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From Santa Maria, October 9, 2021

I would like to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans. Here is a story of two Latina marine biologists who are making a difference in our understanding of our local and worldwide marine ecosystems. They’ve also become role models for others in their field.

Let us start by telling the story of increasing numbers of great white sharks along the California coastline, especially north of Point Conception, attracted by their favorite choice of food — seals. The population of elephant seals and sea lions has dramatically increased along the California coast, primarily due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which has allowed these pinnipeds to flourish. Not only has the number of the shark’s prey risen, but they have increased the size of their range, which has expanded northward along the Central and Northern California coastline due to warmer seawater temperatures.

In other words, great white sharks seem to be benefiting from climate change. However, a study in the journal Current Biology published a paper stating that: “One-third of the world’s Chondrichthyan fishes — sharks, rays and chimeras — are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.”


To better understand the population of great white sharks, I decided to ask Melissa Cristina Márquez, nicknamed the “mother of sharks.” She has studied Chondrichthyan fishes, including great white sharks, for years. She told me that even though the number of great white sharks may be increasing along the California coastline and worldwide, sharks, rays and chimeras are declining.

“Chondrichthyan fishes are exceptionally susceptible to overfishing because they tend to grow slowly and produce few young, relative to other fish. Overfishing has far outpaced effective resource management for these species,” Márquez stated. “They play an important part in our marine ecosystems, transferring nutrients from the open ocean to coral reefs. Not only does their extinction lead to ocean imbalance, but it “squanders opportunities for sustainable fishing, tourism and food security over the long term.”

During our phone interview, I asked her why she become a marine biologist? Márquez told me she was inspired to study sharks when she first saw a great white shark on the Discovery Channel program “Shark Week.”

“The next [independent study project] I went to was in South Africa, and I studied great white sharks,” she said. “That led to my senior thesis, which focused on tracking great whites; I’m always interested in tracking why an animal is where it is and what it’s doing. That’s essentially my tagline. People will say to me, ‘What are you, like a shark PR manager?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I can deal with that description.’”

Since then, she’s earned a master’s degree from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Curtin University, Australia.

Márquez is involved in multiple forms of public engagement and is passionate about making the scientific industry more diverse and inclusive, including making all of her educational content bilingual. Her Twitter account @mcmsharksxx has nearly 25,000 followers. She writes monthly articles for Forbes Science; her work has been featured in The Washington Post and many other publications. It was recently announced that Márquez will be named to the Fuse Media’s Future Hispanic History Class of 2021.

Read the entire article here.