Speaker Bios

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Julie Packard

Opening Remarks

Julie Packard is founding executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She has led the Aquarium to become a global force for ocean conservation, through innovative exhibits and education programs, and science-based initiatives addressing sustainable seafood, plastic pollution, climate change and protection of ocean wildlife and ecosystems. A trustee of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, she chairs the board of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a leader in deep ocean science and technology. She serves on the Joint Oceans Commission Initiative, working to implement comprehensive reform of U.S. ocean policy. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a recipient of the Audubon Medal for Conservation, and is featured in the National Portrait Gallery.


Tierney Thys

Dr. Tierney Thys is a Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California,  National Geographic Explorer and science communication and media maker. She has been captivated by the molids since the 1990s and was a member of the first team to successfully satellite tag Mola mola in the wild. She has research sites in South America and California andruns www.oceansunfish.org  and the Adopt a Sunfish Project. Dr. Thys received her B.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. from Duke University.

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Jonathan Houghton

Dr Jonathan Houghton (JH) is a Senior Lecturer (i.e Assoc. Prof) at Queen’s University Belfast. His research focuses on the ecology of marine predators (e.g., sea turtles, teleosts and elasmobranchs) and gelatinous zooplankton; from coastal seas to the deep ocean. Such activities are collaborative by nature with work conducted in Greece, Northern Cyprus, Slovenia, Grenada, Dominica, the Seychelles, Italy, the Galapagos Archipelago and Ireland. In 2013 received a British Science Association ‘Charles Lyell Award’ for translating his research into public understanding of Science.

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Graeme Hays

Professor Graeme Hays is marine scientist who works on the behavioural and physiological ecology of a range of marine species. Much of his work focusses on sea turtles, where he uses satellite tracking to assess individual movements, allowing informed decisions to be made on conservation planning. He is the Alfred Deakin Professor of Marine Science at Deakin University, Australia. He has published over 250 papers, many in top journals such as Nature and PNAS. He has a Google Scholar H-index of 91 with over 26,000 citations of his work.

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Giorgio Carnevale

Giorgio earned his MSc (1999) in Natural Sciences and Ph.D (2004) in Earth Sciences at the Università di Pisa. He is now working as Full Professor of Paleontology at Università degli Studi di Torino (Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra). He's the Vice-Presidente of the Società Paleontologica Italiana and Board Member of the RCMNS (Regional Committee of Mediterranean Neogene Stratigraphy), a member of the Editorial Board of European Journal of Taxonomy, Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia, Natural History Sciences, Plos One, Scientific Reports and Oceans. Giorgio's expeditionary field work in Algeria, Armenia, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Eritrea, Greece, Iran, Madagascar, Romania, Russia and USA. He has authored and co-authored of more than 200 papers and 10 book chapters, in large, peer focused on theevolution of teleost fishes.

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Etsuro Sawai

I have been studying ocean sunfishes since 2007. After getting my PhD from Hiroshima University (Japan), I created a group called "Ocean Sunfishes Information Storage Museum" and am active personally as Researcher & Artist.


Marianne Nyegaard

I am a sunfish science gypsy currently residing in New Zealand, from where I will present/co-present the fisheries and larval chapters of the new sunfish book, as well as current citizen science research on sunfish off the Pacific Northwest. After diving with molas in Bali, Indonesia, I become so captivated with these strange fish that I embarked on a sunfish PhD at Murdoch University, Western Australia, which I completed in 2018. What was meant to be a tropical diving project, however, soon became an exercise in detangling the complicated taxonomy of Mola - an adventure that took me back in time over 5 centuries through early European ichthyology, and all the way into modern day genetics. With the help of many, this journey culminated in the discovery of a previously undescribed molid in New Zealand - Mola tecta - that continues to fascinate as it pops up in unexpected and wondrous places across the globe, most recently off Alaska. I am currently affiliated with Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand, where I look at early life history of Mola, and engage with citizen scientists to investigate the occurrence of Mola tecta off the Pacific Northwest. Nearly 10 years ago I founded the sunfish photo ID project “Match My Mola!” in Bali, to help raise awareness of the species. The project is now under the umbrella of the Ocean Sunfish Research Trust, that aims to promote responsible sunfish diving in Bali to preserve this valuable nature-based tourism asset

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Eric Caldera

Eric Caldera is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow in the Barber Lab at University of California Los Angeles. His research explores the evolutionary ecology and population genetics of natural populations of organisms ranging from microbes to large animals in both marine and terrestrial systems. Eric will discuss the taxonomy, phylogeography and evolution of the ocean sunfishes, including recent genetic insights and tools available for study.


