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The Cost of Science

From Audio: Code of Ethics: Stories about doing the right thing

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station description Whether we wear a lab coat or haven't seen a test tube since grade school, science ... read more
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Duration: 05:26
A woman muses on how her first time tagging sharks in the field has changed her after it goes in an unexpected direction.
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She wanted to help animals, but the way forward isn't always linear. A woman muses on what happened when she started tagging sharks and what happened when a shark didn't make it out. There is a cost to helping animals- and whether the cost is worth it is the question on the table.
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the drum to a long line of monofilament with a hook and bait on the end and you said 10 of them at a time. And the rules for this are you set them for one hour. Um The reason for an hour is that it balances stressed to the shark with the likelihood that you're going to catch something if you put one out for 15 minutes, you know what are your odds? And you're gonna have a hard time getting to all that gear in that short period of time. So we're out, we're setting, we've got 10 drum lines out and we're checking them and we pull one up and the hook timers popped. And the hook timer is just a stopwatch that tells you if you have something on the line and how long it's been there. As soon as the animal takes the bait, it pops and it starts counting up. So it says 30 minutes. Great amount of time. We're well within our one hour. Um Soak time. So I'm bringing it in, I use a plastic circle called the yo yo that the monofilament goes around, just wrap it like that and the line feels really heavy and that means you've hooked the bottom, or it means you've hooked a big animal heavy, but not fighting, it's not dragging me around, it's not trying to yank me off the back of the boat, and I start to get this cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. So I real and I real and this giant dorsal fin breaks the surface and it's a great hammerhead. And in the shark world, great hammerheads are known to be very vulnerable to capture stress. Um They joked that they like to die like that. Um And they're also known as rock stars. So my students go nuts right, It's a great right? Oh my God, jumping up and down, losing their minds. Um and that pit of my stomach just gets a little bit colder. And so I bring him in and up alongside the boat and we work him up and everything goes the way it should, it takes about three minutes to get for measurements and three biological samples and he's ready to go, but he would not swim. So I grabbed my fins and I grabbed my mask and I go into the water fully clothed to try to swim him off. And that's something that we do sometimes when we're worried about the condition of an animal, um to keep an eye on it, to give it a little encouragement to swim off as it moves away from the boat and, and in the water I'm holding him, I'm kicking away and nothing. And there's this moment where I realized that I'm not in the water with an eight ft shark. I'm in the water with a £200 sack of meat that I'm dragging. And I swam him for probably about 10 minutes and his dorsal fin kept slipping through my fingers as I tried to keep him at the surface. He just wanted to sink. Um but I had to be up there to breathe. So dragging him up, dragging him along and I look back at the boat and I can see that the students have caught up and that that excitement, that elation, that adrenaline is becoming something else. So I finally lose my grip and that dorsal fin slips through my fingers and he arcs downward and they're so perfectly balanced there, so hydrodynamic that for a second you could almost believe that he was swimming and I come up to the surface and I'm panting. And the photographer who was on the boat comes up to the surface next to me because she got in the water when I did with her camera and she looks at me and she says it happens. And part of me said, yeah, I I know what happens. That's true. And part of me said, no, no, it shouldn't happen. It shouldn't happen to anyone. It definitely shouldn't happen to me. I followed the rules. I did what I was supposed to do. Nothing went wrong. No, this isn't fair. But it was So I swam back to the boat, got on board, told the students that it was not their fault, that I was the trip leader. That if someone was responsible, it was me. I labeled those samples, I put them on ice. And I sometimes think although it was a few more years before I got my PhD that I went into that water as Katherine. But I came out as dr Macdonald because for the first time, I think I really got the fact that science has a cost and that being good isn't a way of opting out that no matter how.
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