A few days before coming to Jackson, Taylor Chapple will be on a boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
But for Chapple, a Stanford University researcher affiliated with the Schmidt Ocean Institute, finding himself afloat in a foreign sea isn’t that unusual. He’s a shark scientist who has spent a decade-plus studying the behaviors of great white sharks.
Tonight at the Center for the Arts, Chapple will give a multimedia presentation on his research, “The Science of Sharks: Using Technology to Separate Fact from Fiction.” His talk, free and open to the public, will follow the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s Nature Mapping Jackson Hole community celebration. That event, a potluck to recognize the contributions of citizen scientists in the community, will start a 5:30 p.m., and the presentation will begin promptly at 7.
Chapple’s work, which reevaluates preconceived notions about great whites and seeks to understand the role these predators play in marine ecosystems, has been featured on the Discovery Channel, in National Geographic magazine and on “CBS This Morning.” He hopes it will dispel common myths about the magnificent predator he has spent 15 years studying.
“Generally, people think that white sharks are mindless killers and, with the dawn of social media, that shark attacks are on the rise,” Chapple said.
With over 300 sharp white teeth and bodies that glide silently through the ocean, great whites were immortalized in the 1975 thriller “Jaws” as beachgoers’ greatest fear.
But, when the movie premiered, Chapple said, the scientific community knew little about the elusive species.
“Things as simple as ‘How many white sharks are there?’ were completely unknown,” he said.
Since beginning his graduate studies in 2004, Chapple has traveled across three oceans to track, tag and try to understand white sharks.
He said that his research has shown that white sharks “are not the mindless killers Hollywood makes them out to be, but complex and critical components of healthy ecosystems.”
Chapple’s research also demonstrated that predators play a similar role, whether on land or in the ocean. In Jackson Hole, where humans still come in conflict with apex predators learning how to coexist is a pertinent issue, he said.
“Marine predators are a perfect analogy for the predators you have in your backyard,” Chapple said. “Their presence and survival attest to the health of an ecosystem.”
During the presentation the shark scientist plans to share the results of 15 years of tracking research to communicate how “changing our perception of these predators can help us better coexist with them.”
And though Chapple has been observing the movement of sharks throughout the world’s oceans, the citizen scientists celebrated at the potluck dinner have been observing a similar phenomenon: the movements of nomadic, terrestrial wildlife.
“By recording their movements, we can inform management, facilitate migrations and make it easier for wildlife,” said Kyle Kissock, communications manager for Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation.
“That is what nature mapping is. It’s people who aren’t professional scientists still being able to make a difference.”
Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation representatives will be available to answer questions before the potluck. People unable to attend the dinner are still invited to Chapple’s talk.
Those who can come to dinner are asked to bring a dish. The event organizers ask that potential cooks stick to the “assignments” listed at JHWildlife.org. ￼