[Editor’s note: The following post is written by Kydd Pollock, marine biologist for The Nature Conservancy in Hawai‘i. Kydd’s 2010 encounter with a reef shark is profiled in Discovery Channel’s Shark Week segment, Shark Fight, scheduled to air August 15. This is the first post in a series about his encounter. Read his second and third posts.]
I’ve spent a lifetime in and on the ocean. Literally.
Since the age of two you could find me playing on the decks of sport fishing boats in New Zealand. Those early ocean experiences led me to study marine biology and pursue a career in the sea. I’ve seen manatees, whales and fish of every size, shape and color you can imagine.
And sharks. I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of sharks.
In all this time, I’ve only had one interaction that I don’t care to repeat; in 2010 I was bitten by a shark. Three times. On my head (more on that in my next blog post).
You might think that this experience would lessen my enthusiasm for marine conservation. But actually, the opposite is true. I feel extremely fortunate to be working in the ocean waters I love as a marine biologist with The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. And I am just as – if not more – passionate now about protecting sharks than I was before.
Confused? Let me explain.
My time is split between the waters of Hawai‘i and Palmyra Atoll. Palmyra – located 1000 miles south of Hawai‘i and about 4,000 miles from the U.S. mainland – is one of the most spectacular areas on the planet. Scientists come to Palmyra because it houses the most natural research laboratory in the world, and is surrounded by more than half a million acres of protected waters teeming with abundant healthy coral, fish, and shark populations.
On the atoll, I help set up boating safety and operational systems, train boat captains and perhaps best of all, I support research teams: fish, shark and manta ray tagging, sea bird tracking, reef fish and coral health surveys, turtle studies, climate change research, and many other amazing science projects.
I am often struck by the stark difference between the sheer numbers of fish – and especially sharks – in Palmyra compared to Hawai`i. During more than 600 monitoring dives around the main Hawaiian Islands, I have seen exactly one shark. This is a massive contrast compared to the waters off Palmyra Atoll, where sharks are everywhere.
We are learning from our research just how essential sharks are to maintaining a healthy reef system and ocean. Because they prey on weak or sick fish, they actually strengthen overall fish populations. Healthy shark populations means healthy fish populations. Plenty of fish means plenty of jobs for fishers, and plenty of fish to eat. So for me, it’s simple: lots of sharks are a good thing.
And yes, that includes the one that bit me. But unfortunately, not many people see it that way. So I was cautious when a producer from Discovery channel’s Shark Week asked to include me in a segment. Once I was convinced this was a story about protecting sharks rather than demonizing them, I agreed.
Look for my story on Shark Week 2012, starting on August 12. And check Cool Green Science next week to read about that day in 2010. While I don’t want to repeat the experience, I don’t mind repeating the story.
[First image: Kydd Pollock, Marine Specialist for The Nature Conservancy, interviewed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in for Discovery Channel's Shark Week. Image source: Amanda Meyer. Second image: Black-tipped reef sharks occupy Palmyra’s shallow nearshore waters. Image source: Kydd Pollock]