Ryan Johnson grew up in New Zealand dreaming of becoming
''one of those marine biologists you read about in novels''.
And now that the 35-year-old has achieved global recognition,
he is using it to change the world's perception of the great
Mr Johnson, who studied at the University of Otago and now
lives in Mossel Bay, South Africa, plans to inspire a new
generation of marine biologists to follow in his footsteps,
when he is one of the key international guest speakers at
this year's New Zealand International Science Festival, from
July 5-13, in Dunedin.
The great white has a pretty savage reputation as the ocean's
fiercest inhabitant, but Mr Johnson has managed to change
that image, to show it is a majestic and vulnerable species
whose real-life persona is the antithesis of what is
portrayed in the Jaws movies.
He said the destructive nature of humans towards sharks and
marine life was ''an ever-present burden'' that was tough to
Leading shark scientist Ryan Johnson films among sharks for
a documentary. Photo Fiona Ayerst
''But with more and more people dedicating their lives
and efforts to shark conservation, ecotourism and getting
protective legislation in place, I am hopeful that sharks, and
the oceans, may one day bite back.
''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 said.
Mr Johnson has been researching and tracking great white
sharks around the world for 15 years, and is a leading shark
scientist, appearing on many television productions,
including by National Geographic and Discovery Channel.
During the festival, he will deliver a presentation on the
research he has conducted on great white sharks, which
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 said New Zealand had made strong progress in the
conservation and management of sharks in recent years, and he
hoped to encourage further research and assessment of our
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
Mr Johnson recently founded Oceans Campus - a mentoring
programme for the next generation of wildlife experts and
professionals - and aims to multiply existing marine research
internships to act as a bridge between university study and
real-world careers for young zoologists.
Festival director Chris Green said having a guest of Mr
Johnson's calibre was ''a fantastic opportunity for the
public to hear first-hand from someone at the cutting edge of
The festival will run a University of Otago-led marine
science day on July 13, featuring some of Mr Johnson's
documentaries, a dissection demonstration and workshops for
''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.''