One of the most common questions we have from prospective volunteers is "what are some of the career paths previous volunteers have taken?" The Bimini Shark Lab is proud to have many successful Alumni that have a diverse set of skills and careers. The stories below are written by former staff, volunteers and students who have continued to branch out around the globe, and who have utilized some of the skillset they developed during their time at the Shark Lab!
You can also check out our esteemed Board of Directors page for more successful Alumni stories!
DR. JILL BROOKS
I first volunteered with the Lab in the Summer of 2007 after I had completed a degree in marine biology and zoology in the UK. I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career at that point but I knew I needed some hands on experience in the field, and if I'm honest, 2 months in the Bahamas was more attractive than any potential career benefits! I obviously fell in love with the island, the sharks, and the work that BBFS did, so had to return the following year to volunteer for the PIT project, and even that didn't put me off! I joined the Jupiter team the following year to tag adult lemons and bulls in Florida. Since then I was hired as an Assistant Manager and then a Manager of the station, for a total of about 4.5 years in Bimini :) After working on so many cool projects and training a lot of students to conduct their own research, it was time I got my own project so I left the marine environment and made the switch to freshwater for grad school. My grades from my undergraduate degree would not get me into any grad program, but the skills I learned at BBFS (both fieldwork and managerial) got me through. I absolutely would not be where I am in my career if it wasn't for the Lab, and Doc and Marie Gruber!
I completed my PhD thesis, working in the Laurentian Great Lakes where I use the same equipment and analyses as I did when I was working in Bimini, only in smaller fish, and with much less salt. During my degree here in Canada I've been able to keep connected with so many Shark Lab alumni (it's a very small world!), and been involved with several sharkie projects. I am working with the American Shark Conservancy on a recreational shark fishing project, where we collaborate with anglers to figure out what sharks are being caught, with what methods, and how many survive after they have been released. I'm still unsure of my future career path even after all these years, but I know I enjoy research, tracking animals, teaching students, and communicating science- so hopefully, eventually, I will find a permanent job that allows me to keep doing all of these :)
DR. PADDY BURKE
The Shark Lab. The place of sharks, rescue pups and Kaliks. I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in this little sharky paradise. First as a volunteer back in 2013 – 2014, then as a Masters student in 2016 and finally as a staff member from 2016 to 2017. Through all of this time I learned more than I ever thought I would when I first set out in 2013. Now I am a PhD candidate at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia studying the ecology of two species of sawsharks around Australia. While it may be hard to put into words, I am going to try to explain why the SharkLab was instrumental in my marine science journey.
I knew I wanted to be involved in marine science since I was young. However, I happened to be born in Kentucky, USA, so our nearest ocean was about nine hours away. Ever since then I was trying to find opportunities to be by the coast. First, was heading to the College of Charleston, SC to complete an undergraduate degree in marine biology. Like many, after completing my degree I was uncertain as to what the next step was to continue my career. Should I do a post-graduate degree or should I find some job to get experience or should is there something else? This is where my google searches first led me to the Shark Lab and my eventual application to volunteer and was lucky enough to be accepted.
I came to Bimini with a mind like a sponge. I wanted to see, learn and soak up all the knowledge I could from the incredible people around me. What this meant as a volunteer was a mix of activities that changed daily from fishing for sharks to collect data, helping organize data, fixing or maintaining a wide array of equipment needed for the fieldwork or helping maintain the day-to-day life at a field station. One of the most beneficial aspects of being a volunteer at the Shark Lab is that the harder you work and the longer you are there, the more responsibility you are given. One example is the opportunity of leading teams of other volunteers in the field which provides valuable experience that stands out for future supervisors and employers as it highlights an ability to lead and work independently to achieve your goals.
The Shark Lab is fantastic for marine science and sharks but also for its more critical component, its people. The Shark Lab seems to attract a lot of like-minded people, which is not all that surprising. That like-mindedness and the copious amounts of time together is a fantastic recipe for great friendships. Certainly, something I cherish even years after leaving the Shark Lab. Furthermore, one thing I realized only after I left the Lab was that many prominent researchers in the field of shark science have some form of connection with the Lab at some point in their careers. Whether this was as a volunteer themselves, a collaborative research project or simply being pulled into the eccentric, larger than life personality of the Shark Labs founder Dr. Samuel Gruber. I find it likely that the Shark Lab has positively impacted their life as it has mine. Unequivocally, my time in Bimini was instrumental for my career and some of the best memories in my life. I can’t recommend it enough.
DR. ORNELLA WEIDELI
One thing first, without Doc and Marie, I would not be where I am. I would not be who I am. I would not have experienced what I did, and I would not have had the opportunity to meet some of the most inspiring, driven, and passionate people. But let’s start from the beginning...
