By Doreen Leggett
Before Greg Skomal, internationally known shark scientist, spoke to 400 or so high school students gathered at the Cape Cod Community College, a video about last year’s WaterWORKS event was projected on a big screen.
One student made a confession.
“I didn’t know about any of these opportunities,” he said, speaking of the myriad water-related industries and nonprofits he had just visited with as part of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce’s Blue Economy career day.
People say you have to go off Cape for good, well-paying fulfilling jobs, he continued.
“It just goes to show you really don’t,” he said to the camera.
After the video many students made their way to next door to where Julia Rugo had set up a table with monitors of underwater footage and a drone that looked like a small, yellow torpedo. She didn’t learn about all the great water-related professions until she got out of college. That is why she volunteered to set up a table in the college’s athletic center – one of three buildings on the campus that held approximately 50 exhibitors.
A 2010 graduate of Barnstable High, Rugo now works at Teledyne Marine, part of Teledyne Technologies in Falmouth. “We are a nationally known marine industry company and we are located right here on Cape Cod,” Rugo said.
There wasn’t a WaterWORKS when she was in high school so she didn’t know about Teledyne or the wealth of other opportunities the peninsula provided until later, but she is happy she landed back on Cape.
“It’s really cool to bring my educational background in electrical and computer engineering back to the community,” added the Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate.
Rob Martin, a commercial lobsterman out of Sandwich, knew about her company. The two had met at a consortium on how to protect endangered right whale populations. Martin has been catching lobsters and running a successful business for 40 years, while working with scientists on a variety of projects from documenting climate change to using break-away lines that help protect large whales.
“When fishermen, scientists and engineers work together you get things done,” he said.
Some of the students who attended have already worked closely with some of the engineers Martin has partnered with as well.
Henry Komar, along with classmates Nicholas Shea, Noah Vaught and Frankie Gaw, are in an engineering lab at Cape Cod Regional Technical School in Harwich and had the chance to help teacher Kevin Rand work on technology to get lobster pots off the bottom without vertical lines. The four were particularly interested in how developments in engineering interface with fisheries management and research.
Shea was intrigued with underwater drones and how they could pick up sounds 3,000 meters away. Some drones have been used to track sharks deep in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I would do that for a career if I could,” he said. Vaught felt an affinity for the work at McLane Labs in East Falmouth, which designs and builds machines to sample the ocean and do other oceanography.
Gaw was just taking it all in.
“I learned a lot. I saw a lot,” he said. “I’m looking around and trying to figure out what I want to do.”
Students stopped by to speak with Martin, as well as commercial shellfisherman Rob Curtis, and Captain Sam Linnell. Linnell, only a few years older than the students, already has his own successful business and fishing vessel.
Linnell comes from a long line of fishermen and knew from the time he could walk that he would pursue a career in fishing. He knows that others don’t have the same background so he advocated in Washington, D.C., and locally for a fishermen’s training program. A free program will launch on Cape in March.
Many on the Cape have a natural affinity for life of the water, but need to be reminded it’s a solid career path.
Clare Wurlitzer, of Sandwich, said her grandfather taught her to fish and she still remembers catching her first fish.
“I thought it was the best day of my life,” she said.
But what she remembers more is countless hours spent on the water with her grandfather because he taught her to respect and appreciate the ocean. She said her life would be entirely different without that appreciation and enjoyment.
Mike McEntee, another student who stopped by the table set up by the Fishermen’s Alliance, also is interested in a career in commercial fishing.
“I grew up on the water,” he said. “I just love being on the water. It’s my passion.”
Skomal emphasized partnerships and teamwork help him succeed. He said he gets a lot of valuable information about sharks from fishermen. He works closely with commercial fishermen, he said, adding that they are an important part of the Cape’s economy.
He told students that he has a marvelous job (one that he pursued since grade school when he saw marine biologist Matt Hooper in the movie Jaws). But there are many “amazing” and “fun” jobs connected to his: researchers who developed the tags he puts on the sharks, biologists who analyze information gleaned from the tags, spotter pilots who locate sharks, boat captains who get him close, videographers who chronicle the experience, the non-profit Atlantic White Shark Conservancy that helps fund the endeavor and educate the world.
“I hope the message you are getting is there are all sorts of jobs attached to what I do,” he said. “I hope I can inspire you.”