Here's some images from our trip to Bimini last November.
Here are some highlights from our shark research trip to Freeport, Bahamas last year.
Dr. Heather Blackall speaking about shark conservation and research at Shark Con 2017 in Tampa, FL. Heather is the President of Ocean's Daughter Conservation Alliance. ODCA focuses on shark conservation and education, specifically, the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
In the early stages of conceiving Ocean’s Daughter we had many inquire as to why we selected mermaids as one of our primary areas of messaging. As a global organization cemented in strong scientific doctrine, many suggested that this choice seemed to be a massive juxtaposition. The mere notion of embracing a mythical creature when promoting ocean literacy sparked some controversy. To be honest, that anticipated line of inquiry was actually the intended purpose. It would require an entire dissertation to trace the historical “origins” and key myths surrounding mermaids. Perhaps that is a task for another time! However, it is relevant to highlight a few significant examples to explain our stance.
From Ancient Greece to Disney
Throughout the ages, mermaids have taken on contrasting roles. Some cultures such as those of Ancient Greece and Rome held sirens with extreme reverence. Multiple accounts exist within the literature that testifies to these creatures utilizing mesmerizing songs and hypnotic beauty to captivate men. This allure allegedly led to many a sailor’s death. The stories are contradicting in terms of intentions. Some believe sirens to have meticulously planned this outcome, while others suggest that mermaids failed to realize that the sailors could not breathe underwater. Some during this era believed that mermaids would literally suck the life out of humans. Other literary accounts such as The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson depict mermaids in a more innocent and curious light. As we all know, Disney heavily capitalized on this! Modern times brand mermaids as playful fantasy.
If one wanted to move away from mythology and fiction, there are a plethora of accounts rooted in a more historical realm. Pliny the Elder was a Roman scholar who described Nereids as “women with rough scaly bodies like fish” in Natural History. In a 5th Century AD book entitled Physiologus, a Greek unknown scholar dedicated a portion of the writing to portraying “The Nature of the Mermaid”. In 1493, Christopher Columbus recorded an encounter with three mermaids in his ship logs while sailing off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The widely accepted explanation is that Columbus actually mistook manatees for mermaids. In 1608, another explorer by the name of Henry Hudson also recorded an encounter with a mermaid in his ship’s journal while sailing through the Bering Sea off of the coast of Norway. In 1614, the infamous John Smith actually wrote about spotting a mermaid off of the coast of Massachusetts. Similar accounts are sprinkled throughout historical records by otherwise logical men. Yet despite these narratives, solid tangible evidence has consistently escaped scientists.
Ocean’s Daughter Conservation Alliance has a team of professional mermaids available for performances and appearance at schools, assemblies, private events, community festivals, zoos, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries!We specialize in both dry and wet work! Our lead mermaid is the reigning International Conservation Mermaid, and was also crowned the official Mermaid of Gasparilla in 2016!
Ancient Mesopotamian culture chronicles the existence of a merman by the name of Oannes. Legend claims he would rise from the depths of the Persian Gulf every morning and instill knowledge, reasoning, and wisdom to mankind. As a result of his efforts, humans were equipped with cognitive tools that led to scientific advancements such as agriculture, medicine, astrology, the construction of cities, and written language. While historians consider Oannes a mere myth, one cannot deny that the contributions from this ancient culture are authentic. The advancements were so beyond anything the world had previously known that Mesopotamia is hallmarked as the cradle of civilization. We are not suggesting that a mermaid should be credited with such contributions, but the symbolism there is appealing. Our mission at Ocean’s Daughter Conservation Alliance is to formulate practical conservation solutions that benefit both humanity and wildlife through an innovative blend of education and science. By serving as a global ambassador organization, we envision conducting groundbreaking research with the aspiration of deepening our comprehension of marine life. To accomplish this task, sophisticated levels of cognition are paramount. Therefore it was logical to adopt a symbol from a world long ago that embodies both knowledge and wisdom. Naturally, in Ocean’s Daughter tradition, we had to put on our own creative twist on it!!!!
