In December 2017, one of my data collectors sent me a photo of an uncommon shark species from the field. I was an M.Sc. student back then doing my thesis on sharks and rays of the southwest, Bangladesh. As a beginner, with all my excitement, I resembled it closely with the most significant river shark and for confirmation; I was sending the photo to other native researchers. I started waiting but there was no reply. After two months, on a fine winter morning, I sent an email to Dr Samuel H. Gruber, the first chair of IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group for help. To my utter surprise, he replied to me within a few hours and helped me to identify the common milk shark. Yes, I was surprised because it was the first mail that I sent to a renowned shark researcher and he ended my two months long waiting within a few hours.
Dr Samuel H. Gruber popularly known as “Shark Doc” to his colleagues and students. He dedicated his whole life for exploring interesting facts about shark biology and developing their conservation efforts. He made unique contributions on shark anatomy, their visual system, sensory system and behavioural physiology. From early childhood, he showed immense interest in the marine world. He decided to work for sharks and the marine world in his early 20’s. He wrote, “One day I was taking aim at a grouper under a rock when I met with the most terrifying sight. I saw this submarine. In fact, it was a huge hammerhead shark, looking about 150 metres long though it was probably more like four. It was only five metres away and there was blood in the water from the fish I had just speared. I thought I was dead, but the hammerhead swam calmly past me. In hindsight, I doubt that the shark thought anything about the encounter, but the experience changed my career instantly from pre-med to marine biology.” He was one of the renowned shark biologists of his era. He founded “American Elasmobranch Society” in 1983, which is the world’s largest association of sharks and ray scientists. In 1990, he established famous “Bimini Biological Field Station” popularly known as “Shark Lab”. He acted as the first chair of IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group (SSG) in 1991. He published more than 170 scientific publication on shark physiology and conservation effort. He wrote, “I first got into shark research through fear and wonder, but the more I studied sharks, the more I realised how amazing these creatures are.”
He has inspired thousands of his students throughout his colourful journey. With his powerful influence, he not only imparted knowledge but also ignited the souls for conserving Mother Nature. His passion, devotion and publications have made an enormous contribution to the conservation of sharks and rays. He will be remembered for his fascination and love for sharks. His inspiring words will kindle aspiring shark enthusiasts always.
“Following your dream is not always easy, especially when much of it plays out under water. I often wish I could fit my research station with a new solar-operated, hurricane-proof facility and not have to worry about where my next grant is coming from – indeed, where the groceries to feed all 18 of my staff are coming from. But the truth is that I have never wanted to do anything other than what I do. I love teaching up-and-coming students who want to use sharks as models for their research.”
Goodbye Shark Doc.