In January 2014, a team of scientists working with lemon sharks at the Bimini Biological Field Station published a pioneering paper that represents the culmination of my research on the lemon shark extending back half a century to 1961. As a young graduate at the University of Miami, I was trained in the discipline of animal behaviour, known technically as etho- logy. My speciality was learning, psychophysics and sensory biology, with an emphasis on the vision of sharks. As such, the first 15 years of my research were spent primarily in the laboratory. Then in 1976 came an epiphany: I hadn’t signed on to spend 12 hours a day in a dark laboratory looking at the golden eye of a lemon shark. I was hankering for the reefs and sea-grass flats where these amazing creatures live.
Miraculously, I snagged a career-development grant from the US National Science Foundation and for the next decade I was privileged to combine laboratory and field research, looking at the behaviour and ecology of my favourite subject, the lemon shark. Between 1979 and 1989, we went to sea on oceanographic research vessels four times a year. The maiden cruise took us around the Bahamas in search of an appropriate site, one that teemed with lemon sharks.
My first trip to Bimini had been in 1959, when the Bahamas was still a British Crown Colony (independence was granted in 1972), and by the 1980s I knew the islands quite well. We surveyed them for lemon sharks and, much to my elation, Bimini turned out to be the best place to set up our research site. There were many reasons for its suitability, including its pristine waters, proximity to Florida and the excellent, untouched colony of lemon sharks inhabiting the lagoon.
But my elation was short-lived. In 1988 the cancer I had been fighting for a decade became critical and the doctors told me my time was over. Not being one to accept authority, I set to work with a friend and we searched the literature for experimental cancer trials. To cut a long story short, we found a promising phase-1 research project and I was able to receive the drug Fludarabine on a compassionate-treatment basis. Clearly it worked well, and here I am writing this article a full 26 years later.
I mention all this because when I recovered with a new lease on life I realised that I now had a future with options, as well as the time and experience to pursue them. Notwithstanding the university politics that had to be overcome, I was determined to establish a research station on Bimini to study my beloved lemon sharks. I was also firmly committed to creating a place where students with a passion for sharks could come and study these creatures, learning the field techniques that we had developed over the past decade. So my wife Mari and I mortgaged our house, brought a bunch of beds, pots, pans and appliances to Bimini and opened the doors of the Bimini Biological Field Station in March 1990. The saying ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ applies 150% in this case. But I digress.
Samuel, better known as Doc, has been studying sharks for 50 years. He discovered how sharks see and even gave us insights into how they think. He founded the Bimini Biological Field Station in 1990, and has been training and inspiring young shark researchers ever since.