Melissa Hobson: animal writer – examples of my work

April 11, 2023

I didn't discover my love for the ocean until I was at university and learned how to scuba dive. But ever since I was a little girl, I've loved animals and nature. And I still do. I love the commissions that let me flex my muscles as an animal writer. I'm always up for an opportunity to geek out about the fascinating creatures on our planet. Here are some of the animal-related articles I've written. Enjoy!

Crittercams - National Geographic

I love the weird rabbit holes my writing takes me down. In this piece, I heard how researchers attached Crittercams to manta rays and filmed the species' deepest recorded courtship train.

Bioluminescent sea cucumbers - New Scientist

Think it's totally dark at the bottom of the ocean? Think again... Researchers discovered 10 species of sea cucumber can emit light and there may be 200 more bioluminescent species down there. So cool how we're always learning about the underwater world.

Courtship vortex - National Geographic

It always seems to come back to sex, doesn't it?! As an ocean writer, lots of my articles cover cool things we've learned about animals getting jiggy underwater. And this story was no different. In this Nat Geo article, I was excited to write about the first description of a mesmerising 'courtship vortex' in devil rays (although the section on 'piggyback leaping' was rather, um, disturbing...!)

Red handfish rescue - BBC Wildlife

The critically endangered red handfish is a peculiar species so it was really fun to learn more about the operation to 'rescue' 25 of them from the wild to protect them from upcoming marine heatwaves. By debut byline for BBC Wildlife.

Shark mortality - Live Science

Writing about the ocean isn't always enjoying learning cool things about fascinating animals. Sometimes (/often) we have to cover the dark / depressing side of the conservation picture. Like this piece I wrote for Live Science about a new study revealing shark mortality from fishing went UP despite anti-finning legislation. But I believe it is important to keep sharing these stories so we can inspire action.

Dorado octopus - New Scientist

I love how much we're STILL discovering about the deep sea. For New Scientist, I covered the new discovery of at least four octopus species - so cool!

Kelping - National Geographic

I must admit this was a really fun one to write. For Nat Geo, I wrote about the 'kelping' phenomenon - when whales wear seaweed like a hat - how it's more common than previously thought and what might really be going on.

Smalleye stingray - Nat Geo

Writing about wildlife firsts is always exciting - and that's exactly why I loved working on this story for National Geographic about the team at MMF tagging smalleye stingrays in the wild. Very, very cool!

Phantom jellyfish - Nat Geo

I hate the cold so am often drawn to tropical climates. But there's also fascinating work going on in the polar regions. Again for Nat Geo, I was excited to cover the rare sighting of a giant phantom jellyfish and how tourism is impacting scientific discoveries.

Pregnant manta rays - National Geographic

I love how new scientific and technological developments are helping us push conservation efforts forward. A great example of this was my Nat Geo article on the Manta Trust's study whiched used contactless ultrasound scanners to more accurately determine pregnancy and maturity in manta rays. The paper confirms scientists have been underestimating the number of mature females in the population, meaning they're more vulnerable than we previously thought.

Bottom feeding whale sharks - New Scientist

It's amazing that 'regular people' can help scientists discover new things about elusive animals in our ocean. A great is example is in this piece I wrote for New Scientist - a tourism guide spotted some unusual behaviour in a whale shark and managed to get it on film. It was the first time we've ever seen whale sharks (which usually nom on plankton in the water column) feeding from the bottom. Wow!

Hot fish - New Scientist

Changing everything we thought we knew about basking sharks... they might actually be warm blooded! Love that I get to geek out on crazy discoveries like this for New Scientist and call it work.

Sharks on strange shores - Sunday Times

Scientists were amazed when not one but three smalltooth sand tiger sharks washed up on the UK & Irish coastline. For the Sunday Times, I talked to scientists to find out what might have brought this rare species to our shores.

