Making Marine Conservation Matter: The Maritime Aquarium

A Familiar Fin made its latest appearance this weekend at the Maritime Aquarium’s Ocean Litera”sea” event! Asked to speak as a featured local author, I shared my book with aquarium-goers, young and old.

Now, I had been to South Norwalk’s aquarium before, but only as an observer. Saturday, I had the privilege of going behind the scenes of the shark exhibit. Sandtigers and other species cruised around the cage with ease, slipping by the enormous glass windows. Standing above the shark tank (pictured below), I listened to the volunteer divers inside the tank participate in a Question and Answer session with curious onlookers. Thanks to new technology, the lead diver in the tank can hear questions posed by inquiring ocean-lovers, and respond in real time.

One of my favorite questions posed on Saturday was the classic, “are you scared?” Chuckling a little, the diver responded with an emphatic no—maintaining that she dives with these sharks every day and finds them to be quite calm and docile even in her presence.

Amazingly, the divers told me that the sharks are even thought to be able to identify each diver. Newer divers the sharks tend to stay away from, while more frequent divers receive a warmer reception—likely a result of sharks’ electroreception, or ability to detect unique electrical impulses from living beings.

After witnessing, first-hand, the incredible work the Maritime Aquarium does to dispel negative myths about sharks (I mean, they quite literally prove to their audience that sharks aren’t man-eaters), I came home inspired and full of hope for the future of our oceans!

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Macro-Micro Special

So we’ve talked about the big…the epic, the apex, the jaw-some carnivores that rule the ocean. But what about the little guys? And better yet, what about the middle guys?

We call these forage fish. Forage fish are the glue that bind many ocean ecosystems together, acting as main food sources for higher tropic level predators. Larger fish, marine mammals, and seabirds can all depend on forage fish to survive. A few years ago, Ellen Pikitch, Konstantine Rountos and scientists set out to understand the ecological importance of forage fish to marine ecosystems and the economic importance of forage fish to marine fisheries. In their results, they found that these “middle” guys contribute a total of $16.9 billion USD to global fisheries every year—directly, being caught and sold, and indirectly, by sustaining larger life that is caught and sold.

But what makes a fish a so-called ‘forage’ fish?

You eat, you get eaten….it’s life—so what’s so special about forage fish? This is the question that Dr. Konstantine Rountos is answering. “There’s no distinct, clear definition” for forage fish, says Rountos. This summer, Rountos analyzed the definition of forage fish from many different angles. Rountos, an undergraduate student, and a high school student (yes, this is where I come in!) drew definitions from several key forage fish papers and, using fish base, looked at the particular specs for each fish. Thousands of forage fish entries later, Rountos will now be looking at commonalities and averages of this data to pull together a better definition for forage fish.

Want to read more about Rountos’s awesome work? Take a look: http://www.rountos.com

Check out these sources for extra information!

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12004/abstract

http://www.nationalfisherman.com/blogs/coastlines/4625-forage-fish-debate-a-seafood-summit-highlight

Shark Week Special: Will Discovery Disappoint?

It’s that time of year again.

As people enjoy their sunny summer getaways by day, they tune into the dark depths of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week by night. Families sit gathered around the TV, glued to the horrifying madness before them. Shark attack survivors recount vicious tales of hungry creatures that lurked below them. Documentaries detail the violent lives of still-existing Megalodons and thirty-foot Great Whites. Year after year, we are again sucked into the thrilling madness that is shark week.

However, a problem arises when fact and fiction are mixed together, seamlessly tied into one video segment. How would—how could the average person know when to stop believing what these “scientific” documentaries tell them?

For the past few years, Shark Week’s quest to boost ratings has ignited shark conservationists across the world. In a recent NPR segment, it was said that “many scientists think the huge audiences — and the hype — have come at the expense of real science.” The factual errors, over-dramatization and vilifying of sharks have made sharks enemies rather than glorified celebrities.

This year, though, Shark Week producers have promised to take a turn for the better. Discovery insists that Shark Week 2015 will focus on real research and science, promoting shark conservation. So far, the segments look promising. More than ever before, sharks need Discovery on their side this year. Tune in to see for yourself–and comment to let us know what you think!