After finishing my B.Sc. in Cell Biology from the University of Bern, Switzerland in 2009, I knew it was time to follow my dream to become a marine biologist. The best way to do that seemed to me to find an internship in a marine field station. After several hours on Google, I found the Shark Lab, applied, and got accepted as a volunteer for three months. Although until this point in time I hadn’t seen a shark in the wild, I immediately fell in love with these fascinating animals. So, after finishing the internship, I immediately registered for a M.Sc. in Animal Biology at the University of Basel, Switzerland and returned to the Shark Lab. This time I extended my time at the Lab and stayed for eight months to collect data on the diet of juvenile lemon sharks for my thesis. After graduating in the summer of 2012, I knew even more that I wanted to continue my studies in shark ecology. After working for a few shark-related research projects in Florida, Seychelles, and French Polynesia, I got accepted as a PhD student at the newly opened Save Our Seas Foundation – D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF-DRC) in Seychelles. Through my vast international network - that also includes many Shark Lab alumni - I quickly succeeded in building up a collaboration between the SOSF-DRC, the French University EPHE, and the French laboratory the CRIOBE. So, for the next four years I put all my focus on niche partitioning and the feeding ecology of co-existing juvenile reef sharks. In other words, I was trying to understand how two similar juvenile shark species can coexist in a small and remote atoll without outcompeting each other. In the summer of 2020 - in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic - I defended my PhD. Not as usual in front of an audience followed by big celebrations, but virtually from my desk at home followed by a small gathering with friends and family.
Now, while I continue working on multiple shark-related research studies, I’m also expanding my efforts and engagements to other areas. I work part-time in a medical lab where I coordinate a COVID-19 study, I continue to raise awareness about sharks through outreach activities, I joined an association with which I’ll lead scientific shark expeditions in the near future, and I mentor and guide younger students through my affiliation with the American Shark Conservancy.
For now, these projects are keeping me very busy, but I also look forward to what else the future might hold for me. Whatever it is, I’ll always be thankful to you, Doc and Marie, for creating the Shark Lab and for showing to so many of us how you can make your dreams come true.
DR. MATT SMUKALL
I grew up in Central Florida, spending many weekends and summers at the local beach or intercoastal waterway. My mother was a marine biology teacher, and often our trips to the beach resembled a field trip for identifying marine species. Upon enrolling at The University of Florida for my undergraduate studies, I explored several degrees and career paths. I spent time on track for aerospace engineering, veterinary medicine, and building construction, however, I always had a keen interest in nature and found myself settled on a degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Following my graduation in 2009, I knew I needed to get more field experience and landed an fisheries internship in Alaska. After three years in the northern wilderness, it was apparent that I eventually wanted to return to a tropical marine environment.
I volunteered for the first time at the Bimini Shark Lab in 2012, and subsequently returned two additional times. In 2015, I enrolled as a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and returned to the Shark Lab to focus my research on studying tiger sharks around Bimini. Through the ingenuity of online courses and video conferencing, I was able to simultaneously conduct my field work in Bimini while also conducting course work with UAF. As I neared the end of my PhD studies, Dr. Gruber asked me to take over his role as president of BBFSF. It was an immense honor, and often overwhelming, to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Gruber and all of the distinguished BBFSF researchers that came before me. However, this has been a dream position and I am dedicated to ensure that BBFSF offers the same opportunities to future scientists that it afforded me.
DR. FELICIE DHELLEMMES
I am originally from the North of France where my access to the Ocean was limited to occasional summer holiday excursions. I applied to volunteer at the Shark Lab in 2012. At the time I was finishing a Masters in Engineering and I was frantically looking for a place to do my Masters thesis project, with the hopes of doing it in an aquaculture farm. But the farms didn't want me! After seeing the Shark Lab on TV, my flatmate suggested that I should apply there and see what comes of it. Just a few days after applying, I received the news that the Lab was looking for a master student interested in animal behaviour! Hurray! Not long after, I took my plane tickets to the unknown!
I had little to no knowledge about sharks upon arrival, but being surrounded by shark enthusiasts day and night fixed this very quickly: I soon took part into a "shark ID group" where we tried to identify species on pictures and use their latin names. For six months I collected data for my masters, which was a success with even a paper published! I was offered to continue the project as a PhD student, taking over the work of JS Finger, who had supervised me until then.
I stayed at the Lab 3.5 years as a principle investigator, and collected a TON of data on shark personality. Once collected, data must be analysed and written up. I settled in Berlin, Germany to go through this tedious part. While writing, I took part in two extra scientific projects, which I call my "science hobbies”. I worked on billfish behaviour and morphology, and I worked on figuring out the impact of canoe tourism on breeding bird assemblages in a national park.
In these years I completed my hard earned field skills with statistical skills and writing skills which will be helpful for my future career. My PhD thesis is now written, with two papers published and another in review with minor revisions (and two papers published on my "science hobbies"). I have just successfully defended my thesis and earned my doctorate. I have just landed my first post doc position, working on the behaviour of a brackish population of northern pike in the baltic sea!
Growing up I was that strange kid that liked sharks. A Bangladeshi city kid with a love for the ocean wasn't the most common thing to hear. I've been incredibly fortunate in many ways to have been able to work around these amazing animals. But one of my biggest gratitudes has been the Bimini Biological Field Station (aka the Shark Lab).