Shark buddies - Nat Geo

When two juvenile sharks swam together for 4,000 miles, scientists started wondering what could be going on. Might they be... friends? No, say researchers, but in this Nat Geo article they filled me in on why this finding is so exciting.

Crown-of-Thorns - Nat Geo

Crown-of-Thorns starfish are stunning... but outbreaks can pose a huge threat to coral reefs. For Nat Geo, I explored the problems of these thorny predators and potential solutions.

Unusual mortality events - Nat Geo

What's going on with mass whale strandings? Could it be anything to do with offshore wind? I spoke to some scientists to find out for Nat Geo.

Isle of Lewis strandings - Guardian

This was a really tough one to write but I hope it raises awareness of the amazing efforts of the BDMLR volunteers in Scotland who battled against the clock to save 55 stranded pilot whales.

Chameleons - National Geographic

Did you know the word chameleon comes from the Greek for 'Earth lion', probably because of the crest around the head of some species? I love learning fun facts when writing articles like these!

Basking sharks - National Geographic

Their scientific name might mean something along the lines of “great-nosed sea monster” but basking sharks are harmless to humans and face significant threats from us. I really enjoyed writing about these placid sharks for Nat Geo.

Squid - National Geographic

For many people, there's a reason why squid inspired the legends of terrifying sea creatures that caused ships to vanish without a trace Personally, I think they're kinda cool. So this reference piece was another fun opportunity for me to geek out for Nat Geo.

Betta fish - National Geographic

I usually write about marine life but there are some fascinating freshwater fish around too. In this Nat Geo reference piece, I learned all about Siamese fighting fish, also known as betta fish.

Wombats - National Geographic

In this reference piece, I had to dive into my thesaurus for lots of 'bottom' and 'poop' synonyms while writing about my favourite land animal: the wombat.

Thresher sharks - National Geographic

Have you ever seen a thresher shark? No? OK, well imagine you asked a toddler to draw a cartoon of a shy, slightly anxious shark with a REALLY long tail (nope, a bit longer than that) and you're pretty much there. You can probably tell that I loved writing about this fascinating species for this Nat Geo reference piece.

Marine life rescue - Reader's Digest

"What would I do if I found a stranded porpoise, dolphin or whale on my beach walk?", you ask? Wonder no more...! Here are some top tips I wrote for Reader's Digest on what you should - and shouldn't! - do.

Heat resistant corals - Independent

Firstly, corals ARE animals (not plants or rocks). When I can't go diving to see coral reefs in real life, I love to write about them. This was an interesting piece looking at how heat resistant corals could help coral reefs in the face of a warming ocean.

Busting myths about whales - National Geographic

Ever wondered what's in that spout that comes out of a whales' blowhole when the come to the surface? 🐳 It's not (just) water... This was one of my early articles for Nat Geo but still one I'm really fond of.

Tiger and mako sharks - National Geographic

For this Nat Geo article, I covered attempts to record tiger sharks' bite force and mako sharks' speed. Plus, the article looks at why it's so important for us to learn more about these incredible predators.

Paternal squid - National Geographic

This article the first time I covered a new scientific paper for Nat Geo after the lead author approached me with their findings. And the study was super interesting: shedding new light onto the paternal care of bigfin reef squid.

Dolphin friendships - VICE

it's amazing how much we're still learning about the ocean. A while back, scientists discovered that bottlenose dolphins can recognise their friends through the taste of their urine. I found this a fascinating paper to write about for VICE. And, no, I'm not taking the p***!

Stranded sperm whales - Inkcap Journal

When you think of marine conservation, you might conjure up an image of warm waters lapping white sandy shores. But it can take place at any time and in all weathers. As a trained marine mammal medic, I was intrigued by this account of a sperm whale stranding one Christmas Eve in the UK. I covered the story for Inkcap Journal.

CSI of the Sea - Fodors

Meet the CSI of the Sea in this article I wrote about the guy trying to solve a string of mysterious deaths off the coast of the UK...

