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Ruth A. Musgrave, Part 1: Writing For A Cause

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Back To S.T.E.A.M. Powered | Part 2: The Power of Words

On a cold and blustery day, three Oceanscape Network Youth Correspondents met with author Ruth A. Musgrave on the forested slopes of Cape Perpetua. The venue was an appropriate one. The cape is considered one of the best whale watching sites in Oregon and Ruth has spent most of her professional life researching, writing and lecturing about these ocean giants and other marine animals. Below the cape’s visitor center, gray whales were making their slow migration north to their feeding grounds in Arctic waters. After speaking with Correspondents Arii Geampa, Macy Dexter and Russell Stone about the migration, the conversation turned to one of Ruth’s favorite topics — sharks.

Ruth is the author of eight books about science, nature and the oceans, Her latest title Mission: Shark Rescue was published by National Geographic Kids in March 2016 and she’d brought a copy to share. As the title suggests, the book is geared toward helping young people understand the conservation challenges facing sharks worldwide and how they can take positive action to help the species.

Saving Sharks

“In Mission: Shark Rescue, I wanted to get people thinking differently about sharks,” Ruth told the group. “They are actually one of the most threatened animal groups in the ocean but very few people know that.”

The global statistics on shark populations are startling. In some parts of the ocean, the number of sharks has plummeted by as much as 90% in just the past few decades. Overfishing – for fins, for food, and as by-catch—is the main reasons for these declines. But according to Ruth, the most profound challenges to shark conservation are lack of information about most species and lack of concern by most people.

“We are still battling some huge misconceptions about sharks,” Ruth said. “Even finding a successful rescue story about sharks for this book was difficult. When an elephant or a tiger or a whale gets hurt, people want to rescue them. When a shark gets hurt, no one really cares.”

“Because people think they’re mean anyway?” suggested Arii.

“Exactly,” said Ruth. “The idea that these animals are evil or dangerous or useless is still very common. In some places they’re also food for people so no one really thinks twice about another shark dying. As a result of these factors, sharks are killed by the millions every year.”

Spotlighting Solutions

To help reverse the dangerous decline in shark populations, many countries including the United States have established marine sanctuaries, or areas of the ocean where it is illegal to fish or harm wildlife. The largest sanctuary for sharks was created by the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 2011 and encompasses 768,547 square miles (1,990,530 square kilometers) of the Pacific Ocean. The largest American sanctuary is the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument located near the Hawaiian Islands. Its protected waters are home to a variety of shark species including gray reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks and tiger sharks. Aside from protecting sharks and their habitats, these sanctuaries also act as living laboratories where scientists can observe sharks in the wild without interfering with their natural behaviors. Many of these sanctuaries are spotlighted in Mission: Shark Rescue.

Ruth also works to help sharks through her non-profit organization, WhaleTimes, Inc. In 2011, Ruth created a holiday called Fintastic Friday: Giving Sharks a Voice to help raise awareness about shark conservation among schoolchildren. Every May, kids from around the world create posters and other projects to educate their friends and families about sharks and to thank the scientists whose research is helping us to better understand these important predators. This year’s “Fintastic Friday” will be held on May 13.

Additional resources on sharks are available through the links below or you can download a guide to Oregon’s sharks from the righthand sidebar.

Part 2: The Power of Words

Related Features: Sharks of Oregon | Great White Wonder | Animals on Oceanscape

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The Killer Rep

Author and conservationist Ruth A. Musgrave discusses the global plight of the shark and how young people can make a difference for this imperiled species.

About The S.T.E.A.M. Powered Program

This multi-part series features five women who are at the tops of their fields in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. Over the 2015-16 school year, one week will be dedicated to each person, highlighting their education, careers and innovative contributions to their various disciplines — including the discovery of new species, the exploration of hostile ecosystems and the conservation of marine species.

A Guide to Oregon's Sharks

Download this colorful guide to all of the major shark species residing in Oregon waters.