A review of my internship experince with SASC

As the internship starts to wind down, I found myself reflecting on the last 9 weeks. In the two months I’ve spent as SASC I’ve endured personal and professional growth that has aided me in my educational development.

2019 has been my year of progression. Throwing myself into an international program working with sharks has been the best decision I made. Through SASC I believe I’ve matured more in the past two months then ever before. The internship with SASC placed me in a position to meet like minded individuals from across the globe converging on conservation efforts. I’ve learned to truly accept and understand different ways of thinking and find coping mechanisms for ideals I don’t agree with. I have a better patience for others with differing work ethics and levels of knowledge. Overall I’ve become a more tolerable person with a better outlook on how the world functions. Outside of personal development, I have learned a menagerie of field techniques that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise.

A few of the people that have made my experience with SASC the absolute best!

The SASC internship is often referred to as a “field work school” meaning that field techniques are emphasized more than other aspects of science. This is exactly what I came to SASC for and I wasn’t let down! Within the first couple of days with SASC I learned how to handline and deploy BRUVs. Thereafter I learned how to snorkel and free dive to catch sharks by hand and went on one longlining trip. As I continued to complete these tasks my confidence and self-competence levels grew. I believe that field work boosted my confidence and allowed me to better present myself proficiently.

Lauren and I conducting a tour at the Shark Lab

To continue, I’ve gained a better understanding of catshark physiology and life history. Thus allowing me to create a study design and construct a research proposal focused on capture and handling stress of the endemic catsharks of South Africa. By attending the South African Shark and Ray Symposium I was faced with the opportunity to meet professionals in conservation and fisheries management across South Africa. I was also able to make contacts that helped me strengthen my study design. Finally, and what I find to be most important, I have an appreciation for fisheries management that I lacked before. I realized how tricky it can be to manage fisheries in nonurbanized areas where the only source of income is what comes in by net that day. Without this experience at SASC I would be lacking a perspective that is vital for any type of management decision.

Future Professional Learning Opportunities with SASC

I have approximately five weeks left working with SASC, time has flown by. I’ve learned SO much since becoming an intern. I have a firm grasp on how tasks are completed at the facility, but there are several opportunities coming up that will allow me to improve my professional learning in the latter part of my internship.

I believe I’ve mentioned that a fellow intern and I have created a study design to investigate capture and handling stress of snorkeling and angling on dark shysharks (Haploblepharus pictus). We are responsible for producing the objectives, aims, research question, hypothesis, methods, contingency and budget plan for the entire study. By doing so I’ve exercised some of the ideals taught at Oregon State University (OSU). However, we are now in the process of implementing the pilot study that may change our experimental design all together (we are already back at the drawing board..). Creating this study has broaden my professional learning because it has shown me firsthand that science is fluid and ever-changing. I expect that my professional learning will improve as we collect experimental data, trench through statistical analysis, and create a presentation of the findings. These are valuable skills that I am glad I am test driving at the conservancy where there is plenty of guidance and room for mistakes.

Another Intern handing me our first specimen for the study
Check her out on Instagram @naomigtea

In addition, the entirety of SASC will be attending the Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium. I have attended one other professional conference that focused on fisheries management in the Pacific Northwest, thus I am excited to see what is currently taking place across South Africa. The conference will provide me with the opportunity to explore my professional persona, including my mastered elevator speech, and connect with international professionals.

I am looking forward to elevating my professional learning in the coming months and portraying my skills to OSU, SASC, family, and friends by the end of my internship.

A Washingtonian in South Africa: Observed Cultural Differences

It has been about a month since I started my internship with SASC. Within the last 30 days I have noticed various cultural differences and challenges with rewards and surprises along the way.

Aspects of life in South Africa revolve around racial issues that exist due to apartheid. Although apartheid ended in the 1990’s, political unrest is common. I have noticed some petty racism, but not at the level that tabloids depict them to be. Although that doesn’t mean the level of racism portrayed in the media does not take place.