Whale sharks - Fodors

In this article for Fodors, I shared a roundup of destinations around the world where you can see endangered whale sharks.

Swallowed by a whale - National Geographic

Throwback to my first ever article with Nat Geo. Basically, I got really cross about a story going viral at the time where a fisherman had allegedly been swallowed by a humpback whale. Spoiler: he somehow ended up in its mouth, sure, but he wasn't 'swallowed'. So I chatted to a few scientists to get the lowdown on whether a whale could ever swallow a human. Enjoy!

Insulin resistance in bears - Nat Geo

For National Geographic, I covered a new study exploring a study into grizzly bear hibernation which could lead to a cure (or better treatment) for diabetes.

Shocking finding - New Scientist

In a scientific first, researchers were able to induce gene transfer using all natural organisms for the first time. For New Scientist, I covered this study where researchers used electric eel electricity to successfully transfer a fluorescent marker into zebrafish larvae.

Mega pregnancy - New Scientist

Megamouth sharks are an incredibly rare deep sea species. So, it was a huge surprise when a female pregnant with seven pups washed up in the Philippines - the first recorded pregnancy in the species. I covered the discovery for New Scientist.

Stranded whales - Footprint magazine

Do you know what you'd do if you came across a stranded whale, dolphin or porpoise? Your action could save their life. But, remember, trying to put it back in the water could do more harm than good. I walked Footprint magazine through what you should do...

Dolphins and manatees - Live Science

For Live Science, I covered a new study which documented dolphins acting 'like jerks' and attacking baby manatees. Yikes.

The Meg - Live Science

A new study suggested that the Meg may have been more slender than scientists previously thought and might not look like a mega great white. Could this be true? I looked into it for Live Science.

Baby shark - Live Science

In what's been described as one of the holy grails of shark science, researchers think they've finally seen a newborn great white for the first time. And I got to dive into it for Live Science.

New isopod - Live Science

Deep sea explorers discovered a weird new roly poly bug. It was white and see-through so they could even see its guts through its body. I love covering the deep sea so this was a fun one to write for Live Science.

Greenland shark - National Geographic

Finding out the meaning behind an animals' scientific name is one of my favourite parts of writing about the ocean. "Sleepy small head" is no exception, which is just one of the many reasons I enjoyed writing this reference piece about the Greenland shark.

Mantis shrimp - National Geographic

It's not a peacock, a preying mantis OR a shrimp... so what the devil is a peacock mantis shrimp? Get ready to be clobbered with some fun ocean facts in another of my Nat Geo reference pieces.

Cuttlefish - National Geographic

Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? Basically, it's a way of testing if you can show self-control (by offering you one marshmallow now or more if you can wait until later). Now, I'm not sure I'd always pass the marshmallow test so it's pretty impressive that cuttlefish will skip a snack if they know researchers will reward them with their favourite treat if they wait. Another really interesting subject for my Nat Geo reference piece on cuttlefish.

Beached whales - National Geographic

If you've ever wondered why a whale might become beached, check out my piece for Nat Geo exploring the many different reasons a whale might find itself where it's not supposed to be... on land.

Malagasy lemurs - Culture Trip

Isn't it amazing that scientists are discovering new species all the time?! When Madagascar discovered a new species of lemur, I wrote about it for Culture Trip.

Pregnant whale sharks - Diver

If the headline 'Meet the jet propelled midwives' isn't enough to intrigue you to read my old Diver article from 2019, I don't know what is!

Queen of mantas - World Footprint

I've admired MMF's Andrea Marshall since I met her back in 2018 - if you haven't heard of Andrea, check out the documentary 'Queen of Mantas' to find out more about her incredible work to protect manta rays. Or have a cheeky read of this article I wrote about her work a while back...

Freediving with sharks - Sidetracked

The cool thing about my work is that I get to chat to cool conservationists doing exciting things like freediving with sharks, which is exactly what I did for this Sidetracked magazine article.

