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Scientists get star treatment at SharkCon

Scientists get star treatment at SharkCon

July 28, 2023 at 3:00pm

Mike Heithaus has been named Shark Champion of 2023 during the ninth annual SharkCon hosted earlier this month in Tampa.

Heithaus is a marine ecologist specializing in the ecological importance of sharks as well as the executive dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. The award is given annually to someone who has contributed to the well-being and long-term sustainability of sharks in the world’s oceans, according to SharkCon creator Spencer Steward. Heithaus has dedicated his career to unraveling the mysterious lives of sharks and other large marine creatures. His work in Shark Bay Australia is the most detailed study of the ecological role of sharks in the world. Working with several prominent non-governmental organizations, it has been used as the underpinning for affecting positive policy changes. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and co-edited five books on the biology of sharks and their relatives. He has also been featured in several natural history documentaries and National Geographic’s SharkFest (including five new shows this year).

Heithaus, who gave a presentation on his journey as a shark scientist, was one of five FIU scientists featured at this year’s SharkCon. Associate Professor Yannis Papastamatiou presented on his use of innovative technology to study elusive and difficult-to-study species of sharks throughout the world. Students Erin Spencer and Candace Fields along with recent alumna Frances Farabaugh teamed up to field questions from the audience about their work at FIU and how they became marine scientists.

The scientists, who all appeared on SharkFest this year, also met with fans of the shows along with school teachers, shark advocates, FIU alumni and current students who attended the two-day event celebrating all things sharks. They signed autographs and showed off new innovations from their research including Gooey, a life-sized dolphin decoy made of non-toxic gelatin that had a starring role in Sharks vs. Dolphins: Bahamas Battleground on SharkFest. SharkCon is an annual event dedicated to celebrating shark lore, shark science and raising awareness about shark and ocean conservation. As part of the event, the organizers host a raffle, and this year’s proceeds will be donated to FIU for shark research initiatives. In addition to the scientists, this year’s lineup included ocean photographers, aquarium scientists, podcasters and celebrities Lea Thompson and Louis Gossett Jr., both from “Jaws 3-D.”