Highs and lows – staying curious and humble with a passion for sharks

It has been 2 weeks of some highs and some disappointments, yet meeting the right people always has the ability to inspire and get me to want to move along with more humility, ability to learn and curiosity to discover more possibilities.

So Shan and I made an overnight bus journey up north to Gainesville, thanks to Broward County that made the connection and helped reached out so we could meet with Dr Gavin Naylor of the Florida Shark Research Program. Although it was rough to have to take an overnighter (with multiple stops and even disembarkations at ungodly hours, along the way) there and back, the knowledge, learnings and inspirations gleaned from Gavin was worth it all.

The University of Florida is one big and beautiful campus with so much to offer and so much work already done on shark research before.

Gavin enthralled us all morning sharing his thoughts about species loss as a loss in the sense that we humans have lost a whole range of possibilities and learnings for advancement that we could have tapped on, from the species. He also shared about why he rejected the traditional views on evolution as they came about during a time of the rise of the idea of divine creation and the Industrial Revolution and got us to think about how life and how organisms acquire new traits, is more than just natural selection but in most situations, a case of population trauma. Hence not all evolutionary happenings are on a linear progressive happening. How he anticipates that an improved understanding of the way in which proteins can traverse their evolutionary state space will provide insight into mechanisms underlying protein diversification, which may, in turn, help us understand how new traits arise at the organismal level.

It was a dream come true to get to visit the fish, sharks and rays lab where thousands of specimens stored in pickle jars and properly labelled, had been stored from decades ago. I was just wowed at the get go when we were shown into the lab where a whole slew of properly categorised shark jaw bones were hanging from the walls.

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I was just so fascinated by how well documented everything was and couldn’t believe I was right here in Gainesville, looking at all the actual shark research work being done here after having followed the UTSharkResearch twitter page for a while now. I could just cry, staring in awe at the jars upon jars of sharks and rays, some specimens even dating back to 1975.

 

Gavin also shared about a sharks and rays tree of life page that he had been working on for 20 over years now, to show to relationship between 1200 species of sharks and rays that he had been studying from going to fish markets around the world and collecting DNA samples for studying. There is even an interactive atlas that shows where each species is most likely to be found in the world, as well as really cool section of CT-scanned shark specimens where you can break down the different parts of the shark to examine and learn from. I was crazy inspired by how detailed and interactive the website was and definitely heartened to get to meet shark nerds like Gavin who has been working on sharks since I was 5 years old…wow.

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The Gainesville trip was beyond awesome as I felt like a kid in a candy store, being physically in a place of which I had been reading about and following for a while now! The University of Florida campus was absolutely charming and Gavin was absolutely in his elements as he shared enthusiastically about sharks and bioinformatics.

Gavin’s words rings through for me that we are all limited by our field of existing experiences and the things we are used to, and that we need to open ourselves to as many different perspectives as possible and keep asking questions, in order to find solutions beyond what we already think we know. Thanks for the inspiration!

Kathy Xu,

Singapore (Broward County, Florida)

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