ScienceTrooth – An Interview With A Shark Scientist

In the first of what we hope will be a regular feature, we have given 10 questions to a real, live scientist with shark experience to discover what it is really like working with these animals.

Sharktrooth is delighted that our first candidate is Mariah Pfleger, from Oceana. Oceana is a global organisation that is dedicating to protecting our seas. They seek to make our oceans more diverse by changing laws, policies and practices to protect the oceans and their inhabitants.

mariah pfleger sharktrooth oceana
Riding The Bull: Mariah gets up close and personal with a juvenile bull shark
The Interview:

1. What age were you when you first became interested in sharks?

So young that I can’t even remember! I have a picture of myself dressed up as a shark for Halloween when I was about 5 years old.

We imagine Mariah’s costume was something like this!

2. When and where did you see a live shark in the flesh for the first time?

I have seen live sharks in aquariums from a very young age, but the first shark I ever saw in real life for science was when I was an undergraduate at Florida State University. I was volunteering with Dr. Dean Grubbs on a survey looking for shark nurseries. I’ve been hooked on sharks since then!

Shark nurseries are where young sharks can grow up in relative safety. They tend to be in quite shallow water so that larger sharks and other predators can’t reach them

3. Where do you work and what is your job title?

I am a marine scientist at Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization that focuses solely on ocean conservation.

Oceana: an international organization focused solely on oceans, dedicated to achieving measurable change by conducting specific, science-based campaigns with fixed deadlines and articulated goals.

4. What does your job typically entail on a daily basis?

My job at Oceana is to make policy recommendations to government officials based on the best available science in order to protect our oceans and marine animals.

5. What are the best bits and worst bits of your job?

The best part of my job is knowing that I’m helping to protect ocean critters! I can’t say that there is a “worst” part of my job, because I love it! But there was one time where I was at sea for 6 days on a boat where I couldn’t shower. I was cutting bait and catching fish for a majority of the day, so you can probably imagine how gross I smelled by the end!

6. Which shark family member do you think is the coolest and why?

That’s a tough question! SO many sharks and their relatives are cool for many different reasons. If you ask what my favorite shark is, I have two answers: my favorite shark that I have seen is the bull shark, and my favorite shark that I haven’t seen is the thresher shark.

The Bull Shark and the Thresher Shark – which is your favourite? (Mariah can’t decide!)

7. What are your thoughts on cage-diving and chumming?

I’ve never been cage diving, so I can’t talk first-hand about the experience. I think that shark ecotourism is a great way for people to get to know sharks, but I think that we need to be careful not to cross into the territory of harassing the sharks. We don’t want to end up changing their behavior if we can avoid it.

Cage diving is a great way to see and learn about sharks, but Mariah believes we should try not to be too intrusive when we observe sharks or it may change their behaviour

8. Science is always full of new innovations. What interesting technologies do you use?

During my Master’s thesis I used genetics to look at how deep sea sharks are related to one another. As you can imagine, it’s hard to get to sharks that live in the deep ocean, so genetics was the perfect tool to study them.

9. What are your thoughts on shark conservation?

I think it’s necessary! One quarter of sharks and their relatives are threatened with extinction, mostly due to overfishing. Some sharks have life history traits (living a long time and not having many babies) that make them vulnerable to overfishing, so it’s very important that the right steps are taken to making sure we don’t hurt their populations.

Click the image above to see how you can support Oceana

10. Do you have a message for our young readers?

Stick with it!! If you want to work with sharks, don’t give up! Marine biology is not always easy, but if you keep working and want it bad enough, you can have the career of your dreams!

Thank You Mariah!

Wow! Some really great answers and a real insight into what a working life looks like when you dedicate yourself to sharks and oceans. If you enjoyed reading about Mariah, you can follow her on Twitter. If you are interested in the work she does for Oceana you can visit their website.

The work that Mariah does with sharks and other marine animals is very important to Oceana. Without proper data collected by scientists like Mariah, Oceana would not have any scientific evidence to present to countries in order to persuade them to change their laws and practices. Have a Fins Up from us Mariah – you’re a real #SharkHero!






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