opportunity designed for teachers and educators from the United States, Canada, and The Bahamas that teach in and serve underrepresented communities that may not be located close to the ocean. Their students may have never been to the ocean or may never have an opportunity to visit it. Therefore, these teachers and educators are selected to come to Bimini and experience a week immersed in the marine environment and learn from scientists in the field to bring all these experiences back to their classroom and community. We had over 200 applications for the course, and it was such a great success that we decided to have two summer sessions this year instead of one! The first one was in June and was sponsored by Ocean Mokum Foundation while the second one was in July and sponsored by Save Our Seas Foundation. We had over 190 applicants to choose from, and 28 scholarships available this year. The teachers/educators that were selected for the scholarship participated in shark-related snorkels, received lectures from Dr. Dean Grubbs and President Matt Smukall, and participated in workshops from Outreach Coordinator Baylie Fadool. We are excited to see all the ways that the teachers/educators bring their experiences into classrooms and communities.
University of Minnesota Field Expedition
The University of Minnesota (UMN) has joined the Bimini Shark Lab for university courses since the early 2000’s. This year, we made it a Field Expedition and added a family on to the experience for a total of 9 guests. While here, they learned all about our ongoing research projects and got to experience sharks in their natural environment. They stood among the mangroves with baby lemon sharks, fed stingrays at Honeymoon Harbor, snorkeled among various reef habitats, and explored the SS Sapona shipwreck. They also received classes from our various scientists working on different projects with tiger sharks, bull sharks, and nurse sharks. We are excited to welcome UMN back again next year for another university course.
Outreach Far and Wide
As scientists, we are always learning how to become better science communicators as well. Collaboration and learning from others can be a great way to grow our skills and make sure that we are disseminating our work in an effective way. Because of this, President Matt Smukall and Media Manager and Outreach Coordinator Baylie Fadool traveled to different parts of the world to share the Shark Lab’s work and attend education opportunities. Matt traveled to Iceland for a 10-day professional development educator’s course. He participated in various excursions and learned how the organization conducts their tours and field expeditions. Baylie went to Coastal Carolina University for 3 days to assist with their summer research and speak with students about opportunities at the Bimini Shark Lab.
Baylie and Station Assistant Ilijah Louis traveled to Tampa, Florida, for Shark Con 9 2023. Shark Con is designed for every shark lover, from some of the youngest aspiring shark scientists, to marine biology students, to general shark enthusiasts! Over 100 vendors pack an expo hall to share information about the work they do, sell merchandise, or lead guests through an interactive activity. Throughout the weekend, various scientists actively involved in shark science and some that can be seen on National Geographic give presentations about their work and the fascinating lives of sharks. Most of all, the event serves to raise awareness and money for shark and ocean conservation organizations, many of whom are partners with booths at the event.
During this event, we debuted our new Skulls Project. This project is a collaboration between Shark Lab Creative Director Chelle Blais, ocean artist and activist Janavi Kramer, and Eckerd College student Seisho Song. Seisho prepared a lemon and great hammerhead shark skull for the Shark Lab to use for educational purposes. Chelle conceptualized the idea to turn them into informational posters and graphics to create educational material about shark anatomy. She reached out to Janavi (@belowandbeyondart on Instagram) to create the beautiful scientific illustrations for the posters and graphics. Baylie and Ilijah were joined by Seisho to debut this new educational project at Shark Con with the skulls and posters available at our booth to share all about shark anatomy. The posters are available to download for free on our website for teachers to use in the classroom, informal educators to share with their community, or students to study.
American Elasmobranch Society Conference
Matt and Station Manager and Masters student Jasmine Nyce headed to Norfolk, Virginia, for the American Elasmobranch Society annual conference. Jasmine presented a poster on her work with bull shark movement and reproduction. Former Shark Labbers also gave presentations and did poster sessions. Emily Cormier presented on her “Sharks from Space” project mapping the change in seagrass and mangrove habitat over the years and assessing the impacts that it has had on juvenile lemon sharks that use this habitat. Wanda Ortiz gave a presentation on the educational materials that she is developing in Puerto Rico. Jack Dales and Elise Hayden presented their work during the poster sessions. Other past Shark Lab interns, students, and staff also were in attendance as mentors, presenters, and professors. It is a long weekend full of learning from and networking with other researchers in the field.
The amazing part about the Shark Lab is that once you become a part of it, you are a part of it forever! Dr. Félicie Dhellemmes originally came to the Shark Lab in 2013 and did her Masters and PhD through the lab until 2018. Her work focused on shark personality in juvenile lemon sharks. Follow this link to read more about her work.
She recently celebrated her 10 year anniversary of being affiliated with the lab by coming back and paying us a visit! She stayed from the middle of June until the end of July. Each crew member has an individual project that they are working on, and Félicie helped provide assistance with these projects. She also set up a series of virtual talks for our crew members from some of her colleagues. During her stay, the two teacher/educator courses were here, and she was able to give presentations to them on her research. We wish her the best of luck as she will now be heading on to Finland to start a new project!
Marie Gruber and Meegan Gruber and her family paid us a visit earlier this summer as well. Marie is Doc’s wife and Meegan is their daughter. We went out on the water with them to see juvenile lemon sharks, Doc’s primary study species, and blacktip sharks. Marie shared many stories with us about Doc and came with many food goodies! She walked the halls and told us many stories from back when the lab was starting in 1990. It was such a pleasure to have the Gruber family visit and speak to Meegan’s kids about them potentially becoming future Shark Labbers!
Dr. Valentino Grant came to Bimini for a vet clinic this summer. We helped him trap cats on South Bimini, and some of our crew members assisted him on North Bimini as well. Bimini does not have a veterinarian on the island, so Dr. Grant flies in from Nassau to provide his services. This is an opportunity for pet owners on the island to bring their dogs or cats to get a vet check-up. Our lab dogs, Matthew and Ace, also sometimes have to get their check-ups!
Good Luck to Our President!
To end the summer, Matt Smukall is heading to Alaska to defend his PhD! His work is on the abundance and movement of tiger sharks in Bimini, The Bahamas. Help us send him well wishes as we send him on his way!