Feeding sharks just part of a day's work for marine science student

November 14, 2016

Marine Science student Colby Bignell is volunteering at the Shark African Shark ConservancyFeeding live sharks is just one of the daily tasks for Murdoch student Colby Bignell at the moment.

Colby, who is a third year marine science undergraduate, is volunteering for six months at the South African Shark Conservancy in Hermanus.

The South African Shark Conservancy was founded in 2007, and focuses on the conservation of sharks and their habitats along the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot – a 200km stretch of coastline on the southwest coast of South Africa.

Colby believes the work of this conservation group is vital.

“People seem to think of sharks unanimously as a big, dangerous man-eating creature but in actuality, there are over 400 species of sharks which come in all shapes and sizes,” he said.

“All of them are crucial components of marine ecosystems, and with the limelight devoted entirely to ‘menacing’ white sharks, these animals aren’t being granted the awareness or protection they so desperately need.”

During his time at the South African Shark Conservancy, Colby is in charge of managing both the experimental laboratory and the online communications of the organisation.

“On a daily basis I could find myself chopping up sardines to feed the sharks in our lab, collecting biological samples, restocking inventory and supplies, ensuring animal health and biosecurity is maintained, managing interns in the lab, data entry, or preparing for various field operations,” he said.

“No day is the same as the other and it’s always very exciting.”

The high level of biodiversity in the area attracts many international researchers and conservationists – which has enabled Colby to work with many international teams including researchers from NASA and Mission Blue, and film crews from 5050 and Nat Geo Travel.

Colby was featured in Mission Blues’ video tour of the South African Conservancy laboratory.

Colby said that he has loved sharks since a very young age, having spent a lot of time on the water in WA as a child.

“At first the obsession stemmed out of fear when I was much younger, which naturally evolved into a kind of awe that has since carried through my adult years into a passion that I want to apply in both conservation and research,” Colby said.

Cat Shark“What fascinates me the most about sharks is their highly evolved sensory biology, which enables them to perceive their own environment in many more ways than we can as humans.

“It speaks a lot of their intelligence, perhaps even equivalent to our own, and attests to their longevity as species which have lived for hundreds of millions of years. And this is something we definitely do not grant them enough appreciation for, in lieu of unrelenting media campaigns that force us to fear and make an enemy of them.”

“Fear is nothing but a lack of understanding.”

Colby plans to conduct research on the sensory biology of sharks as a postgraduate student.

“I’d like to work towards developing more effective methods of public protection from sharks, and simultaneously develop a higher appreciation for these incredible animals,” he said. “This can only be done with a better understanding of how they perceive and interact with their environment.”

This is the second time Murdoch University has supported Colby to be a research volunteer in South Africa, after his stint as a White Shark Warrior in 2013.

Colby will return to Murdoch University to complete his studies next year.

Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a comment

You can use these tags : <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

We read every comment and will make every effort to approve each new comment within one working day. To ensure speedy posting, please keep your comments relevant to the topic of discussion, free of inappropriate language and in-line with the editorial integrity of this newsroom. If not, your comments may not be published.

Thanks for commenting!