One of the major surprises that I am experiencing while out here is the gap in socioeconomic status in Hermanus; A common intern house-hold topic. There is the upper-class, which seems to be a very well off older crowd or the lower-class that may reside in townships. From what I have observed there is very few middle-class individuals.

I can only compare my experiences and perceptions to that of Washington state, where I originate. Back home there is a plethora of individuals in each class, with plenty of roaming in between. The opportunity of those residing in Hermanus to travel between socioeconomic classes does not nearly match that of Washington. Talking with locals and the staff at SASC, it seems that it is difficult for people of color to obtain jobs and afford proper housing. The ideology that skin color can depict how you are able to live your life is not a new concept to me but is one that I’ve never seen with my own eyes.

An example of what a township looks like

Due to South Africa’s history and the prominent political unrest, I have also observed a fear of those that live in townships, even among South Africans that grew up in Hermanus. Locals have described that townships are to be avoided as best as possible during the day and to be avoided at all costs at night. I could compare this to being fearful of certain neighborhoods in Tacoma or Seattle, WA, but the fear is a step further in Hermanus. The attitudes I have observed while out here are much different than that of home, but that is to be expected with a violent history.

I am hoping that in the following month I will gain a better understanding of South Africa’s social dynamics through a township tour. These tours are led by individuals that live in the townships. Providing people with ample opportunity to get to know the locals, their ideals, and differing perspectives.

These are a few examples of the most prominent cultural differences that I have noticed in my short time here at Hermanus. I look forward to facing new cultural challenges in my remaining time here.

Personal and Professional Development

As an intern with the South Africa Shark Conservancy I am learning a ton about myself on a personal and professional level. My personal development has skyrocketed in the three short weeks I have been here and my professional development is finally starting to take shape.

This internship brings people from around the world to one central location where we have to eat, sleep, and work together 24/7. There is a mash up of cultures, perspectives, and backgrounds that are shared at the dinner table and enrich the lives of others. The interns are compiled of world travelers, students, scholars, and citizen scientists with a common passion for marine conservation and fishes with cartilaginous skeletons, dermal denticles, and large livers. Through these people I have learned to be confident in my abilities and outgoing. I have grown to understand other cultures and viewpoints that some may not be able to wrap their heads around. Most importantly, I have learned to communicate across language and knowledge barriers. For example, some volunteers or interns do not come with a scientific background but have an interest in marine conservation. When talking about ecological or physiological processes, I learned to break down the scientific language so that I can communicate effectively with others. Not only do I take that as personal development, but as a professional development as well.

The first group of interns that quickly became my family

In terms of professional development, my communication skills have graduated. I can communicate with colleagues, managers, recreational fisherman, and tourist to portray my role as an intern with SASC. Scientific interpretation is a factor that is heavily discussed in the field of fisheries and wildlife. Within my time here I feel that I am better suited to interpret data and information in a way that stakeholders and the public can understand. In addition, social media plays a large role in professional development at SASC. I am tasked with creating a “brand” across several social media platforms to stay in contact with people in my field of interest. Finally, I have recently discovered what I would like to do with the Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences degree in the future. I look forward to working in the field of fish physiology thus SASC has catered my scientific project towards physiology. As of this week, another intern and I are creating a study design that investigates the physiological metabolic response of the endemic catshark species of South Africa when captured via snorkeling or hand-lining. This project has solidified my interest in physiology and sparks my interest for the future!

Completing a work up on a Spotted Gully shark caught by a recreational fisherman that SASC paired up with

In the end, I have only been at SASC for about 3 weeks and have gained more personal and professional development than I could have ever imagined.

SASC’s Role in Sustainability

The South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) is settled in the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot (CWCHS). An area on the tip of South Africa that is abundant with marine life and showcases the marine Big 5: whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, and African penguins. This positioning allows the conservancy to focus on marine life that is not widely understood. Instead of targeting larger pelagic predators such as the White shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the conservancy focuses on endemic and commercially valuable species. By focusing on these species, the conservancy guides managers on effective policy making and management plans.

