Dr. Deni Ramirez Macias is a whale shark researcher based out of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), Mexico. She is the director of Whale Shark Mexico (Tiburon Ballena Mexico). She started the whale shark research program in 2003 (but has been studying them since 2001). The goals of Whale Shark Mexico are research, sustainable management and environmental education.
I recently went on an expedition and met Dr. Deni Ramirez Macias. This is a paraphrased interview with her:
Cherilyn Jose (interviewer): Where did you get your doctorate degree from and what was your thesis?
Dr. Deni Ramirez Macias: I got my doctoral degree from the University of La Paz. My thesis was on the population genetics of the Gulf of California whale sharks. I found that the whale sharks return to the same area year after year. We re-sighted the whale sharks using photo identification.
CJ: How did you become interested in whale sharks? What was your first encounter with whale sharks like?
DRM: I saw dolphins and rays growing up. During my first close encounter with a whale shark, I found them to be beautiful and charismatic. I was curious about them and wanted to know more.
CJ: How much time do you spend in the field?
DRM: I spend 50% field/50% lab and administrative work. Approximately four times a month I see whale sharks in the field, and I have other researchers that go out three to four times a week.
CJ: Why should we save the whale sharks?
DRM: We should save whale sharks for the ethics of it–life will continue without us and we have to do something (before that happens). Saving whale shark habitat saves other species such as manta rays, mobula rays, and whales—it helps the ocean in general.
CJ: What are some threats to whale sharks?
DRM: Microplastics accumulate in whale sharks, not just in the adults but in the juveniles too. The same goes for heavy metals (and other pollutants). To help I use biodegradable pesticides to fumigate.
CJ: What are some future objectives of Whale Shark Mexico?
DRM: I will collaborate with other researchers in places such as Latin America. I will train locals to help sight and track whale sharks.
Note: Deni and her assistant, Maritza Cruz Castillo, are attempting to ultrasound one of the pregnant female whale sharks that frequent the Gulf of California. Stay tuned for updates!
I will also have posts on the 10 day expedition I took recently to the Gulf of California, with Panterra Expeditions and the Shark Research Institute, when I had a whale shark named after me ☺!