In touch with … Charlie Huveneers

When a regular work day involves diving with sharks, you can guarantee Associate Professor Charlie Huveneers has some interesting stories to tell. As the lead for the Southern Shark Ecology Group, we asked about his research which has seen him featured alongside some famous faces. 

What is your role and what does your work focus on?

I lead the Southern Shark Ecology Group which investigates the biology, ecology and population status of sharks and rays, as well as assessments of their vulnerability to fishing pressure, interactions with humans and related public perception. The primary aims of the group’s research include determining the life history characteristics of sharks to improve assessments of their vulnerabilities to human, environmental and climatic impacts, and investigating their movement dynamics and residency patterns using acoustic telemetry and satellite tagging.

My current research focuses on assessing the efficacy of shark bite mitigation measures and provide empirical data to help managers minimise the effects of wildlife tourism on sharks and surrounding ecosystem.

I am also the Director of Flinders University’s Marine & Coastal Research Consortium that brings together Flinders academics with complementary skills in ecology, geomorphology, engineering, archaeology, genomics, and oceanography to improve our understanding of the functioning of marine and coastal systems.

What journey brought you to this point in your career?

My interest in shark ecology started in Belgium when I was 12 years old and led me to undertake a Rotary International exchange program after I finished high school, which took me to Maryborough (Qld). While in Australia, I applied for some undergraduate degrees and was accepted in a BSc in Oceanography and Marine Biology at the University of Southampton (England).

Following my undergraduate degree, I did a PhD in Environmental Sciences at Macquarie University on the ecology and biology of wobbegong sharks which I finished in 2007. I then had a couple of short-term contracts in Adelaide (SARDI – Aquatic Sciences) and Sydney (Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences; IMOS), before starting a Marine Innovation South Australia joint position between SARDI – Aquatic Sciences and Flinders University in 2009 during which I created the Southern Shark Ecology Group. In 2014, I joined Flinders University full-time.

Can you describe a challenge in your life and how you dealt with it?

Managing the needs of research and teaching can be difficult. Both are essential to our role at Flinders University and I enjoy both, but it can be challenging to be both an impactful researcher and engaging lecturer. I try to use my own and other current research as much as I can in my teaching to make it relevant and engaging for my students. It also helps me keep on top of current research while I prep the lectures.

What is something you are most proud of?

Associate Professor Huveneers preparing for a dive. Image: Mark Tipple

My research on the effects of wildlife tourism has led to a new policy being developed and to new regulations being implemented, managing the white shark diving industry and ensuring a sustainable industry with minimal impacts on white sharks and its surrounding ecosystem.

My studies assessing the effectiveness of shark deterrent have shown that electric deterrents can reduce the risk of shark bites by 60%. These findings have been used by the WA Government to add the device we tested to its rebate program.

Overall, my research on shark bite mitigation measures has provided the Australian government and the public with scientific information to make decisions about shark bite risk and ways to reduce these risks.

What does a normal day look like for you?

One day I might be in the office writing grant proposals or papers, but the next day I might be diving and tagging white sharks or be surrounded by 500 grey reef sharks. While fieldwork takes a lot of time (and leads to hundreds of emails when I return from the field), it’s a critical part of work and enables me to stay in touch with what is logistically feasible to achieve.

Recently, my days have involved showcasing my group’s research. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in documentaries with some pretty interesting people! I got to meet Mick Fanning when I took part in his documentary Save this Shark, and recently had our work into shark mitigation devices featured in Shark Beach with Chris Hemsworth.

How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?

While I’m already in the field a lot for work, I still like to spend my spare time in nature and being active. I’ll either be surfing, diving or doing some other sport in the sea or on land.

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