Interview with Mr. Andrej Gajic, PI of the Shark Tales project for the National Geographic Society

Andrej Gajic is a 27-years old scientist working on fish pathology, anatomy and ecology – born in Jajce, SFR Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently, he is PI of the Shark Tales project for the National Geographic Society and General Director of the Center for marine and freshwater biology Sharklab ADRIA – coordinating research, educational and conservational activities in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Through his career, he has published over 50 research papers and two books. Besides that, he has participated at over 25 major conferences across Europe. His current research is focused on the effects of the habitat loss and pollution on elasmobranch health and specific disease development. Moreover, for contributions in the fields of marine biology, Mr. Gajic has been nominated/won numerous honors and awards including the Person of the Year 2014 nomination.

Speaking about himself, Mr. Gajic says that he is enjoying many types of close interaction with wildlife.  He is examining numerous animals such as many species of sharks, skates, rays, octopuses, snakes, turtles, deer, buffalos, antelopes, foxes and many more.

“Overall,  am shark diving specialist, deep diving specialist, former skydiver and adrenalin junkie.”

Mr. Gajic is the first Bosnian to be National Geographic Explorer and a Principal Investigator of the SHARK TALES project at National Geographic. On the question regarding his job, Mr. Gajic says that working with National Geographic Society is definitely the dream come true since he remembers watching the Society shows about sharks as a kid and imaging to work for them in his future.

“Once this dream come true, I am giving my best not only to explore – but to build capacity among the students and scientific community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have always loved exploring, digging into the unknown and trying to better understand the animals, their behavior, how they see us and their complex relation in the ecosystems. “

“There are two of us from Bosnia involved with the studies of sharks, skates and rays for the Society, on the international level – which is really important recognition not only for us, but the Department for pathology, Faculty of Veterinary medicine which supported us from the beginning of this studies.”

Speaking about his work for NG and positive sides of working there, Mr.Gajic explains that the most interesting part is that every working day is unique and just far different than the previous one. Whether it comes to the field expeditions or the laboratory studies – each day brings completely new, interesting, challenges.

As a research scientist in the fields of pathology and ecology you do travel a lot – especially if you are working on the global scales, as our team does.

“I am leading numerous field expeditions for the Shark Tales almost every month. But nonetheless, in last five years, I have been exploring waters of the Mediterranean basin, Middle East and Red sea in North Africa. Each time you are pushing the boundaries and digging event an inch deeper in order not only to better understand but also to conserve this magnificent marine life. Gathered experience in our global expeditions and projects – we are trying to implement in the Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. I the labs, I am mostly working with colleagues from the Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Sarajevo. Upon conducted autopsies on shark samples, we are working on histopathology, immunohistochemistry and molecular biology. Those findings may help us to link pressures in the environment (such as habitat loss and pollution) with the specific disease development.”

He concludes by saying that when he takes a look at his job through a period of one month, he realizes that almost 60% of his activities are related to the administration – assigning the task for researchers on regional and global level, ensuring the funds for research and salaries, creating the working strategies, writing numerous reports and so on. Altogether, it is something you have to love to do, and not only one part – but all three of them: administration, laboratory and the field.

“On 20th August, it will be exactly ten years since I have begun my career. The first year or two were extremely hard – foreign people (primarily from the USA and Australia) often linked Bosnia with the war which happened 25 years ago. I still remember questions like: “Is it safe for you to walk on the streets?”, “How do you have an Internet connection?” and so on.

Nowadays, it is far different. People usually look at our team in an extremely positive way. Many prestigious Universities across Europe and the USA are cooperating with us, they are sending their students and interns to work with our team and to learn from us. In past period, we had a MSc student from the University of Florida, and now we are receiving internship request from MSc and Ph.D. students across the United Kingdom, Germany and more.”

“I am strongly connected to the Bosnia and Herzegovina, and part of me will always be here even if I had to move to the different part of the globe. I consider myself as a global citizen and my job in past decade is also measured on the global scales – therefore wherever I may go I will continue to invest and explore the waters in Bosnia and Herzegovina and help local community as much as I can.”

Sarajevo Times: Do you have a message to send to young people who are planning to do a similar job as you?

“Have faith! Do not respond after a few difficulties encountered. True success is not something you achieve at one point; true success is nothing than keep up working and staying enthusiastic after so many fails, so many problems, so many bad decisions. If you think of success as something reachable and tangible – I believe you are on the wrong way, because success is much more than that – it is something you reach for and keep reaching for no matter what you really achieve. My slogan for this is always be grateful at the present accomplishment and then seek for a better one. If you are not gratitude now, probably you will never be, no matter what you achieve it may became just a vanity – so being grateful, faithful and never gave up is the most important message.”


Interview by Zejna SY, Photo courtesy: Adla Kahrić/Sharklab ADRIA



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