Dr. Carrier received his Ph.D. from the University of Miami in 1974, and was an Adjunct Research Scientist with Mote Marine Laboratory (Sarasota, FL). He’s supposedly retired, but his plate is still chalk full of research! Seems like every time we quickly chat, he’s off traveling all over the United States. He was able to spare us a few minutes and answer a few questions for this take of “Behind the Fins.”
Carrier: I continue to work on nurse shark age, growth, movement, and reproductive behaviors. Lately most of my time has been spent writing. Several manuscripts remain to be completed, and I am currently working on another book. This one is of a less technical nature than the three in the "Biology of Sharks and Their Relatives" series, a bit more technical than the children's book I wrote, and intended for a more popular audience.
SF: We look forward to its publication! Speaking of publications, in your opinion, where’s a great place to get the 4-1-1 on all things shark?
Carrier: I use Web of Science mostly. I have automated searches that automatically update me every week with newly published papers on a variety of topics.
SF: We’ve heard that a lot from other researchers. Seems like a tried and proven system!
Carrier: The key here, as with any search engine, is picking the right search terms. On occasion I will use Google Scholar. I find Twitter to be an excellent source for papers as well. Here the key is to select people to follow who are committed to research and keep current with the literature as well. A surprisingly large number of references show up from Twitter that may be missed by other searches, probably because of search terms.
Carrier: I think the key to staying current is to use the widest variety of sources possible.
SF: Speaking of “variety of sources,” let’s quickly talk about the future of shark conservation. What do you think needs to be done to help this predator out?
Carrier: Staying the course and the persistent efforts of a few of our colleagues has begun to show that reversal of population declines is possible. More of us need to actively engage and exert pressure on nations and governments reluctant to manage and protect declining stocks because of commercial pressures. Federal and state authorities need to enforce existing laws when violations occur and prosecute to the full extent of the law.
SF: Agreed. Laws existing are a great step, but sort of useless if there is no reinforcement.
Carrier: A mere pat on the knuckles is not a deterrent. Some nations have impounded vessels and have even resorted to destroying commercial vessels found to be in violation. Maybe steps like this, though a bit rash, might be what's needed to reign in illegal activities such as violating quotas, closed seasons, and laws prohibiting finning.
SF: Interesting take. Perhaps these rash steps are needed… but I wonder the backlash from the public.
Carrier: There is no specific template to define a shark biologist. Anyone who is willing to invest the time in studying, preparing thoroughly, and competing for entry into graduate programs, for grants to support research, and to prepare quality publications can eventually succeed.
SF: Even then, it isn’t guaranteed!
Carrier: It isn't easy. There are many who wish to study sharks and few positions where jobs can be found. It will take time, tenacity, and passion. Attempting to skate by with a minimal effort will not be sufficient.
SF: Talk us through an ideal day for you.
Carrier: Any day on the water trumps any other activity.
SF: Agreed. Water over inside paperwork any day!
Carrier: An early start, a cup of coffee, and a nice sunrise starts any day off right. Much of my time is spent in shallow water looking for nurse sharks. The water is often clear, shallow enough to require a push pole for moving the boat around, and stocked with a wealth of critters. Large rays, small sharks, gamefish such as bonefish, permit, and tarpon, turtles, and other aquatic creatures make every day a highlight reel for a marine scientist. The nearby mangrove islands are full of birds from frigate birds to roseate spoonbills, herons, and pelicans. John Steinbeck in "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" hit it precisely when he wrote "The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns from it. Learns that the first law of life is living." How can it be summed up better?
SF: He really hit the nail on the head. I loved reading that book while in the Sea of Cortez- breathtaking. So, now that we’ve described your perfect day, what is something that you need to complete that picture?
Carrier: Determining the most important piece of equipment to use is a tough question for any field biologist. Satellite tags, pingers, accelerometers, even PIT tags have their uses. For my work with Wes Pratt over the years, the video camera has probably proven to be the most vital piece of equipment, at least initially. We study behavior and that is such a subjective field. What I see in a behavioral event may differ from what another observer sees. The video camera records all and makes interpretation of complex behaviors perhaps less open to varied opinions.
SF: Seems to be a topic of major discussion in the science. During my thesis defense I had the same question to answer.
Carrier: In the lab, even though I do not personally use them, perhaps the most important tools in recent use are the array of instruments for genetic analysis. Paternity, population differences, speciation, kinship - all these areas are now open to investigation because of the tools of modern genetics. I pick these tools because my own work has benefited from the work of Dr. Ed Heist, a geneticist from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale who has worked with Wes and I for many years. But I could easily see others choosing instead bomb dating, the various forms of stable isotope analysis, and so many other valuable lab tools.
Carrier: I have always been interested in wildlife photography and have tried to maintain that interest through the years. I suppose the strongest attraction beyond bio would be my interest in World War II Pacific history. I have visited many sites, read a bit, and have always been captivated by the stories of peril, heroism, and strategy that emerged from that most terrible time in world history. Even so, if work in that discipline didn't involve expeditions, diving on wrecks, and field research, it wouldn't capture my interest.
SF: Seems like nature will always capture your heart, no matter the field.
Sarasota Fins would like to thank Dr. Carrier for his time
and we wish him well on his current/future projects!