Meet the Scientist

Melissa Headshot.jpg

Photo Credit: Fouad Zayed

Founder of The Fins United Initiative and Marine Biologist

What scientific field do you work in?


Marine biology- shark scientist

"I get to collaborate with people from all walks of life..."


Could you briefly explain what your job involves?


I study shark habitat use – answering why they are where they are. I’m also interested in how media portrays these animals and how that sways people’s perceptions of them and overall conservation efforts.

Do you have any secret talents?


Most people wouldn’t guess it from seeing me, but I’m a long-distance runner.

When did you decide you wanted to work as a scientist?


I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a marine biologist. It’s always been a part of me- constantly being fascinated with the natural world, especially the ocean.

What's your favourite food?


Anything with cheese and pasta! I also am a sucker for a good taco or tostada.

What educational pathway did you take to get to where you are now?


I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation in Sarasota, Florida. This journey led me to pack my bags and move from Florida, USA to Wellington, NZ and get a Master’s degree in Marine Biology. I will start my PhD in June 2019.

If you could be anyone in the world, for 24 hours, who would you be and why?


I would love to trade places with David Attenborough to see what he see and experience just a small blip in his life.

"Sometimes the field work can lead to being in the middle of nowhere.."

Sad Girl

What was the best thing about your job?


The brilliant people I get to work with! I get to collaborate with people from all walks of life and constantly am learning new information- it’s amazing!

What was the worst thing about your job?


How isolating some of the work can be! Sometimes the field work can lead to being in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone and everything. It’s hard to adjust to that and hard to adjust to being back in civilization.

"...I'm a long-distance runner!"

If you could take one thing with you to an island, what would it be and why?


Outside of survival gear? Some paper and pencils to write with!


Have you taken part in any research?


I recently wrapped up my Masters in Marine Biology, focusing on “Habitat use throughout a Chondrichthyan’s life.” Chondrichthyans (class Chondrichthyes) are sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras. My study focused on five species of deep-sea chimaeras chosen because they cover a large range of depth (7 m – 1306 m), and had been noted as being abundant despite extensive fisheries in their presumed habitats; they were also of special interest to the Deepwater Group (who funded the scholarship for my MSc). I’m hoping to publish that work in a journal soon.

Do you have a favourite movie quote?

"I'm going to have to science the s*** out of this,” from The Martian is hilarious and applicable to my life.

Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in your career path?


If this is something you want- don’t give up. It will be hard, it will be lonely at times, but it will be worth it to be doing what you love at the end of the day.

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