What is your connection to the Shark Lab?
I first learned of the Shark Lab while volunteering at Mote Marine Laboratory where I worked with Enric Cortes, Charlie Manire and Robert Heuter, former colleagues of Doc. After discovering the Shark Lab I volunteered on three occasions (Spring of 1998, 2003 & 2005). I was an assistant Lab Manager from Sept 05 – July 06, while I took a leave of absence from Fisheries & Oceans – Canada. Finally, I worked as Lab Manager from July 2007 – July 2010.
Tell us a story about Doc?
Doc has always been a bit of a creature of routine. Nothing is more evident then going out for one of the Shark Lab’s marque events, the Shark Dive. First you had to have the bait be the perfect size. Of all the possible scenarios baiting for sharks, the size of the bait pieces on that shark dive mattered the least. Doc typically would not come out of the lab until the boats were completely loaded and everyone was onboard. Then he would walk down towards the boat and expect to jump onboard, start the engines and go. You could see his disappointment when someone forgot something or someone was missing. This was often the case when dealing with anywhere from a dozen to 30 college aged students on multiple boats. Next were the dye tabs. Expensive and messy little color tabs that we always had to remember when Doc was present. He used them to determine the current at Triangle Rocks. I would need to jump in to get ready to manually set the anchors each time, and by doing so I could easily tell him the strength and direction of the current, but Doc had to have his dye tabs. Next was the nightmare of setting up the vessel just right. Yelling, high revving engines and bent anchors. It was chaos most of the time. In contrast when Doc wasn’t there any of the staff could have the boat anchored in position in a quarter of the time without yelling, let alone bending an anchor. Something I don’t think Doc ever realized or would accept. But then this is where everything changed…
I can still remember my first Shark Dive without Doc. After getting out there and getting setup quickly with no issues and more importantly no stress I started throwing in the bait. That’s when I realized it kind of sucks running the Shark Dive without Doc. He is so animated when it comes to throwing bait that he creates so much excitement in the process. He’s yelling and screaming and cheering, “kick that shark, kick that shark”. He’s like an excited kid at an amusement park and that excitement is contagious. None of us even came close.
Tell us a story about the Shark Lab?
I’m sure this will be brought up by many others, but incase everyone is too embarrassed to do so I figured I should make sure it is included. There is one stinky little secret the Shark Lab has. You won’t find it in the joining instructions for volunteer applicants and you are unlikely to see it anywhere on the website. For anyone that has spent anytime at the Shark Lab you probably already know what I am talking about.
One of the problems of running a doublewide patched together with duct tape and Band-Aids as a field station is that not everything is up to North American standards. Nothing is more evident than what has become affectionately known as SHIT PIT. About 2-3 times a year the septic tank at the lab becomes dangerously full. The solution involves every member of the Shark Lab, an all hands on deck type of situation. Step 1: Prepare buckets, shovels, gloves, “charity bin” clothes, music and a trash pump. Step 2: Dig a deep “pit” in an adjoining piece of land. Step 3: Crack the lid on the “Shit Pit” (this is always the worst part, and occasionally claims some victims to gagging). Step 4: Shovel the solids and transport by bucket to the pre-dug pit. Step 5: Pump the rest of the liquids by fire hose into the pre-dug pit. Step 6: Fill the pre-dug pit back in with all the sand. Step 7: Cleanup and beachside baths for everybody followed by burning of charity bin clothes.
There is only 1 main rule during Shit Pit. No one goes back into the house once Shit Pit has started, for any reason! Despite how awful of a job it is, I was always amazing to see how initial looks of horror and disgust turn into fun and camaraderie between staff and volunteers at the lab. Nothing like making something good out of something so bad.
How did meeting Doc and working at the Shark Lab change your life?
Doc and I had a challenging work relationship over the years. In his mind I was his “little rain cloud” hovering over his head, preventing him from doing everything he wanted. In my mind I was avoiding nightmare situations, ruining expensive equipment and preventing people from being injured or worse. Despite all that, I have a lot of respect for what Doc has done in the world of shark research. By creating the BBFS Shark Lab and keeping it running these past 25 years he has created opportunities for hundreds if not thousands of people, including me. Bimini would not be my second home had it not been for Doc. The opportunities I’ve had since leaving the Shark Lab would not have been possible either. For those reasons I will always be appreciative of the work and sacrifices that he’s made for me and so many others.