Want to celebrate these beautiful creatures during one of the best weeks of the year? Buy my new children’s book, A Familiar Fin, on Amazon today. All the profits go to Sharks4Kids!

http://www.amazon.com/A-Familiar-Fin-Alexandra-DiGiacomo/dp/1514104997

A Familiar Fin: Buy A Copy to Support Sharks Worldwide

One long year ago, I wrote the initial manuscript for A Familiar Fin. After rounds and rounds of editing and revising, a fellow classmate of my high school drew beautiful illustrations to bring this book to life. I am now pleased to announce that A Familiar Fin is available on Amazon for individual purchase!

Each book bought supports Sharks4Kids, an important organization encouraging awareness and action for young children (all the profits from A Familiar Fin are donated to this organization!).

Click HERE to buy a copy for yourself, your children or your classroom! Enjoy, and always remember that in protecting the earth we protect ourselves.

Any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at alexandraedigiacomo@gmail.com

The Big Release: A Familiar Fin’s Fantastic Debut

First and foremost…happy World Oceans Day!

After a long but incredibly rewarding process of writing, editing, formatting and collaborating, I have released my children’s book, A Familiar FinTo celebrate World Oceans Day 2015, A Familiar Fin made its debut as I read aloud to a class of local Kindergarten students. As I flipped through the colorful pages, the children remained incredibly receptive to the tale.

Perhaps what amazed me most about my experience today was the kindergarteners’ reaction to the simple question, “what do you think about sharks?” I asked this question before reading my book, and immediately most of the hands in the room shot up. Expecting to get the classic “they eat people,” or “they’re mean,” responses, I was thrilled to find that many of the children actually had positive comments about sharks. Whether remarking on their color, size or general ‘cool’-ness, the kindergarteners seemed to hold a somewhat untainted fascination with sharks. I feel so lucky to have shared my message with such open and curious minds today.

A Familiar Fin will become available for purchase by the public on Amazon by June 14th, so stay on the look out! A direct link will be posted to my website and blog. Remember, all profits go to Sharks4Kids, a wonderful organization working towards goals very similar to mine!

The Big Release: Publishing A Children’s Book Start to Finish

After a year of planning, writing, and editing, I have come to the final stage of my children’s book. Titled A Familiar Fin, this book follows a young boy, Daniel, through his experience with a juvenile great white shark. With Daniel’s example, I hope to encourage children to have a greater respect for the ocean.

On Monday, June 8th, I will be going into the local elementary school for my official release event. As an early reader, I used to read books to my Kindergarten class on the carpet. Now, I am hoping to return to this tradition and give back to the community that fostered me as a youngster. Monday, I will be presenting the book to a Kindergarten classroom and engaging the children in the making of shark tooth necklaces (fake, of course!).

A link to order A Familiar Fin will be posted on my website, http://www.savingsharksforsaferseas.comand here on my blog as of Monday! If you’re interested in buying a copy for yourself or your classroom, there will be a link to purchase easily through Amazon. All the profits will be donated to Sharks 4 Kids, a wonderful organization promoting shark conservation in a similar way!

Stay tuned, and be sure to check back on Monday to order a copy!

Socially Involved Sharks: Using Finstagram?

When we say that sharks are quite proficient social learners–what does that mean, exactly?

     Do they learn like we do in the human world? Are they active finstagrammers?
In the human world, we learn from our own experiences, but we also learn socially from our interactions with others–and we are not alone.
    Many scientists are beginning to believe that sharks are not only capable of this complex behavior, but can also harness this method of learning to produce incredible results.
    During my month spent on the Shark Reef Marine Reserve of Fiji last summer, I was able to conduct a simple research investigation to further explore this question. Every day, our group of high school students dove down to 100 feet to witness the feeding of bull sharks by trained Fijian dive masters. Bull sharks lined up to the left of the feeding station and, once fed, swam away to the right. If any shark hoping to be fed entered the feeding station from the wrong side, the dive masters would tap the shark on the nose with a short pole.
  Remarkably, sharks learned to enter from the right during the twenty-minute feeding session. While many sharks had to be corrected at the beginning of the dive, the number of misguided sharks lessened throughout the twenty-minute period. From this, another classmate and I determined that the bull sharks, after seeing their comrades receive negative feedback from entering from the right, likely learned from their observations to enter from the left. (Additionally, in order to control variables in the experiment, we identified sharks by markings on their fins to weed out any repeat-offenders!)
     Compiling the data from these magnificent dives, we analyzed the number of sharks prodded over the time interval and found that it significantly decreased over time and attributed this decrease to the bull sharks’ social learning capabilities. A micro-project to represent a much bigger phenomenon!
Interested? Read more about these sharks’ social learning here (from the Fijian dive masters themselves!)