'Gills Club' getting girls into science through shark research

CHATHAM, Mass. — While the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is funding research about sharks and learning about the apex predators, the group is also behind an effort to help young people learn about themselves.

The Gills Club is an effort to get girls interested in not only sharks, but also marine science and the technology used to study sharks.

If the familiar foreboding Jaws score strikes fear in you, you haven’t been hanging out with this crew.

“It’s an insult!” 10-year-old Jessie Swain said of the infamous 1970s shark movie. “They're not mindless killing machines. You're more likely to be bitten by a New Yorker on the subway than to be bitten by a shark."

At 10 years old, Jessie is shark crazy.

“I've always loved sharks,” Jessie told Boston 25 at the Chatham Shark Center on the Cape.

MORE: Complete guide to shark season in New England

But that wasn't always the case for her sister, 12-year-old Lucy.

“I was actually kind of scared of sharks before I went to the Gills Club but after the first meeting I was not scared of sharks anymore,” Lucy explained.

The Gills Club, to which Lucy and Jessie belong, is an education initiative of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Their mission is to get girls interested in science technology engineering and math through shark research.

Marianne Long co-founded The Gills Club and says learning is immersive and sneaky.

“Because the activity is centered around sharks, something they're excited about, they don't realize that all of a sudden they're using the multiplication formula that they use in school and they're applying that math,” she explained.

But it’s not just math, dissections, equipment and field trips are all part of the curriculum. %

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Long says the girls learn a skill set often taught to students much older. She says succeeding at those challenges builds confidence.

The club pairs its young members with female marine biologists from around the world to mentor the girls and at a tender age, it's already spawning a passion for the field.

“It really inspires me to want to do it and it makes me know that I can do it if I want to,” said Lucy.

Marianne Long will join Boston 25 News at 8 a.m. to talk about how girls as young as 5 are able to handle such complicated science and how you can learn more about the Gills Club.

You can find more about the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy here.

You can find out more about the Gills Club here.

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is partnering with the New England Aquarium to host a Gills Club symposium Sept. 19-20 at the Aquarium in Boston. You'll be able to find registration on the AWSC website once it's posted in mig-August.