|"Some of these kids have never been to the ocean, even though they live so close."|
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Mention sharks and many people begin hearing the music from Jaws. The Sharkmobile has hit the streets of the San Francisco Bay area to take a bite out of misinformation about the much maligned species.
"Most students are surprised to learn that sharks play a vital role in the health of the marine ecosystem, eat a variety of foods, and are not really the ‘man-eaters' that are often portrayed in the media," says Christy Walker, education specialist with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
The sanctuary's Sharkmobile is a traveling, one-hour classroom program that enables fourth through sixth graders to explore the biology and natural history of sharks from around the world, with a particular focus on great white sharks made infamous in Jaws.
"The white shark is one of the ambassadors of our sanctuary," says Walker, pointing out that "great" isn't part of the white shark's official name.
The Farallon Islands, located 27 miles west of San Francisco, host one of the largest seasonal feeding populations of white sharks in the Pacific from roughly August through November.
"The Gulf of the Farallones' waters are home to many types of sharks, not just white sharks, but it's the white sharks that get most of the press," says Walker.
The Sharkmobile program was developed in 2004 by sanctuary education consultant Jenny Nelson and reaches students in eight different counties.
"Some of these kids have never been to the ocean, even though they live so close," notes Walker. The Sharkmobile is "a great way to get out into the schools and expand our reach beyond the kids who come to the shore and our visitor center."
The program is conducted for no more than 35 students at a time, up to three days a week during the school year. Two to three programs are done by Walker and other part-time sanctuary staff members during each school visit.
During the program, students get to study shark video taken by a local researcher, examine the jaws, teeth, and egg casings of a number of different species, get an up-close look at preserved leopard and salmon sharks, and see examples of shark products, such as a sharkskin boot and shark-fin soup. Students discuss shark myths and also partake in a shark classification exercise.
The program is tied to state standards and the mission of the sanctuary's education plan, which is to increase ocean literacy and connect people in the region to the sanctuary and ecosystem.
"It's been great," says Walker. "We've done over 235 programs and have had over 7,000 participants."
She adds, "Sharks are easy to get kids excited about and interested in."
For more information about the Sharkmobile, contact Christy Walker at (650) 712-8948, or Christy.Walker@noaa.gov