Books & Publications

Shark Doc, Shark Lab

The Life and Work of Samuel Gruber

  • 392
  • Samuel H. Gruber (1938 - 2019)
  • Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
Release date
  • Jan 2015
  • 978-2839917490

Shark Doc, Shark Lab takes the reader on a rare double journey. In part, it is the (authorized) unauthorized biography of Samuel Gruber (he insisted on ‘warts and all’): his intriguing upbringing replete with hints of what was to come, his eventual transformation from enfant terrible to a grand old man of marine biology. But it is the enthralling subject matter of his success—sharks—that gives this book its general appeal.

For decades, sharks have been the sensationalized playthings of the media. Here, readers can learn about the hard work being done to understand this elusive and spectacular group of animals and come to appreciate how sophisticated and vulnerable sharks actually are. But what makes this book more than just a popular text on shark biology is that it is first and foremost Doc Gruber’s extraordinary tale: the story of the rambunctious, humane, driven, self-deprecating, irascible and warm-hearted paradox who has inspired so many. At its conclusion, students and colleagues have added their own recollections of their encounters with the renowned Shark Doc and of the unique set-up that is his Bimini Shark Lab.

Anyone interested in how scientists go about unravelling the sea’s secrets (or rather, how one fearless biologist spent his career turning mountains into molehills until he achieved his considerable goals) will learn much from these uplifting pages.

About the authors
Samuel H. Gruber (1938 - 2019)
Samuel H. Gruber (1938 - 2019)

As a child in the late 1940s, I was what we in Miami called a ‘water baby’. I used to go down to the docks and look at every fish that was brought in. While the other kids were playing baseball, I was out there looking for sharks and fishes and walking the beaches for miles, collecting seashells. At age 12 I taught myself to scuba dive, and when I was a teenager we used to sail out to the reefs on an 80-foot schooner and spend the weekend on a reef, feasting on the fish we had speared.

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch has published illustrated books on a variety of subjects. The foreword of the first, Shark – A Photographer’s Story, was written by Dr. Gruber and much of the material for it, as well as a subsequent book on mangrove ecosystems, came from working at Bimini under the aegis of Samuel Gruber and the scientists, staff and volunteers of the Bimini Biological Field Station.

