Who I am
I’m known as the ‘Lost Shark Guy’ and throughout my career I have searched for, and frequently found, those unknown or little-known sharks, rays and ghost sharks that most people know almost nothing about. How did I get interested in sharks? It started with my parents who gave me a book when I was about five years old. Thumbing through the pages and looking at the various illustrations, I thought these were the coolest critters I had ever seen! I was hooked at an early age and decided I was going to make it my lifelong passion to travel and search for these unusual sharks.
I have always been an explorer at heart and what better way to explore the world than to travel and search for ‘lost sharks’! ‘What is a “lost shark”?’ you might ask. It is basically most species except for those charismatic ones, such as the white shark, that feature in numerous documentaries and in shark attack horror movies. With the exception of Shark Week’s successful Alien Shark< and Extinct or Alive series that feature rare species such as the megamouth and goblin sharks, most shows of this nature only feature the large, toothy variety of sharks. I have made it my mission to search for, discover and document the ‘lost sharks’.
Where I work
My home base is in California, where I have a window view of the spectacular Monterey Bay. However, South Africa has become my second home – I’m not sure who adopted whom. Ever since first arriving there, I have felt it to be a special place and whether because of the scenic country, lifelong friends I have made, unforgettable experiences or the awesome sharks I have found there, it has become a part of me. My journeys through South Africa and Namibia with fellow grad student Paul Cowley were life-changing events and have left an indelible impression on me. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have had the opportunities to keep returning to this magical place. And even after more than 35 years, 30 books and over 700 publications, as well as having named more than 50 new species of sharks, rays and ghost sharks from five different continents, I still am finding and discovering new species.
This latest project ‘Searching for lost sharks: extinct or alive’ is a continuation of my life’s journey to find and document these rare, little-known and new species of sharks, rays and ghost sharks. Now more than ever these ‘lost sharks’ are in dire need of documentation, identification and biogeographic clarity in order to develop better conservation and fisheries practices before they disappear.
What I do
Sharks, rays and ghost sharks, collectively referred to here as ‘sharks’, are among the most threatened species globally. A study in 2021 found that one-third to nearly 40% of cartilaginous fish species may be threatened with extinction. This was an increase from a 2014 study that found that 25% of all shark species may be threatened with extinction. Many of these shark species have life-history characteristics, such as slow growth, late maturity and low fecundity, which, combined with their habitat preferences, make them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing and habitat degradation. At least three species may have already gone extinct, while some species in other groups, such as angelsharks, wedgefish, guitarfish, groundsharks, houndsharks, requiem sharks and electric rays, may be on the cusp of extinction.
In partnership with the Save Our Seas Foundation, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the California Academy of Sciences, and in collaboration with a network of colleagues in Asia, Africa and Latin America, I plan to continue my life’s journey gathering data from field surveys at fish markets, interviewing local fishers and visiting museum collections to examine type specimens. To help gather and disseminate the most current information available, I will continue to collaborate with in-country organisers and provide workshops on how to recognise these sharks to improve species-specific identification.
The conservation challenges facing ‘lost sharks’ are enormous and include misidentification, incomplete biogeography and a lack of identification guides, fisheries data and political will to implement conservation and fisheries management policies. The information I gather has helped – and will continue to help – improve the conservation and fisheries status of these species, and hopefully lead to improved species-specific identification and better knowledge of the biogeographic limits of these sharks. Results from this project will provide the tools that lead to better conservation and management strategies for the enigmatic ‘lost sharks’.