I’m a marine conservation biologist. Most of my work focuses on the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. I also work with other threatened species, particularly sharks, rays, and sea turtles, and the protection and management of important marine habitats.
I’m a Co-Founder and Principal Scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation. This US 501(c)(3) non-profit was originally conceived to support whale shark and manta ray research and conservation efforts, led by Dr Andrea ‘Queen of Mantas’ Marshall and myself. I am very proud that the organisation has now grown to encompass a whole range of other conservation-related activities.
I act as science advisor for the Wildbook for Whale Sharks global photo-identification library, and I’m also a Director of Wild Me, the non-profit organisation which oversees it’s development.
Finally, I’ve been a Member of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group since 2012, an invited group that synthesises scientific knowledge and assists in the development of global conservation strategy for these fishes, and Vice Co-Chair of the Sub-Equatorial Africa region since 2016.
I have a BSc (Ecology) from Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), and a BSc (Hons) (1st Class) and PhD from The University of Queensland (Australia). I am currently supervising multiple PhD students working on whale sharks, and one sea turtle project. My publication list can be viewed here on the site.
Since 2012 I have become increasingly interested in photography as a way of documenting our work, and for communicating my enthusiasm for nature and wildlife in general. My photographs and videos have been published by a wide variety of media outlets, including New Scientist, the Washington Post, Scientific American, BBC Wildlife, Discovery, Earth Touch, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Rough Guides, and Sport Diver.
One of our first marine education programmes in Mozambique
Back to school in New Plymouth
How I got into all this:
I was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand, and lived on a farm outside the city. This provided many opportunities for exploring the natural world, particularly it’s muddier bits. Being completely unsuitable for anything else, following school I moved to Wellington and studied Ecology for my BSc. Originally I planned to focus on herpetology, but a combination of watching people go mad in the bush and learning to scuba dive pushed me towards marine biology, and sharks.
I still love reptiles! Dhub lizards in Qatar (caught as part of a scientific monitoring project)
I moved over to Australia for postgraduate study, and ended up working on stingrays for my BSc (Hons) at The University of Queensland in Brisbane. I liked the little critters, and thankfully my supervisor, Mike Bennett, took me on for a PhD for further work on the ecology and conservation of inshore sharks and rays. I still like the little critters.
I’d been friends with Andrea Marshall for a few years by 2005, and she invited me to come over to Mozambique for a few months, help her with the fieldwork for her PhD on manta rays, and assess the potential for starting a research program on whale sharks based at Casa Barry Beach Lodge in Tofo Beach.
Casa Barry Lodge in Tofo, Mozambique
I had never even seen a whale shark at that point, but hey, why not.
After a couple of years commuting between Australia and Mozambique, I submitted my PhD thesis and moved over to Tofo full-time. Initially, it was just Andrea and I sitting in a grass shack. Surprisingly quickly, other people joined us in the shack. The program expanded rapidly to the point where we thought it would be best to make it official, and with help from a group of amazing people in the US the non-profit Marine Megafauna Foundation was formed.
The original Manta & Whale Shark Research Centre in Mozambique
Sarah Bishop, Chris Rohner, myself and Andrea Marshall in the “Research Centre”
My original house in Casa Barry – rustic but amazing!
Most of my work continues to focus on whale sharks. If you’re not familiar with them, know that these sharks are huge. And deadly. If you’re a zooplankton. If you’re not, then whale sharks are placid and completely harmless. I feel that it’s important to emphasise, though, that in terms of sheer numbers of victims, whale sharks are vicious predators. Okay, so their prey tends to top out at about the length of your little finger, but still.
Me, not being eaten by a whale shark
Despite this, whale sharks need our help. Their numbers have been dramatically reduced by fisheries, accidental captures in net fisheries, and ship strikes. If the current declines persist, we are going to lose this real-life Big Friendly Giant forever.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, I work with a brilliant team of dedicated researchers, educators and conservationists on projects in a number of countries. My primary interest is in developing effective conservation initiatives, but at this stage we still don’t have answers to some rather fundamental questions, such as:
- Where are the baby whale sharks?
- Where are the adults?
- Where are the FEMALES?
To create effective conservation strategies, we really need to know where whale sharks are spending their time. Check out my research pages and blogs to see how progress is going on that.
I was drawn to science by a lifelong interest in nature, wildlife, and generally playing outside. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered that photography is a fantastic excuse to visit some of the most interesting parts of the world at the most beautiful times of day. Fortunately, photography and science are complementary passions. I love being able to use photographs and videos to show people what we do and see while in the field. I also really enjoy hosting public research expeditions, where I get to spend time with like-minded people in some of the world’s most amazing places.
I post regular photos and updates on Instagram and Facebook, so definitely say hi on those sites. If you would like to get in contact directly, don’t hesitate to shoot me a message at info ‘at’ simonjpierce dot com.
- You could read my blog
- I’ve been interviewed about my work quite a few times now
- Check out some photo essays
- Find out more about our latest research
Thanks for visiting!