When I first learned to dive, sharks were almost universally viewed as a public safety menace to combated, along the lines of airplane crashes, homicidal maniacs, bubonic plague, etc. The fact that many people now view them as beautiful and fascinating wildlife, with interesting lives and an important role to play in the ecology of the oceans, and that there are numerous organizations devoted to protecting sharks, is in no small part the legacy of the achievements of one remarkable man. The fact that there is an audience and a publisher for the new book “Shark Doc, Shark Lab,” is likewise largely due to the amazing impact of the life work of its subject, Dr. Samuel H. “Doc” Gruber. Like many people whose careers have been associated with sharks, my interest in the subject was greatly inspired by my association with Dr. Gruber when I was a student. Years later I wrote two books about sharks. Wishing to portray the cartilaginous fishes as a complex of interesting and threatened species of wildlife, rather than, like previous books, as a menace to divers, I did extensive library research, looking for scientific papers on their biology and behavior. Frustratingly, nearly every paper I could find concerned a single species: the lemon shark. Indeed, for several decades, most of what was “known” about sharks, was actually only known to be true of lemon sharks. This was the species that Doc Gruber had chosen as the subject of his studies, and it became the de-facto subject of nearly every study completed by his graduate students and other researchers who passed through the Bimini Biological Field Station, aka the Shark Lab. The history of the Shark Lab would comprise a major part of a complete history of shark research worldwide. This lab dominated the field of shark research. The book “Shark Doc, Shark Lab” by Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, is based in large part on interviews with Doc Gruber himself. Thus it is more of an autobiography than a biography, and this is its primary weakness, because Gruber himself is every bit as interesting as the sharks he studies. There are some who claim that after a thermonuclear war, Keith Richards will be the only surviving vertebrate on the planet. Those people have not met Doc Gruber, a man who had been given less than a year to live when I first met him around 1984, and was on his “deathbed” on nearly half the occasions I saw him for the next several years. He refused to die, refused to be sidelined, and eventually beat an incurable disease and continues to be more active than most men half his age. His raging intellect could not be stymied by disease, crippling chemotherapy, or hostile supervisors. His indomitable will enabled him to steamroller over opponents and supporters alike, as well as mechanical failures, logistical breakdowns, and nature itself. He inspired and traumatized two generations of shark researchers. A psychological study of this complex man would indeed be fascinating, but you won’t find it here. Instead there are accounts of uncooperative people seemingly sabotaging his projects for no apparent reason. These people were not interviewed, so their perspectives will not be found here. However you do learn unexpected trivia about Gruber’s life, such as the fact that he almost became a professional ballet dancer, rather than a biologist. At the end of the book is a fairly large collection of anecdotes from people associated with Dr. Gruber and the Lab. All, of course, were written by persons indebted to him in some way, and clearly self-censorship has been in effect. Yet in some of the accounts you do begin to get some sense of the extreme mood swings for which Gruber is well known among his colleagues. This rather odd amalgam of a book also contains synopses of the past and present research projects of the Shark Lab and the U. Miami lab which preceded it. There are diagrams illustrating research techniques, illustrations of the shark species found in the Bahamas study area, and a treasure trove of photos spanning almost the entirety of Gruber’s life and career. For any student of sharks and shark research, this history of a towering figure in the field, and the research station he created, is indispensable reading. Funds from the sale of the book will go toward the rebuilding and continuation of the Shark Lab, a facility of considerable importance to the expansion of our knowledge of these vulnerable predators and to tropical marine ecology in general. “Shark Doc, Shark Lab” is published by the Save Our Seas Foundation, and is available at
Doug Perrine | Professional Marine Wildlife Photographer | Founder of
This man has done more with and for sharks than all of us combined. We all owe Sonny a debt of gratitude. And I owe him far more than that. It is an incredible account of a lifetime commitment to sharks. Hats off Sonny – Jennifer Hayes and I owe you a drink and a thank you.
David Doubilet | National Geographic Photographer
Having filmed with Bimini Biological Field Station – Sharklab last year we are delighted to share their new book #SharkDocSharkLab where all proceeds will go to building a much needed hurricane proof facility!
Jeremy J. Wade | British Television Presenter
Shark Doc, Shark Lab chronicles the birth and growth to maturity of the Bimini Biological Field Station, a tropical laboratory dedicated to exploring and uncovering the mysteries of shark biology. It centers on the efforts and extraordinary research of Dr. Samuel “Doc” Gruber (“Sonny” to those of us who have known him for decades) and the legions of aspiring shark biologists who have at one time or another called the lab “home.” While modest in size and scale, the volume and quality of the work that has originated from the lab and its many scholars rivals labs that are exponentially larger, better funded, and better staffed. This is due in part to the dogged determination of Doc and his lifelong dedication to developing THE tropical shark field station. The lab’s work has largely centered on investigating every aspect of the biology and life history of the lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), a common inhabitant of the shallow inshore waters of the Bahamas. It would be safe to say that more is known about virtually every aspect of the biology and life history of lemon sharks than any other