What is your connection to the Shark Lab?
I stayed from January until July 2000 as a volunteer. At the time, Licky and Tim were there as Lab mangers and in February Emma arrived to take over from them (when Licky and Tim went to Brazil). Alan Grant was doing a PhD project and Steve Newman was also doing a project – I think for his MSc (?). I worked for the seven months predominantly on two projects, 1. An ecosystem study on mangroves, and 2. The feeding ecology of the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris. We did tons of gill netting, seine netting, quite a bit of longlining and of course the PIT study – and for a long time after getting back home I still kept on dreaming (‘nightmarish’) about getting small snails out of shells and sorting sea grass. We had a fabulous group of people at the lab, many of which I am still in contact with. I also met Mike Barker on Bimini, my partner for seven years, who is still a good friend of mine. After meeting in Bimini, the two of us moved to Australia together and went to South Africa to work with Michael. I keep meeting people I originally met in the Lab all over the place. Just last month, I saw Katy Rigby again at a conference in Italy – after 15 years. I shared a room with Annemarie Kramer and Sara Königson, both of whom I am still in contact with, I just saw Sara this summer in Bonn. Mike and I also organized several ‘shark lab reunions’ in London until 2006. I established so many lasting friendships and formed such great memories there. It was honestly one of the best – if not the best – times I ever had.
Tell us a story about Doc?
Rita Santos and I went over to Miami for a week to housesit for Doc and Marie. What sticks out in my mind: First, I was so impressed with their shark-letter box. I also loved Doc’s study with all these great books. Overall, I thought the house was just fabulous. However, I hated having to give shots to the cats. I don’t really like cats to begin with and a couple of them needed daily shots for something (worms?). So, Rita and I had to chase them up and down the house and poke them every night. It was dreadful – for us and for the cats. Most memorable though, was our trip to the supermarket to buy supplies for Bimini. A once in a lifetime experience. I held the Walkie Talkie and Doc kept yelling instructions on what to get and people kept staring, as it was so unbelievably loud. Needless to say, there was lots of confusion and frustration on either end 🙂
Tell us a story about the Shark Lab?
There are just too many stories about the Shark Lab. I remember all those nights at the dock waiting for sharks to nibble at the fish we offered them. All those snorkels and bon fires. The hidden Rum bottle somewhere on the beach and the extensive map we drew for everyone to find it again. The nights at the complete angler and the Calypsonians. I can still hear them playing ‘Brown eyed girl’. I got stung by a yellow ray in the forefinger, just in fromnt of the Sapona, while collecting them with Steve Newman and Sarah Collin for one of Alans ‘stomach eversion experiments’. It hurt like shit. One of the most horrendous things I had to do was help clean the cesspit. First, we had to dig this massive new hole. Then we had to fill it again (imagine the frustration), as the Bimini Mafia neighbours were unhappy with the position, and dig a new hole (which gave most of us gigantic blisters that got infected). Then we opened up the old tank and transferred all its lovely contents via buckets and a hose to the new one. I will never look at corn the same way again. It was one of these really hot days and the tank had not been opened for 2-3 years. It was excruciating. Also, while being on Bimini, me and a couple of other girls developed this really weird hair growth. I swear I never sported hairy legs, arms and cheeks like that before or ever again. When I look at the pictures of my face, I see tanned skin with long blond fuzz – scary. I still blame it on those perfectly white chicken breasts we used to eat almost every day, probably loaded with antibiotics and hormones. I also had this really odd bull shark encounter with Neill, a lobster fisherman from Maine. The two of us had just dropped a couple of baby sharks in the pen (from gill netting a couple hundred meters further down the beach) around 11 pm on a full moon night at high tide with very choppy water. And right then and there, in the water in front of the pen, all the hairs on my back (of which reportedly I had many) stood up and both of us felt something really big passing by. We grabbed hands and after a short debate decided to walk to shore instead of back to the net. It must have been the longest 5 minutes ever. When we got back, walking along the beach to where we had set the net, everyone else was on the boat on the other end of the net, yelling around.
There had just been this massive bull shark eating a baby or two out of the net and tearing this gigantic hole into it. It must have been what moved around Neil and me at the pen. I’ve rarely been afraid of sharks but that was scary. I thought it was hilarious to have letters arrive with the following address: Vera, Sharklab, Bimini, Bahamas. I once talked to my dad in Germany via the intercom – he had called Docs house in Miami and Doc held the receiver against the intercom so he could speak with me. Like everyone else, I loved Shell beach. I took about 3 kg of shells, including one conch shell, home with me – had I been caught at customs with that, I would probably still be in jail. Mending the nets, cutting up barracuda at 40°C, drinking that horrible Kool Aid water, eating conch salad, going to the reef and the yacht club, sun tanning, longlining, countless hours in the lab sorting stuff for Alan, watching movies in the lab and washing your hair in the rain, cooking for this whole bunch of people while listening to ‘Moon Safari’ by Air -I miss all of it. All those amazing fish dinners Jack Seddon and Anthony Cacciurri provided us with. Anne Curry from ‘Good Morning America’ left all her luggage at the airport and for the next three days had to wear all my stuff, including panties, bikini, dive suit and shorts. Jim Thornton from National Geographic tested the SharkPod while I was there. We popped over to the North Island to have dinner with Ellen MacArther and her crew. At some stage, we had to vacate the lab for a school group and went to Miami. There, we actually got into an MTV Erotic Party where everyone was naked apart from being dressed in feathers, while all of us looked like these beach bums wearing torn shorts and flip-flops. Got the best birthday cake from Marie and the perfect gift, a six-pack of diet coke after not drinking any for months 😉 I had a hard time getting used to wearing closed shoes again and sleeping in a room by myself once I got home.