The ocean that surrounds us here on the Cape and Islands gives those of us who love STEM some special opportunities for learning. Here's an exciting one: did you know that Cape Cod has become a hotspot for the study of the great white shark?
We have the inside scoop on that, thanks to Kristen Kibblehouse, who recently joined our Cape Cod Regional STEM Network team.
Kristen studied sharks in college, then worked as an intern at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. She is still active at the Conservancy, serving as an educator at their Chatham Shark Center—which is now open for the summer season.
"A lot of people are just afraid of sharks," says Kristen. "What they don't know is that great white sharks play an important role in our ecosystem."
These big sharks' predatory behavior helps keep that system in balance. "And that's good for other species and good for the ocean's health," she explains.
The Shark Center's interactive exhibits and knowledgeable volunteers give visitors a way to learn about what sharks really are and what is being done to study and protect them.
When we asked Kristen how she got interested in sharks, she told us her STEM pathway proves you don't have to be born on the coast to become an ocean scientist.
"Ocean life was always interesting to me," says Kristen, "even though I grew up inland, in a farm town in Pennsylvania."
"But I was lucky to get to spend some summer weekends on the Jersey Shore," she says. "There, people were afraid of sharks and talked about them a lot. And when I realized most people had never seen one," she says, "I wanted to."
"Great whites were relatively rare on our coast," Kristen explains. The best way to see one, she found, was to watch the Discovery Channel's Shark Week program. She became a fan, looking forward to each year's installment as a way to learn about the latest shark research.
By the time Kristen was headed to college, Shark Week wasn't enough. So she chose to pursue Marine Science at Coastal Carolina University.
One exciting part of that major: the chance to study abroad at Bimini Sharklab, the Bimini Biological Field Station in the Bahamas. Kristen used what she learned there to help with shark research at her university.
After hearing about the Shark Center from Kristen, we talked to Marianne Long, the Education Director for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, who told us the Shark Center welcomes both adults and children.
"Adults read headlines like, 'Another White Shark Tagged off Chatham' and wonder what that means," says Marianne. "Our exhibits inform them what that tag is, how it is applied, and the data that will be obtained from it."
Younger visitors, she says, might wonder what it's like to be on the crew of Shark Week. Here, they can learn about the collaboration that goes on in the field. "Our exhibits show how scientists, engineers, photographers, cinematographers, boat captains, technology designers, statisticians, and many others come together to work in shark conservation," she says.
We hope you all get a chance to make a visit to the Chatham Shark Center part of your summer fun.