Where did you grow up?
My father was in the U.S. Air Force, so I traveled around a good bit. We were stationed in Florida (where I was born), France, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma (twice), Philippines, and Biloxi, Mississippi (five times if you count when my Mom was pregnant with me). The Mississippi Gulf Coast is where I call home and still live, even though I still get locals asking me where I’m from, because my Southern accent isn’t very strong!
Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?
My love for animals started at an early age and for the ocean even earlier. So much so that I quit playing trombone to take more science classes my last 2 years at Biloxi high school, including advanced biology, marine biology, geology and physics. I took Della McCaughan’s marine biology class where I really fed off of her passion and became more focused on marine biology as a direction of study for college.
I went to the University of Southern Mississippi and got a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Fisheries Science. I took two summers worth of classes at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. To help pay for college I joined the U.S. Navy Reserves and became an Aereographers Mate (weather forecaster and oceanography). I briefed pilots on the weather along their flight and at their destination, but my wartime billet was to track submarines using data collected from sonobuoys. I also did 2 weeks active duty on the WWII-era aircraft carrier USS Lexington and in Iceland. While aboard the Lexington in the Gulf of Mexico, we had 1,000 takeoffs and landings in a 24-hour period. While in Iceland during June, I experienced sunset at midnight and helped track a Soviet sub as it passed between the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
How did you come to work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center?
After college, I got a job at Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi putting on shows with dolphins and sea lions and eventually training them for 2 years. I also performed scuba shows in the 500,000 gallon Reef tank feeding the fish and the sea turtles. I took care of five 250-gallon aquariums displaying local fish and filled in performing the trained macaw shows when needed. While I loved the job, learned a lot and got to do a lot of cool things, financially, I was barely able to keep my head above water. So, I started looking for other jobs and submitted my resume to the NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center located in Pascagoula, Mississippi. When the call came from NOAA, I was repairing and restoring antique furniture in an antique store specializing in English antiques on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.
What do you do at the science center?
I am the senior video reader for the Gulf and Caribbean Reef Fish Branch. However, I have done a lot of different things in my career with NOAA since starting in May 1988. I started out as a Biological Survey Technician on the NOAA Ship Chapman where I was the liaison between the crew and the scientists. I helped the scientists on deck collect data and for the ship, I took care of all scientific spaces, operating all the oceanographic and deck equipment. Additionally, I was one of the ship’s divers; the EMT; manned the helm going in and out of port; conducted chart corrections; collected weather data for transmission to National Weather Service; and was one of the small boat coxswains. One year, I was at sea for 240 days!
At NOAA’s Pascagoula facility, I initially worked with Environmental Surveys analyzing salinity and chlorophyll samples collected at sea. I also went to sea surveying groundfish, small pelagic fish, plankton, marine mammals as well as longline gear surveys. I then started assisting the marine mammal team more, conducting both shipboard and aerial surveys as an observer. Eventually, I observed 20 of the 21 dolphin and whale species known to inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. I have not yet seen a positively identified Gervais’ beaked whale. Over the years, I have assisted with the Southeast regional marine mammal and sea turtle stranding networks where I conducted necropsies and compiled data. In 1991, I started reading video tapes for reef fish in a new research effort. Since its inception, data from the reef fish videos has provided needed fishery independent indices for several reef fish species, including some data poor species. From the years of video we have documented increased geographic and depth ranges, new color variations, and various behaviors of several species observed.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was an affiliate with Johnson Controls for the center. Two of those years, I was the contract’s project manager, overseeing about 50 employees. In this role I helped start up an observer program for the center to collect data from commercial shrimp boats, nearshore shark gillnetters and longliners.
I have also participated in many shorter term studies or events as needed such as the red drum project, working with experimental fishing gear, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Expanded Stock Assessment monitoring surveys. Additionally, I have supported the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory with their fraudulent species identification project providing verification of specimen identification.
What do you like most about your position?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and experiences at sea, seeing and learning about all of the various creatures in the Gulf of Mexico has been a highlight. I even appreciate the storms and rough seas. I have met and worked with some amazing and talented people over the years. I relish the opportunities to relate my knowledge and passion to students, teachers and other interested people. Probably the coolest thing for me is identifying fish and seeing a new species (for me) for the first time. I also never get tired of watching the underwater videos of reef fish. I get most excited seeing interesting or different fish behaviors and color patterns.
Is there a book, quote, or person that influenced you to be the person that you are today? Tell us why.
Growing up, I knew I wanted to work with animals. I loved watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and The Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau. I dreamed of becoming something of a cross between Jaques Cousteau, Marlin Perkins, and Jim Fowler. I feel I came pretty close! I previously mentioned my high school Marine Biology teacher, Della McCaughan, as an influence. While I was always interested in ocean animals, I feel she definitely turned me onto that path over terrestrial animals. A couple of my professors at University of Southern Mississippi also helped form my interests. Although at the time, I do not think either of them thought I’d amount to an acceptable biologist! Over the years, I have enjoyed reading natural history works by various authors including: Charles Darwin, Rachel Carson, Thoreau, Ernest Hemingway, and E.O. Wilson.
What do you like to do outside of work?
When not working I enjoy spending time with my wife, our children, five grandchildren, and two Weimaraners (Skye and Scamp). I also enjoy cooking, woodworking, gardening, traveling, birding, reading, and my 1966 Ford Mustang.