From landlocked Alberta to the high seas of the Atlantic Ocean, one 11-year-old girl won the opportunity of a lifetime when she got to experience a day in the life of a career she desperately wants to pursue.
“Shayla has been obsessed with sharks since the day she came out. She has stuffed sharks and teeth and books,” said Natalie Lindsay, Shayla’s mother.
Shayla Lindsay won a chance to get some first-hand experience on the job in Mattel Inc.’s You Can Be Anything contest. The campaign is part of the company’s celebration of Barbie’s 60th anniversary, for which Mattel created a new line of dolls and opportunities to encourage young girls to pursue careers typically dominated by men.
One of those areas is science and Lindsay is fascinated with ocean science.
The Alberta girl has been linked up with Sara Iverson, a marine biologist and scientific director of the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), to help give her a taste of what it’s like to conduct shark research.
“One of the species we’re doing research on off the coast here is the blue shark,” Iverson said. “In the summer months they come in to breed and so we’re off to catch some juvenile females and tag them and take this budding young marine biologist, who loves sharks to death, to basically experience it.”
As part of OTN, marine animals like sharks are regularly tagged so that they can be tracked and have the data used to influence industry and the environment.
“We’re now tracking over 220 species worldwide to understand their movements, migration, habitat use and survival in relation to changing environments and one of our key groups of species are sharks because they’re mostly all so endangered or threatened,” Iverson said.
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With the soft morning light creeping in over Eastern Passage, Lindsay and the “blue shark crew” headed out to open water where Captain Art Gaetan has helped scientists locate and tag dozens of sharks.
“Most people think that sharks have this vicious attitude that they go around and all they want to do is kill and eat everything they see, which in fact it isn’t,” Gaetan said.
“One of the things that we do on this charter is we try to educate the general public on exactly how wrong they are.”
Gaetan, alongside the OTN crew, gave Lindsay an in-depth explanation about how sharks are lured to the boat to be tagged.
OTN uses fresh mackerel and herring smashed up into chum as bait. The chum hangs off the side of the boat in a bucket with holes in it, creating a ‘slick’ of food in the water that attracts the shark.
After several hours of setting up slick, Lindsay finally got to experience the crew hauling in a 40-pound female blue shark to be tagged.
An experience of a lifetime on the Atlantic Ocean — a place that may someday become Lindsay’s office.