Heaney, Sarah

PhD Student

University of Exeter
Research interests / activities

Sarah’s PhD research project, has the working title Kissing sharks? A trans-species and sensory ethnography of human- shark (Selachimorpha) encounters. Many shark species are on the edge of extinction. It is argued that conservation efforts require a positive public perception of sharks. However, public perceptions of sharks are often that of mindless ‘man-eaters’ and research shows the general public’s shark knowledge is low. Conversely, the economy of global shark-watching ecotourism increases annually as does the number of recreational scuba divers participating in the activity. Furthermore, a number of scuba divers have developed intimate, endearing relationships with sharks. These diver ‘shark listeners’ have come to know sharks as individuals, with an evolving interest in the lives and deaths of the sharks they befriend. The aim of Sarah’s research is to address how these interspecies connections help to change perceptions of sharks, by conducting a sensory, trans-species ethnography. Ultimately, her research will fulfil the role of documenting these unique human-shark relationships, unearthing whether such relationships can change the perception of sharks. In addition, the research will contribute to the understanding of the complex and delicate nature of sharks through an anthrozoological lens.