species. And this knowledge base originates from work at BBFS. The biologists who have studied at the lab include many of the foremost shark scientists in the world. The number of scientific journal articles is almost uncountable. The contributions from the lab to magazines and broadcast television have helped to sway attitudes about sharks from ones of hate for a mindless predator to recognition of them as victims of overfishing and coastal urban development, deserving of our strongest protective measures. For those unfamiliar with how field research is conducted, unfamiliar with the hassles of fund raising and generation of endless reports, and the sheer amount of work that must go on in the background to support three hours of adrenaline-packed work with living sharks, the book will offer some real insight in the workaday world of marine biologists. Those of us who have followed similar paths will smile, nod our head at the appropriate places in the stories, and be grateful that the author has chosen not to reveal EVERY detail of field research! Most of us can guess at what “might have happened” as we reflect that we, too, have “been there, done that, moved on, and lived to tell about it.” The Bimini Lab will forever be mentioned in the company of bigger labs such as Cape Haze, Mote Marine Laboratory, and even the old Lerner Lab in the Bahamas. All have a had profound impact on our knowledge and understanding of these great creatures. The lab has needs. The world of shark research is changing and the costs of just maintaining a solid profile in the research world are staggering without even considering necessary expansion. I only hope when Doc hangs up his tagging darts that the lab can entice someone with Doc’s motivation, drive, and love for the lab to continue the legacy of the lab. I have my doubts that such a person exists. Without fear of contradiction, it is safe to say that Doc is simply one-of-a-kind.
Dr Jeffrey C. Carrier | Professor Emeritus of Biology | Albion College
For decades, Sonny Gruber’s shark lab has studied shark spawning. Less well known is that it’s been a major spawning area for some of the world’s major shark researchers, who arrived full of wide-eyed wonder and cut their teeth, so to speak, in the shadow of the shark master. And here is the shark master’s tale, masterfully told.
Carl Safina | Writer and Conservationist
Dr. Samuel “Doc” Gruber has been a pillar of the field of shark biology for decades. His pioneering work has ranged widely from studies of vision and behavior to genetics and ecology. During his career, he has trained and inspired dozens of shark biologists and millions of enthusiasts around the world. In the course of his work, he founded the Bimini Biological Field Station “Shark Lab,” which has grown into one of the most important sites for shark science in the world. Shark Doc, Shark Lab chronicles Doc’s research career, including the founding and growth of Shark Lab. The stories in this book are a testament to Doc’s tenacity and creativity and the historical photos help provide a window on a very exciting time in shark research. The illustrations of how shark research is conducted are excellent and help bring the narrative to life, and the final section of recollections by colleagues and Shark Lab alumns provides an entertaining and illuminating window on Doc and the lab. This is a book that I will recommend to all aspiring students of shark biology and enthusiasts. Although the occasional detail may be – wisely – withheld, the narrative reveals how much blood, sweat, and tears are needed to transform a field. Studying sharks may be exciting, fun, and rewarding but it is also incredibly hard. Funding challenges, mechanical breakdowns (usually at the worst possible time), uncooperative animals, and terrible weather are just a few of the myriad things that can go wrong. But, with dogged determination Doc has overcome all of these challenges and more. That isn’t to say that everything has worked. Plenty of ideas never yielded the insights Doc had hoped, but his willingness to push the boundaries has been central to his overall success. Shark Lab’s impact is truly impressive when considered in the context of its size and resources. Few, if any, marine stations have produced so much science, captivated the public’s attention across so much of the world, and trained so many future marine biologists relative to their budget. Even with all of the amazing research and public outreach that has been performed to date, Shark Lab is poised for even more important work as its researchers begin to unravel the ecological importance of sharks to tropical marine ecosystems and gain detailed insights into their behavior and biology. Keeping a modest footprint is central to the lab’s future plans, but the talent assembled and the unbelievable access to sharks and their ecosystems ensure that with appropriate support, Shark Lab will continue to be on the forefront of shark biology and conservation for decades to come!
Dr. Mike Heithaus | Marine Ecologist | Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education | Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences | Florida International University (FIU)
Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch has written a fantastic, long over-due book about Samuel “Doc” Gruber. Jeremy’s excellent writing skills stood him in good stead; thus, this is not just a dry account of “Doc’s” scientific achievements but also a very personal and most captivating story of his life. If you are a fan of “Doc”, as I am, this book will enable you get to really know, and love, the “Doc” as a remarkably humble human being, driven by boundless curiosity and deep passion, rather than by mere professional ambition. I read the book in two days, as I was not able to put it down, except when I had to get some sleep. As can be expected, there are passages in the book that deal exhaustively with “Doc’s” Lab and his scientific work which was kind of heavy duty for a dilettante like me; however, they are are bound to be appreciated and savoured especially by fellow researchers.
Wolfgang Leander | Photographer
