When a group of urban high school students climbed aboard a URI boat for three days of trawling for marine life as part of the University’s annual Summer Shark Camp, it was up to undergraduates Haley Kenyon ’20 and Keyline Moreno ’22 to guide them through their first encounter with live sharks.
They didn’t miss a beat.
These undergraduate shark guides helped the camp participants prepare for the experience by building sharks from modeling clay, sharing fun facts about sharks, and chaperoning them during a behind-the-scenes visit to Mystic Aquarium’s shark exhibit. Once on the water, they advised the campers about the boat’s trawling equipment, helped them measure fish and tag lobsters, and made sure everyone had a chance to hold the dogfish sharks that were captured.
“A lot of the campers started out on their phones, but as soon as the fish trawl came up, they couldn’t have been more excited,” said Haley, a senior marine biology major. “Everybody wanted to hold the sharks, but they’d never seen one up close before, so some of them were a little tentative. Part of our role was just to make sure they were safe.”
Throughout the process, Haley and Keyline shot video and interviewed the participants to create a camp video about their experience that could be shared widely. “I’m pretty close to their age, so it was interesting to see how they reacted to it all,” said sophomore Keyline, a biological sciences major with a pre-med focus. “It was crazy to see their reactions as soon as the trawl came up. They couldn’t wait to get hands-on with the sharks and everything else we caught.”
Haley and Keyline also helped to introduce the campers to college life, and they were especially impressed to see how the participants became more and more comfortable with sharks and the whole URI experience throughout the week.
“They got a lot more involved as the week went on,” Haley said. “A lot of them have really big dreams, and this was a really good experience to get their feet wet and test out those dreams. To see them break out of their shell was great.”
The opportunity to be Shark Camp counselors is part of the URI students’ summer fellowships—Haley is a Coastal Fellow and Keyline a Science and Engineering Fellow. These fellowships provide undergraduates with unique experiences conducting paid summer research. Working in collaboration with URI professor and shark expert Brad Wetherbee, the two students are spending the rest of the summer studying the closely-related sandbar shark and blacktip shark to learn whether their traits vary depending on the region of the ocean they live in. They’ll also be fishing for mako sharks to tag them for later studies.