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Sophia N. Wassermann, PhD

Marine ecologist interested in quantitative approaches to issues at the intersection of fisheries and climate change. Postdoc in the Punt Lab, School of Aquatic & Fisheries Science, University of Washington, in collaboration with the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center & Northwest Fisheries Science Center. PhD in Earth & Ocean Science from the National University of Ireland, Galway.


Hi, dear reader! This is an old post from a travel/adventure blog I used to keep. This is a wrap-up of old job as a Waterfront Intern at the School for Field Studies Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands, featuring a couple of last adventures with megafauna. End of an era!

I’m not in the Caribbean anymore. This week, I’m at the Society for Conservation Biology’s International Marine Conservation Congress, presenting a poster about tourist opinions on a swim-with-dolphins experience proposed for the TCI, which I worked on with the Environmental Policy faculty, Dr. Edd Hind-Ozan, and the wonderful students in the Spring. After the conference, I’ll be moving to Iceland for 9 months on a Fulbright student grant, the obvious choice of travel after 10 months in the Caribbean sun. I will try to keep this blog updated more frequently through that experience, though I don’t expect quite so many adventures and misadventures as on South. But, there’s always hoping and I am, most likely, going to fall on my face in some highly embarrassing fashion, which I will make sure to describe for your entertainment.

Speaking of adventures, I thought I’d leave you with one more story from the Turks and Caicos.

I’ve been very lucky in my megafauna sightings around South Caicos and I’ve checked off many of the animals on my bucket list: we see a Caribbean reef sharks, Southern stingrays, or spotted eagle rays on every dive, we catch and tag green and hawksbill sea turtles, and I was even lucky enough to see not only dolphins, but two humpback whales underwater. One of the more elusive creatures, however, are hammerhead sharks. There was one in the shallows while we were walking to shore while I was a student (a singularly thrilling moment, in many senses) and we saw one on a staff dive during the Fall semester, though I only saw the enormous dorsal and caudal fin as it swam away. The fishermen report seeing them every now and then, but they are rare on dives.

Well, this summer I saw a hammerhead. Like really close. Amazingly, it was my last dive of the internship. The summer students had left, we were done cleaning up after them, and in the midst of a few weeks of choppy seas making diving prohibitive when simply for staff recreation, we managed to get a dive in. Four of us went to the Arch, a great site for shallow student dives because of a beautiful natural coral archway, easy to swim under and always sheltering horse-eyed jacks, snappers, grouper, and lionfish.

The wall is further away from the mooring at this site, starting at about 100 feet before it drops to thousands. We were swimming along the wall, enjoying perfect 100+ ft visibility, water warm enough to dive without a wetsuit, and some calm after the rush of the end of the session, when, suddenly, a huge shape appeared over the wall. I was at the front of the group and didn’t see it approach, but turned around to see Tamsen, one of the faculty, staring up at a hammerhead shark, twice her size, winding its way around her. After a few seconds, it swam off. We froze, stunned, and then swam rather quickly away from the wall. We continued the dive, Tamsen further spooked by a curious turtle visiting the group, and returned to the boat just a little extra happy to be alive. None of the three people carrying cameras (including Tamsen) had the mental capacity to take a picture, but that image of a human dwarfed by this shark as it quickly twisted around her will stick with me for quite some time. What a goodbye to South Caicos!