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An Ocean of Possibilities: NEW Shark Program

Photo by Doug Perrine

By Catherine Courtier, Scripps Graduate and Ocean Connectors Shark Intern

The ocean is a vast and foreboding place, but also a place of complex and unexpected beauty. When I chose to pursue my Masters of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, I knew I wanted to be involved in something bigger than a lab space. I wanted to put my time and effort into research and education that would not only make a difference in the environment, but in society as well. What better way to do this than by educating the next generation of marine conservationists! My passion for the ocean and all of its amazing creatures began when I was young, which is why I feel so strongly about what Ocean Connectors is doing. I can’t imagine growing up in a community so near to and with such close ties to the ocean, without a chance to get to know, love, and explore those incredible resources.

After completing my Master’s degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I was awarded the Edna Bailey Sussman fellowship, which has allowed me to work with the amazing individuals at Ocean Connectors! The Sussman Foundation awards fellowships to graduate students studying environmental science so they can complete an unpaid internship with a conservation-based organization of their choice. Ocean Connectors received funding from the Save Our Seas Foundation to develop a thresher shark science curriculum, which will extend the Ocean Connectors programs from elementary into middle school.

Why Thresher Sharks? They’re Jaw-some!

For the past couple months, I have been working towards fulfilling Ocean Connectors’ long-time desire to expand their youth education programs by creating a curriculum for middle school students focused on the three species of thresher shark, all of which can be found off the coast of California and Mexico. We chose the thresher shark because of its local presence, migratory behavior, and classification as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Topics covered in the curriculum include information on thresher shark life history, habitat and migration patterns, conservation status, threats, management, and history as a commercially and recreationally fished species. In addition to doing my own independent research, I have had the opportunity to connect with shark researchers from NOAA and Shark Advocates International, local fishermen, and shark specialists. This project will culminate with the completion and implementation of an education module for middle school students in National City, bridging the gap between hard science and education, and making it more understandable and accessible.

In addition to the thresher shark program being a wonderful complement to Ocean Connectors’ existing curricula on migratory birds, sea turtles, and whales, this project provides a platform from which to educate young minds on two very important concepts: 1) that sharks are much more than the bad reputation the media has slapped on them, and they in fact play crucial ecosystem roles, and 2) the concept of overfishing, wherein we have “fished down the food chain”, removing large apex predators like sharks, and communicating to the next generation that resources found in the oceans are exhaustible, and sharks need our protection and research.

A Chance for Collaborations

Through this project I have been fortunate to make connections with leading shark and ray conservationists and researchers. Below are some of the inspirational individuals who have contributed to the Ocean Connectors thresher shark program. Thanks for your support!

Daniel Cartamil, PhD
– Researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, CA
– The focus of his academic research is on biology of top predators within the coastal ecosystem
-Much of his current research is focused on areas of the artisanal elasmobranch fishery off the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur



Sonja Fordham,
– Founder and President of Shark Advocates International in Washington, DC
– Sonja has been directly involved in countless shark conservation actions such as the first US fishing limits on sharks and rays, US and international finning bans, and listings for sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Laura K. Jordan, PhD
– Co-founder and CEO of World Below the Waves in San Diego, CA
– The primary focus of her academic research has been on elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) in areas such as functional morphology, ecomorphology, and behavior.


Dovi Kacev, PhD
– World Below the Waves in San Diego, CA and South West Fisheries Science Center, San Diego, CA
– The focus of his current academic research involves using genetics to better understand population dynamics of mako and thresher sharks in the Pacific, so as to better design efficient and effective management plans for both species.

Stay tuned to the Ocean Connectors Resources page, where soon we will be posting our new thresher shark curriculum!

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