Swimming With the Sharks

Swimming With the Sharks

Simon Pierce is a whale shark biologist, marine conservation scientist, and underwater photographer, who we were lucky to speak with about his work.

Simon grew up on a farm surrounded by rivers, ponds, and pockets of bush in New Zealand; at a young age, nature sparked his desire to explore. He thanks his parents for being so patient, as he would always come home in need of some hosing down or bandaging up after a long day spent outside. He tells us that he’s been interested (and maybe a little obsessed) with wildlife for as long as he can remember. Simon’s parents encouraged him to pursue whatever he was interested in, which in this case is marine biology. He told us that his dad liked fishing, and shared Simon’s interest in aquatic species. On one family trip in Vanuatu, Simon was already studying biology as an undergraduate when he did a “discover scuba dive”. All of the vibrant colors and diversity he saw underwater amazed him, and seriously peaked his interest in marine biology. Out of all of his experiences, however, Simon credits the documentaries he used to watch for truly inspiring him to be a biologist. They were about New Zealand conservation scientists that focused on saving native species from extinction, and Simon admits that “Their dedication and creativity was, and still is, a huge inspiration for my own career.”.

Currently, Simon’s main research focus is on threatened marine species and their habitats. He desires to know what information is necessary in order to make proper management and conservation decisions. One of his recent research projects involved satellite-tagging whale sharks to study their movement patterns along the Mozambican coast, and observing the distribution of gillnet use in the same province. Simon feels lucky that he is able to spend so much time in his outdoor office. He started working on shark conservation in 2001, and has been researching whale sharks since 2005! For the past three months, Simon has been out in the field, studying in the Galapagos, Madagascar, and Tanzania. He tells us that he’s looking forward to having a nice relaxed summer back in New Zealand, for research is exhausting work.

When asked what his favorite thing to study is, Simon exclaimed “Whale sharks!”. He loves swimming with him, which may seem daunting to many, but to Simon, it’s what he enjoys the most. He says whale sharks do interesting things, making them fun to photograph. He also admires their habitats, and says, “they live in some of the world’s most amazing places”. As he reflects upon his fieldwork, Simon comments that he knows that the work he and his team are doing are helping the whale shark populations to bounce back from decades of overfishing. He tells us that he is most proud when his work is used as a basis for successful conservation initiatives, policy development, or the promotion of genuine ecotourism. Simon enjoys sharing his work with others and hopes that he is able to inspire people to get involved in conservation and research work themselves.

Recently, Simon and his team published a paper on sea turtles in the Arabian region. He has friends that orchestrate the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, which rescues, treats, and releases sea turtles in need. Simon helped the DTRP team analyze and write up the results they received from satellite-tagging some of their rehabilitated turtles. The objective was to evaluate whether or not they could survive in the wild, and aside from one which had unfortunately been killed by a spearfisher, all the others thrived. One of the turtles even swam 8000 km from the UAE, past the Maldives, to the Andaman Sea! Simon tells us that it was great to see the team’s hard work pay off. The rehabilitation was successful, and the sea turtles were given a second chance at life.

Simon’s advice for those who would like to help save endangered marine species is to think about how the skills and strengths you already have, or would like to develop, could be applied to conservation. He states that you do not need a marine biology degree to get involved in conservation. For example, marketers are skilled at raising awareness and changing behaviors, lawyers are policy experts, and teachers are fantastic educators. Simon emphasizes that conservation is truly about people, not biology.

We agree with Simon! If you’d like to know more about Simon’s work, visit his website here! At Conseris, we are happy to help researchers like Simon who are passionate about fieldwork. Try a 30-day trial of Conseris today and see firsthand how it can help you on your next fieldwork project!