This "Behind the Fins" interview is done by TFUI Officer Jessie Wingar.
Dr. David Shiffman is the man behind the popular twitter account, @whysharksmatter, but I first met David Shiffman during the summer of 2009 when I was a rising Junior at the University of Miami. At the time, David was working on his PhD. Since completing his PhD in 2016 at the University of Miami, he has become a Liber Ero Posdoctoral Fellow at Simon Fraser University in Canada. For our Behind the Fins segment, I (Jessie Wingar) interviewed him.
As with many marine scientists, the love for ocean started at a young age. Growing up David says that, “I’ve been interested in sharks as long as my family can remember…I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist since at least 7th grade.” One of the first stories I remember David telling was about a crazy field experience he had.
The Fins United Initiative: What has been your whackiest field/lab experience?
David Shiffman: I was caught by my own sampling gear (a giant circle hook), resulting in my dad having to take me to the ER the first time he came on a research expedition with me.
When asked what his current research at Simon Fraser University involves he said, “I’m taking an interdisciplinary approach to shark fisheries management, which means that I’m not only studying sharks, I’m studying people who interact with sharks.” This is critical because, “Involving human stakeholders in management results in management plans that work better, because all the stakeholders feel they had a seat at the table.”
It’s an exciting opportunity to get to ask social media tips and questions from someone who has such a large presence on many different platforms. As of October 3rd, David has 38.8 thousand followers on Twitter and 8.7 thousand fans on Facebook. Here is some of the advice I got from David.
TFUI: Why do you think science communication is so crucial?
DS: Recent events have shown why widespread public misunderstanding of facts is perhaps not great for society.
TFUI: What are some tips for researchers to become more social media savvy?
DS: Practice, take a course, read. This is a teachable, improvable skill like anything else in science.
TFUI: What is the number one thing that everyone can do to help spread shark conservation messages?
DS: If you don’t know what you’re taking about, don’t make up messages yourself. There are lots of ways for passionate non-experts to help save sharks, but maybe leave the planning and messaging strategy to people who have years of experience.
TFUI: What do you believe is the worst shark myth out there?
DS: We’re getting to the point where shark myths have swung too far in the other direction. Now we have myths and misunderstandings about how to best protect sharks. I’d love to see scuba divers stop engaging in wildlife harassment in the name of myth busting- look but don’t touch.
If you follow David on social media, you know that he created Sandbar Shark appreciation day, since they are his favorite species of shark. When asked why he simply put, “Sandbar Shark is best shark,” and I couldn’t agree more. David had one final piece of advice for budding marine scientists, “Everyone in science is smart. Distinguish yourself by being nice.” Thank you so much for your time David!
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK david FOR HIS TIME AND WE CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT'S IN STORE FOR HIM!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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