A lot of working parts and pieces, many of which are very technical, are coming together to create our shark anatomy app for kids. While this is the backbone of the Shark4kids project, its core remains real live sharks and kids.
Shark4kids was founded with the goal of creating a diverse range of educational opportunities and experiences for students both in the classroom and in the field. Our team loves sharks and we’ve all dedicated much of our adult lives to working with them. For this project, though, we really wanted to connect with students to get their perspective on these weird and wonderful creatures. A fun and very informative way of doing this is to actually take kids to see sharks. Yes, I am using kids and sharks in the same sentence, which might be making some of you cringe or think we are crazy.
The islands of Bimini are my home and also happen to be home to a diverse range of elasmobranchs found in shallow, crystal-clear water. These are ideal conditions for introducing students to finned friends.
For our first project we took a group of middle-school girls from a school on the North Island to see southern stingrays. The girls were nervous and excited as they boarded the Bimini Scuba Center boat. There were shrieks and screams when the rays approached, but after a few moments, the girls realised that there was nothing to fear. They could clearly see the barb and understood that it would not hurt them. After 45 minutes in the water, most did not want to leave. ‘Look at their smiles,’ said one girl. ‘I can’t believe how gentle they are,’ said another. On the ride home, the boat was filled with questions about how rays mate, where they go and what they eat.
For our next experience, we teamed up with the Bimini Biological Field Station to assist with its open day, when local students are invited to visit the lab and see baby lemon and nurse sharks up close. These schoolchildren were much younger and their reactions to the sharks were amazing. They loved how rough the skin was and that baby lemon sharks have belly buttons (umbilical scars). They were also fascinated by the fact that shark ears are entirely inside the head, with only two little dots indicating their presence.
These shark immersion experiences definitely helped us gain a better understanding of how students think and react to sharks, which in turn helps us to take a more kid-centric and creative approach to the way we are creating the app.