Jonathan Whitney

Dr. Jonathan Whitney is an Ecologist and Geneticist in the Ecosystem Sciences Division of NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. His research is broadly focused on Population and community ecology of pelagic and coral reef fish in tropical ecosystems, merging disciplines in biological oceanography, population genetics & genomics, and early life history. He received his B.A. in Zoology from Prescott College in Arizona, where he spent as much time as possible in the Gulf of California, Mexico. He then earned his PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from the University of Hawaii, where his dissertation combined population genetics/genomics and community ecology to explore the origin and maintenance of coral reef fish biodiversity. Under the mentorship of Dr. Steven Karl, he began working on and eventually taking over the Mola genetics project at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology following his passing. Dr. Whitney then completed a joint Postdoctoral Research Fellowship with NOAA and the University of Hawaii, during which he investigated the biophysical interactions with larval fish and oceanographic features including the larvae of ocean sunfish. 

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Marko Freese

Dr. Marko Freese is a postdoctoral researcher in the working group on 'Biodiversity and Migratory Fishes' of the Thünen Institute of Fisheries Ecology, a federal research institute for rural areas, forestry and fisheries in Bremerhaven, Germany. Marko studies diverse aspects of aquatic ecology with emphasis on diadromous fishes and especially the European eel. His main research focus is connected to management-related projects and may also cover ecotoxicology and fish physiology. Marko has been part of the scientific crew of three multi-week research expeditions to the Sargasso Sea, the supposed spawning ground of the American and European eel and apparently also an Atlantic spawning area and nursery of slender sunfish (Ranzania laevis). Marko will share the research findings regarding the larval development and spatial distribution of larval molidae in the Sargasso Sea.

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Tom Doyle​

Dr Tom Doyle is a Lecturer in Zoology in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at UCC (Ireland). Tom is a marine biologist with expertise in gelatinous zooplankton ecology and animal biotelemetry.

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Miguel Baptista

Miguel completed the Licenciatura (6-year degree) in Biology in 2006, the Master of Science in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation in 2010 and the Doctorate in Marine Sciences ("Bio-ecology and elemental composition of a giant – the ocean sunfish Mola mola") in 2019. Currently he is a contracted researcher in Portugal. His research interests and expertise include pelagic megafauna, ocean sunfish, coral-reefs, ecophysiology, ecotoxicology, behaviour and conservation. Miguel will present the length-weight relationship for North Atlantic Ocean Mola mola and outline four venues for future research concerning Mola spp. in the northeast Atlantic. Additionally, together with Cátia Figueiredo, he will go over the current knowledge on the presence of three types of contaminants (biotoxins, trace elements and microplastics) in ocean sunfishes, primarily Mola spp.

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Kate Bemis

I am a Research Zoologist at NOAA National Systematics Lab and Curator of Fishes at National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. I study anatomy, systematics, and natural history of fishes, in particular pufferfishes and their relatives in the order Tetraodontiformes.

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John Davenport

I have been a professional marine biology educator/researcher since 1970. My research has been centred upon ecophysiological studies (predominantly on invertebrate communities), but I have also conducted biomechanical investigations, mainly of fish, sea turtles, penguins and marine mammals throughout my career.

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Tasha Phillips

I’m a marine biologist and conservationist, with a particular fascination for big fish. I've been working on ocean sunfish since 2014, researching elements of their diet, distribution and depth-use to better understand and conserve this vulnerable group. I’m delighted to be part of the Sunfish Symposium where I will be exploring the strange and varied prey of the sunfishes, in my talk ‘Jellies, jaws and a giant appetite; revealing the surprising diet of the ocean sunfish’.

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Lara L. Sousa

I am Lara and my PhD was on the Behaviour, predator-prey and fisheries interactions of Mola mola in the Northeast Atlantic. Now I am a postdoctoral researcher at the WildCRU, University of Oxford looking at the landscape ecology and carnivores’ interactions in Africa. In this talk, I will present the movements and foraging behaviour of ocean sunfishes, the 8th chapter of the book “The Ocean Sunfishes Evolution, Biology and Conservation”. Briefly, I will focus on both the horizontal and vertical tracked movements of sunfishes and the seasonal shifts in distribution linked to habitat productivity and water temperature. In addition, whilst covering the general patterns of behaviours at depth, I’ll introduce the known physiological mechanisms behind the sunfish foraging in the deep.

