Saving Sharks and Dolphins, Near and Far

Sophi Bromenshenkel poses with a hammerhead shark snow sculpture.
Shark-lover and Minnesota native Sophi Bromenshenkel poses with her hammerhead snow sculpture. The eight-year-old is one of Oceana's 2011 Ocean Heroes. (Courtesy of Neil Bromenshenkel)

Sophi Bromenshenkel is an unlikely shark-lover. She's eight years old and hails from Minnesota, a state that couldn't be further from the ocean. But a family vacation to Florida changed everything.

When she saw a pregnant bull shark left for dead on a beach, Sophie knew she needed to help.

Known by many at her school as “shark girl,” Sophi has raised more than $3,500 for shark research and conservation efforts. Through lemonade, hot chocolate, and cookie sales she’s garnered funds and increased awareness of the plight of sharks.

Sophi’s proceeds help sustain the shark-tagging program at the University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program. The tagging allows researchers to gather vital information about shark migration and habitats, providing the data necessary to push conservation efforts forward.

Like Sophi, Peter Wallerstein can’t stand to see marine animals stranded. He’s rescued more than 3,000 of them.

Twenty-five years ago, Peter founded Marine Animal Rescue, a project of Friends of Animals in Los Angeles County. As the program director, he spearheads the group’s year-round efforts to save washed-up dolphins, animals stuck in discarded fishing nets, and other stranded mammals.

Thanks to Peter, there’s now a 24-hour hotline for local citizens to report stranded or injured marine animals, before it’s too late. His tireless efforts have paid off: Los Angeles County has one of the most active marine mammal rescue teams in the U.S. This past April alone they rescued 86 marine animals.

Sophi’s and Peter’s work has not gone unnoticed. This week, Oceana recognized them as the 2011 Ocean Heroes. “I have worked really hard to save sharks,” says Sophi, “and now I’m going to work even harder so that I can save more.”

In honor of World Ocean Day this week, Oceana (a Smithsonian Ocean Portal collaborator) is encouraging everyone to follow in Sophi’s and Peter’s footsteps and take actions that effect change for the ocean. What can you do and how can you start? Oceana has three simple ideas to choose from: recycle, clean a local waterway, and eat sustainable seafood. Visit their website to learn more, register your choice, and take their World Ocean Day pledge to be an "ocean hero" like Peter and Sophie.

June 2011