Science is often trying and frustrating, but it is progress. The Shark Lab taught me the significance of field work, the most significant part of science. It was the most fulfilling time knowing that we were honing the skills needed to further a field that is tied to our lives in more ways than one would assume.
I left the Shark Lab but have returned many times because of how grateful I am to this lab and the people that make it what it is, a welcoming home for budding marine biologists ready to understand what field work is all about. I left with a new lease of life and entered into a life of underwater filming. That turned into a position as a Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Environment in Bangladesh. It is often a struggle, but it is the most rewarding feeling. I feel I have come full circle, back home to give back a little of the knowledge I have picked up.
Here's to progress and here's to the Shark Lab, may it continue to inspire the strange Shark loving boys and girls of tomorrow.
I am a Biologist in Kenai, Alaska, working for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) which is a nonprofit organization with a goal to provide and protect the salmon resource. There are two sides to CIAA—hatcheries and special projects. CIAA has three operational hatcheries that raise pink, coho, and sockeye salmon to fry or smolt stage for releases into Alaskan waters. I work on the special projects side of the organization where we conduct a variety of field work which includes; smolt and adult salmon enumeration, beaver dam surveys, limnology sampling, lake fertilization, invasive species surveys and control, and various outreach activities.
I work with another biologist to hire and train a seasonal field crew to work our field projects during the summer. It is our job to oversee these projects and at the end of the field season we are responsible for data input, analysis and report writing. As biologists we also get to apply for grant funding for various projects we would like to conduct; in other words we have a say in what types of projects we carry out each season.
Volunteering at the Shark Lab was a memorable experience that I will not forget anytime soon. It also helped me learn a lot about myself and what I am capable of as a scientist. I continue to use skills that I gained while working at the Lab!
DR. ALEX HANSELL
I volunteered at the Lab for four months in 2012 and five months in 2013. In 2014, I started graduate school at the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) and returned as a project student to analyze the monthly longline survey. My dissertation research focused on population dynamics and included the results of the longline survey and the first quantitative population estimate for lemon sharks. I graduated in 2020 with a PhD in Fisheries Oceanography. After graduating, I started a Postdoc at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute where my research focused on incorporating distribution shifts and environmental covariates into the western bluefin tuna stock assessment. Currently, I work as a fisheries biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. I sit on a variety of technical committees/working groups for the New England Fishery Management Council, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. My research focuses on population dynamics and improving stock assessment.
Volunteering at the Lab was one of the best decisions I have ever made both professionally and personally. While at the Lab I gained valuable experience and developed a project that was instrumental in me being accepted into a PhD program. I made a series of connections with volunteers, staff and alumni that have turned into valuable scientific collaborations and friendships. Oh yeah, the shark lab is also where I met my dog and wife!
DR. LAURAN BREWSTER
Since leaving the Shark Lab as PI in 2015, I completed my PhD which used accelerometers to understand the behavioral energetics of the juvenile lemon shark. In 2018, I was awarded an Endeavour Research Fellowship by the Australian Government which allowed me to spend six months as a postdoc at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, working with Dr. Adrian Gleiss and his lab. In January 2019, I was hired as a postdoc in Dr. Matt Ajemian’s lab at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Fort Pierce FL, USA. I am working on the "Grouper Guard" project, which investigates how Atlantic goliath grouper respond to anthropogenic stimuli. This is a large, multidisciplinary project to which I contribute the skills I've developed within the biologging/biotelemetry (animal-borne tagging) realm. Additionally, I am the lead PI on a project that investigates how immature bull sharks respond to harmful algal blooms, and am developing a multi-sensor package to provide insight into the fine-scale behavioral ecology of whitespotted eagle rays.
The experiences I gained at the Shark Lab have been instrumental in my life, both professionally and personally. Professionally, I learnt an assortment of field skills including how to safely work with sharks (small and large); how to work with and manage a diverse team of people; and how to strengthen my independent learning skills. My time there also taught me a lot about myself and allowed me to form relationships that I cherish to this day. I made some lifelong friends, found Link (a potcake dog that I’ve been dragging around the world with me) and met my husband. All in all, I’d say it was worth the time!
DR. JAMES LEA
I am currently the CEO of the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF), which supports marine conservation and education projects around the world, with a particular focus on sharks and rays to help ensure their sustainable future. We also have specific grants aimed at supporting early career researchers, and a communications team to help our projects translate their work to a global community. In addition, we manage three of our own centres, including the SOSF D'Arros Research Centre in Seychelles, SOSF Shark Education Centre in South Africa, and SOSF Shark Research Center in the US.
