Kids Help Save the Oceans With Shark Stanley

Who’s flat, friendly, and wants your help protecting the oceans? Shark Stanley, of course.* The cut-out cartoon hammerhead is saving his fellow sharks, one smile at a time.

Sharks get a bad rap, one they really don’t deserve. Movies like Jaws and Sharknado turn these beautiful fish into monsters, but the reality is that we’re far more dangerous to them than they ever were to us. You’re far more likely to be flattened under a vending machine than killed by a shark. People, on the other hand, are killing millions of sharks every year. And this doesn’t just hurt the sharks. Research has shown that ocean ecosystems, including coral reefs, collapse without apex predators. 

Enter the Shark Defenders, a team of Yale University students and conservationists from the Pew Charitable Trust. In advance of the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), the team launched a campaign to convince participating politicians to advocate for endangered sharks and rays.

“There was no shortage of shark petitions on the Internet,” the Shark Defenders wrote on their website. They knew they’d have to do something special in order to make a difference. That something was Shark Stanley. 

Inspired in part by the Flat Stanley Project, in which children send hand-drawn Stanley cutouts to their heroes, the Shark Defenders created a free printable cutout of a goofy, grinning hammerhead shark. Their hope was to get children from the countries involved in CITES to take their pictures with Shark Stanley, then share those pictures with the CITES delegates. Each photograph would represent a request to protect scalloped sharks, great sharks, and smooth hammerhead sharks like Stanley as endangered species. 

And they did. Shark Stanley was an instant hit. Printable cutouts of Stanley and his friends became available in December of 2012, and a free downloadable picture book went up in January. By the time of the conference in February 2013, the Shark Defenders had received about 10,000 pictures from children in 135 of the 177 CITES countries.“We wanted to do more than just gather signatures,” the Shark Defenders said. “We wanted to actively engage young people and create a dedicated army of activists.”

The Shark Defenders compiled all the photographs into a massive collage, which they brought to the CITES meeting in Thailand in March 2013. They shared the pictures, their story, and the sharks’ plight with every delegate they met, including those from countries where shark finning is common.

Their efforts, and the children's advocacy, paid off. Five shark species and all manta rays were added to the CITES appendix of protected species at the meeting in Thailand.

Getting those species listed was a triumph, but the sharks still need help. The Shark Defenders' next task is convincing the governments and citizens of island nations to create shark sanctuaries. To support their case, they've updated the picture book to include familiar island species like whale sharks. Angelo Villagomez of the Pew Charitable Trust was one of Shark Stanley's creators and is hopeful about the new project's potential. The book is an educational tool, Villagomez told mental_floss, and a way of spreading awareness.

Shark Stanley's fan club continues to grow. Conservation superstars like oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle (known as "Her Deepness") and naturalist author Carl Safina have signed on as ambassadors, and classrooms all over the world share photo after photo.

Want to get in on this? Shark Stanley and his friends would be glad to meet you. Visit Shark Defenders and print out your own Shark Stanley, Manta Reina, or Pierre le Porbeagle. Cut out your shark, take a picture, and share it on Twitter or Facebook with #SharkStanley.

* "Spongebob Squarepants" would also have been an acceptable answer.

All images are courtesy of Shark Defenders.

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Authorities Want This Roadside Bear Statue in Wales Removed Before It Causes More Accidents
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There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

Wooden bear statue.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

Woman cuddling her dog.
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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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