Snappy snaps: From zoology degree to shark photographer

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

He started his zoology degree in rainy Manchester, but now CJ Crooks is head of media at the world-renowned Sharklab in the Bahamas

As a young boy I always envisioned myself disappearing to some far-off corner of the world to explore and live an exciting life. I would daydream about possible careers, trying to find a way in which I could combine travel and new experiences with an enjoyable occupation.

I coasted through education, keeping my options as open as possible, never really able to picture where my life was headed. I was eventually coerced into making some sort of a decision as I crept closer to further education. I had a curiosity about animals, a love of the ocean, and a passion for the environment, which compelled me in the direction of zoology - with a hope of heading abroad in the future to study or research.

Click here to launch a gallery of CJ's incredible shark photography

So, where would I go to advance my knowledge and pursue my ocean-based aspirations? Clearly a landlocked, rainy university in Manchester... It’s not the most likely candidate you might think, but it boasted a program which allowed me to travel as part of my degree, along with a potential sandwich year to gain ‘Industrial Experience’, which was a real clincher.

The first few semesters of university certainly didn’t help my occupational uncertainty. I drifted from lecture to lecture, and had little drive to excel while I had no clear prospects. Field trips to South Africa and France would spark my interest, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to start looking for a placement abroad that I really began to feel excited about Zoology.

As I searched through the most exotic marine internships I could find, there was one that truly captured my imagination, a shark research station in the Bahamas. Now as much as I am sure you won’t believe me, considering my self-indulgent ambitions to see the world, embark on adventures and have fun, I chose this internship not because of the location or the fantastically charismatic study species, but down to the scientific prowess of the station.

Adventures at Sharklab

The Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, or ‘Sharklab’ as it is affectionately known, is a non-profit research station founded by the grandfather of shark biology, Samuel Gruber. With 80 scientific publications in the past 20 years, the station has launched countless alumni into the scientific community, many of whom are now experts and leaders in their fields.

While carrying out an 11-month research project examining predator-prey relationships of juvenile Lemon Sharks and other larger shark species, I realised that maybe a career in academia was for me after all. With this new resolve I returned to Manchester to complete my degree with increased vigour.

On a typical dreary February morning, having just finished the exams from my penultimate semester, I received an email from the station Director, enquiring as to my plans for the coming year. There was very little hesitation to my decision – and I was soon back in the Bahamas as the assistant manager of the world-renowned Sharklab.

No Mr Bond, I expect you to film…

A typical work week on this island paradise is very varied and consists of all sorts of activity. I could be repairing boats, vehicles and anything else that might fall apart, or catching, tagging and tracking a variety of shark species. In the meantime I also began to explore an interest in photography and invested in a DSLR and underwater camera housing.

This marked the start of a new direction to my life. The thought of postgraduate study hastily vanished from my mind and was replaced with a world of media opportunities and excitement. My job description began to change and I was soon given the title of media manager for the station. I had found the route and drive that I had been looking for and with it I quickly began an obsessive process of self-education.

The thing that advanced me the most was experience. I am in an unparalleled position to learn: with the bluest Bahamian waters you can imagine, a plethora of incredible subjects and all of our research at my disposal, I would be on or in the water a few times every week taking photographs and video, spending the evenings editing and evaluating the day’s work. Day by day, new tasks were added to my position and far from being solely the station’s photographer or filmmaker, I was also made responsible for developing a new website, marketing our research, public relations, interacting with production companies and printed media, tour guide/teacher, and fundraising.

Aside from the media aspects of my job, I also work closely with the scientists and am intimately involved in their research. With three PhD students, two Masters students and a number of long-running studies, there is never a shortage of work to be done and research to occupy us and our 10 volunteers. From behaviour to genetics, ecology to life history we study all aspects of these animals and are learning and educating every day. This has led to countless highlights over the past year and I never know what a new week can bring.

Whether it is free-diving with and pole tagging endangered Great Hammerheads, catching and birthing a 10ft Lemon Shark, trying to rescue a beached Beaked Whale, or swimming in 1,000ft of water with Tiger, Bull And Silky Sharks, no two days are ever the same. I am truly living a dream right now, learning and seeing new things every day whilst living on an idyllic Caribbean island... a graduate job that I could not ask more of.

To find out more about shark research and the Bimini Sharklab, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. See more of CJ's photography here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Recruitment Consultant (Trainee / Experienced)

£18000 - £27000 per annum + doe OTE £45K: SThree: SThree are always looking fo...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own