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Don't Fear The Fin

"Don't Fear the Fin"

Tamra Werner

What do astronauts and sharks have in common? Both could help solve medical mysteries like curing cancer.

Believe it or not, shark DNA appears to be resilient to cancer, and while we have this information, not enough research has been conducted to understand why. Therefore, the federal government needs to allocate more dollars to shark research to uncover this medical mystery.

Government funding of the world above is not equal to the world underwater. NASA budgeted $21 billion for space research in its 2020 fiscal year. Much of the focus was on sending astronauts to the moon and space exploration. There is no question NASA's work is vital and can uncover new life forms and answers to scientific questions. However, there is a vast disparity with the Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget of 335 million.

A substantial increase in financial support can help numerous scientists like Dr. Robert Huether from the Mote Marine Laboratory. He has been studying sharks for over 40 years and not only wants to stop the massive killings of sharks every year but wants to continue researching their immune systems. Scientists have found sharks exposed to cancer-causing agents can neutralize cancer and cease tumors from growing within their bodies using their cell immune substances. Huether's research has led scientists to apply these substances in breast cancer trials. Results are optimistic, recording cancerous cell division and growth have been stopped.

The bad news is research is not cheap. "Don't Fear the Fin" is the tagline of OCEARCH, a non-profit shark tagging, and tracking organization. Indeed, they are not promoting humans dive into the ocean and hug a shark, but they know the vital benefits of researching and protecting sharks and the oceans. I had the opportunity to go onboard the OCEARCH research boat, met with scientists, and discussed the process and costs of shark expeditions. I learned every expedition requires an extensive crew of deckhands, scientists, and administrative staff. Each shark tag costs about $4K with average battery longevity of up to 5 years. Most of the funds to support the expeditions are from private dollars and sponsors. However, more government support is needed to help organizations like OCEARCH and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy track and research these mysterious creatures.

While it is true most humans and fish "fear the fin," medical discoveries alone verify why we should embrace the fin through scientific research. Government must allocate more dollars to universities and non-profit organizations to continue their research efforts. The ocean may hold answers to many experiments performed in space, given the proper resources. The next time an astronaut launches into space, I hope a scientist dives into the ocean with the same financial opportunities to explore our underwater world.


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