Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization committed to raising public awareness of white sharks. AWSC supports scientific research, improves public safety, and educates the community, to inspire conservation of white sharks in the Atlantic.
Keren: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and NEOO readers about the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy! The last time you checked in with us was in January, can you tell me a little about what has happened with your work since then?
Cynthia: Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s (AWSC) primary mission is to help fund state shark expert Dr. Greg Skomal’s research. His white shark work is entirely funded by grants and private donations.
We had three goals for this season when we started: Purchase ten acoustic tags for Dr. Skomal’s research, send five kids to summer camp, and send a tagging boat out on five trips. So far we have gotten ten acoustic tags and are sending 5 kids to nature camps – 3 to the Massachusetts Audubon in Chatham and 2 to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History! We have also raised enough funds to send the tagging boat out on 3 trips – we’re still working on the last two.
We’ve had a few educational events for 1-8th graders, we want to teach the next generation about sharks’ important place in the marine environment, and nurture their fascination. We have also partnered with MassGeneral Hospital for Children. Shark biologist John Chisholm visited the Hospital with us to talk to kids about sharks and we are working with the Hospital on a shark themed event in September during National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Keren: Do you find people becoming more receptive to the idea of white shark conservation?
Cynthia: In 2004 when a white shark got stuck in a salt pond on Cape Cod, people worked quickly and effectively to get the shark out- and Dr. Skomal had his first opportunity to tag a great white- unfortunately the tag popped off as soon as the shark hit the open ocean! Something similar had happened fifty years before and the shark was killed within two hours- there’s definitely been a shift but there’s also still a lot of work to be done.
It will be interesting to see how this summer goes on the Cape regarding tourism and sharks being here- we’re seeing all kinds of businesses embracing sharks’ presence. In Chatham they had a ‘Sharks in the Park’ event. People seem to be realizing sharks are going to keep coming here and it’s a good thing for the ecosystem. People travel all over the world to see sharks- I traveled to South Africa to see white sharks!
Keren: Can you talk more about various organizations that are important partners in your work?
Cynthia: Sure, we actually hosted a round table discussion in June with a number of organizations. My philosophy is, “it takes a village.” OCEARCH is doing great shark research and education. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History has a great shark exhibit through the rest of the year; they just decided to extend it for another year. The Massachusetts Audubon camp is incorporating shark curriculum into their summer camp. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies will be co-hosting and shark/seal research presentation with us on August 25th.
Keren: A lot of our readers are interested in marine conservation and sharks in particular- what can people who are concerned about sharks do?
Cynthia: It’s important to raise awareness about what’s taking place, for instance with shark finning, 20-70 million sharks a year have their fins cut off and are thrown back in the water- it’s just not sustainable, and we’ve seen a huge decline in many species of sharks. We’re starting to put out a newsletter, if they’re interested in sharks on the East Coast, they could follow our organization.
Facebook and Twitter are great for keeping people connected and raising awareness about shark conservation.
There are a number of great shark conservation organizations out there- just get involved!
Keren: Do you have a favorite shark fact?
Cynthia: White sharks are endothermic, warm blooded. They maintain a body temperature higher than the surrounding water temperatures! I think it’s a really cool and rare thing, especially given there are over 400 species of sharks and only a few are warm blooded.
Actually, one of the tagged OCEARCH sharks (Mary Lee) traveled up north to Georges Bank in February! That type of activity hadn’t been documented before. It was really interesting for everyone to see her in the winter in really cold water temperatures; being warm blooded is a really incredible function of these sharks.
Keren: What do you hope for future shark research and conservancy?
Cynthia: Our main goal is to have sustainable, comprehensive research for white sharks here; this is the first time that scientists have had predictable access to them and it’s really critical that research be funded long term.
It can be difficult to raise awareness about sharks, because there’s fear and a lot of stuff happening not in front of you, but in international waters. Shark finning for instance- when you see shark finned, and how vulnerable that animal is, it changes your perception.
I hope to see conservation measures start to work, and populations of sharks increase. It’s important to realize sharks are slow growing, late to mature and don’t produce many offspring. Populations are very vulnerable when reduced in size. Sharks play an important role in the marine environment, an environment that’s a lifeline for us in terms of food and oxygen. With climate change issues, we’re looking at a challenging future. I’m looking to see sharks being appreciated for what they bring to the marine environment that we rely so heavily on.
I truly believe shark conservation is only going to be successful if many people actively participate in the effort.