Project Leader

Austin Gallagher

Austin Gallagher

Who I am

I have a deep respect and sense of wonder for species that need to kill in order to survive. This is a concept that we as humans have been disconnected from for thousands of years. As long as I can remember, I have felt a sense of great joy when trying to understand how large predators were able to make a living.

I was brought up in coastal New England, an area with a rich maritime history, and at an early age I gravitated towards marine predators with a special interest in sharks. I can vividly remember visiting the New England Aquarium as a child. It had a wall of shark silhouettes that depicted the life-size lengths of many species and on each visit I would spend time underneath this mural, purposely returning to experience the humbling feeling of being dwarfed by giants.

That feeling still courses through my veins, and I consider myself lucky to work on a variety of predatory species – including sharks – in ecosystems around the world. Broadly, my interests focus on the ecology of survival in sharks, both acutely (daily activities, life-history variation, and predator–prey interactions) and long-term (vulnerability and extinction risk). I am a generalist in that I use tools from multiple domains, although primarily behavioural and physiological tools to answer questions that are fundamental and applied by nature.

Where I work

Despite the growing human pressures on biodiversity in the ocean, there are still locations that teem with life and contain a strong abundance of sharks that are otherwise rare or also highly threatened in other parts of their range. My research is conducted off south-eastern Japan, an area that boasts one of the strongest currents in the Pacific Ocean as well as one of the final aggregation locations for hammerhead sharks in the northern hemisphere.

A global epicentre for technology and at the same time one of the world’s primary consumers of ocean-related food products, Japan is an important and inspirational location for marine conservation research, especially on sharks due to its proximity to the hub of the shark-fin trade. The features of our study location are comparable to those of places such as the Galapagos and Cocos Island: deep underwater crags and canyons, regions of cool oceanic upwelling, and high densities of large pelagic predators and fishes. It is these attributes that make shark research here challenging, but also highly rewarding.

What I do

I am interested in trying to describe, characterise and follow the movements of scalloped hammerheads throughout the summer in Japan and into the winter throughout the rest of Asia. My research team is both international and interdisciplinary, bringing together skills in animal ecology and tracking, energetics and metabolism, and social network theory in order to conduct new analyses of hammerhead shark behaviour over space and time. In particular, we will use a combination of passive acoustic telemetry and satellite-based tagging technology to answer questions about behavioural ecology, with the goal of advancing our knowledge of the risks that face these seemingly abundant yet threatened sharks in this part of the world. Telemetry tags will be attached to sharks in situ, utilising the breath-hold skills of world-class surfer and free-diver Mark Healey. My project also partners with Pangeaseed, an incredible organisation that uses art and education to raise awareness and rally support for sharks around the world.

My project

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