Mermaids Through History
The purpose of this abbreviated lesson is to illustrate the numerous mermaid symbols across cultures and eras. At times, mermaids are labeled dangerous forces not to be reckoned with. They possess an inherent ferociousness that cannot be contained. At other times, mermaids represent extraordinary beauty with an almost supernatural charm. Other accounts leave readers with a sense of mystery. There is so much left unknown about these creatures. Here at Ocean’s Daughter Conservation Alliance, we do not adopt any particular stance on mermaids. Whether mermaid tails are authentic or mere tales are not for us to decide. Yet the parallels between their symbols and the characteristics of the oceans we are striving to protect are undeniable. In a way, mermaids are perfect metaphors for the various facets of the seas! So for that reason, why not mermaids?!?!
The most magical time of the year is upon us once again! Pinterest boards are swimming with all of the latest tutorials on preparing those perfectly shaped fondant shark fin cupcakes, how to construct the most realistic shark Jell-O cups, the ideal blends for ocean punch, and ideas for entertaining guests with a multitude of activities including those notorious seal themed games. Amity Island décor is selling out in party stores across the country as Cold Stone is gearing up to launch their annual Shark Frenzy sundaes. Of course you are doing all of the party planning in the comfort of those jawesome shark crochet socks you ordered off of Etsy to keep up with the latest in shark fashion! Seriously, how has Shark Week not yet been declared a national holiday?
Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is arguably one of the most successful television programs of the summer. With a loyal cult following, it has transitioned a series of nature documentaries into a pop culture phenomenon. Unfortunately, in recent years we are witnessing what ODCA headquarters likes to call the “Jurassic World Effect”. That notion of “bigger, louder, more teeth” is dominating the lineup. Each year the boundary is pushed a little more and the content becomes even more sensationalized. Who can forget the infamous Megalodon mockumentary? We all know that drama sells, ratings pay the bills, and ultimately it is all boils down to entertainment. Yet somewhere along the way shouldn’t there still be glimmers of authentic conservation messaging? Shark Week was conceptualized to educate and spread awareness for sharks.
These magnificent apex predators are constantly struggling to escape the bloodthirsty man-eating monster stereotype that Jaws so generously bestowed upon them. Other films like The Shallows, 47 Meters Down, and Sharknado only perpetuate the label. Alarmingly, Shark Week titles seem to follow this disturbing trend. What message is Discovery Channel really sending to the casual browser who flips through the guide only to read titles like “Devil Sharks”, “The Great Hammerhead Invasion”, and “Great White Shark Serial Killer Lives”? “Lair of the Sawfish” sounds like the makings of summer’s next Sci-Fi horror film. The titles certainly do not echo an animal worth protecting!
More than ever, sharks desperately need positive media exposure to help combat the misconceptions fueled through cinematic productions and fears instilled in the masses through inaccurate media reporting.
With a brand as enormous as Shark Week, why are we still relying on title entertainment and gimmicks to keep an audience engaged? Instead of putting marketing dollars towards pun-filled Hollywood narratives ("Sharks in the City"), shouldn’t we be marketing sharks as an apex predator worth saving? The current lineup and those of recent years does little more than portray sharks as villains plotting against humanity. Like it or not, the future of mankind is closely intertwined to the survival of sharks.
It is time for Shark Week to start making some real waves. Can we please stop recycling the same tired content? Isle of Jaws is becoming the new Air Jaws. Discovery Channel employs some of the most talented videographers on the planet and consults with brilliant research minds. It is time to get a bit more creative and move beyond worn out sequels. Instead of analyzing the same series of shark attacks yet again, why not launch a new line of inquiry? How about investigating the disappearances of our deep water sharks as they are being brutally slaughtered for their livers to create cosmetics like lipstick? Want a little more Shark N Awe? Let’s showcase the true horrors of the finning industry. Visual imagery is one of the most powerful tools that a conservationist can utilize to convey a message.
Why can’t we get back to entertaining while also educating? There are so many shark species to choose from. How about a little more diversity! Unleash the power of a camera in a way that provokes thought and inspires meaningful change!
Everyone knows there ain’t no party like a shark week party, but let’s walk away from that week-long fiesta with a compelling reason to care! Use the programming to evoke positive emotions towards sharks! We should be living every week like it is shark week if we want to save the oceans before we hit that point of no return!
The Mermaid Tales (Blog)
Heather Blackall has a PhD in Biochemistry, and a Master's in Veterinary Medicine.