Samuel Gruber looks like a cat who’s had a few lives. He is a man without pretense, a man with so much personal credibility you wonder if he was ever young and crazy. This single-minded EcoWorld Hero has been saving sharks for nigh on forty years. Though he’s in his early sixties, in spite of or perhaps because of his lifelong devotion to his passion, Dr. Gruber appears a much younger man.
In September 2000, I heard Dr. Samuel Gruber speak at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, in a beautiful new building nestled in the dunes just south of the Moss Landing marina. Behind us loomed the centerpiece of Moss Landing, and of the Monterey Bay for that matter: the great square lattice and twin 150 foot chimneys of Moss Landing Power Plant. We were right in the middle of the great beach that runs in a gentle 30 mile crescent between Carmel and Santa Cruz, broken only by the Pajaro Estuary, and close by, the small town and harbor of Moss Landing.
Dr. Samuel Gruber
Samuel Gruber is undaunted by a twenty year mortal struggle with lymphoma, not to mention forty years of sorties underwater with sharks in nothing but scuba gear (Doc Gruber, not the sharks). He was also undaunted by the high-tech lights in the high-tech auditorium that nobody could figure out how to dim. We viewed his slide projections, invisible in the light, then in the dark where he couldn’t even see his notes, then in the light, then in the dark, and eventually in an acceptable half-light.
The shark is the apex predator of the oceans, which means ocean ecosystems, just like land ecosystems, will experience a profound ripple effect if sharks become extinct. Sharks, like Redwood trees, come from a much earlier evolutionary epoch, and as such they are completely unlike fish or seafaring mammals such as dolphins and whales. Unlike most fish, sharks have a relatively long life span, about 50 years, and reproduce very slowly, females usually only having one or two offspring, and only every other year. Moreover, sharks don’t reach reproductive age until they are nine.
Today sharks are on the retreat, being killed at a rate far beyond their long-term ability to regenerate. If this rate of shark hunting continues much longer, the population of most shark species will become so low it will be impossible for them to increase their numbers naturally. They will be like the condor, becoming a “welfare species” if they are to survive. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with saving a species that way.
Lemon sharks migrate across the American shoreline regions of the Atlantic from New Jersey to Montevideo, and from Brazil to Bimini. Dr. Gruber tracks them, tagging them with GIS transmitters and noting where they breed and where they travel. Dr. Gruber frequently swims with the lemon sharks at his research station in Bimini, where sharks breed in the mangrove forested swamps. Once recently, Dr. Gruber had to stop his swimming long enough to prevent a multi-national hotel chain from replacing the lemon shark nurseries, situated in some of the choicest mangrove lagoons in all of the gulf stream, with a group of hotels. Instead of a lagoon, they were poised to construct a giant salt-water swimming pool, excavated, cleared of flora and fauna, boasting beaches of imported white sand and swim-up bars, maybe even an artificial wave machine.
Thankfully, there will be no mega-resorts terraforming Bimini anytime soon. But there are other concerns. Doc Gruber’s research station is balanced precariously on wood stilts that will snap in the first hurricane. It’s been a long time since a hurricane hit Bimini. They’re due. Undaunted, and set up in a structure made of matchsticks in the path of hurricanes, Dr. Grubers research station operates year-round, with a staff of marine biologists from around the U.S. and the world. To retrofit this facility to withstand the average hurricane would cost $240K. Any takers?
The Bimini Research Station
In spite of sparse funds, Doc Gruber’s message is getting out, and the world is awakening to the fact that sharks are more than just killing machines as portrayed in the movies and the media. Doc jokes that more people are killed each year by beating up broken soft drink machines, which then fall onto them and crush them (it’s true), than are killed by sharks in the ocean. One might eat a shark steak, typically, with a revengeful relish, as though sharks were fecund vermin, deserving of being stamped out wherever found, like cockroaches. But they are not cockroaches, rather, they are of the same importance as African Lions, Siberian Tigers, Grizzly Bears, Jaguars, highly intelligent, not very adaptable, slow to reproduce, imperiled throughout their range, and at the top of the food chain. They are the apex predators and crucial indicator species for 70% of the earth’s surface.
As we strip-mine the oceans to general exhaustion for food, sharks are subjected to a particularly woeful fate, being caught and mutilated merely for their dorsal fins. They are netted and released, minus one fin, and left to die a lingering horrible death to satiate the appalling yet fashionable taste for shark fin soup.
Doc. Gruber is a true EcoWorld Hero, and someone should buy him some new stilts for his lab in Bimini.
To help Dr. Gruber contact him at:
Bimini Biological Field Station
9300 SW 99 St
Miami FL 33176-2050