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Researcher Information


Tierney Thys was born in California. As soon as she could walk, her parents slipped her into a homemade wet suit and tossed her into the surf. She has loved the water ever since. During grade school, she moved to Vermont and in 1988 graduated from Brown University in Rhode Island with a degree in biology. A certified seaplane pilot and diver, Thys helped build a winged submarine at Deep Ocean Engineering in California with Sylvia Earle before attending graduate school at Duke University in North Carolina. Combining her interests in biology and engineering, she earned her doctorate in biomechanics in 1998 under the tutelage of Stephen Wainwright investigating the mechanics of swimming muscles in fish. She been intrigued with the fish form ever since.

Since 2000, Thys and her colleagues have been traveling the world, studying the giant ocean sunfish (mola). Though these fish can grow more than ten feet (three meters) long and weigh over 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms), little is known about them. By placing satellite tags on molas and collecting tissue samples for genetic and toxin analysis, Thys and her colleagues hope to uncover the molas' secrets: How did they come to occupy all tropical and temperate seas? Where, when, and at what size do they reproduce? How do they locate their jellyfish prey? Are there more ocean sunfish species yet to be discovered? Are their populations endangered? How do they interact with other species? Can molas help us understand the changing oceans? As part of the Tagging of Pacific Pelagic Project, the mola team is aiming to understand how molas use the California current. More information can be found at www.oceansunfish.org.

In addition to conducting research on molas, Thys is the senior science editor at Sea Studios Foundation, a non-profit production company dedicated to inspiring public understanding of science, technology and stewardship of the environment through entertaining and innovative media. The company recently co-produced the National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth project (www.pbs.org/strangedays) and The Shape of Life (www.pbs.org/kcet/shapeoflife). Thys admits that while her two careers are quite different from each other they are nonetheless complementary. Both aim to raise awareness of the ocean—not only of the spectacular life within the deep blue, but also of the pivotal role the ocean plays in Earth’s climate and the livelihood of humanity.

Contact Information:
810 Cannery Row
Monterey, California USA 93940
Phone: 831-649-5152
Fax: 831-649-1380

Senior Science Editor
Selected Publications

Bass, A.L., H. Dewar, T. Thys, J.T. Streelman, and S.A. Karl, 2005, Evolutionary divergence among lineages of the ocean sunfish family, Molidae (Tetraodontiformes), Marine Biology 147(6): Online first.

Streelman, J.T., A.L. Bass, H. Dewar, T. Thys, and S.A. Karl, 2003, Microsatellite markers for the ocean sunfish, Mola mola. Molecular Ecology Notes 3(2):247.

Thys, T. M., J. M. Blank, D. J. Coughlin and F. Schachat, 2001, Longitudinal variation in muscle protein expression and contraction kinetics of largemouth bass axial muscle. Journal of Experimental Biology 204: 4249-4257.

Thys, T.M., B.W. Hobson, H. Dewar, 2001, Marine animals—the next generation of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles? Oceans, November.

Thys, T. M, J. M. Blank, F. Schachat, 1998. Rostral-caudal variation in troponin T and parvalbumin correlates with differences in Relaxation rates of Cod Axial Muscle. Journal of Experimental Biology, 201(21): 2993-3001.

Thys, T. and M. Johnson, 1999, El Ninos little hitchhikers. Ocean Realm, Autumn.

Thys, T. 1998, Spatial variation of epaxial muscle activity during prey strike in largemouth bass, Journal of Experimental Biology, 200: 3021-31.

Johnson, M. and T. Thys, 1996, The sunfish, Korean Geo, 2, pp. 86-98. (in Korean)

Thys, T. 1995, Ocean Sunfish, Aqualife, December 12 pp. 146-149 (in Chinese).

Thys, T. 1994, Swimming Heads, Natural History, August pp. 36-39.

Love, M. and T. Thys, 1993, Molas, Ocean Realm, Nov. pp. 42-48.

Sea Studios Foundation