Conservation Commons

More Sharks in the Water? That's a Good Thing.

Gerald Schombs/Unsplash
Gerald Schombs/Unsplash

It's Shark Week! But for marine conservation biologist Dr. David Shiffman, every week is shark week. We wanted to hear his take on these jawesome fish and fins out if there's reason to be optimistic about the future of sharks. Read the interview below and follow Shiffman on Twitter for more shark facts and fun: @WhySharksMatter.

First, tell us a bit about yourself. What influenced you to become a shark researcher and conservationist?

I've been interested in sharks as long as my family can remember. I've always known that being a marine biologist who works with sharks is what I want to do. In college, I learned that sharks are not just super-cool, but ecologically important and threatened. It seems like using science to better understand how to protect these creatures is a worthy use of my career.

A day in the life of a marine conservation biologist. Photo courtesy David Schiffman

Sharks are frequently portrayed as demonic man-eating villains by the media. How can we shift the conversation to highlight their importance in marine ecosystems and often rather docile nature?

I'll tell you what you shouldn't do, that too many people are doing: you should not attempt to convince people that sharks are actually cute adorable harmless puppy dogs by hugging and kissing and riding them. That's wildlife harassment. People who do this are not engaging in science, or education, or conservation. They're engaging in wildlife harassment.

This shark is vying for your attention and conservation funding, but please do not pet the shark. (Alex Steyn/Unsplash)

Recently, some shark populations have seen improvements as a result of effective conservation measures. Can you elaborate on these successes? And what impacts will they have on human-wildlife conflict?

Science works. Shark populations in the United States are rebounding after decades of science-based fisheries management that promotes sustainable healthy fisheries. This is good news for sharks and for coastal ecosystems, but can lead to some conflicts with humans who aren't used to having so many sharks around, even if the numbers we're starting to see are closer to what healthy populations should look like.

Are you optimistic about the future of shark conservation?

I am optimistic about the future of shark conservation, because more people care and want to help than ever before and that's great. We know what to do, and we know how to do it. In some places it's really hard but it's not an unsolvable mystery anymore so we got that goin' for us which is nice.

And finally, the internet wants to know – are sharks smooth?

Looks like we're just about out of time! Thanks for playing. Tip your servers.
(Watch Shiffman put this long-standing internet myth to bed on Wild Green Streams.)

Schiffman shows off the appropriate attire for saving sharks during COVID. Photo courtesy David Schiffman

Follow David Shiffman on Twitter @WhySharksMatter and keep up with his science writing on Southern Fried Science.

Cat Kutz

Cat Kutz is the communications lead for the Smithsonian’s Conservation Commons.

More From This Author »