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Puerto Rico

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Growing up in Puerto Rico, Wanda had the opportunity to experience life near the ocean. This inspired her to pursue a career in Marine Sciences and to study sharks. However, the lack of shark research opportunities in Puerto Rico pushed her to seek experience elsewhere. Here is an overview of Wanda's background and experience.

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Fun fact: Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are euryhaline species. This means that they can adapt to a different range of salinity, which is why they can also be found in fresh water (Abel & Grubbs, 2020).

Background

Wanda was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and was raised in the town of Juana Díaz. From a very young age she started showing interest for the sea and the creatures within. Her fascination developed further on whenever her parents, Wanda and Ariel, took her on trips around the island to visit the beach, the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo and to Rincón for whale watching when it was season. By the time she was in the second grade, she already knew she wanted to study ocean critters and become a marine scientist. 

On her free time, Wanda spent her time watching documentaries and reading all things ocean and marine animals. Even though she admired every single sea creature she learned about, a certain group of fish stood out the most for her: sharks! She was intrigued by how incredibly unique these predators are. Then she stumbled upon the fact that sharks have a very poor reputation in Puerto Rico. To top it all off, there were also some local, persisting assumptions in which both sharks and women were placed amongst many Puerto Rican's beliefs. These assumptions are summed up in the following quotes heard all too often: "There are no sharks in Puerto Rico to study." (which cannot be further away from the truth); "Puerto Rican women can't study sharks."; and "It's just too complicated to study sharks in Puerto Rico.". However, for some reason, she knew not to be discouraged at all. Instead, she made her mission to dismantle such beliefs. 

 

As she grew up her inclination to study Marine Sciences became even more decisive. Nevertheless, she studied within the disciplines she thought would best lead her to a path she could learn from the most. And so, Wanda completed a dual bachelor's degree in Biology and Industrial Microbiology ('cause why not?). Immediately after she graduated she started pursuing her master's degree in Marine Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. 

 

 

So far, Wanda has been able to complete a few courses in shark biology and research with Coastal Carolina University (CCU), SOMEPEC, Field School, Melissa Cristina Marquez, as well as being able to participate in an oceanic expedition with NOAA and an internship with the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS). During her internship she was featured on the City Bites episode of Shark Attack Files from National Geographic's Shark Fest.

 

For most of the opportunities she pursued, she received grants and scholarships to do so. Some of her awards include the Professional Development Grant from Sea Grant Puerto Rico, followed by a full scholarship from Field School (for the Introduction to Shark Research Skills course) and a MISS Elasmo and BBFS fellowship for an internship at the Bimini Shark Lab. Additionally, she has gathered experience doing Caribbean fish ID and SCUBA diving both through and outside her university. Furthermore, Wanda has been able to work as a TA teaching General Biology and Ecology of Microorganisms laboratories to undergrads, and lead necropsies with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico on Dead On Arrival (DOA) sharks all around the island.

 

She has gathered further knowledge, experiences and skills in different disciplines by volunteering for a few initiatives along the way. Some of these include volunteering for Sharks4Kids by offering lectures, providing educational posts and helping with the booth (SharkCon 2022). Also, she participated testing a fish ID app called Artedi, developed by Isla Mar Research Expeditions. As an early educational experience, and while still in high school, Wanda volunteered at the Women/Girls Correctional Prison at Ponce, Puerto Rico as a math and science tutor. 

 

Outside the academia, and a while back, she was trained in customer service and used to work as a waitress at Chili's Ponce. After that she had the opportunity to become an intern of the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom®. This helped her gain important skills such as effective communication skills. 

 

As of today, Wanda owns a small education business called Little Women, Big Sharks LLC, which is currently under development. Additionally, she works as an educator at Sea Grant Puerto Rico and at HJR Reefscaping as a field and BRUV technician for the Shark Watch project

Fun fact: Sandbar juveniles (Carcharhinus plumbeus) are also an example of euryhaline sharks (Abel & Grubbs, 2020).

Experience

Fun fact: Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) have a unique mode of embryonic development called embryotrophy (Abel & Grubbs, 2020).

Wanda holding a Tiger shark prior to measuring.
Wanda holding a juvenile Sandbar shark prior to its release during the Shark Biology course from CCU.

Coastal Carolina University

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Wanda performing a necropsy on the second Longfin mako shark documented for Puerto Rico

Adriana Pérez

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Permit under MM Program of the DNER of Puerto Rico. For details contact Dr. Grisel Rodríguez Ferrer.

Mary Rider, Bruce Keafer and Wanda during a NOAA HAB expedition aboard the Nancy Foster.

NOAA

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Wanda driving a boat during her internship at the Bimini Shark Lab.

Chelle Blais

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Wanda offering a shark workshop to the community of La Parguera in Lajas, Puerto Rico with DOA shark.
Sharks4Kids team at SharkCon.
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