Whale sharks and rays - Daily Beast

In this Daily Beast article, I talked about one of the many reasons I love Mozambique: its epic wildlife.

Rhino conservation - Culture Trip

When you think countries leading the way with rhino conservation, would you think of eSwatini? More on the country's rhino conservation efforts in this article I wrote for Culture Trip.

Where the whale sharks are - Diver

Back in 2018, I wrote this piece exploring where the whale sharks are and how one woman is dedicating her life to protecting them. Fast forward to today and I'm still protecting the Madagascar Whale Shark Project Foundation (and Stella is still smashing it with her conservation work).

Zebra sharks - National Geographic

Zebras are cool. Sharks are cooler. So zebra sharks are doubly cool, right? I'm not going to say these are my favourite type of shark (for once - I mean, they're no thresher shark! 😉 ) BUT I did really enjoy writing this Nat Geo reference piece all the same. I hope you find it interesting to read too.

Wildlife in eSwatini - Culture Trip

eSwatini is small but mighty when it comes to wildlife. In this article I wrote about where to see amazing animals when visiting the country.

Whale shark tourism - World Footprints

For World Footprints, I wrote about how to travel sustainably and follow the Code of Conduct for responsible interactions when visiting countries to see iconic or endangered species like Madagascar's whale sharks.

Shark freediving - Diver

Let's be honest, sharks can get a pretty bad rap. So it's always cool to hear about people like Lukas, who I wrote about for Diver magazine, who are working to protect these magnificent creatures.

Whale sharks - Ecophiles

For Ecophiles, I pulled together a roundup of fun facts about the world's biggest fish: the whale shark.

Whale sharks - Oceanographic

For Oceanographic, I wrote up an interview with the Madagascar Whale Shark Project Foundation's Stella Diamant about her important conservation work.

Galapagos whale sharks - Oceanographic

Again for Oceanographic, I covered the mysteries of pregnancy in the world's largest fish.

Whale sharks - Ecophiles

If you're ever lucky enough to swim with a whale shark, please make sure it's a responsible encounter by following the whale shark Code of Conduct. I interviewed Madagascar Whale Shark's Stelle Diamant for Ecophiles to get more details on what you should and shouldn't do as a responsible tourist.

Hippos - National Geographic

Another non-ocean reference piece for Nat Geo - this time geeking out on hippos. Although, I really wish I'd realised when I'd written this piece that their alternative animal name is a leather submarine!

Lynx - National Geographic

If something's going to lure me away from the ocean, there's a high chance it's a cat! Which is why this lynx reference piece was another fun one to write for Nat Geo.

Bobcat - National Geographic

In another cat-related reference piece for Nat Geo, I learned that in 2015, someone saw a bobcat catch a SHARK and drag it from the ocean. Nature is astounding sometimes!

Cougar - National Geographic

Did you know cougars can purr but they can't roar? I love finding out fun facts like this when I write up Nat Geo reference articles like this one!

Sharks - AFAR

In this piece for AFAR, I spoke to a range of scientists for their tips on the best places around the world where you can see sharks (responsibly).

Helping sharks - Ecophiles

Ever wondered how you can help sharks? I shared a few ways in this article for Ecophiles.

Urban beekeeping - Ecophiles

In this article, I shared ways people can help protect bees even if they live in the city.

Responsible elephant encounters - Ecophiles

For Save the Elephants Day, I wrote about how responsible travellers can see elephants without harming them.

Mourning dove - National Geographic

Writing this article about mourning doves involved listening to their call and then trying to explain in words what it sounds like... “Coo-woo, WOO, WOO, WOO”

Wombat poop - National Geographic

Writing about animals takes you to weird and wonderful places - including cubed poop! Another writer had developed this Nat Geo article and I was tasked with fact checking and updating it a few years later to make sure the science was still up-to-date (while writing my wombat reference piece).

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