We've never met Lindsay Gaskins in person-- but she's the sort of person you just want to sit down for a meal with, all while she talks about her life. Honestly, she's a lot of fun to follow on Twitter (especially her recent photo of the sleepy sea animals in which WE WANT THE ALL). Too bad that her and Melissa's path never crossed while both were in Sarasota, Florida!
Today, though, we sort of get that sit-down chat with her. Dive on in to this fintastic "Behind the Fins" Q&A session.
The Fins United Initiative: What are you currently studying?
Gaskins: For the GRE! [Editor's note: Good luck!] I’m actually currently in a gap year between my undergraduate degree/teaching licensure program, and graduate school. In the meantime, I’ve been working to get my research published, and I’ll be sending out applications this fall!
TFUI: If you could focus all your research on one shark species, which would it be and why? What would you study about it?
Gaskins: I would definitely pick the Greenland Shark.
TFUI: Yes. They are SO cool!
Gaskins: They are some of the strangest but most incredible sharks I’ve ever heard of! I wish more people knew about them since they are the second largest carnivorous shark, only second to the great white. Their mismatched teeth, extremely slow speed, adaptation to freezing water – are all things that wouldn’t normally be selected traits in an apex species, but form a perfectly adapted animal in that ecosystem.
TFUI: To me, no matter the shark, the adaptations of each and every one is fascinating. Especially those deep water sharks!
Gaskins: I’d love to study the specific behavioural mechanisms that make their [Greenland sharks] slow but successful lifestyle possible!
TFUI: That's really interesting! We hope you get to pursue that! So, lets forget about all the limitations science has (i.e. lack of funding, space, time, equipment). What is your dream project?
Gaskins: My dream project would be to be a part of the CMS Shark MoU team gaining key signatory countries to help create and uphold effective laws and policies for highly migratory shark species.
TFUI: Care to elaborate?
Gaskins: With sharks that travel throughout the globe and swim thousands of miles a year, you are presented with unique sets of challenges. Cooperation and trust between countries is key for populations to stabilize and recover. In addition, agreements have to be reached on sustainable catch limits and enforcement. This dream stems from a publication I wrote in collaboration with an oceans law and policy expert on this exact topic, and taking those words and putting them into action would be my greatest triumph as a scientist and global citizen.
TFUI: That sort of drive is truly inspiring-- and I'm sure I am not the only one who feels that way. Who has inspired you most in your science career?
Gaskins: Sylvia Earle! Her research on the deep sea is inspired, and her lectures and speeches are incredibly moving, not to mention her work with Mission Blue to create marine protected areas. When you meet her in person, you can’t help but think that she is the kind of person who you’d want to do research with in a tiny submersible. She is spunky, smart, and has an infectious energy about her. I look up to her because she was such a trailblazer as a female marine biologist.
TFUI: Care to give any advice to those girls who look up to women in STEM like you?
Gaskins: My biggest piece of advice to girls in STEM is to find women you admire in your field and reach out to them. You’re not alone. Some of the most meaningful quotes and words of inspiration I’ve received have been from other female scientists who I look up to. Sylvia Earle once told me to “Go dive, go explore, and get wet!” I took her advice to heart. As an educator, I have always enjoyed mentoring and cultivating young minds, and I would happily carve time out of my day to meet with or email young girls to help them explore and form their own passion for science.
TFUI: As you have pursued your passion in science, what has been your most exciting trip or discovery?
Gaskins: My most exciting trips have involved catching and tagging blacktip and nurse sharks! There is a certain thrill associated with shark fishing. In a second you go from waiting and watching, to everyone working together to safely capture and tag these animals, who fight back!
TFUI: I loved participating in catch-and-release! It was always such a hands-on process.
Gaskins: I thought it was an amazing process, being able to not only tag and release these animals, but also transport some back to our lab for further testing. It is an incredibly accomplished feeling to reel in a shark by hand, and the excitement never gets old!
TFUI: Lets flip the coin. What has been your toughest experience out on the field or lab?
Gaskins: My worst experience in the field was on a beach in Baja California, observing fishermen bringing in their day’s catch to sell to the fish buyers. We were expecting to see a variety of catch such as snapper or mackerel. Instead, we witnessed a tragic situation. Dozens of giant mantas had gotten caught in the fishermens’ nets. Not only had these giant, 250 lb (113 kg) mantas gotten caught in the nets, but they also happened to all be females, at full term pregnancy. Walking from boat to boat, the story was the same. Each fishermen cut open the females to clean their catch, and one after the other, full-term babies fell out, inadvertently cut by the knives.
TFUI: Oh, wow... there are no words for that sort of situation...
Gaskins: I think I was in shock watching this lose-lose situation play out. The fishermen lost, as they couldn’t untangle these mantas from their nets, and the meat wasn’t worth nearly as much as the fish they intended to catch, so they had little to bring back to their families. The mantas lost as well, having many young babies and sexually mature females taken out of the population well before their time.
As the situation unfolded around me, I noticed that there was a small manta baby that had been birthed into a net. It was moving just a little. Something came over me, and I had to ask someone to translate, but I was able to take the baby. I’d handled sharks before, but never rays, so I picked it up by the gill slits and carefully ran into the ocean with all my clothes on, attempting to revive it by running water through its gills. After minutes passed and many waves knocked into me, the manta seemed to orient and find its strength. With several attempts, the little manta cleared the breaker waves and was able to swim out into the Gulf.
TFUI: Yeah... I can see how that sort of experience can haunt someone. That was a good deed you did for that little manta, though. What did you learn from it?
Gaskins: This story still saddens me to this day. Though that one baby may have survived, I watched dozens of other mother and baby mantas meet a less happy fate. I realized these accidental capture events could happen all the time without scientists present to document or attempt to return animals they know are protected or have vulnerable populations because of low fecundity rates.
TFUI: That's definitely something to keep in mind during future studies regarding fisheries (even local ones). Speaking of studies, what's next for you?
Gaskins: Graduate school! I am looking into programs and thinking about what sort of research projects I’d like to pursue going forward. I know that the next year will be a huge change for me and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds!
TFUI: Wrapping this up, what’s the one thing you wished people knew about sharks?
I wished people had a basic sense of shark reproduction and how in many cases, it’s not that different than humans. Many sharks that have needed to be protected can only have a low number of offspring once a year or every other year in many cases, and like humans, sexually mature in their teens.
I think this information works in two ways. It puts in perspective that it is easy to take too many from the ocean and make it impossible to quickly replace that population without help and intervention on our part. It also humanizes them. Shark moms have a similar and often longer pregnancy than humans. Then, once those pups are born, you have to wait over a decade until they mature and can begin to contribute to population growth. By automatically viewing sharks a force counter to us, we fail to acknowledge the ways in which they truly aren’t so different from us.
TFUI: I truly admire the outlook you have, Lindsay. I wish you all the best, and hope one day we get to collaborate. You are more than welcome to visit New Zealand any chance you get, haha.
the fins united initiative would like to thank lindsay for her time and
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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