Student Teacher Draws on Scientific Experience to Lead Whale Shark Project

Written by Murdoch University and Dr Susan Ledger

A Murdoch University education student is taking the lead on a whale shark tagging project which will see pupils from schools across WA follow the progress of several of the majestic fish. Dr Andrew Nield, who holds a PhD from Murdoch for a research project on the emu’s role in seed dispersal, will be guiding pupils from Karratha Senior High School where he is currently teaching under the Pilbara Cities Internship Program.

The Whale Shark Race Around the World project is being run by ECOCEAN in conjunction with the WA Department of Education, with the aim of engaging pupils in primary and secondary schools in science while giving them a taste of scientific research. As part of the project, several whale sharks which frequent Ningaloo Reef will be tagged and assigned to a participating school. Pupils from that school can then track their whale shark’s progress as it swims through the world’s oceans while learning about its biology and behaviour. The race begins on July 20 and ends on August 3.

Dr Nield said he was in a unique position to lead on the project in Karratha Senior High School having both tracked wildlife for his PhD and worked with the Australian curriculum as part of the Pilbara Cities Internship Program.

“This is a wonderful project for the pupils because it will bring alive the biological science we are teaching them,” said Dr Nield.

“It will offer some real life perspective to the information they read in their textbooks or hear in classrooms.”

“Many of the students will have seen or even swum with whale sharks during visits to Ningaloo. The project will help them to understand that tagging, monitoring and scientific research are key factors in ensuring whale sharks continue to visit this habitat.”

The pupils will be able to monitor the tagged whale sharks via a website and compare their progress against those of other schools. Pilbara schools Baynton West Primary, Tambrey Primary and Roebourne District High School are also taking part in the whale shark race around the world.

Dr Nield began his internship at Karratha Senior High School at the start of 2015. He is due to complete his teaching degree at the end of 2015 and hopes to remain as a science teacher in the area.

The Pilbara Cities Internship Program is managed by the Murdoch University School of Education under the direction of Dr Susan Ledger. It is a regional initiative funded by WA Government, Department of Education & Regional Development, Royalties for Regions and the Pilbara Development Commission – Pilbara Cities project.

The 12 month Murdoch Internship Program places high calibre science and math preservice teachers such as Dr Nield insitu in Pilbara Secondary schools with the aim of increasing their work readiness for rural contexts.

ECOCEAN is run by Murdoch University shark researcher Brad Norman.