For the Love of Sharks!


The ocean really pulled me in when I was in college, it came at a time when I was going through a lot of unknowns. This was a blessing in disguise because it brought me to lean wholeheartedly into the thing that I was the most passionate about.


The ocean holds me, inspires me, humbles me, grounds me, and shows me that you can be both powerful and gentle, steadfast and go with the flow. I am not a religious person, but I feel there is something spiritual about nature and the ocean is my kind of spiritual refuge.


The animal that really cemented my lifelong devotion to the ocean, was sharks. In my junior year of college, I remember learning about fish anatomy and we very briefly touched upon the evolution of sharks.


I was blown away at how these animals are evolution’s most perfect creation, they are older than dinosaurs, trees, and us. They have survived meteors and ice ages. The diversity of adaptations is mind-blowing. And they are in desperate need of our help. I went down a rabbit hole of sharks and decided then that I would dedicate my life to helping them.


Sharks are an estimated 450 million years old. This is more than enough time for multiple macroevolutionary changes to take place and make them perfectly attuned to their environments.


With an estimated 550 species of sharks and growing as new species are discovered every year, the number of species-specific adaptations is astonishing.


Perhaps the most famous of these is the cephalofoil of hammerhead sharks. This adaptation grants them a greater field of vision, smell, and electroreception, and they can use their enlarged heads to pin down prey and then turn on a dime to consume them.


One of my favourite adaptations is the constellation-like spots that cover Whale sharks. Each pattern as unique as a fingerprint and acting as a camouflage mechanism that started as a genetic mutation.


However, these adaptations cannot save sharks from the anthropogenic stressors that they face today…


Nursery habitat degradation, warming oceans, overfishing, bycatch, shark nets to ’protect’ beaches, catch and release for sport, environmental toxins, the list goes on.


Even if evolution could somehow counteract all these pressures, there simply is not enough time for sharks to evolve. We have put so much pressure on these animals so rapidly, and as resilient as the ocean is, it needs time.


Unfortunately, time is something that we do not have.


These perfectly evolved animals could disappear from the ocean forever and it will be our fault. It breaks my heart to think of these magical, graceful animals being pushed to the brink like this and that is why I hope to dedicate my career to saving them.



I am still in the early stages of my journey in marine conservation, but a lot has happened to get me here. I am the first person in my family to attend university. My parents worked so hard to make sure that my siblings and I could go to college, so there was a great deal placed on the field of study. I ended up going into nursing because one of my best friends did. I like science and I like helping people, so it seemed logical.


What I didn’t understand about college is that you can choose a school based on what you want to study, therefore I didn’t have to have it all figured out when I entered school, and that I could try out different things.


I immediately knew that nursing was not for me and I asked my parents about switching to environmental studies. Their answer was that I should stick with nursing because it would ensure a successful career and I could do the “environmental thing” later in life.



Throughout college, I tried to switch my major a few more times and by sophomore year I was miserable. I was doing poorly in school because I was so upset with what I was studying, I wasn’t sleeping much because I was studying so often but none of it seemed to click. In retrospect, I can see that I am not defined by my grades but back then, grades were everything.


In my junior year of school, I finally decided to switch my major without telling my parents and went into environmental studies. After that semester, I realized what I really wanted to be was a marine biologist, so the first semester of my senior year I finally switched to biology. While my parents didn’t quite understand at the time, they trusted me, and I am endlessly grateful for that!


I am currently the Assistant Coordinator for the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network in Washington state, scuba certified, and one of the founding ambassadors for Beneath the Waves, an ocean and shark conservation non-profit organization. All of this came from following that love of the ocean and so far, the ocean hasn’t steered me wrong.


The best thing about taking that leap is that it feels so right.


The ocean conservation sphere can be daunting. I was so intimidated when I first started my journey and I still am, there are so many amazing people doing amazing things for the ocean and it can feel like there just isn’t room for you in there. But I promise anyone and everyone who wants to join the fight for the ocean that there is always room!


There is no limit to how much passion and love we can have for the big blue.


No one’s path will be linear, and it will not be easy, but if you have that little voice inside telling you to do the hard thing and take the path less travelled, do it. If you think you belong here, you do. The ocean (and I!) will thank you.



 



Written by Audrey Holloway


BIO:


I am a marine biologist passionate about science communication, conservation, and mitigating anthropogenic effects on marine megafauna. I am hoping to attend grad school and spend my life protecting elasmobranchs and making the marine biology space more inclusive. For now , I am the assistant coordinator for a marine mammal stranding network in the San Juan Islands spending a lot of time on the water and with my dog.

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