6 questions with international shark expert Professor Colin Simpfendorfer

Professor Colin Simpfendorfer has been researching sharks for more than 25 years. He specialises in applied research to improve the management and conservation of shark and ray populations, and has published extensive scientific literature on shark biology, ecology, fisheries and conservation. His expertise has seen him appointed as the Co-Chair of the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group.

Colin Simpfendorfer
Professor Simpfendorfer is currently the Associate Dean of Research at James Cook University (JCU), and the Director of JCU’s Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Come 24 February 2018, he will kick off the Science in the S.E.A.A. Speaker Series with his talk “Beyond Shark Week: How science can help save sharks“. Below, he answers some questions about his work and what got him here.


What inspired you to be a marine biologist?
Watching Jacques Cousteau on TV as a kid was a big influence. I also loved exploring tide pools, fishing and eventually diving. By age 9, I had decided that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I found the ocean such a fascinating and inspiring place I knew it was where I wanted to work.

What is it about sharks that intrigue you?
Sharks have been swimming in our oceans for 400 million years. To do this, when so many other groups have come and gone, means they are perfectly adapted to life in the ocean.

Currently, what is the most pressing issue faced by sharks?
Fishing is the greatest threat to shark populations. This can be targeted fishing, or when they are caught incidentally when targeting other species. Overfishing means that currently about 25% of all shark species (there are about 1200) are threatened with extinction.

What are some of the projects you are busy with lately?
At the moment, I’m working on a number of projects, and these are the ones that take up most of my time:

1. Global Finprint – a worldwide study investigating the status of sharks and rays on coral reefs using video data.

2. Maximising the value of Marine Protected Areas for sharks and rays – study investigating how and where sharks and rays benefit from areas closed to fishing.

3. Global environmental DNA survey for sawfishes – all aquatic animals shed DNA into the water, this project is taking water samples to find locations where these rare aquatic giants still occur.

4. Sharks and rays of Papua New Guinea – working with the local government to improve management of their sharks and rays.

Colin Simpfendorfer
Professor Simpfendorfer releasing a smalltooth sawfish in the Florida Everglades. Image source: The Gills Club

What values do you feel a well-maintained aquarium or zoo can bring to a community?
It can enable people who don’t dive to see animals up close and this can be a really powerful experience. It also lets people identify much more with these animals and understand them better, which can then be a vehicle to educate them about issues important to the ocean. Conservation of sharks and rays is just one example.


Click here to sign up for Professor Simpfendorfer’s upcoming talk Beyond Shark Week: How science can help save sharks.

This event is open only to members of Guardians of the S.E.A.A.. If you’re not yet a member, click here to sign up.

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