SEA Days: Shark and Ray Day 2017

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days!

As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Name: Crystal Dombrow

Hometown: Franklin Lakes, NJ

Schooling Background:
BA, 2012 from New York University, Individualized Study focused on Anthropology and Art History; I transitioned to a shark conservation career in mid-2016 and am a current MAS candidate for the Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program at Scripps.

1 word to describe a characteristic a scientist must have: Curiosity

Dombrow holds a juvenile Dark shyshark (Haploblepharus pictus) at the South African Shark Conservancy lab.

1) How does shark research affect a person’s everyday life? 

The more we are able to understand about shark behavior, distribution, and habitats, the more practical information we can give to the public on ocean safety guidelines. This will help reduce the already rare possibility of an adverse interaction with a shark and help change public perception of them. I’ve watched people become less afraid of the ocean after talking to them about safety measures and dispelling myths about sharks. They truly are curious, cautious masterpieces of evolution, not the man-eating monsters news coverage, movies, and television specials often make them out to be. Safety information doesn’t give us carte blanche to take larger risks in the water, but increases respectful caution when sharing the ocean with apex predators. After all, it’s their home.

2) How did you decide to work on this particular issue? 

I used to be so terrified of sharks that I wouldn’t go in the ocean. That changed when a friend convinced me to swim with them under the guidance of marine biologists last year. We snorkeled with several dozen sharks for nearly an hour, without a cage, and what I saw astounded me: graceful creatures peacefully swimming beside me. Not a single one approached me as possible prey. The biologists taught us shark body language and social behavior, and what they told me next shocked me: sharks are going extinct because of human impact. Sharks act as the immune system of the ocean and are keystone species; if we lose them, our oceans may collapse. I couldn’t stop speaking up for them from that point forward, and am now looking into ways to persuade government and businesses to want to protect them. I see this as the path we keep their populations alive.

3) How do you predict the story of sharks will change in the future? 

That depends on us. I encourage anyone who has had a peaceful interaction with a shark to share their experience when the topics arise, especially surrounding negative media coverage. Debunk myths. Share safety tips. Talk about sharks’ endangerment. It’s such a surprising concept that people feel compelled to tell others. Word spreads, but only when we spread it. More importantly, sharks don’t have a voice unless we give them one. If popular culture begins to see sharks as creatures to coexist with, I have a feeling media narrative could reroute in a similar direction. Then maybe governments will want to protect them, and in so doing we can more effectively reduce fishing pressures to allow their populations to recover. This larger domino effect is already starting to happen on a global scale. The shark fin trade has decreased in China, and those no longer eating shark fin soup cite their changed attitude to increased awareness of the need for shark conservation.

In Queensland, Austrailia, Dombrow documents government shark control equipment with Sea Shepherd’s Apex Harmony Campaign.

 

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego