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Great white shark scientist to attend SciFest 2014

29 March 2014

Marine explorer and great white shark scientist to attend SciFest 2014
“SHARKLAB14 – Why sharks matter” competition launched

He’s been researching and tracking great white sharks around the world for the past fifteen years and is now one of the world’s leading shark scientists. Kiwi expat Ryan Johnson will be one of the key international guests at this year’s New Zealand International Science Festival to be held from 5 to 13 July in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Johnson, a marine explorer and wildlife documentary filmmaker for National Geographic channel, will deliver a compelling presentation on the research he has conducted in South Africa and around the world on great white sharks. His research includes a satellite telemetry project launched in 2005 that involved tracking a female great white dubbed ‘Nicole’ from South Africa to Australia and back. He was also a key figure behind OCEARCH, the largest shark-tracking research project in the world, which involved tagging and tracking 50 sharks including 35 great whites.

According to Johnson, New Zealand has made strong progress in the conservation and management of sharks in recent years and he hopes to encourage further research and assessment of this country’s shark management regime.

“In my presentation I will be highlighting the scientific work we have done in South Africa and how it has played a crucial role in helping conserve South Africa's shark resources.”

Johnson, who recently founded Oceans Campus – a mentoring programme for the next generation of wildlife experts and professionals – aims to multiply existing marine research internships to act as a bridge between university study and real-world careers for young zoologists.

Now living in South Africa, Johnson says he “grew up dreaming of becoming one of those marine biologists you read about in novels”. But, through his first-hand experience of the great white shark, “it changed from the ocean’s fiercest inhabitant to an incredibly majestic and vulnerable species whose real-life persona is the antithesis of what is portrayed in Jaws." He attributes the fact that he is now able to live out his dream to his studies in zoology and the love of nature that was instilled in him growing up in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand.

“It is important to me during the science festival to impress upon kids that marine science is a great career and that a person can make a massive contribution to the world as a marine biologist.”

He adds that the public have been granted unprecedented insight into the work and discoveries of marine science through initiatives such as real-time animal-tracking websites and television series like Shark Wranglers – thus educating and inspiring a new generation of marine scientists.

Festival Director Chris Green says having a guest of Ryan Johnson’s calibre is “a fantastic opportunity for the public to hear first-hand from someone at the cutting edge of marine research.”

The festival will run a University of Otago led marine science day on Sunday 13 July featuring some of Ryan’s internationally featured documentaries, a shark dissection demonstration and workshops for all ages. Ryan will also give a talk at the Auckland Museum during the July school holidays.

“He is one of the world’s leading authorities on great white sharks, making a contribution to the conservation and management of the great white both locally and globally, and we are thrilled to have him in Dunedin as part of the New Zealand International Science Festival.”

As part of the festival, an international competition – SHARKLAB 14: ‘Why sharks matter’ – is to be launched on April 7, with entry open to individuals, schools and other groups.

The festival programme will be officially announced in late May, with tickets on sale from early June. Announcements of key international guests will be made in coming months. Details of the SHARKLAB 14 competition, closing dates and prizes are posted on

The New Zealand International Science Festival has developed and run seven International Science Festivals in Dunedin every two years since 1998. In addition to a wide range of events, each festival includes international guests, national and local experts and a wide range of sponsors and funders.

Today, around 40 volunteers help run the events, and thousands of visitors from all over New Zealand participate in festival activities.

The NZ International Science Festival is a not-for-profit organisation which aims:
• To promote and celebrate science, technology and the natural environment to a wide general audience, and show that science is exciting, fun, and accessible
• To encourage young people to consider science, technology and environmental studies as positive career options
• To show the relevance of current developments in science and technology to our daily lives
• To promote the quality and achievements of New Zealand scientific research


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