Learning Lab Teens Join Shark Research

A group of Chicago-area high schoolers are spending hours of screen time to contribute to an international shark research project.

The students are participants in Shedd Aquarium’s after-school Teen Learning Lab, and the project is Global FinPrint. Shedd is a collaborator with Global FinPrint, which recruits citizen scientists to help fill a critical information gap about the declining number of sharks and rays in the world’s oceans.

Shedd is the second aquarium to participate in Global FinPrint, a Paul G. Allen initiative, but the first collaborator to involve teens in the data collection.

Using a software program designed by Vulcan Inc. especially for Global FinPrint to record data on reef ecosystems, the teens watch 60-minute segments of underwater video surveys taken in the Bahamas and Caribbean. They must not only identify each species of shark and ray that swims in front of the camera but also count how many of each species is present on screen at the same time and note the time stamp when the fishes came into view. 

Global Finprint offers students an exciting application of the STEM skills they learn in school by involving them in a real-life research project. They learn the process of conducting applied scientific research as well as become adept at identifying fast-moving fishes. A few teens have even had a chance to meet and work alongside Global Finprint’s lead scientist, Dr. Demian Chapman of Florida International University, when he visited the Teen Learning Lab.

Research indicates that some shark populations have plummeted over the last few decades, largely due to high catch rates for fins and/or meat. Sharks and rays are key to healthy reef and ocean ecosystems, and their removal can disrupt marine food webs and cause large-scale habitat changes.

Through Global Finprint, teens are taking an active role in protecting sharks and other marine species even though they live thousands of miles away from an ocean. Their observations, which will save researchers hundreds of hours of work, will help answer questions about the global abundance and biodiversity of sharks and rays, these predators’ role in reef ecosystems and how humans are affecting their habitats. The information will also help scientists evaluate current conservation efforts and priorities and better inform future initiatives.

“As Shedd Aquarium’s conservation research team begins our own project to study Caribbean shark species, we’re excited to also bring shark research inland to Chicago,” said Dr. Steve Kessel, director of marine research at Shedd Aquarium. “With unique opportunities to work with world-renowned scientists like Dr. Demian Chapman, we hope to inspire the next generation of shark conservationists.”

Shedd is also opening the citizen science project to its more than 800 volunteers. 

The Global FinPrint database will be available to scientists, governments, students and the general public around the world.

Location

The Bahamas

About the team

Learn more about the conservation research team.

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