The natural world must be my greatest source of inspiration. After finishing high school and moving to Cape Town to pursue a degree in marine biology, I suddenly found my eyes wide open. I was humbled by what I continued to learn about plants and animals, and the environments they inhabit. The world suddenly started to make sense to me and I gained a beautiful sense of clarity and boundless admiration for the natural world.
After my honours degree I backpacked through East Africa to Zanzibar where I spent three months helping locals with turtle conservation and education. It was a journey of self-discovery that broadened my horizon and motivated me to pursue purpose.
A year later I boarded a ship bound for the sub-Antarctic island of Marion, a volcanic wilderness teeming with hundreds of thousands of penguins, albatrosses, petrels and seals. I fell wholeheartedly in love with its raw and untainted beauty, and developed a great affinity for the concept of wilderness and its importance in our lives. During this time I collected data for my PhD which I completed in 2017.
Aside from my scientific pursuits, I have a great passion for sharing my perspectives through film and photography. We’re living in an age where increasingly more children are growing up in societies disconnected from wild spaces. This widening gap between them and the world from which they evolved is a major problem as nature is a fundamental part of our psyche. As someone who's been privileged with the experiences I've had, I feel it is my responsibility to share these with others, in the hope that it'll inspire them to fall in love with the natural world, just as I have - love, I believe, is a powerful conservation tool.
I have been privileged to assist National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak on five assignments for the magazine, including trips to remote parts of Costa Rica, Indonesia, New Zealand, Peru, Seychelles, South Africa and the Galapagos. These experiences have deepened my understanding of ecology and storytelling.
I am currently a post-doctoral fellow in Marine Science and Communication at the South African National Biodiversity Institute helping to promote the conservation of South Africa’s unique marine ecosystems.
Perspective is shaped by experience. Because we are all unique, we each have a unique way of seeing the world. Through film we can capture the world the way we, as individuals, see it, and then share it with others. My perspectives have been sculpted by immersion in the natural sciences and time in wild spaces, and it is these perspectives that I strive to share through film.
I am a freelance director, cinematographer and editor that tells stories about nature and people. My clients include National Geographic, BBC, 50|50 and various NGOs and research institutions.
This image taken from a NASA satellite shows a swirling phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Norway. Collectively, phytoplankton produce more than 50% of the Earth's oxygen, making them one of the most important groups of organisms on our planet. They are the movers and shakers of our marine ecosystems, using nutrients and sunlight to transfer energy into food webs. Without them, there would be no krill, no fish, no penguins, no seals, no albatrosses nor whales. So in essence, phytoplankton drive life in the oceans.
As a marine biologist, I have spent the last six years trying to better understand two forms of such life; macaroni and rockhopper penguins breeding on the sub-Antarctic Marion Island.
In 2017 I completed a PhD at the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. My research explored the at-sea foraging ecology of these ecologically similar penguin species to determine how they are able to co-exist. I used GPS, geolocators, temperature-depth recorders and stable isotope analyses to investigate foraging strategies. Through the identification of important foraging areas, my research also contributes to the management plan for the Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area. I am currently writing up some of my research findings for publication.
Whitehead TO, Connan M, Ropert-Coudert Y, Ryan P (2017) Subtle but significant segregation in the feeding ecology of sympatric penguins during the critical pre-moult period. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 565:227-236 (LINK)
Whitehead TO, Kato A, Ropert-Coudert Y, Ryan P (2016) Habitat use and diving behaviour of macaroni Eudyptes chrysolophus and eastern rockhopper E. chrysocome filholi penguins during the critical pre-moult period. Marine Biology, 163:19-39 (LINK)
Whitehead TO, Rollinson DR, Reisinger RR (2014) Pseudostalked barnacles Xenobalanus globicipitis attached to killer whales Orcinus orca in South African waters. Marine biodiversity, 45:873-876 (LINK)
Whitehead TO, Biccard A, Griffiths CL (2011). South African pelagic goose barnacles (Cirripedia, Thoracica): substratum preferences and influence of plastic debris on abundance and distribution. Crustaceana, 84:635-649 (LINK)
9th International Penguin Conference, Cape Town, South Africa, September 2016 (delegate)
2nd World Seabird Conference, Cape Town, South Africa, October 2015 (oral presentation)
5th Biologging Symposium, Strasbourg, France, September 2014 (poster presentation)
8th International Penguin Conference, Bristol, UK, September 2013 (poster presentation)
50th Anniversary conference of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa (ZSSA), Durban, South Africa, July 2009 (delegate)
10th Anniversary conference of the South African Society for Systematic Biology (SASSB), Durban, South Africa, July 2009 (delegate)
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