Most people do whatever they can to avoid being face to face with a shark. Not Louise Bennett-Jones.
Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Louise has just completed a 3 month internship at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, a tremendous opportunity to do some high quality research on a variety of marine life, and is currently visitng New Zealand before heading back to Jersey.
“I was mainly involved with tiger shark research, but the lab has focused research projects on a whole variety of species from sandbar sharks and hammerhead sharks, to deep sea 6 gill sharks and tunas.
“What was great about Hawaii was that your research subjects are right on your doorstep year round. You can walk out of the lab door, straight onto a boat, and be out on in water in 5 minutes ready to start work.”
The main project Louise was working on there involved looking at the number of human-shark interactions around the Hawaiian Islands.
“There is a much higher occurrence around the island of Maui than around neighbouring islands. The team are therefore running a project to determine if this is simply down to chance, or if there is a specific reason, and if so, what that reason may be.
“The results they have thus far are still only preliminary, but they've got some really interesting stuff. The most important thing to take from it though is how incredibly small the number of attacks are given the number of people going in the sea around Hawaii.”
The ocean is in Louise’s blood, having grown up surrounded by it.
“I grew up with a fascination with the sea. My parents were both into sailing, my dad was a keen scuba diver, and we lived 5 minutes from the largest intertidal rocky beach in Western Europe, so naturally I grew up in the rock pools.
“When I was 7 I went on a 'Ramble in the Rock Pools' with a local marine biologist, and from that day on I knew that that's what I wanted to be.”
When your working day involves coming face to face with a tiger shark, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. Thankfully there have been very few close encounters that got a little close.
“There was one moment when a lab mate got a shark tail slap to the face while trying to get an animal alongside the boat for tagging. That was my first day on the water with them, so that made me somewhat nervous! I believe it was all completely under control though.
“While I was there they also caught the biggest male tiger shark they've ever caught in 20+ years of research (4.35m). It wasn't a close encounter as such, but I've never seen a more impressive, powerful animal so close before.”
“From a research perspective, I would love to be able to carry out cutting edge research that uncovers details we never knew about certain species. This new information could then be used to aid in the creation of more appropriate management plans for those species/habitats.And naturally Louise hopes her passion for the ocean and its inhabitants can both shine new light on the unknown beneath the surface, and also inspire others to realise just how important our oceans are.
“From a public communication aspect, I would feel I had completely done my job if I was able to demonstrate how absolutely vital the world’s oceans are for the survival of the human race and why we should be doing everything we can to help protect its ecosystems and conserve its species.”