An overview of the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot

There are several shark and teleost fisheries surrounding the CWCHS that are unsustainable in practice. Fisheries are prone to bycatch, the accidental collection of non-target species. About 49% of chondrichthyans in South Africa are subject to bycatch or are targeted for commercial use (Silva et al. 2015). Previous records of bycatch are inadequate due to data gaps and generalization in species identification. SASC is filling in the data gaps by tagging any shark specimen encountered through long lining, hand lining, or snorkeling.

An example of bycatch

Some of the largest commercial uses of South African sharks include finning and harvest of the vitamin rich liver. The fins of sharks are commonly exported to Hong Kong, Uruaguy, and Australia for consumption and medicinal purposes. Shark livers also have a substance called squalene that is used in a variety of beauty products. If left unmanaged several shark species will end up like the commercially extinct soupfin shark (Galeorhinus galeus). As an intern I am contributing to reaching more sustainable practices in fisheries.

The extent of the finning industry

To have sustainable marine resources, local communities must understand what is taking place in their waters. Education on how sustainable fisheries function and the actions individuals should take when recreational fishing is just as vital to conservation. SASC offers tours of the facility, led by interns, that provide tourists, locals, and students an overview of shark conservation. During the tour we debunk myths and irrational fears by having positive human – species interactions with sharks in the lab.

Overall, the South African Shark Conservancy is focused on aiding managers and the government with policy decisions based on scientific data in hopes of inducing sustainability in fisheries. While educating the public about marine conservation and their role in ecosystem functions.

About Myself and The South African Shark Conservancy

My name is Nomi Samuel, I’m an E-campus Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences Student at Oregon State University (OSU). As an E-campus, or online, student I have found it extremely difficult to gain the field experience that is required by employers. I came across the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) Internship position through the Internship Coordinator at OSU. I applied for the position with no faith that I would land it… but here I am 2 months later finished with my first week as an Intern!

To provide you with some background, SASC was founded in 2007 in Hermanus, Western Cape. The conservancy is located within Walker Bay, an area with over 60 species of sharks, rays, skates, and chimaera. The conservancy is working on multiple projects to include estuary monitoring and species diversity and abundance of endemic cat sharks. These studies help the government and local communities understand what is taking place in their waters and the actions that should be followed for sustainable fishing and conservation.

As an Intern with SASC, it is my responsibility to aid in the studies and tasks taking place. There will be time in the lab where I will provide tours for the public outreach, time devoted to creating my own brand and building a professional portfolio, and time in the field fishing or working on studies.

For example, this week we deployed BRUVs (Baited Remote Underwater Videos) to measure species diversity and abundance and how that is affected by bait types. The rig set up allows a GoPro to capture footage of any animals that come to check out the bait canister attached to the other end. Although the visibility underwater is quite poor, we captured footage of a Cow shark trying her hardest to get to the bait.

A Cow shark determined to get to the bait at one of the sites in Walker Bay, Hermanus

When underwater visibility was too poor, we utilized hand-lining. Hand-lining is basically fishing without a rod. The other Interns and I spent six hours in Walker Bay trying to catch sharks. This was my first experience fishing so I did not expect to catch anything, but surprisingly I caught about 4 sharks (and gained the nickname Shark Whisperer). My proudest catch was a meter long female Pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum) that was carrying an unfertilized egg.

The Pyjama shark I caught demonstrating the characteristic donut-shaped defense mechanism that cat sharks take on.

The Internship position at SASC will allow me to gain the hands on experience I have been looking for as an E-campus student while contributing to the conservation of endemic cat sharks and other elasmobranchs in one of the worlds most important biodiversity hotspots!

You can check out SASC at https://www.sharkacademy.co.za/