Ocean Predator Movement Ecology

and Conservation

Our research focuses on marine predator, notably shark movements, behaviour and ecology in relation to environmental changes and anthropogenic threats. The aim has been to understand patterns, mechanisms, causes and consequences of behaviour, movement and population redistributions across fine to global scales. Key motivating questions are why do sharks move where they do, what space use patterns emerge and why, and what are the consequences of such dynamics for conservation in the face of anthropogenic activities?

Our approach is to obtain new insights by applying novel telemetry, bio-logging and analytical approaches to understand predator-environment interactions from individual-based tracking to population modelling. Our research tests hypotheses about foraging behaviour, habitat use, optimal searching, migration under climate change, redistribution patterns, and impacts of fishing and climate change. Results are used to to inform conservation and management of shark and other populations, particularly in relation to fishing exploitation and climate change.

A Whale Shark swimming in clear seas with multiple sharks seen in distance
Whale Shark. Credit: Dr Simon Pierce

Our Research Impacts


Mysterious circles of basking sharks explained

Research by our group identifies northeast Atlantic coastal waters as critical habitat supporting courtship reproductive behaviour of endangered basking sharks, the first such habitat revealed for this species globally.

Global shipping trade is killing whale sharks

Our research reveals substantial “cryptic” lethal ship strikes of whale sharks, which could explain why populations continue to decline despite international protection and low fishing-induced mortality. Mitigation measures to reduce ship-strike risk are needed to conserve populations.

Read more: “Global shipping trade is killing whale sharks” The Washington Post

Key Publications

Global collision-risk hotspots of marine traffic and the world’s largest fish, the whale shark – PNAS

Climate-driven deoxygenation elevates fishing vulnerability for the ocean’s widest ranging shark – eLife

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Global spatial risk assessment of sharks under the footprint of fisheries – Nature


Our Team

Professor David Sims

Professor David Sims, Mem.MBA, MAE

Senior Research Fellow

Professor David Sims, Mem.MBA, MAE

Senior Research Fellow

Professor David Sims

dws@mba.ac.uk

I have a lifelong interest in the behaviour, ecology and conservation of ocean predators. My research career began in 1991 with studies on the ecophysiology of feeding in small-spotted catsharks, completed in part at the Marine Biological Association. I embarked in 1995 on what has become a 25 year study of basking shark behavioural ecology. In 2001, shortly after joining the MBA as Research Fellow, we obtained the first long-term satellite trackings of basking sharks showing that they do not hibernate in winter, exhibit regional annual site fidelity, and cross national boundaries frequently, results which contributed to their international protection under CITES (2003) and CMS (2006) listings. Since 2001 I have studied the movement ecology of oceanic sharks and other threatened fish in relation to climate change and fishing. In 2016 I initiated the Global Shark Movement Project, a collaboration of over 150 scientists across 26 countries, aimed at tracking movements and changing habitats of pelagic sharks and quantifying the threats they face. We revealed where large spatial overlaps between sharks and longline fisheries and shipping occurred, demonstrating how threatened populations are most impacted. Awards for our research include the FSBI Medal (2007) and the Marsh Award for Marine Conservation (2019).

Dr Nick Humphries

Dr Nick Humphries, Mem.MBA

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Dr Nick Humphries, Mem.MBA

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Dr Nick Humphries

nicmph@mba.ac.uk

I am a computational biologist in the Behavioural Ecology research group. I graduated with a BSc in Environmental Biology from Swansea University in 1979 and then spent 25 years working in IT as a systems designer and programmer. Wanting a new challenge I returned to science in 2006 taking an MSc in Biological Diversity at Plymouth, where I met David Sims. I joined the MBA in 2008 to explore ecological questions by applying computational methods (analysis, modelling and simulations) to the behavioural ecology of marine predators. I was awarded my PhD in 2013 for a study on “Behavioural analysis of marine predator movements in relation to environmental heterogeneity.

An important focus in my work has been an investigation into the search strategies of marine predators. I have contributed to this field through empirical studies, which identified movement patterns associated with optimal searching, known as Lévy walks; through the development of robust statistical methods to identify these patterns; and through theoretical studies demonstrating the significant benefits of using these searching patterns when prey patches are sparse and beyond sensory range, when animals need to perform ‘blind’ searches.

