My Experience at Shoals in the Shark Biology and Conservation Course

Kadie Heinle received the Gills Club Scholarship to attend a Shark Biology and Conservation Course at Shoals Marine Lab during the summer of 2018. Read below to learn about her experience!

Hello everyone!


            It’s been about one month since I finished my Shark Biology and Conservation course at Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) and I finally have the time to let you all know how it went.  In short, it was an absolutely amazing learning experience.  Our professor, Dr. Heather Marshall, and teaching assistant, Maggie Winchester were both incredible and I truly enjoyed learning from them.  I am so grateful to the Gills Club and its donors for the opportunity to attend the course. 


            I’ll admit that traveling to Appledore Island at first gave me a few doubts about the intelligence of missing work to fly across the country and attend class for two weeks.  I had a bit of a planes, trains, and automobiles journey to get to the island (minus the train and plus a boat).  After flying all night to Boston, Massachusetts, I survived my first solo Uber ride to the bus station and found myself wishing I could trade the tall buildings and busy roads of Boston for the mountains and Lochsa River that I had left in Idaho.  Thankfully, my bus trip up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire (another first for me) passed by uneventfully and I found a lot of comfort stepping into the charming coastal town. 


After finding my way to the SML dock a few hours early, I went on a hunt for a Moxie soda based on the suggestion of one of my coworkers.  Both my coworker and the lady who sold me the soda warned me that it might taste like motor oil, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the New England specialty had more of a minty, Dr. Pepper taste.  I then spent the next few hours exploring Portsmouth before hopping on the Kingsbury (one of SML’s boats) to Appledore Island.


The course itself was both challenging and rewarding.  Our days were long and full of lectures, labs, and studying everything we could about sharks, skates, and rays in two short weeks.  My favorite parts of the course were our labs and field days.  We had the chance to dissect a few spiny dogfish (Squalas acanthias) and it was so interesting to first learn about the internal anatomy of these sharks, then to see it first hand.  We had a few pregnant dogfish in the batch that we dissected, so we were able to see the embryos at different development stages, which was really interesting!  My favorite lab was when we practiced processing blood samples towards the end of the course.  We were hoping to have collected blood samples from sharks during our fishing/field days, but unfortunately we had little luck in catching a shark.  Instead, one of the other classes brought us back a few mackerel (Scomber scombrus), which we used for our blood samples instead. 


Our days in the field were simultaneously amazing and frustrating.  Amazing in that we were spending multiple hours out on the water fishing, but frustrating in that we were never able to catch a shark.  However I think our field days provided the most realistic lesson in shark research, in that you need a lot of patience and perseverance to succeed in the field.  Another major positive of the field days were that we had the chance to see some of the other common fish species in the Gulf of Maine.  We caught a few rockfish (Sebastidae spp.), cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), and mackerel.  It was such a cool opportunity to see these species close up, especially cod, as that is such a culturally and economically important fish.  Additionally, being out in the field afforded us the chance to see other wildlife such as dolphins and a minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).  So overall, our days in the field were a blast, despite the disappointment of not actually catching sharks.

Overall, I learned so much more in two weeks than I ever would have thought possible.  There are so many more intricacies and subfields within the field of shark research than I could have imagined.  In addition to the specific lectures taught by Heather and Maggie, we had guest speakers talk to us either in person or on a video chat to talk further about different areas of shark research.  These guest speakers were an invaluable part of the class for me.  Having the chance to talk to Dr. James Sulikowski in person about steps to take after I graduate and hearing from Megan Winston about careers in quantitative fisheries were both incredible opportunities for me.


The Shark Biology and Conservation course was an incredible learning experience for me.  I came away from my time on Appledore Island with a greater appreciation for the field of shark biology and great new friendships.  I can’t thank the Gills Club enough for providing this opportunity!  I would definitely recommend that other aspiring female scientists check out this scholarship in the future!




Kadie Heinle

Gills Club Scholar 2018