When I first learned to dive, sharks were almost universally viewed as a public safety menace to combated, along the lines of airplane crashes, homicidal maniacs, bubonic plague, etc. The fact that many people now view them as beautiful and fascinating wildlife, with interesting lives and an important role to play in the ecology of the oceans, and that there are numerous organizations devoted to protecting sharks, is in no small part the legacy of the achievements of one remarkable man. The fact that there is an audience and a publisher for the new book “Shark Doc, Shark Lab,” is likewise largely due to the amazing impact of the life work of its subject, Dr. Samuel H. “Doc” Gruber.
Like many people whose careers have been associated with sharks, my interest in the subject was greatly inspired by my association with Dr. Gruber when I was a student. Years later I wrote two books about sharks. Wishing to portray the cartilaginous fishes as a complex of interesting and threatened species of wildlife, rather than, like previous books, as a menace to divers, I did extensive library research, looking for scientific papers on their biology and behavior. Frustratingly, nearly every paper I could find concerned a single species: the lemon shark. Indeed, for several decades, most of what was “known” about sharks, was actually only known to be true of lemon sharks. This was the species that Doc Gruber had chosen as the subject of his studies, and it became the de-facto subject of nearly every study completed by his graduate students and other researchers who passed through the Bimini Biological Field Station, aka the Shark Lab. The history of the Shark Lab would comprise a major part of a complete history of shark research worldwide. This lab dominated the field of shark research.
The book “Shark Doc, Shark Lab” by Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, is based in large part on interviews with Doc Gruber himself. Thus it is more of an autobiography than a biography, and this is its primary weakness, because Gruber himself is every bit as interesting as the sharks he studies. There are some who claim that after a thermonuclear war, Keith Richards will be the only surviving vertebrate on the planet. Those people have not met Doc Gruber, a man who had been given less than a year to live when I first met him around 1984, and was on his “deathbed” on nearly half the occasions I saw him for the next several years. He refused to die, refused to be sidelined, and eventually beat an incurable disease and continues to be more active than most men half his age. His raging intellect could not be stymied by disease, crippling chemotherapy, or hostile supervisors. His indomitable will enabled him to steamroller over opponents and supporters alike, as well as mechanical failures, logistical breakdowns, and nature itself. He inspired and traumatized two generations of shark researchers. A psychological study of this complex man would indeed be fascinating, but you won’t find it here. Instead there are accounts of uncooperative people seemingly sabotaging his projects for no apparent reason. These people were not interviewed, so their perspectives will not be found here. However you do learn unexpected trivia about Gruber’s life, such as the fact that he almost became a professional ballet dancer, rather than a biologist.
At the end of the book is a fairly large collection of anecdotes from people associated with Dr. Gruber and the Lab. All, of course, were written by persons indebted to him in some way, and clearly self-censorship has been in effect. Yet in some of the accounts you do begin to get some sense of the extreme mood swings for which Gruber is well known among his colleagues. This rather odd amalgam of a book also contains synopses of the past and present research projects of the Shark Lab and the U. Miami lab which preceded it. There are diagrams illustrating research techniques, illustrations of the shark species found in the Bahamas study area, and a treasure trove of photos spanning almost the entirety of Gruber’s life and career. For any student of sharks and shark research, this history of a towering figure in the field, and the research station he created, is indispensable reading. Funds from the sale of the book will go toward the rebuilding and continuation of the Shark Lab, a facility of considerable importance to the expansion of our knowledge of these vulnerable predators and to tropical marine ecology in general. “Shark Doc, Shark Lab” is published by the Save Our Seas Foundation, and is available at http://www.biminisharklab.com/book/thebook
Book review – April 2016
Doug Perrine Professional Marine Wildlife Photographer Founder of SeaPics.com
Doug Perrine is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost marine wildlife photographers. His photographs have been reproduced in virtually every major nature magazine in the world, as well as in thousands of books, calendars, greeting cards, posters, etc., including more than 100 covers.
His photography has won a number of awards, including the prestigious BBC/ British Gas Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in the animal behavior category and the Nature’s Best/ Cemex competition in the Professional Marine Wildlife category. He is also the author of seven books on marine life, and numerous magazine articles. Doug founded SeaPics.com as a venue for his own photography, and later expanded it to represent a growing number of other photographers as well. Doug takes on occasional photographic and writing assignments as well as creating photography for stock. He also works occasionally as a consultant for filming projects, including jobs for National Geographic Television, the Discovery Channel, and other broadcasters.