To this day, the Bimini Biological Field Station is a key partner for SOSF, and it's actually where I started out as a volunteer. While spending several months at the Lab helping out in all corners of lab life (including a certain pit...), I responded to an advert in New Scientist that was calling for an intern at the Save Our Seas Foundation. I applied without hesitation and was very fortunate to join the foundation team, and have no doubt that all of the experience working with sharks I had gained at the Shark Lab was invaluable for getting the position. I was then able to go straight into working on a shark research programme in the Red Sea, focusing on silky and grey reef sharks. After working with SOSF for several years, I then moved on to do a PhD in shark movement ecology at the University of Plymouth, under the supervision of Professor David Sims, and in collaboration with both the SOSF D'Arros Research Centre and SOSF Shark Research Center. Following my PhD, I became part of the postdoctoral team at Professor Andrea Manica's lab at the University of Cambridge, and shortly after that assumed my current role with SOSF. This has very much felt like coming home, and all ultimately seeded by my initial time at the Bimini Biological Field Station!
“Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference”- One of My favorite quotes from Denzel Washington, a quote that I live by. My name is Paulette Guerrier and I am originally from the small island of Bimini Bahamas, I was born and raised there for basically half my life. On this small island, I had the privilege of living near some of the best people and neighbours. These people were staff members and volunteers at the Bimini Biological Field Station which was once run by the late Dr. Samuel Gruber, a family friend and basically a second Father to me and my other siblings.
I basically would come to the Lab and do my homework, projects and play with the current staff members and volunteers there at the time. Growing up, I met a diverse number of individuals from all around the world which helped to build my character as well as my interest in many outdoor activities.
As the years progressed, I had a bittersweet moment when I left for college to pursue my goals and dreams at the University of the Bahamas in a Bachelors in Biochemistry for four years. Currently, I am a first year MSc student in Athletic Training. I believe that everything that happens in your life play some type of role whether it is the people you meet the moments you share or the opportunities that arise, they all have some type of impact in your life. I am happy to say that I had a great childhood growing up and that the people at the Bimini Biological Field Station have greatly contributed this.
My tenure at the Shark Lab (2006-2009) was life changing and formative, even if it wasn’t evident to me at the time. Through the experiences, both in shark handling, project design, boat handling and through friendships made, I went on to pursue a Masters at Coastal Carolina a whopping 8 years after my undergrad (Thanks Dr. Abel!).
During my final year at CCU I was hired on to be the lab manager for the shark conservation lab at University of Miami while I wrapped up my MS thesis. I had the privilege of working alongside Dr. Catherine Macdonald (another Shark Lab alum) who was simultaneously working on her PhD and training their shark interns. We came to understand that there are many, many students who are eager to learn shark (and marine) field skills and from there, our company, Field School, was formed.
We offer students of all ages the opportunity to live aboard a working 55’ research vessel, which I captain, and learn these skills along with basic seamanship, course lectures, and most importantly, career and school advice. This has fulfilled my passion for teaching, field work, and of course working with our beloved sharks and rays.
Our friendships through the Shark Lab have also allowed us opportunities to utilize our vessel to assist in various research projects ranging from Sawfish tagging in Andros to Shark BRUVs in the Dry Tortugas.
DR. BRYAN KELLER
I first volunteered at the Shark Lab in 2011 and then returned in subsequent years as a volunteer and as a MSc student. For my thesis, I studied the effects of familiarity on the social interactions of juvenile lemon sharks alongside Drs. Tristan Guttridge, Jean Finger, Dan Abel and Samuel Gruber. After completing my MSc, I went on to earn my PhD with Dr. Dean Grubbs. I am now working as a Foreign Affairs Specialist in NOAA Fisheries' Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection. This work primarily revolves around the management of global fisheries. My portfolio includes advancing management measures related to the bycatch of sharks in tuna fisheries and managing sharks caught on the high seas through multilateral and bilateral engagement with other countries.
My experience at the Shark Lab provided me with a robust toolset that has been very useful throughout my career. Without the BBFS, I would not have gained the experience needed to earn my degrees, nor would I have met my advisors. It is no stretch to say that the Shark Lab provided a foundation for my career and I would not be where I am today without my time spent at the Lab.
Since volunteering at the Shark Lab, I graduated as a zoologist and have started a career as a wildlife TV presenter and author. In 2020, I began presenting BBC2's Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch which is a popular wildlife show in the UK, but my other work centres around highlighting the illegal wildlife trade and environmental injustices. My first book, Back To Nature, discussed how everyone has the power to make a difference and I am currently writing my second book about the plight of endangered species around the world.
Working at the Shark Lab was one of the best experiences because I got to broaden my knowledge of the marine environment, get hands-on experience and develop my science communication skills. I developed such a passion for sharks and I loved every single second of it!
DR. MARK BOND
I arrived at the Lab as a project student in the summer of 2007, where I was completing a ‘year in industry’ as part of my undergraduate degree at Cardiff University in the UK. My project was to examine the inter species differences in bait manipulation and its influence on capture susceptibility in sharks. When I got to the Lab, I actually had a pretty healthy fear of sharks growing up in South Africa where they don't have the greatest reputation! I soon fell in love with research, Bimini, and of course sharks! During my time in Bimini I got to know another Shark Lab alumni Dr. Demian Chapman and upon completing my project, I went to join his lab to complete my PhD at Stony Brook University in 2010. For my PhD, I studied the impacts of marine protected areas on sharks and stingrays on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef in Belize. In 2015, I went to Florida International University in Miami to complete my postdoc under Dr. Michael Heithaus. For my postdoc research, I was one of the regional leads on the Global FinPrint Project, the world's largest survey of sharks and stingrays on coral reefs. In addition to field research, I began working on shark conservation related policy work in particular, seeking protections for heavily trade species via the convention for international trade of endangered species of flora and fauna (CITES).
