Listening to Alison Towner tell her story from her humble landlocked beginnings in Ramsbottom Lancashire, you can only imagine that she had to have been inspired to follow her dream to work with the great white shark.
Her inspiration came from two sources: Ron and Valerie Taylor who were involved with the filming of Jaws and her very own father, journalist Eric Towner. Eric was a journalist for the PE Herald for some years and a big shark lover. Alison went on to study marine biology at the university of North Wales, where her focus of study was a temperate species of plumose anemone Metridium senile. Alison then went on to work on the Greek Island of Zakynthos where she was fortunate to dive with and photograph the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus.
A stint of dive instructing in the Red Sea followed before she found her home with Marine Dynamics where she has been for over eight years. In the time Alison has been in Gansbaai she has been involved in various great white shark studies completing her Masters in 2012. Crucial studies which have included the first regional population estimate of white sharks; their incredible wound healing abilities; the influence of environmental factors amongst others.
Alison spoke of how much we are learning from acoustic tagging and tracking within the bay as well as satellite tagging which reveals migratory behaviour. “If we can understand the great white shark movement patterns and usage of locations in Southern African waters we can better protect this species which faces many threats along our very own borders,” Ali-son says.
Her current PhD studies include looking at impacts of shark cage diving on the species, using a suite of telemetry and passive tracking equipment to follow them through their different life history phases. The evening ended with a short movie Alison’s colleague Sean Van der Linde had put together on one of Gansbaai’s most well known and loved white sharks ‘Slashfin’.
The movie showed footage of this infamous male shark eleven years ago at Dyer Island and emphasized the fact that many questions still remain regarding the species behaviour when they leave coastal aggregation sites such as Gansbaai.
Brenda du Toit
Fundraising - African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary