What is your connection to the Shark Lab?
I was Sonny Gruber’s Master’s student in the late 1970s and as I was leaving in 1980 to do my Ph.D. at the University of Florida, Sonny was beginning the process of ending his laboratory vision research (which was brilliant, by the way) and starting the Bimini Lab. I’ve never been to the lab itself but at Mote we are doing some research in which the Shark Lab is a collaborator. This is National Science Foundation-funded work on measuring field metabolic rates of sharks.
Tell us a story about Doc?
Dr. Samuel H. Gruber was known as “Sonny” in the 1970s and 80s, and I still call him Sonny today. The “Doc” nickname came later at the Bimini Lab. At the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Sonny was known as an iconoclast who, quite frankly, must have been a real pain in the ass to his supervisors. I was one of his first students and he was only a half-generation older than me. He ran his lab like a business and demanded a lot from his students while providing minimal direction. But I realized later that he had taught me survival skills that have served me very well in science and life since then.
How did meeting Doc and working at the Shark Lab change your life?
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Miami, I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I was not focused on sharks at all. In my junior and senior years I had an opportunity to help out in Sonny’s shark vision lab and I found the research to be absolutely fascinating, from the hands-on work with the sharks to all the cool instrumentation and lab techniques. When I applied for admission to the UM-RSMAS grad school, Sonny supported my application allowing me to be accepted and work with him as a grad student on the physiological optics of the shark eye. Forty years later I’m still studying sharks, way beyond just their visual system. So meeting and working with Sonny did indeed mold my adult life.