I remain at FIU as a research assistant professor and current research projects include studying the juvenile habitat use of oceanic whitetip sharks in Haiti, and the movement ecology of the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish in the Bahamas. I continue to work helping governments with implementing the CITES shark and ray listings, as a driver for the regulation of international trade and management. It is safe to say that my time at the Shark Lab, in particular the skills learned, experiences gained, and friendships made, during my time there and in the years since, is the sole reason that I've gotten to this point in my career. I will always remain grateful to Doc, Marie and the people and sharks of Bimini!
DR. ROBERT BULLOCK
I work as the Research Director of the Save Our Seas Foundation D’Arros Research Centre in Seychelles. The centre focuses on marine species research and conservation with a focus on sharks and rays. In my role, I coordinate and manage the research activities of the centre and support student projects and other collaborative research programmes.
My time at the Shark Lab was a critical first step in my pursuing this career. My volunteering experience was my first taste of what real field research was and I returned for three years as a Principal Investigator to complete my PhD research, setting me off on my path in this field. The Shark Lab also introduced me to my partner and now co-director, Henriette, so there’s that too!
I am currently working as the Program Director for the Save Our Seas Foundation at the D’Arros Research Centre in Seychelles. I am in charge of overseeing all scheduling, logistics and funding relating to our research programs. At the same time I work with Rob on all the long-term monitoring projects and help out wherever necessary in the field.
Without the Shark Lab Rob and I wouldn’t be in these positions together as the Shark Lab is what brought us together as a couple. It also allowed me to gain experience and confidence in the field which I will now be able to continue expanding and passing on to the younger generation in the Seychelles.
I wasn't at all sure what I wanted to do with my career before arriving at the Shark Lab and I still wasn't certain by the time I left, but I did at least come away with some new possibilities in mind. During the 9 months I spent as a project student on Bimini, I was lucky enough to meet a series of film crews who teamed up with the Lab to film wildlife documentaries. This offered a brief window into the exciting world of natural history television which I saw as a really powerful tool for educating a much wider audience on the importance of marine conservation (it also looked like a lot of fun!). Once back in the UK I spent a couple of weeks on work experience with a production company that I'd met in Bimini, and I'm now working as researcher on a shark documentary series for National Geographic.
The time I spent at the Shark Lab gave me a really valuable insight into the challenges of working with wild animals, a practical grasp of the logistics involved and a great respect for anyone dedicated enough to stick it out on a desert island in the name of science. All this has been a massive advantage when contacting researchers from the perspective of a film company - partly in terms of understanding and translating their work but also managing the expectations of both parties. It's been a privilege to discuss cutting edge research directly with scientists around the globe, and not just on sharks. I hope to continue working on shows that put wildlife conservation in the limelight and hopefully inspire others to take action, or at the very least to fully appreciate the wildlife we have left.
Growing up in The Bahamas, I have always been fascinated with and inspired by the ocean. When I was 9 years old, I began volunteering with the Family Island Research and Education Foundation documenting turtle populations throughout the Islands of The Bahamas. This fostered a love for conservation that continued to be a driving force in my life, and I accepted every opportunity to work with marine life in The Bahamas, whether it was marine mammals, turtles or sharks.
My internship at the Shark Lab aided in guiding my future plans. I was fascinated by the years of data collected through research especially knowing it is thorough enough to be able to draw up family trees for the shark populations in Bimini. I loved having hands on experience with sharks and stingrays and knowing that I was able to contribute to collecting this data. I realized that that this information could be used in various ways to aid in protecting shark populations in The Bahamas.
I am in my final semester at McGill University, studying Computer Science with a minor in Environment. My goal is to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Data Science, with a focus on Marine and Atmospheric Science. I have always wanted to find a way to combine my love for the environment with my computer science degree. This master’s degree will allow me to do that by providing me with the skills to be able to analyze data to help find solutions to our many environmental problems. It is my hope to return to The Bahamas and use my education to assist with efforts to protect marine life throughout our archipelago.
After 6 years managing the Shark Lab, I transitioned into a career in ecotourism, starting at the Bimini Sands Resort (now Bimini Cove) just down the road. Katie Grudecki & I developed an eco-tour program that was largely based on our favorite 'day off' activities from our years at the BBFS. We took visitors out on nature hikes, snorkeling trips, kayaking excursions through the mangroves, wild dolphin swims, and helped develop the now famous Great Hammerhead Safari with Neal Watson Jr. & the Bimini SCUBA Center team. In 2015 we won the Ministry of Tourism's Cacique Award for Sustainable Tourism, just as the BBFS crew had done in 2013.
