Interview with a Shark Wrangler
Q: What is it like working with sharks?
A: It is wonderful. They are incredible animals. Things tend to be very exciting when you work with animals with so much muscle mass and fairly sharp teeth. I truly enjoy my time in the wild with sharks and sometimes have trouble sleeping before a big day. Anyone who loves these animals should be so lucky as to work with them live.
Q: What special training did you need to wrangle sharks?
A: Well, there really is no technical training to prepare you to wrangle. I started in college as a marine biology major. I changed directions when I thought I would never get to do real field work. I'm not really excited about lab work. It is fun when you are solving a mystery in the lab, but, for me the real fun is in the water. I spent at least two and a half years of personal preparation and study to prepare for my first transports of live sharks. I have found a use for knowledge gained from many different technical areas I have trained in that are not shark related at all.
Q: Is there any training available for wrangling then?
A: Not really. I gained my skills from hands on experience and an apprenticeship under my uncle who is an accomplished commercial fisherman. There is no substitute for more than 20 years of actual field experience. I learned all that I could from him and still there is more that can be learned. However, there is no course that I know of in college that addresses actual shark wrangling. There is also no substitute for more then 20 years of actual field experience. The fact is, no amount of distance learning MBA programs or marine biology can teach you the things you learn hands on. There are few people world wide that have the experience to teach such a course. That is why I began offering courses and workshops this last summer. I am considering a video on shark wrangling for field researchers.
Q: How did you approach wrangling then?
A: I have tried an eclectic approach. I wrangle based on understanding of many fields of information. Let me explain. There is no one definitive expert on shark handling. I have learned from many different people from many different perspectives. While many people able to deliver shark film footage, many have no clue how they should safely handle a shark. The techniques they employ in manipulating a shark show a gross lack of knowledge of sharks and what damages them. In the same manner, many researchers that may understand physiology and anatomy of sharks lack a practical understanding of how they physically move and transport. I have married many perspectives into a general style of wrangling that not only protects me and my coworkers but also the sharks. I know what can damage or kill a shark. I have learned from aquarists what it takes to keep them alive (at least for the few species kept in captivity). I have combined this with my knowledge of fish and shark anatomy and physiology and my knowledge of fishing and diving.
Q: So who is more at risk, you or the shark?
A: Technically, I can do more damage to the shark more easily. While a shark can shred my arm up if I make a mistake, I can burn or damage his gills or shut down a major life support function faster just by failing to do what must be done to keep the shark alive. There are a few ways to minimize risks in handling dangerous animals. I find sharks a lot easier than many other animals simply because of their body shape and design. In the water, the shark rules. But, when I have him out of the water, I have more control and he is limited in what he can do to me. So, technically, the shark is more at risk. That is the responsibility part. You are responsible for any animal in your care.
Q: What do you mean responsible?
A: When you work with an animal, it is supposed to be the "dumb animal" in the situation not you. You are the thinking animal and are responsible for what you are doing. The fish cannot come to your house and interrupt your life. So, if you are going to go to his house and pull him out of his yard and put him on a boat, you are responsible for the life of that animal. That is why I preach, "leave them alone". If you aren't a researcher or if you are not going to eat the shark, "leave it alone". I have seen tourists drag sharks and other fish up and down a pier showing off a baby animal that they are not going to keep just to throw back a then dead or dying fish. It is a disgusting waste of life.
Q: So do you think it is wrong to kill sharks?
A: No. They are predators as we are. They are a good source of food. Many countries including our own have been consuming sharks for decades if not centuries. Fish and chips for the most part is shark meat. But, you must conserve your natural resources. Research requires the death of some animals. But when an animal dies you must not waste anything. I feel about sharks like the native Americans felt about the buffalo, use everything. If you eat it, don't waste anything. If we lose an animal in research, it is stored for other research or consumed as food. We use every part that we can.
Q: Are sharks savage monsters?
A: No, not at all. While some species have a very bad temperament such as lemon or sand tiger sharks, that is jjust disposition. Sharks function to rid the ocean of diseased and dying fish as well as keep certain populations in check. They are one of the most intricately designed predators. Though very simple in function, they have a more acute hunting style than a cat.
Q: That leads to behavior, do they hunt like other animals?
A: In a lot of instances, they hunt very similarly to cats. They respond to many of the same stimuli as a big cat would. Nevertheless, they have their own style.
Information about Ken
Interviews and Tips
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