Girls do ‘Shark Week’ in the Keys

Girls do ‘Shark Week’ in the Keys

Sharks4Kids, SeaCamp team up for special science week.

It’s not the Discovery Channel television extravaganza.

Instead, five tween and teen girls are participating in a special program at SeaCamp this week. They were guided through the science of fishing for and tagging sharks by Jillian Morris, founder of Sharks4Kids; Alena Leipzig and Sarah Maschal who are both U.S. coast-guard certified captains and science educators in the Keys; and Judy Gregoire, program director at SeaCamp on Big Pine Key.

On Tuesday, the girls teamed up to haul in an 8-foot bull shark on a modified Cuban reel.

“We want to teach them what real marine scientists do,” said guest scientist Dr. Jeff Carrier. “We want them to learn about the educational backgrounds, the methods we use and what a marine scientist does day-to-day.’

“This is not a field that is restricted to men,” he said, gesturing to the collection of women under the tiki hut at SeaCamp. “There is no better way to model what we do.”

On the first day, the girls learned how to make an incision on a shark, install a tracking device and then released them into a SeaCamp lagoon. On the second day, they caught a total of 8 sharks — including the bull shark — taking turns hauling them in, recording data measurements like length and sex, taking DNA samples and tagging the animals before releasing them into the ocean again. The third day was a repeat of the second, but focused on another way of catching the animals, with a “trot” line or bottom long line.

The girls are soaking up the stream of information.

“By tracking the sharks, we learn about their growth rate and how far they travel,” said Kelly, 12, a student at Sugarloaf Elementary.

“With the right handling and the right tools, sharks aren’t that scary,” said Hannah, 13, a Marathon student.

Sharks4Kids — a science and media company offering curriculum, outreach and experiences that are shark based — was founded by Morris in 2013. Since its inception, it has reached 30,000 students in 28 countries and 42 U.S. states.

“We especially want girls to become involved with STEM activities,” said Morris, referring to the science, technology, education and math curriculum. “Our mission is shark science and we genuinely believe that if we get kids involved, they can make a difference in the future.”

SeaCamp was founded in 1966 and 200,000 students have passed through its doors. Its mission is to provide hands-on marine science education through its summer camps and education facilities. In fact, many of the adults involved with the shark camp are former students and counselors.

This is the second year SeaCamp has hosted Shark Week. The ability for the two nonprofits to come together to offer a hands-on activity that makes use of the natural marine habitat and creatures is special, said SeaCamp Director Grace Upshaw.

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