What is your connection to the Shark Lab?

I was the co-manager of the SharkLab from June, 2001 until May, 2007, just a few days shy of 6 full years.  I think there are only two people who have worked there longer than me, Tim Calver and Melissa “Licky” Drake (both former managers).  As manager, you get to do quite a lot of everything that the Lab does, including assisting with research projects, helping with production teams and visiting scientists, and teaching a lot of the new recruits the basics of life at a field station.  My job also was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of most of the Lab and its equipment, ranging from the boats and the truck, to the plumbing and shark-tracking gear.

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Tell us a story about Doc?

There are so many Doc stories that it’s honestly hard to know where to begin…. And some (or many) of the stories are likely not appropriate for this project.  I imagine most people you’ve contacted feel the same way. Ha!

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I’ll list a few other story possibilities that I can elaborate on if you want, but for now, this is one fun, positive story that I remember fondly:

Doc and I were doing a supply run in the Aquasport (our “big” 22’ boat), back and forth to Miami to pick up food and supplies.  When we left Bimini in the morning, the weather was obviously deteriorating, but the ride from Bimini to Miami went fairly well.  Once we reached Miami, it took us several hours to gather and load up all of the supplies we’d be bringing back, and during that time the weather continued to decline.

By mid-afternoon, Doc and I were ready to head back to Bimini, with the Aquasport loaded down with hundreds of pounds of supplies.  Doc was driving the boat, as he always insists on doing, and I stood beside him helping with navigation.  As we started heading out from Miami, we were immediately slammed by significant waves and wind.  Moving a mile or two from shore, the waves just got bigger and bigger.  We were getting drenched by the water as it crashed over the gunwales of the boat, and in what could be described as a near-miracle, Doc actually openly considered abandoning the trip due to how bad the seas were.

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Keep in mind, Doc essentially has two speeds when he’s driving boats, idle or full-throttle, and more often than not it’s the latter.  Doc also applies these speeds to almost any water conditions, whether it be flat calm or wild & choppy.  He’s obviously spent an enormous amount of time on the water, and is confident of his skills as a boat captain, so it is VERY rare to hear him even mention abandoning an excursion due to the wind or waves.

We were maybe 2-3 miles offshore, slowly plowing through the 6-8 ft waves while Doc & I discussed whether or not this crossing was a wise idea.  Not only would it be a wet, miserable ride for us, but it also puts a serious strain on the boat and all the equipment on board.  I was mere seconds away from Doc doing something that I’d never seen him do, chickening-out on a boat trip, when all of a sudden we received an omen from the sea.

Less than 50 ft in front of the boat, and enormous sailfish breached completely out of the water, with its sail fully raised, and it’s striking colors reflecting in what little sunlight broke through the clouds.  In unison, Doc and I both yelled in amazement, “Ohhhhhhh SHIT!!!!”

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As soon as the sailfish splashed back into the water, Doc exclaimed, “We’re fucking going!!” and I shouted in enthusiastic agreement, “FUCK YEAH!!!!”.  Doc put the throttle down, and we set off on what would become a 3+ hour long trip of us absolutely getting our asses kicked by the waters of the Gulf Stream.

We didn’t see anything else along the journey, and we were both beat-up and exhausted when we finally reached Bimini.  Neither of us really thought that the ocean was giving us a sign to continue on when that sailfish jumped, but for two people who love the water, the possibility of seeing anything in addition to that beautiful billfish was enough motivation to push on.

The end, of that story.

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Other possibilities to consider (It’s hard to know where to stop, or begin??):

  1. The time I got my hand stuck in a nurse sharks mouth, and Doc “rescued me.”
  2. Doc almost falling out of the boat on a different Miami-Bimini crossing…
  3. Doc’s love/hate affair with our first pet pelican

Honestly, the “best” stories about Doc, and I think everyone agrees with me on this, are not stories that make him look particularly good.

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Tell us a story about the Shark Lab?

Again, there’s so many that it’s hard to know which is best?  Do any of these sound particularly interesting?

  1. The first sawfish we ever caught? Or the second? Third? Etc…
  2. The first deep-water long-line we ever set?  Including the first sixgill ever caught by the BBFS, and the biggest tiger shark.
  3. The chaos of Hurricane Wilma, which devastated much of South Bimini.
  4. A volunteer who earned the nickname “Poop-on-her-head Amy”?
  5. The first time we lassoed a big, free swimming tiger shark?  Or the first time we did that to a bull shark?  Or a sawfish?
  6. The time we caught a bull shark while going to pick up our mail from North Bimini, with no hooks, nets, or shark gear?
  7. The time we heard one of our baby-lemon transmitters pinging from inside a 7 ft lemon’s belly?  We lassoed the shark, penned her, and waited for her to pass the transmitter (which she did).
  8. The non-stop craziness from the Shark Defense chemical-repellent crew?
  9. The first visit from the MythBusters team?
  10. When Dirty Jobs came to the BBFS?

I could go on…. For a loooong time.

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

My life now is still very obviously connected to my life at the SharkLab.  It’s been almost 8 years since I left my position at the BBFS, but I’m only a couple miles down the road from the station.

The night that Katie and I decided to leave the Lab, it took barely 20 minutes until we were offered jobs at the Bimini Sands Resort, on the same island.  Katie and I have since developed our jobs as ecotourism directors on the island, essentially trying to show and teach tourists, visitors, and locals all the amazing things we experienced and learned from our time with the BBFS.

I’ve also gotten to join numerous other expeditions due to the relationships I made at the SharkLab.  I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around The Bahamas, chasing after snakes, sawfish, sharks, and more.

Dr Gruber, and everyone else who has helped create the legacy of the BBFS, have helped give countless people the opportunity to follow aspirations and goals that most people would be afraid to pursue.  I’m extraordinarily grateful for all my experiences at the SharkLab, and for all the people that helped make my time there so incredible and rewarding.

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