Interview with Andrew West, Marine Biologist and Discovery Channel Host
Andrew West describes himself as a marine biologist, environmentalist and adventurer. He grew up in the Philippines, South Africa and Australia and finished high-school in Hawaii. Andrew gained his degree in Marine Biology and Zoology in Australia and has spent most of his working life in scientific research. Returning to Hawaii, he completed his PhD in Marine Biology and Environmental Science, with his dissertation focused on the blue marlin. He is one of the world's leading experts in blue marlin and was the first person in the world to capture a baby blue marlin on film.
As a marine biologist and environmental scientist, Andrew wants to use his position to reach out and increase conservation awareness. He loves to promote marine conservation wherever he can. He has recently filmed a new Discovery show called 'Beast Tracker'. The first episode, 'Pacific Predator', is due to be aired this Spring and investigates the Tiger Shark in Hawaii, in an effort to determine whether they really are "oceanic monsters" or just misunderstood creatures essential to the well-being of the planet. We spoke to Andrew about the episode and what he hopes it will achieve, and learnt a little more about his background.
My first job was catching tiger sharks in Kona (quite some years ago!); in one memorable experience a tiger shark almost bit my head off (literally!). I was amazed at this creature and decided I wanted to pursue marine studies when I finished high school, and also learn as much about sharks as possible. I ended up doing my PhD dissertation on blue marlin... Not a shark, but still a really cool marine predator.
How did you get involved with presenting for the Discovery Channel?
After a few years of making DVD's and sending them to various production companies, a YouTube video was spotted by a scout. It was on wild pigs that have become my 'bread & butter' job. I was contacted by Discovery and asked to host this show... And what a dream job! Not only do I work with amazing animals, but I learn more about them from leading scientists.
What do you feel sets this particular show apart from other shark documentaries?
It differs from other shark documentaries because we try to have a very balanced view. These tiger sharks are native and therefore belong. Co-existence between us and them is a must. It is a two way street. As humans we need to give them space and recognise their vital role in our ecosystem.
What did you hope to achieve in filming the show?
I really hope that educating people about these species will help us to reach the end goal of co-existing with all these animals. We are the more "intelligent" species, so the responsibility is ours to make this happen.
What do you hope the audience takes away from having watched this show?
I hope that people can see that tiger sharks, despite being tremendously powerful apex predators, are not brainless killing machines looking to eat humans. In fact, given the opportunity, they will normally still refuse to attach humans. On the show we do perform some recreations of the of attacks on humans. However, the take home message is: "If we were really on their menu, there would be a lot less swimmers and surfers in the waters of Hawaii. These attacks are rare.
How long did filming take?
Each episode take 2-3 weeks to film, then it hits post-production where the editors fix all my mistakes and bloopers!
Did you ever feel at threat from the Tiger sharks whilst in the water with them?
Normally no. But keep in mind most of the time I don't know they are there! I love to surf and dive here in Hawaii. I know the tiger sharks are out there (sharing the same habitat). In the rare moments that I do see them, it would seem that eating me is the last thing they want to do! They just swim by, doing their own thing.
Do you feel that the media's general portrayal of sharks as ruthless killing machines is fair and accurate?
No. In fact it seems to do everything it can to malign them. But fear sells films and makes good ratings. Keep in mind, these are potentially very dangerous animals. But the stats show sharks kill around 8 humans every year on planet Earth... Humans kill around 200 million sharks. You tell me which is the most dangerous species? 'Jaws' was a fictitious movie masterpiece. But unfortunately it has had a huge carry-over effect on the way the public now think about the ocean... And of course sharks, which have been vilified as the human hunting monsters... Which, in all actuality, they are not.
What impact do you feel the loss of these sharks could have on our oceans?
Scientific research has proved time and again that if you remove top order predators, the food chain starts to unwind. The ratio of other species become out of balance.
Can you tell us about any future projects that you're working on?
The next few episodes in the series cover non-native species in America like the Burmese Python and Feral Hogs.
Where can people find out more about your upcoming projects?
Check my website (www.andrewwest.com) or write to Discovery.com or tweet @DrAndrewWest.
You can see a video clip for Beast Tracker on Andrew's website.