What is your connection to the Shark Lab?

Aforementioned regarding my role as Media Manager, though I am a shark noob in comparison to many others who have contributed years and even decades to the research and progress of BBFSF. I began my journey here in February of 2014, having little experience nor understanding of sharks, but it’s safe to say that has changed after jumping into the deep end.

ChrisLang-Image005-DSC07598

Tell us a story about Doc?

The boat was rocking. For an entire week, the Discovery Channel film crew had their way with us despite the high winds and water crashing over the bow and port side of the Twin Vee off West. As we awkwardly shuffled to maintain a semblance of balance in the back&forth caused by unfavorable conditions, Doc lifted both of his hands off the railing, made a rhythmic jolt, and muttered to himself, “I said, look ma, no hands!” To this day, the only person I believe he could have referenced is Wale from Waka-Flocka’s music video (linked below). I was in hysterics. Having arrived only a day before, this was my introduction to Doc. Needless to say, I was caught a bit off guard by his unassuming pop culture and boat-balanced savvy beneath his elderly facade. Only later in the year did I learn that Doc has a background in dance, so this moment began to make more sense retrospectively. Check out the video

The lab as a whole gets a bit on edge whenever Doc arrives. This may be partially self-induced, but Doc does has a knack for making staff members feel utterly incompetent. To reduce the frequency of these moments, I ask a LOT of questions. In preparation for a college course field trip to Aya’s Spot, I had been tasked with preparing the bait used to attract and hand-feed the nursery’s baby lemon sharks. This requires thawing a block of chum and squid, cutting thin finger-like strips of fish filet, and quartering other filets into square-shaped chunks. I had done this many times already, but when Doc is around, it’s a whole new ball game. Expectations and requests can also change between his visits, so I played the dumb-card to ensure everything received the stamp of approval and to bypass facing his wrath in the field, in front of 20 or so students…

My work was all good, except: each style of bait needed to be separated into lunch boxes (yes, the same ones we use for daily research excursions), and I had used the wrong chum! But where was the right stuff located? I have to make it?! Surprised, Doc commanded myself and assistant manager Lorna to follow him into the kitchen, where he educated us with a tinge of dismay upon our never learning the home-made chum recipe. Bloody slabs of bonito baitfish, handfuls of oatmeal, and a cup or so of olive oil were all tossed into the same very food processor that had been used to make 40 people hummus just a few hours before. I jokingly asked if he wanted to sprinkle in some salt and pepper, and he laughed slightly but declined. The tuna salad concoction was complete. All bystanders showed equal looks of disbelief at our messy countertop and the maroon, metallic-smelling residue that clung to the insides of the blender (bonito are notably ferrous and bloody). Many vouched to never eat a thing from that device again. I shrugged, trying to internalize it all as part of the learning experience.

ChrisLang-Image004-DSCN2737

Tell us a story about the Shark Lab?

Night tracking had begun, and the team was on their third of five nights listening for tagged sharks in the moonlit lagoon from 9PM to 5AM. This crew consisted of PI Rob Bullock, and interns Jess Howard and Joe Jones. On night tracking nights, those left behind normally sleep with doors open or with radios next to their pillows in case of an emergency. This particular night was deep-sleep night. Sleeping in the closest room to the main radio, I remember stirring semi-consciously at the sound of crackling in the middle of the night. But sleep prevailed. I merely incorporated the noises into my dream.

Then I suddenly woke up to hearing a screaming from the kitchen room. This was no longer a dream. I jumped down from my top bunk to hear a staticky SOS blasting from the radio. When I responded back, Jess exclaimed multiple sighs of relief, “Wow, we thought we were totally screwed. Our boat stopped working and we’ve been anchored for the past hour hoping to get through to someone back at the lab.” A 15 minute engine tutorial provided by the grumpily awakened lab mechanic, TJ Ostendorf, helped them fix the problem. The following morning I was met with hugs for being the hero!

ChrisLang-Image002-DSC07096

How did meeting Doc and working at the Shark Lab change your life?

The hustle of the lab is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We really are frugal about the equipment and resources we use, from sandwich-making materials to wall paint and construction pieces. This resourcefulness is what gives the lab its old-school vibe–it clings to its past through financial necessity, often times reusing items well past their expected life cycles or incorporating old parts into new.

Meeting Doc has changed me to reevaluate my own understanding of leadership. I would not venture to describe his leadership approach as nurturing nor developing, which I believe is critical for long term success in any training program for organizations. But I see how many people are drawn to Doc’s free-spirited demeanor. Doc is truthful in that he has no filter. Throughout my life I’ve always taken critique to heart, sometimes too personally, but with Doc I am beginning to understand that he lives in the moment, is passionate in the moment, and expresses discontent in the moment, but in the very next moment, he is similarly capable to forget and give praise. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate this bipolar relationship with him emotionally…

ChrisLang-Image001-MCS_3479