By Simon J Pierce. Simon is a shark biologist, wildlife photographer, and science writer from New Zealand.
Simon co-founded the Marine Megafauna Foundation, where he works as a Principal Scientist leading the global whale shark research and conservation program. Simon is also a Co-Chair for the Sub-Equatorial Africa region within the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, a Science Advisor to Wild Me, and a founding board member of the Sawfish Conservation Society.
Simon has a BSc in Ecology from Victoria University of Wellington
Marine Wildlife Photography
Simon is also an award-winning marine wildlife photographer, working for G Adventures as a “Photographer in Residence” during their Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. His photography and videos have been widely published by international media, including National Geographic, BBC, New Scientist, Nature, The Guardian, Discovery Channel, Washington Post, Animal Planet, BBC Wildlife, and many others. One of his photographs was chosen as a personal favorite of Sir David Attenborough’s, in conjunction with BBC’s Blue Planet II series, and another illustrates one of the global PADI scuba diving certification cards.
I’m a marine biology columnist and occasional feature writer for Oceanographic Magazine, and of course I’m writing a lot of articles on this website (why we’ve started it, what I like writing about). Newsletter.
Full disclosure… He’s also writing this bio.
Simon feels pretty weird about it.
I do get quite a few questions via email and direct messages, so I’ll take the opportunity to answer a few here!
How did I become a scientist?
I’ve always been super interested in animals. I grew up on a farm in Taranaki, New Zealand, which was an excellent playground for a wildlife geek.
As I got older, I realized that threatened species conservation was my jam. I went off to university (Victoria University of Wellington, NZ) and studied Ecology for my BSc. At the time, I thought I’d probably end up studying reptiles.
I’m still a bit obsessive about our scaley friends, but at the start of my third year, I learned to scuba dive. I’d always loved the water, and for my 21st birthday my mother sent me on a dive liveaboard trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where we spent a week diving with sharks and snorkeling with dwarf minke whales.
I was all like “this is what marine biologists do? Sign me up!”
This trip also gave me a lasting appreciation for warm water diving, so I decided to look for graduate opportunities in Australia. I was very fortunate that it only took a few months of pestering Professor Mike Bennett from The University of Queensland before he accepted me as a student in his shark research lab. I ended up staying there for both my BSc Hons (1st Class) and PhD degrees.
My doctoral work focused on the stingrays (especially) and sharks that live in the shallow coastal waters of southeast Queensland. This area has a large human population, with lots of associated coastal development and fishing, in an area of high marine biological diversity. The rays were, then at least, very poorly known, and were clearly at risk from all the human pressures. I surveyed the shark and ray species diversity in the area and went deep into the fisheries and conservation biology of the rays that seemed likely to be most affected. The work resulted in the estuary stingray (now Hemitrygon fluviorum) being listed on Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act, so I was stoked with that.
When did I get interested in whale sharks?
While I was working on the PhD I became great friends with (now) Dr Andrea “Queen of Mantas” Marshall, who was studying manta ray ecology in Mozambique for her own doctorate in Mike’s lab. She was very persistent in trying to get me to come over to Mozambique and check out the whale sharks, to see if we could start a broader research project together.
Problem was, I thought that whale sharks… were kinda boring. Big, sure. Beautiful, of course. Charismatic, absolutely. That was the problem, see. I was interested in (relatively) little threatened species, where I could make a significant contribution to their conservation. Whale sharks were fine, right? We must know everything about whale sharks.
Turns out… not so much. Eventually, mostly to shut Andrea up, I did some cursory research on whale sharks. Oh, hardly anyone is studying them. Oh, wait, they’re FISHED? Hang on… people think they might go extinct?
Okay. Not bored.
We decided that I should come over for a summer to check out the whale shark population
How did I become a photographer?
What photography equipment do I use?
What advice do I have for aspiring marine biologists?
Do you take on students or interns?
We’re partnered with the University of Plymouth via the Ocean Giants Trust.
What does your job entail now?
Yeah, good question. Often find myself photographing scientific expeditions. Strategy…
Can I travel with you?
Oh for sure.
Support – Patreon
Why start this website?
.. then science… then photography… and social media is kinda dying, so I thought this would be a good way to continue things, with a lot more longevity than an instagram post.
Simon led the global conservation assessment of whale sharks for the IUCN Red List in 2016, which identified the species as endangered, then led the technical proposal that successfully uplisted whale sharks to Appendix I of the UN’s Convention on Migratory Species in 2017 (achieving close to global protection for the species, at least officially). He regularly publishes scientific papers on whale sharks, as well as many others on threatened shark, ray and sea turtle species, and is co-editing a scientific textbook on whale sharks to be published in 2020.
Lead the global whale shark program at MMF. Education. Publication list etc.
Research has been featured by Science, Nature (soon)…
Where I’ve been featured etc.
Here on oceantripper, Oceanographic Magazine etc.
His research results are routinely covered by major media outlets, including the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and New York Times, amongst many others.
Most importantly, Simon’s photographs have been used to support research, conservation and advocacy efforts by a large number of countries and organisations, including the United Nations, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Wild Me, Sail Against Plastic, Galapagos National Park, Shark Trust, Google Voyager, Galapagos Conservation Trust, the Australian and Sri Lankan governments, Wildlife Trust of India, Tubbataha Management Office (Philippines), WWF Tanzania, and WWF Pakistan.
Simon currently migrates through the year between New Zealand, Indonesia, and various project sites all over the world. He will be hosting public research and photography trips to Komodo (Indonesia), Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) and Mafia Island (Tanzania) in 2019.
He also enjoys writing, surfing, generally being outdoors, and talking about himself in the third person.
Phew. Anyone else find it difficult talking about themselves, or is that a kiwi thing?
If you’ve got something to ask, don’t hesitate to get in touch. My email address (and answers to some commonly-asked questions… please read those first) is here.
Other links that may be of interest:
- My scientific publications
- Our research work on whale sharks
- My professional resume
- The photography, travel, and scuba diving equipment I use
- My advice for students considering a marine biology career
- How I got into all this: the narrative version
Still here? Geez. You should check out my newsletter. I have some fun with that.
I’m also sporadically active on Instagram, so do say hi over there.