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Postdoctoral Researcher in management and conservation of white sharks, Stellenbosch University

Dr. Sara Andreotti is a marine biologist, working as a postdoctoral researcher at Stellenbosch University. Her research focuses mainly on white sharks, in the attempt to provide much needed information for the management and conservation of this vulnerable species.

In 2007, while completing her master's degree in marine biology at the University of Trieste (Italy), a lucky encounter with the world known conservationist Michael Rutzen ( initiated a collaboration and instrumental access to the field.

In 2009, in partnership with Michael Rutzen and the Branch Oceans and Coasts of the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, she started collecting daily photographs of white sharks' dorsal fins to construct a database of the individual sharks in the area of Gansbaai. Subsequently, to combine a morphological and genetic approach for the identification of individual white sharks, Sara was enrolled at Stellenbosch University as a PhD student in 2011.

White sharks are listed for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, Category VU A1cd+2cd) and are recognised as particularly vulnerable to rapid stock declines. The lack of basic information is arguably the biggest obstacle to planning effective protection. Understanding the population dynamics can thus play a critical part in developing conservation strategies for these animals.

The PhD project also included a population genetic study of white sharks in South Africa to estimate the numbers of animals present in the coastline, point out the presence of different stocks and the level of genetic segregation between stocks. The PhD project, thanks to the sponsor of Michael Rutzen’ s Shark Diving Unlimited, was therefore extended from Gansbaai to the whole coastline and several voyages have been successfully completed by sailing around South Africa with a catamaran, equipped as a research vessel. For the PhD project, completed in March 2015, 426 white sharks could be successfully identified and catalogued from over 5,000 photographs, and more than 300 genetic samples have been collected.

Since March 2015 Sara has been enrolled as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Botany and Zoology, thanks to the Consolidoc bursary scheme, to complete the publications on the findings of the PhD project and expand the complex dynamics of South African white sharks.

Besides her own PhD project, Dr. Andreotti has been actively involved in the Sharksafe project: a novel and eco-friendly technology that aims to replace beach nets and baited drumlins to protect beach goers from large predatory sharks, without harming the marine life. As a member of the Sharksafe team she has been helping with field work and scientific publications.


  • –present
    Post-doctoral researcher in management and conservation of white sharks, Stellenbosch University