I love sharks. No-one is entirely sure why, though a significant bump to the head during childhood hasn't been ruled out entirely. It would explain a lot.
See, I grew up in the most land-locked region of the UK. Open water would paralyse me with fear, as did anything that could be considered a vague existential threat, including the elderly.
That the most maligned and misunderstood oceanic predator on the planet would turn out to be my favourite animal, seems an ironic twist of fate. Or, possibly a cheap giggle by a higher power.
The thing is, we all remember who we were before certain things came into our lives. Who were were before we heard our favourite song, before we met our true love, before we first tried halloumi.
These events are landmarks in our evolution as individuals. Points on the map of our life histories. Brightly illuminated constellations of pivotal moments, dotted across the seemingly empty sky of our personal existences.
Simply put – I don’t remember who or what I was before loving sharks. It’s a fascination which predates my consciousness, so I no longer bother questioning it.
Therefore and as you might expect, sharks play a fairly significant role in my life. They’ve dictated some of my most fulfilling (and at times, devastating) life choices.
Such choices, have lead to following pursuits:
Great white shark research
I’ve been involved with researching sharks since 2009. In the early days I did so in a purely technical role: collecting data, building tools, driving boats, whatever was needed. I spend a lot of my time covered in chum, which sounds gross. It is.
This changed in 2012 when I co-authored my first paper, Gauging The Threat. This study is the world’s first population estimate for the species at Dyer Island (South Africa), the great white shark capital of the world.
I’ve maintained a direct, active involvement with shark research ever since.
Putting cameras on great white shark’s fins, following them around the ocean, using photogrammetry to calculate their size, identifying personalities through tooth shape – the research is quite varied. This is good because I get bored easily.
I hope to remain actively involved with researching sharks for years to come. A number of projects which incorporate videogame and visual effects based technologies are currently in development.
Marine Dynamics Academy
Marine Dynamics Academy is a series of programs dedicated to marine research, ecotourism and conservation in South Africa.
The Academy is part of a family of companies in Gansbaai, South Africa. Sharing expertise and logistics between these organisations allows us to provide prospective students a level of variety and quality which few others can.
Fundamentally, our goal is to provide a gateway to people who are considering careers based around the ocean environment. We likewise host external research projects, where students and scientists can utilise our facilities in their own studies.
I operate as a producer and designer, overseeing the recruitment and academic development of our Scientific Internship specifically, while also handling our global marketing materials.
SharkStuff is a small, UK-based charity dedicated to researching sharks in British waters.
Education is a massive part of what we do, as many people in our country have no idea how many shark species can be found in its seas. One of our goals is to not only inform, but engage their interest and turn that into long-term involvement.
I am one of the Trustees for the charity and am involved with all our major decision making. You can learn more about SharkStuff via its dedicated page.
Outreach and training
The vast majority of my work with sharks, has centred around training students and educating the general public. This has comprised everything from creating outreach materials for presentations and public events, to developing syllabuses and course content for dedicated training programs.
Much of this began when I moved to South Africa in 2009, to help establish and develop Oceans Research. Based in Mossel Bay, Oceans Research is home to a number of research projects focused on great white sharks, cetaceans and other local marine species.
While much of my work centred around the creation of media and marketing materials for the company, I eventually became responsible for managing our research and training operations. I also assisted directly with technical support on student projects.
Such work has since been consolidated exclusively into Marine Dynamics Academy.
Design for wildlife
My adventures with great white sharks all stem from joining a volunteer program in 2007.
White Shark Projects is one of many cage diving operators in Gansbaai. Their volunteer program allows people from across the globe to assist on their boats and in turn, experience working with great white sharks up close on a daily basis.
Some have called this exploitation. I call it opportunity.
The main benefit of programs such as these, is that while pre-existing experience in marine biology is helpful, its not necessarily required.
For people like myself, such programs become a gateway to a world we want to be a part of.
Get in touch if you’d like more info.
Interested in working with sharks?
I might be slightly bias, but working with sharks is the best and many ask me how they can do the same.
It’s an unsurprisingly competitive field to get into, but it’s also one ripe with opportunities if you know where to look.
If you’re keen to work with sharks but have literally no idea where to start, feel free to get in touch. I can’t guarantee you’ll be featured on next year’s Shark Week, but I can at least give some ideas on where to start.
Because sharks are boss.