Growing up, I would watch documentaries about the ocean and its marvellous inhabitants with my father before bedtime. I was so mesmerised by these amazing organisms that live in the ocean. My curiosity about sharks really developed when I snorkelled with them on a family vacation at the age of eight. My family and I were on holiday in Langkawi, Malaysia, when I saw my first shark, a juvenile blacktip reef shark that had come towards the shore to feed. Instead of discouraging me, my parents supported my appreciation for marine life by allowing me to experience these creatures in their natural habitat. That was when I knew I wanted to become a marine biologist. Coming from a family of doctors and engineers, it was not easy for me to make the decision to pursue my dream of working with sharks. But with the support of my amazing parents, I resolved to enrol in a Bachelor of Environmental Science course at Fergusson College in India. While studying for my undergraduate degree, I volunteered with multiple researchers working on a range of different species. However, I found myself drawn particularly towards sharks and the fisheries based on them. Walking through fish markets and seeing mounds of dead sharks made me question how much we knew about the biology of these species and whether such knowledge that we had was integrated into the management strategies for them.
I will be working in the state of West Bengal, India. West Bengal is actually located on the east coast of India along the Bay of Bengal, where it forms part of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem that encompasses a dynamic estuarine system. West Bengal is also home to the Sundarbans, one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. Here I will be working in a town called Digha, which is located in the southernmost part of West Bengal, right next to the border with Orissa, the next Indian state to the west. Fishers in and around this area travel all along the coast as far as the Bangladesh border, near the Sundarbans, to fish. As Digha is home to one of the largest fish auction and landing centres in the area, it is an ideal location to conduct this project.
Currently, very little is understood about the biology of the regional populations of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) from West Bengal. This project aims to understand the composition of elasmobranchs landed from different fisheries and also provide life history and demography information about the species landed. We hope to identify the population dynamics of these populations and potential threats to them.
For my Master’s research at James Cook University, I studied the age and growth of blue sharks in Papua New Guinea. Using the skills I acquired during this work, I aim to understand the life history and demography of West Bengal’s elasmobranch populations. Since I will be working very closely with the fishers to collect my samples, at the end of the project I hope to be able to inform them and other stakeholders about its outcomes. At the same time, I will listen to them and learn how together we can make their livelihoods sustainable while also managing the elasmobranch populations effectively.