Challenges and musings

Challenges of the Scottish coastline, Invisible basking shark adventures and other musings – Dr Lauren Smith – the Sharkiologist.

Over the past year or so I have been receiving emails from young aspiring shark biologists, these emails are usually charged with a gazillion questions covering all sorts of topics from; What’s it like to be a shark? Why are shark’s important? And even Galeophobia (- an abnormally large and persistent fear of sharks, very important not to confuse with gallophobia as I almost did which turns out to be an excessive fear of France/anything French!).

I digress…. Anyway one of the questions which crops up time and time again is “What is it like to work at Sea?”

There are of course a thousand different answers to this question depending on what project you are involved with and where in the world you are, I am sure that for most of you reading this you would agree with me when I say that working in/on Scottish waters can at times be challenging! For me there has been shark tank lids lost in gale force winds, torrential rain, a few meters visibility and toilet pot malfunctions to name a few, of course all of the shenanigans make for great tales when warming up down the pub later!

Quite a few of my Scottish coastline adventures have been in pursuit of basking sharks – quite how the second largest shark has managed to evade me for this long I know not! I’ve been out of Ullapool and over to the Summer Isles and beyond countless times, down to Gairloch (where apparently I should have been there a few hours earlier!) out of Elgol on Skye and over to the old basking shark fishery bay on Soay to no avail, however I have not given up yet and this has a lot to do with all of the associated marine life I am fortunate enough to experience first-hand such as seals, dolphins, porpoise etc…

Heading out of Ullapool with a view of Ben Mor Coigach.

For me it is sometimes easy to forget that for a large number of people the sea is not a particularly accessible place and I think this is one of the reasons why conservation of both the marine environment as well as its inhabitants presents a unique challenge. It is a lot easier to relate to something when you come into contact with it regularly and you have the opportunity to learn about it. With the Ocean and in particular sharks, I used to think that people just didn’t care but I soon began to realise that a lot of the time people were either misinformed or were simply not aware of what was happening to shark population numbers.

Take the recent decision by the European parliament to endorse a resolution on shark finning that calls on the commission to deliver a proposal to prohibit the removal of shark fins on board vessels. This is a positive move forwards in strengthening the current shark finning laws, however despite shark finning being one of the most highly publicised plights of sharks I have spoken to many people who were unaware that shark finning even existed, therefore one of the most important tasks is to continue to promote the need for ocean conservation and to increase awareness as much as possible.

Impersonating a basking shark off Skye.

I hope that this will lead to positive assertiveness allowing the marine environment the protection it requires, not least so that the up and coming shark biologists I communicate with, will be able to gather brilliant experience’s for themselves.

Lauren Smith is a marine biologist who specialises in shark research, she is currently researching the shark immune system and is based in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Her website is

Lauren also recently contributed a series of articles for our SSTP website during a sabbatical in the Phillipines where she visited the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project (TSRCP), based on Malapascua Island, off the North East tip of Cebu.

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