Eventually, Katie & I moved back to the United States, and I was eager to continue working in the ecotourism industry, so we set our sights on the Greater Yellowstone area, where I've been a wildlife guide for the Yellowstone Safari Company since 2016. Now dryer, but also considerably colder, I moved from seeking out sharks, dolphins, and Bimini Boas in The Bahamas to wolves, bison, and bears in Yellowstone National Park.
A career in ecotourism has given me an amazing opportunity to help educate the public about wildlife and conservation issues, something I'm very passionate about, and also motivates me to stay connected to the world of field research to ensure that I'm staying current on the latest relevant scientific discoveries. My tenure at the Shark Lab helped me realize that working with wildlife was a legitimate career path, and that multiple avenues were available to make that happen. Working with the occasionally feisty shark was also a great preparation for now encountering the occasionally grumpy Grizzly Bear.
Being born and raised in Puerto Rico, my nature-enthusiastic parents often took my siblings and me to our island's bio bays, cool spots for whale watching, and to go visit our nearest beaches to watch the fish swimming by. By the time I was in the second grade, I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist. However, I wanted to study a group of fish I never had the chance to see in person during my childhood. Sharks! Nevertheless, not one person I knew seemed to know anything about the sharks of Puerto Rico, and I could not find any information about these predators around the island.
As soon as I finished my B.S. in Biology and Industrial Microbiology (because microorganisms are pretty awesome too), I started my master's at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. Having no opportunities to learn about sharks available in Puerto Rico outside the books I could afford, I decided to write to Professor Dan Abel, from Coastal Carolina University, to ask if I could join his course. He said "yes", and that was the first time I set foot on the Shark Lab.
After the course, I always wanted to return to the Shark Lab for an internship, but I didn't get the chance to apply until a few years later. In the meanwhile, I began learning as much as I could and seeking other opportunities as well. I started writing about sharks, offering lectures at local schools about the importance of these predators and performing necropsies of DOA sharks around the island. Later on, I won a MISS Elasmo fellowship that allowed me to become an intern at the Shark Lab.
I cannot describe how much I learned in such a small amount of time. Each day was different and packed with field tasks, classes and many activities. What made it even more special was the people I met at the lab. As of today, I work as an educator at Sea Grant Puerto Rico, a field technician at HJR Reefscaping, and as the president and co-founder of an educational organization called Little Women, Big Sharks. I'm now writing a book about the sharks of Puerto Rico and developing the educational resources I wish I had when I was younger. My time at the lab had a huge impact on my academic pursuits and the work I do. Overall, this experience changed my life for the better, and ultimately led me to where I am today.
EMILY MARCUS & JIM BARLEY
Hello from Emily and Jim! We first came to the Shark Lab in 2005 for a field biology course with Coastal Carolina University, and after that we were hooked! We then moved on to teachers assistant, volunteers, assistant managers and finally managers of the Bimini Biological Field Station over the course of the next 5 years. Our time at the Lab was some of the best in our lives, where we gained so many practical skills that helped us in the future. Along with learning all about shark biology, behavior, catching and tagging techniques, we were also able to become proficient boat captains, cooks for large groups of people, mechanics, general maintenance and repair people, public speakers and educators, community service participants and advocates, problem solvers, photographers, free divers, and became very comfortable living in a remote setting. The Shark Lab also taught us confidence, resourcefulness, team leadership and management skills, and how to work under pressure.
After leaving the Lab, we went on to work as vet techs, crew on a live aboard dolphin swim charter boat, and field technicians in Alaska’s wilderness running salmon enrichment projects. For the past 6 years and currently, we work as managers running a back country lodge high up in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. One of our favorite, and most important things that the Shark Lab gave to us though, was a core group of bad ass, life long friends who we continue to go on incredible adventures with to this day, and who give us tremendous support in all of our endeavors.
Hi! My name is Riley Beach and I spent 3 amazing months as an intern at the Bimini Shark Lab during July-October of 2019. I had recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in biology and had been working as a research assistant processing Bimini tiger shark samples back at a lab at the University of Windsor. Going to Bimini was my first big adventure, my first real experience with fieldwork and my first extended period of time away from home. It was crazy, scary and probably one of the coolest things I will ever do. Being in Bimini solidified my love for the ocean and all the creatures that live in it, introduced me to some amazing people from around the world, and provided me with new and important skills that I would bring forward into all of my future adventures. Since my time volunteering at the Shark Lab, I have been fortunate enough to both work as a research assistant and continue my education by starting a Master of Science at the University of Windsor.
While at the Shark Lab two visiting scientists, from my school back home, came to do some research on the Southern stingrays. While they were there, we became better friends and I learned more about the research done in their Lab, so when I returned home and found myself looking for a new lab to join, they were the first people I went to. The connection I made at Shark Lab helped me become a member of the Higgs Lab for Sensory Ecology where I am currently working on my thesis. Right now I am working on a project that involves looking at the effects of boat noise on Canadian freshwater fishes. Without the Shark Lab I may not have made the connections and gained the experience I needed in order pursue my Master’s with Dr. Higgs and the rest of the Higgs lab. I hope to eventually move back into studying marine biology and continue on to get my PhD.