What a great book! Such fun and such a good story of passion and purpose! Nicely packaged too – I love the cover and design and all the graphics and photos. Gruber is a bloke you want to know, his maverick style and irrepressible passion burst from the page and tales of his shark infested helter-skelter life make a griping read. And in conclusion you can have nothing but admiration for his energies and achievements – he is a certified zoological legend!
Christopher Packham | Naturalist, Photographer, Television Presenter and Author
Shark Doc, Shark Lab is a great read about one of the founding members of the field of shark research. Doc Gruber is quite the character, and I really enjoyed learning about his personal history and the history of the Bimini Shark Lab. The book, which is full of funny stories and great pictures, has something for everyone, whether they’re a professional scientific research or a shark enthusiast. Best of all, proceeds from the sale of Shark Doc, Shark Lab go towards shark research at the Bimini Shark Lab!
Dr. David Shiffman | Southern Fried Science
I was excited and humbled to have the opportunity to write the review for Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch’s book, Shark Doc, Shark Lab – The Life and Work of Samuel Gruber. This book encapsulates not only the extraordinary journey of University of Miami researcher, Dr. Samuel Gruber (“Doc”), through life, but is a testament to the birth, evolution, and future of shark research through the eyes and outspoken words of one of the last remaining pioneers and true rebels of the field. Stafford-Deitsch has written and illustrated a book that tells Dr. Gruber’s story with a harmonious blend of his inspirational biography, the birth of the Bimini Biological Field Station (“Shark Lab”), research breakthroughs, vivid illustrations of research techniques, and natural history of sharks. Doc’s life story is dynamic and so unbelievable that it has to be true. This book also serves as a celebration for the decades of support from Doc’s family, staff, students, and volunteers, and validates the contagious passion we share. As a former lab manager for Doc’s Shark Lab, I am biased; however, I had high expectations for this book—and I was not disappointed. I hope to collectively speak for all former staff and research students from the past 26 years by declaring that this book is a genius and entertaining narrative that accurately portrays Doc and provides a renewed appreciation for a man who played a pivotal role in our professional upbringing. I am aware that anyone writing a review for Shark Doc, Shark Lab will either receive laud and praise or a swift “Gruberization” by the book’s shark-loving protagonist. Disclaimers aside, it is worth the risk to pay homage to a man that has had an enormous impact on my life. The reader will discover that being “Gruberized” is not something of nightmares, but a mere right of passage that must be endured to be able to stake your claim as a legitimate shark researcher. Doc’s life as told by Shark Doc, Shark Lab uncovers many of the untold and unknown back stories to even his most esteemed colleagues and staff. In a world of many self-proclaimed shark researchers and experts, Shark Doc, Shark Lab depicts the genesis or ground floor where many now-renowned researchers, scientists, professors, and conservationists first cut their teeth. The book contains a foreword by Pierre-Yves Cousteau, son of Jacques Cousteau, which brings to light the historic significance of the early days of Gruber’s work, with description of how he has initiated groundbreaking worldwide efforts for the conservation and protection of sharks. The book is littered with photos of Doc as a young man along with snippets from many of his major research discoveries and methods. The book is well organized into 10 cleverly-entitled chapters that transport the reader through a time when new discoveries on sharks happened weekly. The book provides illustrated examples and descriptions of research techniques, such as long-line surveys, PIT tag implantation, diet studies, acoustic telemetry, and tracking. The book also features Bimini, The Bahamas, and some of the ecological perils it faces in the wake of crucial habitat loss of mangrove forests from development. The Bimini Shark Lab has used the island as a microcosm to answer many questions on habitat use, behavior, migration, growth rates, and the overall life history of lemon sharks. Also included is a collage of personal photographs from Doc, and from current and former staff and scientists, some of whom are now professional photographers. I particularly enjoyed this section of the book as it is similar to looking at an old high-school yearbook and checking out the early days of the lab which, surprisingly, has not changed much. A separate book could have been written on the progression of dogs that inhabited the lab and Doc’s affinity for these potcakes or “Boo Boos,” as he calls them. The adventures of Dr. Samuel Gruber seem to be endless and the difficulty of such a book would be to condense them into the succinct entertaining masterpiece of a narrative that Jeremy Stafford-Deitch succeeded in creating. Still, I would have liked to have seen some more detailed information on some of the early research expeditions featured in photographs, which have only short captions. That said, Shark Doc, Shark Lab documents not only the life and times of Dr. Gruber, but is a valuable book for shark research and anyone who may have a stake or interest in the field. Proceeds from the sale of the book by the Save Our Seas Foundation will raise funds to design and build the Bimini Shark Lab II to continue the important research and conservation work of this institution. I strongly recommend immersing yourself in this fascinating and engrossing book. Prepare to be Gruberized!
Michael R. Timm
I have just completed reading this wonderful book. It is excellently written and certainly did justice in capturing the story of an incredible person. I really enjoyed the book and found myself identifying with several aspects of Doc’s academic life (eg university life/politics). It is really incredible what Doc both attempted and accomplished! He really laid the foundation for many people to do what they do. Trying to climb up and stand on the shoulder of Giants!
Dr Neil Hammerschlag | Director, Shark Research & Conservation Program | Research Assistant Professor, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Abess Center for Ecosystem Science