Snow: I’m working with whale sharks in a place called Donsol in the Philippines – it has one of the largest aggregations of whale sharks in South East Asia and I am here with another member of our LAMAVE team to identify the individual whale sharks visiting the bay.
SF: Wow! What a feat! How is this accomplished?
Snow: We do this by taking a photograph of the spot pattern on the left side of the sharks body. This spot pattern is unique to every individual, and like our fingerprint we can use it to match and compare with other individuals in this case to find out if the same sharks are coming here year after year or if they are new visitors to the area.
SF: Talk a little about the Lamave Project and its impact on marine research/conservation.
Snow: LAMAVE stands for the Large Marine Vertebrates Project, Philippines and the project is the work of three Non-Profit Organisations (one in Italy, one in the USA and one in the Philippines). Our tagline is: Marine conservation through scientific research and education. Simply put, we use the information we collect during our research to understand the pressures on animals such as sharks, rays and cetaceans and take specific action to protect them. We do this by working with local communities as well as government agencies and the private sector.
SF: What are a few highlights from LAMAVE in recent years?
Snow: In 2014, we confirmed the first ever photo ID match of a whale shark between different Asian countries (Taiwan and the Philippines).
- We have positively identified three new species of rays previously unreported in the Philippines, which lead to revision of national law to list these animals as protected.
- We are a key resource provider for local marine wildlife stranding networks having trained hundreds of individuals including government officials on how to properly rescue stranded animals.
- We’ve also conducted comprehensive marine education classes in elementary and secondary schools, reaching nearly 15,000 students.
- We have identified over 300+ individual whale sharks across the Philippines!
Snow: I’m actually a Zoologist! I studied Zoology at University – which is the scientific study of the behaviour structure, physiology, classification, and distribution of animals.
SF: What a great way to show our readers that you don’t need a degree in marine biology to work with sharks, if their dream is to do so.
Snow: We looked at both Marine and Terrestrial animals – but I think it was my love for the ocean and my childhood growing up by the sea in Wales, UK that led me to specialise in marine animals. Our ocean is such an incredible habitat and we still know so little about it. I’ve always thought – why go to space?
SF: I do love me some space, but I love our planet’s unending mysteries that continue to unfold before our eyes!
Snow: There is so much still to explore below the surface of the water!
SF: Agreed. We know more about our moon than we do below our watery waves. Isn’t that crazy?! Speaking of water, who’s inspired you most in your marine science career?
SF: Really?! Well, now we can write your name next to hers! What a cool coincidence.
Snow: And who can leave out Jacques Cousteau! I’m a filmmaker too, so I also have a soft spot for filmmaker Wes Anderson who brought us the ‘Life Aquatic’ a surreal take/parody on the life of Jacques Cousteau.
SF: I was introduced to ‘Life Aquatic’ a few years ago through a friend (shout out to Ami) and it certainly was one of those movies all marine biologists should see. Okay, you are super busy and we have to let you go, but one more question: care to dish out any advice to Sarasota Fins readers?
Snow: I've always felt I've been given good advice so I'll pass some of that on - follow your dreams, keep learning, be polite and be persistent. If you really want something you can get it, just go after it! Never stop moving towards where you want to be.
SF: Couldn’t agree more: don’t get so caught up in your goals and so focused on the end result that you miss the miracle along the way. Thanks for your time, Sally.
Interested in the LAMAVE Project? For more info on their projects, check out their website and like their Facebook Page. They also just launched a really exciting new project called Expedition Shark: Discover and Protect Shark Eden.