BBFS Volunteer - 1998, 2003, 2005
BBFS Assistant Manager - 2005 to 2006
BBFS Manager - 2007 to 2010
I first learned of BBFS when I volunteered at Mote Marine Laboratory after graduating university. Three of the biologists there, Dr. Eric Cortes, Dr. Bob Heuter and Dr. Charles Manire all worked with Dr. Gruber and told me Bimini was the place to go to see sharks in the wild. Some of the best times of my life were volunteering/working at the Shark Lab. I also met some great friends here. In 2010 I decided to move on from the Shark Lab but I wasn't done with shark research or the Bahamas. Using the experience, skills and contacts gained at the Shark Lab I made arrangements to run a deep-water shark project at Cape Eleuthera Institute with Dr. Edd Brooks and others, many of whom I had worked with at BBFS. Since then I have remained in the shark research world working with CEI and others, including former Sharklabbers, on an ongoing annual basis researching the critically endangered oceanic whitetip shark. This project has taken me through much of the southern Bahamas, Haiti and Fiji. While on this project I entered the world of shark diving having been introduced to Stuart Cove in Cat Island. I went on to run Tiger Beach shark dives for Stuart Cove for a period of time in 2011. One of the more notable discoveries my friends/coworkers and I made during our time at BBFS was the seasonal migration of great hammerheads to the islands. After almost a decade of being a BBFS secret I brought in the first commercial hammerhead dive boat to Bimini in 2012. Since 2016 spend three months each winter running hammerhead and tiger shark dives for Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center in Bimini and Tiger Beach. Bimini is known worldwide as the best, and only reliable spot, to dive with great hammerheads. Tens of thousands of divers have had the opportunity to see these beautiful animals which has brought in millions of tourism dollars to the small island of Bimini. It has resulted in the employment of a number of Biminites in the dive industry, many who have gone on to become shark feeders themselves. This is due almost entirely to our early adventures at the Shark Lab. I've been fortunate to spend a lot of time either visiting or living in the Bahamas, having been here annually since 2005. When I am not working in Bimini during the winter months I spend the rest of the year working as a Park Warden for Parks Canada in Ontario.
I knew the name “Gruber” from the papers I had read as an undergraduate student at Florida Tech in Melbourne, Florida, who was fascinated by sharks. Back then, there was no social media, and the Bimini Shark Lab’s website was, let’s just say, a little user-unfriendly. I did not even know I could volunteer at the Lab in the beautiful Bahamas until I was already in graduate school (many, many years ago). After earning my Master of Science in Zoology from the University of Cape Town’s Marine Biology Research Institute, much to my parent’s dismay, I continued to volunteer on various research projects when I moved back to Florida. I received an email asking for volunteers to join a research trip with the Bimini Shark Lab in the Marquesas Keys, a chain of islands off the coast of Key West, Florida where Dr. (Doc) Gruber had conducted research on juvenile lemon sharks for many years. I excitedly applied and was thrilled to be accepted and finally get an opportunity to work with famous Doc and Lab crew. Then, through a convoluted email chain, I learned that the research vessel’s engine had, in fact, blown up and the trip was canceled. Doc, being a resourceful man, set up all the volunteers in Jupiter to tag lemon sharks as part of the Lab’s Jupiter Shark project and P.I. Steve Kessel’s PhD work. Only thing is, there are not too many lemon sharks in Jupiter in the summer. Although we only caught one Caribbean reef shark in our entire time there, when Steve and Doc asked me to join the project that following winter (when lemon sharks are actually in Jupiter), I eagerly agreed.
For the next 6 years, I joined the staff in the intricacies of running a large-scale field project. I learned where to buy commercial fishing gear, how to pack a cooler, how to get bait donated, that some Publix brand food is quite tasty, how to handline large sharks, draw and process blood and surgically implant acoustic tags, how to deal with research partners and the media, how to collect and manage data, how to drop divers on GPS points in rough seas, how to find a lost acoustic receiver in 80 feet of water and how to clean off those receivers without getting acid in my eyes, among many other lessons. One of the most impactful takeaways from those years was the conversations with Lab staff, researchers, and volunteers. We spent hours chatting about science, experimental design, funding, conservation, and careers in this field.
The skills I learned and confidence I gained from working with Doc and the Lab directly contributed to my decision to create a research nonprofit in south Florida, the American Shark Conservancy (ASC). As the Lead Scientist, I oversee our applied research on recreational fisheries and work with recreational divers to collect long-term data on large shark species in the region. We are conducting the first-ever post-release mortality of great hammerheads in the shore-based recreational fishery, contributing to the first stock assessment for this species. In the spirit of the Lab, we offer volunteer and internship opportunities because we know that experience is the best teacher. And with the support of Lab Alumni Steve, Jill Brooks and Ornella Weideli as collaborators, ASC has grown in scope and impact, for which I am incredibly grateful!
