Most of us have never encountered a shark in the ocean; we’ve only seen them on television or in the movies. On screen the shark, with its muscular body and rows of jagged teeth, plays the part of the villain- either a savage thug or a sleek and cunning assassin, but always portrayed as a killer. Dr. Rachel Graham, founder of of the international marine conservation organization, MarAlliance, wants to change that.
Rachel has always loved sharks- and bats and snakes and just about every misunderstood creature kept off the “cute and cuddly” list. In 1998 Rachel’s natural curiosity about sharks exploded into a decades-long career when she literally bumped into a whale shark while working on a fisheries project in Belize. Massive and imposing, though essentially harmless, very little was known about whale sharks at the time, so Rachel set out to discover as much as possible. Using early satellite-tagging technology she followed their movements, and as the whale sharks left Belize, Rachel went with them. Eighteen years and a Ph.D. later, she is now one of the preeminent experts on the species.
Rachel had remarkable success with whale sharks—their populations and areas where they congregate are now protected in several countries. Whale sharks’ reputation as gentle giants certainly helped conservation efforts, but Rachel knew that other shark species were feared and fished unsustainably, posing a major challenge to their conservation.
In 2004, Rachel turned her attention to preserving a variety of marine species and to understanding and changing negative perceptions of what she calls “toothy” sharks. She worked to recast sharks from villains to magnificent animals, as critical to the health of the oceans as lions are to the savannah. She took this work further in 2014 by founding MarAlliance to improve the conservation of threatened sharks and rays. Through working closely with the people who live and fish in coastal areas, and focusing on sound science and policy reform, MarAlliance is taking on marine conservation from all angles. Their message is clear: the only thing to fear about sharks is their disappearance from the oceans.
Learn more about MarAlliance’s work to protect sharks and rays.