SharkWeek Header


Here at Beneath the Waves we wanted to bring you the insider scoop on the superstars of Shark Week.  Thus, we elicited the help of five of our most favorite sharky scientists. Today we caught up with Dr. Simon Pierce, Principal Scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation and Science Coordinator for Wildbook for Whale Sharks, to tell us a bit about the shark science he is involved in, how he got where he is today, and what he thinks we can do to move shark conservation forward.


Simon Pierce

Briefly can you describe the focus of your research and the species you work on?

I’m a conservation biologist and population ecologist. My research focuses on gathering the information necessary for making effective conservation decisions. We look at shark population size and abundance trends, movement patterns, and identify threats. Then, by talking to the people most likely to interact with the sharks, we can come up with practical solutions.

Most of my work is on whale sharks, the largest of all sharks – and fish. They’re gentle giants, feeding solely on plankton and small fish. Sadly, human pressures such as fishing have dramatically reduced their numbers, so I’m trying to help them bounce back.
In your opinion, how can people help save sharks?
Directly, there are many ways that anyone can help save sharks. If you get a chance, participate in sustainable wild shark tourism, or volunteer with a credible program. Make a donation to a good not-for-profit or university. If you follow shark scientists on social media, they’ll often post opportunities to make public comments to government on fisheries legislation, potential law changes and the like. While these may seem like dry topics, making a contribution – often there’s a template to simply copy and paste – will genuinely have a positive impact. You live in a democracy, use it.
Indirectly, what’s good for the marine environment is good for sharks. Choose sustainably caught fish. Avoid shrimp, unless you’re 100% sure it’s from a sustainable source. Clean up a beach. Avoid using plastic bags or micro-plastics. Tuna purse-seine fleets catch whale sharks – buy pole-caught tuna instead.
How did you get involved in shark research and what advice would you give those interested in studying them?
I was fascinated with animals, including sharks, from an early age. I learnt to dive while I was in my final undergraduate year, and I was hooked. I emailed my future PhD supervisor, Professor Mike Bennett at The University of Queensland, until he gave in and took me on as a student.
If you’d like to study sharks, you have work to do. Solid university results is a necessary start – intelligence and motivation are assumed. If you want to be a field biologist, you’ll need experience. I’d start by looking for people conducting marine research in your local area – even if it isn’t on sharks – and making yourself known to them. If you can volunteer, perfect. The shark research community is small, and a good reference will go a long way. If at all possible, choose a university where there is an active shark research program, and make friends with the people involved!
To find out more about Dr. Pierce and his research initiatives, check out his website!