Teacher Spotlight: Ms. Heineman’s Trip to South Africa

News, Staff Spotlights

Ms. Tammie Heineman spent the summer with great white sharks in South Africa. Her experience allowed her to go cage-diving, take tourists out to see the sharks, and also conduct important research about these beautiful creatures.

Ms. Heineman teaches Biology and Environmental Science at the EA High School. Her classroom is a reflection of her love for sharks. Drawings of sharks, stuffed animals sharks, pictures of sharks, and many more sharks are dotted along the walls, her bookshelves and desk.

She stayed in Gansbaii, South Africa, and led cage-diving expeditions with the White Shark Diving Co. Her research included identifying different great white sharks, evaluating the diversity of all shark species in Walker Bay, observing the shark-safe barriers, and conducting genetic studies with the great white sharks.

An interesting fact about great white sharks is that their dorsal fin is like a fingerprint, each fin is unique. Heineman would photograph and record their fins. This helps researchers track sharks by comparing photos. They would align the back edge of the fin with other fins to find a match, and their research yielded new results! For a long time, researchers believed that great whites lived solo; however, the research that Heineman participated in revealed otherwise. The sharks tended to travel with the same shark buddies each year!

Sadly, some of their genetic research also showed that there are only 9 distinct family lines of great whites, which reveals that the species is plummeting. Heineman stressed the importance of banning shark fin soup, a dish that requires a fish be killed solely for its fin. She believes shark hunting needs to be banned worldwide, and unfortunately, it is only currently banned in South Africa.

Her favorite part of the summer was diving and also helping tourists experience the thrill of seeing these large animals up close. She says she actually did cry when she saw her first shark. Be sure to watch the included video to see clips of her beloved sharks!

Esperanza Academy is lucky to have Heineman as part our EA family. She has been at the high school for six years and has been in teaching for 20 years! And as much as she loved her summer sailing the ocean researching sharks, she says that, “teaching is my true passion.”

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