EMILY WHITE & JACK MASSUGER
After leaving the Shark Lab, Em spent some time finishing her degree and working in freshwater restoration back in Canada while Jack became an Aquarist back in Australia. Em eventually moved to Australia and worked in education at the same aquarium for some time. Both of us wanted to move back into research so we found ourselves moving to New Zealand to join the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research where Jack joined the Benthic and Coastal Ecology team and Em joined the Freshwater Fish team. Jack currently provides technical support to scientists studying estuaries and coastal environments. While Em leads freshwater fish tagging and monitoring projects, utilizing skills that were learned and transferred from years of tagging a variety of species and sizes of sharks at the Bimini Shark Lab.
Both of us have stepped straight into leadership roles with our current teams, which was heavily influenced from our experiences at the Shark Lab, which included having every situation imaginable thrown at as during our time managing and volunteering. Both of us our extremely grateful for our time at the Shark Lab and the experiences that brought us to where we are now. We can't wait to get back for another Hammer season someday soon!
After volunteering at the Shark Lab for four months in 2017, I decided to explore my love for sharks and study a Marine Science based MSc. Luckily, I figured out which professor had shark expertise and bagged myself a project based on Basking Shark distribution on the West coast of Scotland. This research, among others, would help push an ongoing consultation for a Marine Protected Area, specifically for the Basking Shark, which was finally designated as of Dec 2020.
Learning about marine policy and the importance of governance to protect species led me to apply for a role as a Marine Consultant, whereby my main role includes assessing an areas environment alongside the potential impacts of a development/activity, e.g. placement of a wind farm or pipeline. I use a lot of GIS as a consultant, to map species, habitats, bathymetry and so on, and have found holding this skill to benefit me greatly when applying for jobs. Although office-based, the projects I work on can be from all over the world and I have been able to use the knowledge I gained whilst at the Shark Lab for the more tropical regions, e.g. mangrove vegetation as an important nursery area.
DR. DENNIS HEINRICH
When I came to Bimini in June 2017 to carry out some of the experiments I had planned for my PhD, I immediately fell in love with the island. Given that I had never been to Bimini before to volunteer at the Shark Lab I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to spend almost 6 months on the island as part of my PhD. The experiments I did were aiming to investigate certain forms of learning in juvenile lemon sharks. Despite some minor and major setbacks during my time on Bimini, including an evacuation due to a hurricane warning, I was able to finish the experiments I had planned, thanks to the dedication of everyone at the Lab.
I am still in touch with a number of people I met on the island, including some of the staff. Our collaboration has resulted in one publication in Animal Behaviour so far and I am still working on two more studies to be submitted for publication. My time on Bimini and my work with the Shark Lab has taught me a lot about experimental design, field work and statistical analyses. I do hope to work with the Shark Lab again in the future.
DR. DEMIAN CHAPMAN
My name is Dr. Demian Chapman and I am the Director of the Sharks and Rays Conservation Program at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, and an Adjunct Professor at Florida International University in Miami. A molecular ecologist by training, I lead the Global FinPrint project and have studied sharks and the shark trade (fins and meat) in over 50 nations around the world. My team’s research and engagement with stakeholders and policy makers has informed the establishment of the shark sanctuary in The Bahamas, state protection for lemon sharks and hammerheads in Florida, three shark protected areas totaling over 3,000 km2 and nationwide protection of rays in Belize, and the listing of over 30 shark and ray species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). My team has also spearheaded implementing real time PCR (like COVID tests) to detect illegal trade of CITES-listed sharks and rays, which has resulted in prosecution of wildlife traffickers from Hong Kong to Peru. To date my team and I have published over 100 scientific papers and commentaries, in journals including Nature, Science, Current Biology, Conservation Letters, Conservation Biology and Molecular Ecology.
I cannot stress the importance of the SharkLab, Doc and Marie, and my friends at the lab to my life and career. I was at the lab from 1996-1999, fresh off the plane from New Zealand, for the first two months as a volunteer and the remainder as a staff member. The SharkLab provides a unique opportunity to not only learn vital research skills, but one where people can fall in love with the ocean and its inhabitants. Not only that, but you will also meet amazing people who will become lifelong friends and colleagues. You will learn how to live and work as a team on the island, and that will help you work with a diverse range of people in a cooperative, empathetic and respectful way no matter where your career takes you. Working with Doc and the team was truly a life-changing experience and it set me up very well for the future. I’ll never forget the joy on Doc’s face when I told him I was going for my doctorate. I obtained a M.S. and Ph.D. at Nova Southeastern University and returned to the SharkLab as a University of Miami postdoc to look at the dispersal of Bimini-born lemon sharks once they leave the nursery habitat and helped Doc and Kevin Feldheim realize their 20 year goal of determining whether or not the Bimini-born females home back to Bimini to give birth (Spoiler: they do). The SharkLab will always be one of my favorite places in the world, and, like the little lemons, I will home back as much as I am able to see where Matt and the new crew take it.