Zeb Hogan and the Megafishes Project could easily be the name of a band. But fame isn’t really Hogan’s thing, even though he was recently selected as one of the 50 sexiest environmentalists in the world, according to green living publication Rodale. He comes right before Justin Timberlake on the list, which also features Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, and is one of only three actual scientists on the list—the rest are actors, socialites and athletes.
Hogan, a National Geographic Explorer and researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno, is more concerned with conservation than celebrity. He heads the Megafishes Project, a research endeavor that takes him all over the world studying the populations of very large, and often somewhat unnerving, fish. The project also works with the World Wildlife Fund, and seeks to “document and protect the planet’s freshwater giants.” Currently, Hogan is filming a television series with NatGeo called “Monster Fishes.” No release date has been set.
Hogan holds a doctorate in ecology from UC Davis. His love for marine biology began as a child, and academia eventually led him to focus on fish.
“What I focus on is anything related to freshwater fish ecology and conservation,” he says. “So I do a lot of assessment on the world’s largest fish to determine endangered status.”
Hogan spends time studying fish abroad, including southeast Asia, where he spent a few years as a Fulbright Scholar. So how does a scientist, whose research is primarily focused on large fish in substantial bodies of water, end up in the high desert ecosystem of Northern Nevada?
“The university was very supportive of the overall project,” he says. It also helps fund his research. Last semester, he taught a class at the university about Nevada’s fish species, and he also studies the Lahontan trout population.
Part of Hogan’s research requires him to be an activist about topics like water conservation and endangered species, he says. But many of the issues Hogan aims to address are complicated, such as shark finning, overfishing, and Nevada’s droughts and water usage.
“With shark finning, the problem is pretty clear, and there’s a relatively straightforward way to solve it,” he says. “But it’s still difficult to enforce rules so that sharks are harvested sustainably. The same goes for other issues. It’s really hard to get the message about water conservation when people are sort of living in a bubble.”
Besides research, Hogan is a photographer and hopes to use photography as a way to raise awareness about the many fish species that go unnoticed. This is especially useful, he says, to document rare fish.
“I’ve dedicated my life to these fish, and I’m lucky if even I get to see them,” he says. “If we can capture them with photographs, we can show people what’s out there, and perhaps they’ll take a more active approach to protecting them.”
Hogan acknowledges that there are many problems affecting the world’s bodies of water, but any progress humans can make toward conservation is good progress,
“Freshwater is so scarce,” he says. “There’s a competition between the way we use freshwater and the wildlife that needs it. So it’s a step by step issue. Right now we’re just hoping for small victories.”