Emily Meese is a Master's student in the CSULB Shark Lab in California, USA. She is interested in the spatial and behavioral ecology of sharks and fish - which is why we are interested in her! She took some time to answer questions for The Fins United Initiative "Behind the Fins" interview.
The Fins United Initiative: When did you know you wanted a career that revolved around the ocean? What got you interested in marine biology?
Emily Meese: I did my first snuba dive at 8 years old and got my Junior Open Water Scuba Certification at 10 years old. Seeing the underwater world at such a young age I was so fascinated and instantly knew I wanted to work in the ocean. I remember on the plane ride home from a family dive vacation in Hawaii, I asked my dad what that job would be and he told me it was called Marine Biology, ever since then I was hooked.
TFUI: What are you currently studying right now?
EM: I am a Master’s student at the California State University Long Beach’s (CSULB) Shark Lab. I study the movements and behaviors of California horn sharks, an abundant, nocturnally active species in southern California. I made custom tag packages to track these sharks with acoustic transmitters and accelerometer data loggers. The transmitters allowed me to active track each individual and know exactly where they were going, the accelerometers recorded 3D body movements which tell me if the shark was swimming, resting, feeding, etc. I’ve really enjoyed this project because it was challenging, but constantly interesting to learn about these sharks.
TFUI: We saw that you study behavioral thermoregulation in sharks- what a mouthful! Can you tell TFUI’s audience a little bit more about that?
EM: Since temperature will affect the rates of physiological processes for ectotherms, some sharks can behaviorally thermoregulate where they will move between cooler or warmer water for some energetic benefit. For example, female leopard sharks will aggregate in shallow, warmer water to speed up their gestation times. I am interested in studying behavioral thermoregulation because it shows how temperature can be a strong driver of shark movements and behaviors. Since global ocean temperatures are increasing, these concepts are important to understand so we can predict how shark distributions, movements, and behaviors will change.
TFUI: How did you choose the university you are at?
EM: I chose CSULB because of the incredible resources the marine biology department has, as well as my advisor, Dr. Chris Lowe. The resources our department has (i.e., boats, vehicles, dive locker, etc.) gives students the autonomy to have large-scale projects where we can answer scientific questions efficiently and fully. My advisor, Dr. Chris Lowe, is one of the hardest working people I know. He has taught me how to design effective projects, write and communicate science to many audiences through various platforms, and how to create good relationships in the scientific community. My Master’s thesis has morphed into a much larger project that some would consider a Ph.D. project, but I knew with advice and support like his, I would be able to accomplish such a large-scale project.
TFUI: Do you think people in your state have a good relationship with the ocean environment? What about sharks? If not, what can be done to better it?
EM: I think southern California has improved their relationship with the ocean environment, however there is always more that can be done. There are so many resources here that I think we have finally begun to reach a point where the public does hear about things they should and shouldn’t do for the environment, but since improving the environment takes time, the trick is keeping the public interested and motivated.
TFUI: Very true.
EM: We have been very fortunate to have a community in southern California that does care about sharks. As a lab, we study the white shark movements and behaviors in southern California and in recent years we have had a lot of support from beach communities, ocean users, and lifeguards and public safety officials to continue our research and help share what we learn with the public to increase safe beach practices. Recently, there have been increased abundances of young white sharks along southern California, so there have also been increased sightings and interactions between sharks and the public. Over the years, we have learned to use the ocean without many sharks present, however now that shark populations are increasing (and remember that’s a good thing!) we need to relearn how to use the ocean to reduce the negative interactions that occur. For example, some whale watching boats transition into shark watching boats when there are sharks in the area, but unlike the guidelines that exist with marine mammals (i.e., boats need to stay 100 yards away) there are no guidelines to help protect the shark populations, or the human populations, when these interactions occur.
TFUI: Tell us about knowing the activity patterns and movements of sharks!
EM: I have always been curious about where sharks go and why. Understanding shark activity patterns allows me to see not only what a shark doing in an area (i.e., swimming, resting, mating) but also understand from an energetics perspective, how much energy they are using and therefore how much energy will they need to take from their environment. With this, I can then see how lower trophic levels are affected and therefore how the rest of the community responds to when sharks are present or absent in an area.
TFUI: What has been the coolest part of your research findings so far?
EM: Horn sharks are a relatively smaller shark (122 cm is the max size reported), and since they are nocturnally active, they are considered a lazy shark. I learned very quickly that these sharks are far from lazy! I had many of my sharks travel more than 5 miles in a single night and we have found that while they have been considered a shallow shark (0-10 m) they will frequently travel through depths deeper than 30 m throughout the night. Finding that these sharks are capable of a lot more than I expected and realizing they have a strong impact on the community they reside in makes me excited to continue to learn what other secrets sharks have and how those are revealed by studying their movements and behaviors.
TFUI: What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
EM: I would like to continue with my education to receive my Ph.D. to attain a research position where I could continue to ask questions about shark behavior and apply the answers to preserving ocean communities. I want to continue to research how the environment influences an animal’s physiology and how that interaction drives distribution patterns, habitat preferences, behaviors, and spatial movements.
TFUI: What is your favorite Chondrichthyan species and why?
EM: Well, of course I’m slightly biased towards the charismatic California horn shark! I have also always enjoyed learning about bull sharks and how they can travel through environments that can be completely different from each other. Who knows, maybe one day I will be studying them!
THE FINS UNITED INITIATIVE WOULD LIKE TO THANK emily FOR Her TIME AND WE CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT'S IN STORE FOR Her!
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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