Sea Spotlight: Melissa Cristina Márquez champions Chondrichthyes for Shark Awareness Day

Inspiring us to start our ocean conservation mission back in 2014, sharks have always had a special place in the heart of the LTO team. So, it’s safe to say that July 14th marks a special day for us here at LTO…Shark Awareness Day! With cascading effects on our marine ecosystems, Chondrichthyes (aka cartilaginous fishes) are the lifeblood of our oceans. But from bycatch to habitat degradation, sharks around the world are under increasing pressure. Dedicated to changing the fate of these keystone ocean players, Melissa Márquez is a shark biologist on a mission. Following the release of her brand new book, we caught up with her to talk all things sharks!

Image credit: @melissacristinamarquez on Instagram

I understand your research involves looking at shark habitat use and their interactions with humans. What makes these such important areas of study and what inspired you to pursue a career in shark science?

I’ve always been fascinated by misunderstood predators and, to me, sharks are one of the most vilified. To better protect these animals, we need to understand how they use their surroundings and what influences their habitat decisions.

I hear you have a new book all about sharks! Can you tell us a little more about that?

The second of my “Wild Survival” series is all about my favorite animals: sharks. Named “Swimming with Sharks,” it follows twelve-year-old Adrianna Villalobos and her family as they host the suspenseful nature show called Wild Survival! The show features daring animal rescues and the work the family does at their animal sanctuary. This time the family is off to Sri Lanka because they’ve heard a rumor that an extremely rare Pondicherry shark might have been sighted. Once they arrive, they discover the shark is the main attraction in a restaurant aquarium. Is it actually a Pondicherry shark? And if it is, can they convince the restaurant’s owners to release it back in the wild? Guess you’ll have to read to find out!

Image credit: @melissacristinamarquez on Instagram

Are there any sharks you’d love to see or places you’d love to visit that you haven’t yet been?

With so many species roaming our oceans, there are many I haven’t had the pleasure of sharing water with. I really would love to see the filter feeders in the wild: megamouth sharks, whale sharks, and basking sharks.

Image credit: Jeff Hester

Coolest shark fact?

There are over 500 different species of sharks! Isn’t that amazing?!

Favourite shark?

Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) hands down. They are so charismatic, they’re gorgeous, and they aren’t picky with what they eat…love that!

Most memorable/favourite shark encounter?

Getting to share a bioluminescent bay with a nurse shark. I was on a glass-bottomed kayak and got to see this beautiful shark glow super brightly as it glided through the water.

Why do you feel sharks are so misunderstood and how can we end the fear so many people associate with these creatures?

I think our perception of sharks comes from a myriad of sources: folklore portrayal in some instances, mass media in others (e.g. how sharks are shown in movies), and how we report human-shark interactions (i.e. calling sharks ‘man-eaters,’ ‘monsters,’ or ‘mindless killers’). Put these all together and it’s no wonder we have a complicated relationship with these predators!

Image credit: @melissacristinamarquez on Instagram

I think one way to tackle this PR problem sharks have is through education. People fear what they don’t understand, and if we can show why these animals matter and the threats they face, I feel we can take a step in the right direction when it comes to co-existing with sharks.

You’ve spoken before about how female scientists, like sharks, can be underrepresented and misunderstood. As a Latina female scientist working in shark science, what would be your number one piece of advice for a budding female scientist dreaming of a career like yours?

Probably the biggest piece of advice I have is “network.” You never know who you will meet and where, so always be prepared (I carry business cards wherever I go). Often times it isn’t just about the hard work you have put in, but who you know. Social media is great for networking, don’t discount it as just a platform to post pictures of your food.

Image credit: @melissacristinamarquez on Instagram

What is your hope for the future of sharks in the oceans?

I hope that with traditional knowledge of sharks coupled with today’s modern technology and discoveries, we can learn to better co-exist with these predators.

Keep up to date with Melissa’s work and the awesome scientists studying sharks around the world @melissacristinamarquez and @finsunitedinitiative on Instagram!

What do you love about sharks this Shark Awareness Day?

Let us know in the comments on our Instagram (@lovetheoceans)!

Happy Shark Awareness Day!

Written Lily Holbrook

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