About Brad Norman

Principal Investigator Dr. Brad Norman, www.ecocean.org

“Investigating the ecology of the threatened Whale Shark to assist in the conservation of the species and management of its habitat.”

Portrait of Brad Norman

Whale sharks are listed as ‘threatened’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and ‘vulnerable to extinction’ on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Species. Prior to the mid-1980s there had been less than 350 confirmed sightings of whale sharks worldwide.

However, at the spectacular Ningaloo Reef the whale sharks return every year, providing tourists with the unique opportunity to swim alongside these gentle giants and making it one of the best places in the world to see and study whale shark.

Whale sharks are the largest living fish on Earth that may grow up to 18 metres in length, and gather for only three months each year in the Ningaloo Marine Park (NMP). The research carried out by Earthwatch volunteers will help to identify the migratory route of the whale shark which is believed to venture out of Australian waters making it vulnerable to unsustainable fishing practices in some areas.

The research will also be integral in the sustainable management of the ecotourism industry that flourishes around the reef and help to provide a better understanding of the ecology of whale sharks. Marine biologist Brad Norman and information architect Jason Holmberg have developed an award-winning on-line library of whale shark sightings, based on more than 1,300 encounters from around the world.

About the Principal Investigator

Brad Norman, Project Leader and Biologist with the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library, holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Marine Biology from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. His main research interests are whale shark biology and physiology, sustainable ecotourism and conservation, and sustainable fisheries management.

Brad began studying whale sharks at NMP in 1994 and has continued research both in Australia and abroad. Over his many years of work, he has established that the natural patterning on the skin of these sharks does not change over time and can be used to identify individuals.

His studies previously focused on the biology of the whale shark and the sustainability of the associated ecotourism industry, while his present work extends to international conservation projects related to this species. In addition to developing acoustic and satellite tracking programs at Ningaloo and Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, Brad has discovered a new species of copepod living on the skin of whale sharks and also established the size at maturity of male whale sharks.