I have studied the spatial ecology of skates through the analysis of data from electronic tags, and have managed the database and contributed to papers for the Global Shark Movement Project. I am currently working on a diverse range of projects with the ERC funded Ocean DeOxyFish fish project, including the analysis of responses of marine predators to Oxygen Minimum Zones, and the development of firmware for a new, DO sensing tag. Outside my own research I contributes to the group by writing software for the sophisticated analysis of electronic tag data and more recently for large scale spatial analyses and the processing of CMIP climate prediction data.

Alex Loveridge

Dr Alexandra Loveridge, BSc, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Dr Alexandra Loveridge, BSc, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Alex Loveridge

alelov@mba.ac.uk

I am a Postdoctoral Research Assistant within the Sims Lab, part of the marine sub-project of the COVID-19 Bio-logging Initiative, a global project funded by the Moore Foundation. My research interests lie in movement ecology within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am currently investigating whether the distribution and behaviour of marine animals have been affected by changes in global human activity and maritime traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I completed my PhD in cnidarian population dynamics from the University of Southampton in 2021, alongside which I volunteered as a data analyst with WorldPop at the University of Southampton, providing policymakers with weekly analyses and visualisations of UK and international population mobility across the COVID-19 pandemic

Emily Southhall

Dr Emily Southall

Project Scientific Officer

Dr Emily Southall

Project Scientific Officer

Emily Southhall

emisou@mba.ac.uk

I am part of the dynamic multidisciplinary team working on the ERC Ocean DeOxyfish project, aimed at unravelling the complex effects of climate-driven ocean deoxygenation on shark and tuna species. My love of shark behaviour and ecology began with research on basking sharks in 1998 and after joining the MBA in 2001 I have worked on several projects, including one that led to the first long-term, 3D tracks of any pelagic shark species and ultimately contributed to the worldwide protection of basking sharks through CITES and CMS listings. More recently, a collaboration with scientists and the conservation sector in Ireland led to ‘Circles in the sea’, a multi-year study on non-feeding basking shark social behaviour and the discovery of ‘toruses’ which will help inform protection of basking sharks in Irish waters. With a hope to conserve shark species, I am also a member scientist of the Global Shark Movement, a worldwide collaborative initiative consisting of 40 groups from 26 countries that assembles and uses hard-won shark bio-logging data to tackle global anthropogenic pressures such as climate warming and over-fishing.

matt-waller

Matt Waller

PhD Student

Matt Waller

PhD Student

I am a PhD student within the Sims lab at the Marine Biological Association, in conjunction with the University of Southampton, as part of the European Research Council funded project OCEAN DEOXYFISH. My research focuses on the impact declining oxygen in the world’s oceans will have on the biology and ecology of large oceanic shark species. My main interests lie in using satellite tracking technologies to explore how shark behaviour and distributions are altered by changes in their environment and how this may effect shark interactions with human threats, such as fishing.

Before beginning my PhD I competed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in marine biology with the University of Plymouth. I have also held marine science roles at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and several positions in Seychelles, including at the UNESCO world heritage site Aldabra

Freya_Womersley

Freya Womersley

PhD Student

Freya Womersley

PhD Student

Freya_Womersley

frewom@mba.ac.uk

I am a conservation biologist currently completing my PhD research in the Sims Lab. My goal is to undertake research that can directly inform policy and sustainable management of marine species and habitats. At the moment my work focuses on exploring how movements and behaviours of pelagic sharks can be integrated into management through an understanding of their interactions with human activities now and in future oceans.

Through my research and professional development I have aimed to collaborate widely and approach topics where conservation and biology/ ecology converge, while fuelling my own passions and interests in the ocean.

Born in the UK, I studied Biological Sciences at undergraduate level at the University of Exeter where I developed an interest in marine ecology.

After my studies, I wanted to experience the ocean first hand and immerse myself in the front lines of conservation. Particularly intrigued by sharks, I first spent time working in Seychelles for a whale shark focussed NGO and then for other projects across the world. Working with local communities and dedicated researchers in the field shaped me into the scientist I am today and led me to continue my MSci and PhD research. 

In my spare time I love to hike, wild camp and swim and to dive.