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Martin C. Arostegui

Dr. Martin “Martini” Arostegui is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Air-Sea Interaction and Remote Sensing Dept. of the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory. His research focuses on the behavior and ecology of marine and aquatic fishes, particularly in the context of physiology, movement, and trophic interactions. With respect to ocean sunfishes, his presentation addresses spatiotemporal segregation of common, sharptail, and slender mola in the Northeast Pacific as revealed by analysis of fishery-dependent data.

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João Correia


João was born in 1972 and is a raconteur with a Ph.D. in marine biology, who’s been focusing his academic research on shark fisheries and conservation. A three times featured TEDx speaker, he began his career in Bimini, studying lemon shark behaviour, then became curator of sharks at the Lisbon Zoo (a very pompous title, considering he did little more than clean their poo), researched deep-sea shark growth, and then joined the Oceanário de Lisboa, where he’d become Head Diver and Curator of Collections. In 2006 he founded his own collections firm, Flying Sharks, and, as a professor at ESTM, he teaches future marine biologists. In 2015/6/7 João also published his trilogy ‘Sex, Sharks and Rock & Roll”, an illustrated memoir covering his career studying sharks and moving marine animals all over the world, such as the amazing sunfish, which will be the subject of his talk at this Symposium.


Hugo Batista

My name is Hugo Batista, I´m a Marine Biologist, Assistant Curator at Oceanário de Lisboa, where we have a unique collection to inspire generations and promote behavior change. For more than 12 years I have been working on the husbandry of several groups of animals from teleosts to elasmobranchs passing through invertebrates currently being the Chair of the European Jellyfish TAG. In this symposium, I will talk about Growth and Feeding strategies in the husbandry of Mola mola and share that there are more questions to solve than answers to give and how aquariums can help in this matter.

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Michael J. Howard

I manage all aspects of the ocean sunfish captive management program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium since 2007. This includes coordinating local field collection and transport, target training, diet design and consumption rates. I've also led the efforts to deploy electronic tags on both local wild fish and captive released specimens. I also study jellyfish life cycles, culturing and displaying dozens of species since 2002. I will discuss how aquarium data sets help to inform captive management strategies for the ocean sunfish, Mola mola.


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Ana E. Ahuir Baraja

Full time professor at CEU-Universities (Valencia, Spain) and collaborator researcher at Marine Zoology Unit from ICBiBE (University of Valencia). Fish parasitologist working on mola parasites since 2004. My PhD thesis (2012) dealt with parasites of ocean sunfish from western Mediterranean. I have analized parasitologically more than 100 ocean sunfish, obtaining information published in different works (ORCID: 0000-0001-5866-9266; ScopusID: 37057153500). I also have experience in parasites from aquarium-held fish and farm fish (ten years working at the research department of the Oceaogràfic aquarium of Valencia, Spain).


Ready to share my knowledge about molids' parasites and open to help and collaborate with other researchers.

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Cátia Figueiredo

I am a phD student from Lisbon, currently studying the effects of rare earth elements on marine organisms, under a changing ocean. Future climate and toxicological interactions are the combination of two areas of concern to which I intend to dedicate my coming years of research. I have been studying a wide array of contaminants and here I will be co-presenting the main findings of the book chapter "Biotoxins, Trace Elements and Microplastics in the Ocean Sunfishes (Molidae)".


Kristy Forsgren

Kristy is an Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton. She received her Bachelor of Science (Marine Biology) and Master of Science (Biology) at California State University, Long Beach and her doctorate from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington studying fish physiology and endocrinology.  Currently, her research is focused on understanding the reproductive biology of a variety of fishes including rockfishes, surf perches, deep water fishes (e.g., giant oarfish, dragonfish) and the ocean sunfishes. 

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Richard McBride

I am a fish scientist. I investigate the biology and ecology of fishes to make a difference in how we view, use, and benefit from living marine resources. I work for NOAA Fisheries, in the United States, where I supervise a unit that is responsible for collecting, processing, and interpreting biological samples - such as fish otoliths, stomach contents, and gonads - for resource assessments.

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Richard W. Dolan

Richard is an artist residing on San Juan Island, WA. Through the expanding project Tails of Stellwagen, he has provided interactive sculptures to over 30 whale watch companies and educators worldwide. The models range from articulated Humpback whale heads to detailed miniatures of ocean sunfish, all of which will be displayed at this symposium. Tails of Stellwagen has exhibited at conferences for the Society for Marine Mammalogy, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and World Cetacean Alliance. His work can be explored on RichardWDolan.com or at @TailsofStellwagen on Instagram.