Girls Got Gills

Cape Cod Life  /  April 2023 / ,

Writer: Kelly Cloonan

After nearly 10 years of coordinating programming for young girls interested in sharks and marine life, coordinators of the Gills Club are seeing their efforts pay off in incredible ways.

During the pandemic, the Lower Cape-based Gills Club wasn’t able to do in-person activities, but found a silver lining in virtual programming. With social media and online podcasts, they have reached a wider audience around the region, the nation, and the world.

Now in its third season, the “Gills Talk” podcast features interviews with female shark scientists, sharing the scientists’ research and advice for young girls interested in sharks and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The podcast, hosted by Gills Club team member Kristin Smith, has covered everything from shark endocrinology to sharks’ unique smelling power.

Marianne Walsh, the Club’s educational director, said the podcasts mean the club reaches, “not just the local families that attend our events,” but also, “listeners for the podcast from all over the world.” Walsh says the digital medium has reached listeners in 24 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden and Mexico. With roughly 2,000 subscribers, the podcast has created ripples all over. For some families, “Gills Talk” is now their go-to listen in the car, and for others, it’s served as a way to bond across generations. Walsh mentioned one local mother-daughter pair who listens to each new podcast episode together. Walsh adds, “COVID was hard, but [the podcast] has been this really great digital presence that we’ve been able to have.”

The club’s social media following also grew during the pandemic. By sharing shark scientists’ research as well as educational graphics, their Instagram following has grown to over 2,000 followers.

Photos provided by Gills Club

Post-pandemic, a new class of “Gills” is able to experience the club’s in-person programming, too. Walsh created all the initial programming materials in 2013, but now that the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (the Gills Club’s parent organization) has expanded, the group has more resources available for programming. Education Coordinator Maddie Poirier has taken the lead on updating materials with more current research, and with connecting programming more directly to Gills Club scientists and their research. When the club restarted in-person activities last fall, attendees were given scientist “trading cards” with a shark scientist’s name, photo, and a QR code for a Gills Talk podcast featuring her. Now that they are able to meet in person, Walsh says she hopes to give Gills more immersive experiences, like excursions on the water or field trips to nearby research locations.

To learn more, visit atlanticwhiteshark.org/gills-club.