The Shark Scientist: Saving the Gulf, One Kid At a Time

By Rachel Kaufman

It’s getting late, and the Shark Scientist is getting hungry. He’s been at the TEDxOilSpill conference for hours, reporting, interviewing, and learning, and he’s only eaten a handful of pretzels, despite the venue-provided sandwiches and fruit.

Hey, you were probably a picky eater at age 11, too.

Sam Atkin, editor of a blog called “Shark Scientist Magazine,” is a mini-marine biologist. A pint-sized professor. A junior journalist. I’ll stop now, but yeah, he’s 11.

Atkin is one of the youngest blogger/journalists out there, and with his folks’ help, he traveled to Washington D.C. to cover TedXOilSpill, since healthy oceans are a priority for a shark lover.

“I really like sharks, and ever since I was a kid I was fascinated with them,” he told National Geographic News Watch of his decision to start blogging. “Technically, I’m still a kid.”

His favorite shark, after much deliberation, is either the cookie cutter shark, the bull shark, or the great white. His big issue (besides the Gulf) is the hunting of sharks for their fins. “I hate to see the videos of people catching sharks and cutting the fin off and throwing them back,” he said.

He’ll be traveling to Nantucket this summer to work as a Naturalist in Training at the Maria Mitchell Association, a new program for 11-17-year-olds. At Maria Mitchell, the naturalists-in-training do fieldwork, take care of the animals in the aquarium, and learn about all the sciences the MMA has to offer, said Andrew Mckenna-Foster, the director of the Maria Mitchell Natural Science Museum.

Atkin gets a lot of help from his parents on his blog (his dad, Mike Atkin, is a freelance videographer), and it’s true that some of the postings read more like an adult trying to pass as an eleven-year-old than an actual eleven-year-old kid. Too, the blog’s less than a month old, so there’s still the question of whether Sam and his parents can sustain the blog over months or even years. But for now, if Sam gets kids (and adults) interested in marine conservation, he’s happy. “I don’t hope to save sharks,” he said. “But I might rally a lot of people to save sharks. One man can still make a difference.”


The Shark Scientist, Sam Atkin, with parents Marcia and Mike Atkin, at TEDxOilSpill

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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