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caption: Dr. Rachel Graham, Evaristo Muschamp and Nelson Ortega ready a hammerhead shark for tagging and release.
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Dr. Rachel Graham, Evaristo Muschamp and Nelson Ortega ready a hammerhead shark for tagging and release.
Credit: Peter Oxford/MarAlliance

How to love a shark

There are 540 shark species in the world and 143 of them are endangered. Rachel Graham is their evangelist.

I was 7 when the movie Jaws came out. It was terrifying! For almost 50 years, this film has been “informing” the way people feel about sharks. Sharks have a bit of a PR problem.

But Rachel Graham loves them. Rachel’s not just a shark biologist, but more like a shark evangelist. For the last 27 years, she’s scuba’d, snorkeled, and bobbed around in a little research boat in the waters of Central America to find ways to protect them, by first figuring out how these sharks live, and then figuring out how people can live with them, and even help shark populations grow. And Rachel has hope.

“So you're seeing big shifts in how people are viewing sharks now,” said Rachel, Founder and Executive Director of MarAlliance. “And I think people are looking at jaws, it's still kind of a scary movie, but we've moved on.”

But not far enough. Sharks still face some very direct threats. They are killed for their prized fins and caught in fishing nets all over the world. 99% of some populations have already been wiped out.

caption: Sharks swimming in the costal waters of Panama.
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Sharks swimming in the costal waters of Panama.
Credit: Rachel Graham/MarAlliance

So how do you change hearts and minds about these feared but endangered creatures nearly half a century after the movie that got us all riled up? The answer seems to be one shark, and one person at a time.

And Rachel’s work to understand sharks, engage local fishing communities, and even instill empathy for them might have us all think about them in a whole new way.

THE WILD is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan Wildlife and Wildlife Media. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. It is hosted, produced and written by Chris Morgan. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker.

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