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Siena Heights University and Shark Week: Student Studies Sharks in South Africa
four individuals in a water cage getting ready to research sharks in South Africa

By Madelyn Birmingham
Marketing Communications Manager
Siena Heights University


November 17, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Siena Heights University’s junior biology student Taylor Eppard spent a month of her summer vacation in a wetsuit, hat, gloves, and winter coat as part of her internship in South Africa. 

As a first-generation college student from Perrysburg, Ohio, Taylor has found many ways to involve herself in the Siena Heights community. From her position as an infielder for the softball team to her status as a member of Beta Beta Beta, the National Biological Honor Society, she keeps herself busy throughout the school year. 

But at the end of her sophomore year, Taylor took the opportunity to fill her summer with the same busyness: she applied for a month-long internship in South Africa. One of her biggest goals in life is to be featured on Discovery’s Shark Week. Through her internship experience with GoDive, she is one step closer to achieving that goal. 
Taylor learned about the internship through a family friend whose daughter had participated in it. The internship was based in Mossel Bay, South Africa. Despite some nervousness, Taylor submitted her application and was accepted. 

She put her deposit down and prepared for two significant firsts: her first time leaving the United States and her first time flying by herself. During the summer of 2023, Taylor joined students from other states for a month-long program full of research, recording, and enriching her knowledge and understanding of marine life.  

Before they began the research, Taylor completed her open-water certification and passed her advanced scuba diving course, making her an advanced scuba diver. She then participated in various activities, including documenting nudibranch locations and species, caring for penguins at a local rehabilitation center, and helping on the White Shark Africa boat.

White Shark Africa is an organization that takes clients aboard for cage diving with sharks. This process begins with creating a chum-slick mixture with sardine oil to attract the sharks. Once a shark is spotted, crew members lower clients – wearing 5 mm thick wetsuits to protect them from the cold – into the water. Sometimes, Taylor helped the boat crew with whatever tasks they needed. Other times, she recorded data based on the number of sharks she saw or participated in cage diving, seeing the sharks up close. 

In addition, Taylor fish-tagged sharks: a time-sensitive process that includes lifting sharks out of the water and recording their sex and size and whether they were tagged. If the shark was already tagged, Taylor and the other interns recorded the tag number and date of catch. These measurements and evaluations had to be done over three minutes while continuously splashing water onto the sharks’ gills to keep them breathing. 

About two weeks into Taylor’s internship experience, something extraordinary occurred. While aboard White Shark Africa, Taylor and two other interns witnessed and recorded an attack by two orcas upon two young Great White sharks. The orcas, named Starboard and Port, are well-known in Mossel Bay and are easily recognizable by their bent fins. 

Taylor and her colleagues watched and recorded as the two orcas attacked, killed, and consumed the sharks. This was the first time this event had been witnessed in person, which generated interest from National Geographic after the internship leader alerted them to the situation. 

The 30-second video the interns took served as the second-ever recorded predation from killer whales on sharks, making this a significant moment in marine science. The only other video of a similar situation was shot from a drone. National Geographic caught wind of the video and purchased the rights.  

“If you listen in the video, if they post it anywhere, you can hear me crying in the back,” Taylor said. “There were a lot of emotions for everybody. It was really cool, but these are juvenile sharks. They’re babies. The orcas are three times their size. And you don’t want the sharks to leave the bay because you are there to research them.” 

Following the attacks, Taylor and the other remaining interns stayed on the water for six hours to spot additional sharks, but the waters were still, and the sharks were gone. For the remaining two weeks of her internship, the sharks did not return to Mossel Bay. But the Siena Heights student’s time with the sharks of South Africa isn’t finished, as she has already put down her deposit to return next summer. 

Founded and sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Siena Heights University is a co-educational North Central accredited institution founded in the liberal arts tradition, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. For more information about Siena Heights University, visit www.sienaheights.edu.

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