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Sarah Heaney

Sarah’s PhD research project is designed to combine her passions. These include a belief that more-than-human animals have intrinsic value and do not exist solely for our use; scuba diving with sharks, which is a passion she was fortunate enough to begin over 20 years ago. Additionally, Sarah is passionate about contributing her voice to those who fight for sharks, their aquatic environments and the effect their population decline has upon eco and planetary systems, through scholarly activism. Moreover, although Sarah is careful to not ‘speak for’ more-than-human animals, she does wish to add to literature reflecting more-than-human animal biographies and their lived experiences.

Sarah’s PhD research project, has the working title Kissing sharks? A trans-species and sensory ethnography of human- shark (Selachimorpha) encounters. Many shark species are on the edge of extinction. It is argued that conservation efforts require a positive public perception of sharks. However, public perceptions of sharks are often that of mindless ‘man-eaters’ and research shows the general public’s shark knowledge is low. Conversely, the economy of global shark-watching ecotourism increases annually as does the number of recreational scuba divers participating in the activity. Furthermore, a number of scuba divers have developed intimate, endearing relationships with sharks. These diver ‘shark listeners’ have come to know sharks as individuals, with an evolving interest in the lives and deaths of the sharks they befriend. The aim of Sarah’s research is to address how these interspecies connections help to change perceptions of sharks, by conducting a sensory, trans-species ethnography. Ultimately, her research will fulfil the role of documenting these unique human-shark relationships, unearthing whether such relationships can change the perception of sharks. In addition, the research will contribute to the understanding of the complex and delicate nature of sharks through an anthrozoological lens.

Sarah has a varied background, ex-Royal Air Force Officer, ex-contract manager for two UK quangos and a short but exciting adventure running a sail and dive business in Myanmar. Before moving to Portugal Sarah spent 16 years in Saudi Arabia, where she founded a volunteer-based animal rescue charity. Sarah’s Anthrozoology Masters’ dissertation focused upon reason given for, and factors affecting, abandoned cats in Saudi Arabia. Sarah is a co-founder of The Anthrozoology Podcast. Along with two other PhD colleagues, the podcast was created to feature early-career anthrozoologists discussing various topics relevant to Anthrozoology. Sarah was awarded an MA in Anthrozoology from Exeter University in 2019. Her research can be followed at and she can be contacted at