I’m a whale shark biologist, marine conservation scientist, and underwater photographer from New Zealand.
Most of my work focuses on the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. My team has published some of the formative work on these gentle giants. In 2016 I led the effort to reevaluate whale shark conservation status on a global level for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which led to the whale shark being declared an endangered species, and in 2017 I was heavily involved with the successful nomination of whale sharks to Appendix I on the UN Convention for Migratory Species. Details of our whale shark research and conservation work are here on the site.
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, co-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 that oversees its 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.
Since 2013 I have become increasingly interested in photography as a way of both documenting our work and communicating my enthusiasm for nature and wildlife in general. I enjoy engaging with the public to explain our work, and to this end, I am active on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Our research and conservation work is routinely featured in major media outlets.
My scientific publication list can be viewed here on the site. All these papers are available for free download.
PhD (Biology), The University of Queensland, Australia (2009)
BSc (Honours, 1st Class), The University of Queensland, Australia (2001)
BSc (Ecology), Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand (2000)
Vice Co-Chair, IUCN Shark Specialist Group; 2012 – present
The Shark Specialist Group is an invited body of international experts on shark and ray science, conservation and management. I have completed IUCN Red List assessments on the global conservation status of multiple species of sharks and rays, including whale sharks, and have been Vice Co-Chair of the Sub-Equatorial Africa region since 2016.
Principal Scientist, Marine Megafauna Foundation, USA; 2005 – present
I co-founded the Marine Megafauna Association in Mozambique with Dr Andrea Marshall, which in 2012 registered as the Marine Megafauna Foundation in the USA (of which I am on the Board of Directors). I developed a pioneering research program on whale shark ecology and conservation in Mozambique. Our results have led to the national protection of whale sharks, and have also been cited as a rationale for nominating this coast as a potential Marine World Heritage Area.
In 2012, myself and Dr Christoph Rohner also initiated a new research programme on whale sharks at Mafia Island, Tanzania, in conjunction with WWF Tanzania, KAUST and TAFIRI. This work is ongoing. I’m also involved in active collaborations with colleagues in Ecuador, Arabia, Mexico and the Philippines.
I have also worked with Dr Marshall and her team on national and international research programmes on manta rays. These led to the giant manta ray being listed on Appendices I & II of the Convention on Migratory Species in 2011, and both Manta species being successfully nominated for inclusion on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 2013. I also initiated a project on the conservation biology of sea turtles in Mozambique, which has developed into supervision of a PhD project on this topic (Jessica Williams, James Cook University).
Science Coordinator, Wildbook for Whale Sharks, USA; 2011 – present
Wild Me is a non-profit set up to encourage and facilitate data sharing between researchers. I am on the Board of Directors for Wild Me, and Science Coordinator of one of the flagship projects: Wildbook for Whale Sharks, the global photo-identification database for the species. This photo library presently contains over 5600 identified individual whale sharks from more than 45 countries. In this role I have been facilitating and leading strategic global research initiatives on the species.
Executive Director (2008-2012), Scientific Director (2012-2013); Eyes on the Horizon, Mozambique
I was the operational manager of a national Mozambican marine conservation organisation focused on reducing illegal fishing and poaching within the country, particularly the burgeoning shark fin trade and its impacts on threatened species. During my employment at EOTH I completed the first national assessment of shark fisheries, which was used as a basis for both national conservation initiatives and a concerted effort by government to improve management of shark fisheries. We also developed a network of coastal residents to regularly report observations of illegal and unsustainable activities. These data were collated internally and forwarded to government to improve their monitoring capacities and institutional awareness. These efforts led to several arrests for illegal trafficking in fisheries and wildlife products, and brought an end to illegal shark fisheries on a regional scale.
An up-to-date list is available here. I’ve got auto-updated Google Scholar and ResearchGate profiles.
Reviewer for PeerJ, PLoS ONE, Biological Conservation, Diversity and Distributions, Marine Ecology Progress Series, Journal of Fish Biology, Tourism Management, Marine and Freshwater Research, Endangered Species Research, Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, Wildlife Research, BioScience.
Thesis reviewer for Murdoch University and the University of Tasmania (Australia) and Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand).
Alexandra Watts, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. (PhD: 2017-present)
Clare Prebble, Southampton University, UK. (PhD; 2014-present)
Dr Jessica Williams, James Cook University, Australia. Conservation biology of sea turtles in Mozambique (PhD; completed 2017)
Dr David Robinson, Heriot-Watt University, UK. Whale sharks in Arabia (PhD; completed 2016)
Dr Christoph Rohner, The University of Queensland, Australia. Biological and oceanographic influences on whale shark Rhincodon typus abundance and feeding ecology (PhD; completed 2013)
Peter Haskell, University of Exeter, UK. Evaluating the impacts of whale shark tourism in southern Mozambique (MSc with Distinction; completed in 2010)
Like geeky animal facts and dad jokes?
I write a few articles just for my mailing list. They normally focus on something interesting, and possibly hilarious, that I've learnt about sharks (or other random animals) that week. There may also be groan-inducing jokes.
Real talk: there will be groan-inducing jokes.