Alex Hearn, marine biologist and collaborating scientist with the OCEARCH nonprofit organization, explains the tracking of sharks around the Galapogos
Alex Hearn, marine biologist and collaborating scientist with the OCEARCH nonprofit organization, explains the tracking of sharks around the Galapogos Islands Monday, June 30, during the Deer Valley summer camp. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)

Deer Valley Summer Camp might have been held at Snow Park Lodge, but the children attending on Monday were transported to the depths of the ocean to swim with sharks.

Chris Fischer, founder and expedition leader of OCEARCH, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research of great white sharks and other apex predators, wanted to show the campers why it is important to preserve our oceans. In addition to having fun, Fischer hopes to educate children in Park City about sharks and their role in maintain the ocean's ecosystem. He also wants to dispel the myth that humans should fear sharks.

"Sharks should be afraid of humans," he said.

According to Fischer, nearly 200,000 sharks are killed every day, the majority for their fins only, which are used to make shark fin soup. The rest of the body is discarded in a practice similar to the mass hunting of buffalo that took place on the Great Plains in the 1800s.

Fischer said he and his team allow scientists to study the sharks in an environment safe for both the research and the shark. "Shark wranglers" lure the fish into a lift off the side of a boat and then raise it out of the water. At first, Fischer said it was a time consuming process, but now that OCEARCH has developed a systematic approach and secured funding for their expeditions, the team has time to educate the public.

"As our capacity to do more for the ocean has grown, we've begun to do more work locally," he said. "Sharks are interesting to kids whether they are in the mountains, the desert or the ocean. If people are interested we want to help them understand what's going on."

In addition to speaking at Deer Valley's summer camp, Fischer has also done presentations at local elementary schools, kindergartens and Swaner Nature Preserve. OCEARCH's film company, Fischer Productions, which is based in Park City, has also helped Park City High School's video production team.

"I'm on the water a long time [each year] and sometimes you come home and you just want to rest," Fischer said.

Chris Fischer, OSEARCH founder and expedition leader, describes the process of tagging and tracking great white sharks during the summer camp. (Christopher
Chris Fischer, OSEARCH founder and expedition leader, describes the process of tagging and tracking great white sharks during the summer camp. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
"We decided to get more active in Park City and reach out and talk to the kids around town. It's going to take us all in the end to make a global impact whether we live near the ocean or at the top of the planet."

Fischer's educational efforts encompass more than talks and presentations. OCEARCH's Global Shark Tracker is used by teachers across the country to help children learn math, geography and many more subjects.

Currently, OCEARCH is helping to develop a new science curriculum for 6-8 grades based on the Global Shark Tracker. The curriculum features 20 lesson plans and is scheduled to be launched at the end of August for the upcoming school year. According to Fischer, the program will make science, technology, engineering and math courses more engaging and interesting.

"We're going to leverage sharks for that," he said. "It's great because the kids get so focused on the sharks and the tracker. This teacher in Florida created her own math lessons and geography plans based around the real-time tracking of the sharks."

OCEARCH's research isn't just for the kids, either. All of the research Fischer and his team collect is free to the public. Fischer hopes this all-inclusive approach will help foster a global movement to preserve our oceans for future generations

"We not only have to do what's never been done before and learn what's never been learned [about sharks], but we have to do it at a rate that exceeds any rate at which we'd ever learned in the past," Fischer said. "We're not trying to monetize what we learn. I want to turn a charismatic research project into a global ocean movement."