What is your connection to the Shark Lab?

Aug 15, 2002 – Sep 16, 2002: volunteer

As an aquarist specializing in shark husbandry at the American National Fish and Wildlife Zooquarium, I began to wonder about studying sharks in the wild. How did the behavior and health issues I saw in captivity affect wild sharks? Would I like research? I began to ask colleagues about any places that were familiar with that provided opportunities for people to test their hand at research. The Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS) was one of the first and most frequent suggestions. I took a leave of absence from work and volunteered at the lab for a month. I was hooked. My days as an aquarist served me well, I was familiar with many of the species of fish around the island, I had a working knowledge of plumbing (good for around the house), and I had experience with large sharks. I fell in love with the island, people, and most importantly the satisfaction of working towards answering a scientific question. A question that meant something. After volunteering I quit my job, went back to school, and sent in an application to volunteer at the lab during PIT the following summer.

Jun 1, 2003 – July 1, 2003: volunteer

July 2, 2003 – July 15, 2004: assistant lab manager

I volunteered during PIT 2003, and I didn’t leave for over a year. Shortly into my second stint as a volunteer, Grant Johnson, lab manager at BBFS asked me if I would like to stay on as his assistant. Of course I said yes! To my knowledge, I am the first (and maybe only?) female assistant lab manager for the ‘outside of the house’ position. After finally leaving BBFS, I returned several times during PIT, went to the Marquesas in 2003 and 2008, and helped fish for lemons on the Florida side.

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Tell us a story about Doc?

Doc’s advice

As I said previously, my first trip to Bimini (August 2002) came as I was contemplating a career change. By day 25 (according to my journal) I knew I wanted to continue in research. I sheepishly approached Doc and asked him for advice on how to break into the field. I half expected to be turned away with a short answer, I’m sure he has been asked the same question a million times and he was getting on a plane to return to Miami in a few hours. Instead, took the time to sit down with me at the kitchen table and have a real conversation. He offered great insight- finish school- it doesn’t matter what type of biology degree, and do it as cheap as possible (i.e. keep your instate tuition). Doc explained that a specialty is really developed in graduate. He also encouraged me to read peer-reviewed papers and find a project to assist on that could lead to a publication. Lastly, Doc offered an open invitation to return anytime. I was thrilled and quickly came to the decision that my time at the lab was not over, and my journey to becoming a scientist had just begun.

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Doc first aid

While working at the lab as an assistant we hosted several courses. During this particular course we were taking the students into Aya’s spot for a lecture from Doc and hopefully juvenile lemon shark spotting. I was on hand to help with students, catch critters, etc. I was standing behind Doc who was lecturing the students while we all stood thigh deep in water. A blue crab moved past my foot and reached to grab it to show the class. Crabs are tricky little buggers but after hours of getting them out of gill nets I had faith in my ability to subdue without getting pinched. But trying to be stealthy and not disturb the class curbed my quickness and as I was manipulating the crab in my hands to hold both pinchers with one hand when it got in a good pinch. Knowing the crab would not come off easily without me losing blood I hid my hands behind my back and chocked back the pain. Apparently it attracted enough attention by the students to where Doc turned around to see what they were looking at. “What’s that? What’s behind your back? Did you get bit? (Ah, the eternal question).” I held out my hand with crab firmly attached and cringed while Doc took a few pulls on it. Finally, he just ripped off the claw- which exerts an even greater force on the pinching power before slowly releasing. I was embarrassed, but Doc brushed it off and returned to lecturing. That’s how Doc saved my life from a bluecrab.

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Tell us a story about the Shark Lab?

Wow. That is a very difficult question. Everyday was a memory. Alright, some short one sentence stories:

  • Placing a hidden camera in the lab and playing ‘God it feels good to be a gangster’ to capture Doc singing along.
  • Creating themed outfits for shoveling the shit pit, my Christmas themed ‘It’s beginning to smell a lot like poo” was one of my favorites.
  • Impromptu snorkeling with a school of hundreds of eagle rays near bonefish hole.
  • Playing baseball during low tide in the north sound while waiting between net checks.
  • Dancing at the Compleate Angler.
  • Helping Josette and Paulette with their homework- Jackie Randall helped write a poem that famously ended with “Rain is wet, rain is good, rain makes the plants grow. Good night.”
  • Building bat boxes with Jo Imhoff and fueling stories for years that bats were found on Bimini.
  • Tracking a large lemon, that had apparently just eaten a small lemon with a tag in it- and have the ‘brilliant’ idea to capture the free swimming lemon and bring it back to the lab. I believe that was the first big lemon to be brought back.
  • Captaining the best-dressed gillnet boats during PIT- the ‘pretty pretty princess boat’ where we all made and wore Disney character costumes from items around the house instead of sleeping.

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

Personally and professionally, meeting Doc and my time at the lab sparked and inflamed a passion for scientific research that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I will always be counted as someone from the sharklab, and be damn proud of it.

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