Paul Clerkin



I graduated cum laude from Cornell University in the winter of 2010 with a double major in Science of Natural and Environmental Systems, and Natural Resources. Before attending Cornell, I had studied at Sacramento City College where I graduated as a distinguished scholar with President’s Highest Honors after earning associate degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Physical Science, Sociology, and Humanities. During my undergraduate years I participated in several research activities, including the following

  • Worked as a storm tracker with the Coastal Processes Division of NOAA.
  • Participation as an intern at Rutgers University Marine Field Station as part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program
  • Employed as a research assistant in the chemistry department of American River College
  • Worked as a research assistant in the Ichthyology collections of Cornell’s Museum of Vertebrates
  • Participated in a research voyage aboard a tall ship as part of the Sea Education Association’s semester at sea
  • Completed an independent study in applied ecology at Cornell’s Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake, New York
  • Collected and prepared specimens for Cornell’s Fish Ecology course.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I served several deployments as a shipboard Certified Fisheries Observer with the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Bering Sea out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. In 2011, I began my studies at MLML’s Pacific Shark Research Center under my advisor, Dr. David Ebert.

During my time at MLML, I have worked with Dr. Ebert to instructed chondrichthyans workshops on the island nations of Mauritius and the Seychelles for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


Aspects of the life history and taxonomy of deep-sea Chondrichthyans in the Southwestern Indian Ocean

There has been a growing concern for the conservation and management of chondrichthyans (sharks, rays, and chimaeras), especially their deep-sea forms. About half of all chondrichthyans live in the deep-sea (below the reach of sunlight.) Sharks typically exhibit slow growth, late onset maturity, and have a few well-developed offspring. Due to the cold and low energy inputs to their environment, deep-sea sharks are even slower to reproduce than their costal and pelagic counterparts. My thesis investigates the life history characteristics of 31 deep-sea shark species encounter accidental, unintended bycatch during two expeditions (126 days total) aboard a commercial trawler in the Southwestern Indian Ocean. More than a dozen of the species encountered were new to science and are currently being described.

My main goals are:

  1. To catalogue shark species of a remote and understudied region of the Southwestern Indian Ocean.
  2. Collect, analyze, and present life history parameters (size of maturity, reproduction, species composition, sex ratios, and diet) of sharks encountered.
  3. Analyze trends in life history traits in relation to reproductive strategy.
  4. Describe a number of new species discovered during these expeditions.

The broader objective of this project aims to provide comprehensive descriptions of the life history characteristics of deep-sea sharks that can inform the development of ecosystem-based management strategies for the conservation of deep-sea chondrichthyan fauna and guide policy decisions that promote sustainable fisheries and conserve deep-sea ecosystems.