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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Simon Hilbourne receives Tyler Prize for the highest scoring dissertation project in the MSci Marine Biology course, 2015

Published: 3 September 2015
Simon Hilbourne

“Studying marine biology at the University of Southampton led to a summer researching whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California. I won a prize for my dissertation on the topic and I’m now putting theory into practice in a marine environment consultancy."

Credit: Simon Hilbourne
Credit: Simon Hilbourne

“I learned to scuba dive when I was a teenager and developed my interest in tropical marine biology during my gap year diving in Australia. I knew I wanted to study the subject back in the UK and chose the University of Southampton because it was highly ranked with good ‘hands-on’ facilities at the National Oceanography Centre including boats and laboratories, you can’t learn marine biology in a lecture theatre. All the field trips were first rate, especially the module in Bermuda.

Determined to get back out into tropical waters for my final year dissertation, I decided to carry out research on the largest shark in the world at Whale Shark Mexico. Whale sharks are highly migratory animals and visit the bay of La Paz for only a few months a year. Little is known about their whereabouts at other times. I wanted to determine some of the reasons whale sharks were turning up in the bay when they did.

Credit: Simon Hilbourne
Credit: Simon Hilbourne

Although my project involved a lot of data processing and analysis, I was still able to get out on the boat monitoring the whale sharks once a week, often swimming with juveniles up to eight metres long. On my days off I had the opportunity to swim and dive with schools of mobula rays, dolphins, sea lions and bull sharks. It is no wonder Jacques Cousteau referred to the Sea of Cortez as ‘the aquarium of the world’.

Alongside my research, I was able to pursue my passion for diving and underwater photography and co-founded website and social media platform to share photos, marine conservation stories and issues.

Having collected my data and starting the writing I was invited to the European Elasmobranch Association conference in Holland to present my preliminary findings. The leading researchers I met and the contacts made at the conference will be invaluable in my career. I’m now gaining valuable experience as part of the marine environmental research team at a leading UK consultancy but would like to return to research before too long.”


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