Meet Biologist Andy Dehart
Andy Dehart is the Vice President of Animal Husbandry and Marine Science for the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in downtown Miami. This state of the art science museum, planetarium and aquarium opened in 2017. The signature exhibit at the aquarium is a one of a kind Gulf Stream Exhibit featuring pelagic sharks, fish and rays. Dehart was part of the design, opening and construction team for Frost Science. He currently oversees all animal husbandry operations, aquatic life support operations, wildlife rehabilitation programs, and marine conservation initiatives at Frost Science, and manages a talented animal care staff dedicated to the welfare of the animal collection.
Prior to joining Frost Science, Andy helped build and open Toronto’s Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada as the Director of Husbandry, and had previously worked for 19 years at the National Aquarium in both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Throughout his tenure there he worked in many capacities and left as Director of Fishes and Aquatic Invertebrates. Additionally, Dehart was part of the opening team as an aquarist at the Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, and earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Andy’s knowledge of sharks has led him to serve as Shark Advisor for the Discovery Channel, and appearances on the “Today Show,” “The Early Show,” “NBC Nightly News,” “Larry King Live,” “Fox News,” “USA Today,” “The O’Reilly Factor” and “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” He has been featured in seven Shark Week productions for the Discovery Channel.
1. What is your favorite shark and why?
My favorite shark species has always been the tiger shark. I have had the great pleasure to work with tiger sharks both in the aquarium setting as well at places such as tiger beach in the Bahamas on filming assignments. My first close encounter with a tiger shark was at age 15 getting to work in water with a 14’ tiger shark while volunteering for Earthwatch at the Bimini shark lab. What I love about this species is that despite their fearful reputation they are more typically slow methodical and often very cautious.
2. What is one species of shark you would like to snorkel/dive with?
(As an aside this question may come better after question 4 as it relates)
One species I have been very interested in diving with is the Pacific sleeper shark. This species of shark can reach lengths of 23 feet long and are found in the cold deep waters of Alaska, Russia and Japan. Due to their depth, I do not believe anyone has been Scuba diving with this species. After projects working with bluntnose sixgill sharks and salmon sharks in Alaska I believe this species may be possible to work with at diveable depths.
3. Why did you start scuba diving? Shark diving?
I started snorkeling at the age of 4. My father was a hard hat diver in the Navy and when I was born worked for NOAA. He shared his love of the ocean by getting me in the water at a very young age. I saw my first shark, which was a 5’ Caribbean reef shark, while snorkeling with my dad at age 5 off Looe Key, Florida. From that moment, I knew I wanted to work with sharks and have been very lucky to have an incredible career doing just that. I became a Scuba diver at age 15, which at the time was the youngest you could get certified, and I think I registered for the course the day after my birthday.
4. What has been a favorite moment working with or diving with sharks?
My favorite moment working with sharks was being in the water with a salmon shark for the first time. The salmon shark is a relative of the great white shark and mako that prior to our filming project very few people had been in the water with. To reach this moment we had one failed trip to Alaska camping in the wilderness with 100’s of brown bears for 4 weeks. During that trip, the salmon sharks did not show up as they should have and I learned the power of perseverance when working with wildlife. It also showed me the value of the hard work friends like Stuart Cove and Neal Watson have put into the business of shark diving so that shark enthusiasts can have safe in-water experiences with shark with a near guarantee. Although I count camping for 4 weeks in the Alaskan wilderness as one of my best adventures, not seeing any sharks put a damper on that. Two years later however on our first day in Alaska we got up close and personal to these amazing sharks. They are an increidble species and getting to be one of the first people to get up close and personal free diving in an ice cold fjord surrounded by mountains is an experience I will never forget. Our work there has started eco-tourism to Valdez, Alaska and Ravencroft Lodge where underwater photographers are starting to outnumber fisherman for summer bookings.
5. Do you think diving and divers can help ocean conservation? How?
Divers can absolutely help with ocean conservation. First and foremost, divers know the issues facing the oceans better than most and can use the strongest power they have, which is to vote for laws and bills that support conservation of our oceans, watersheds and the environment. There are also several active environmental projects ranging from coral restoration to fish surveys that divers can get involved in to help the oceans.
6. What do you love most about diving with sharks?
Diving and specifically diving with sharks is my Zen. It is the time when I am most at peace which most people think is a bit crazy. My experiences with sharks even in feeding situations has not been the frenzy of activity that is often portrayed but an organized dance. Chance encounters with sharks while on a regular dive are certainly one of my favorite parts of diving. Spending most of my life working in public aquariums the thing I love most about diving with sharks is that each individual shark, even sharks of the same species, have very unique behavior, and for lack of a better word personality. As a scientist, I refrain from using human characteristics to describe animal behaviors, but there are definite similarities between individual shark behaviors and attitudes to those in our own world as humans. I have been very happy to see in my life that sharks are becoming less the monster of jaws and more the charismatic top predator of the oceans that are essential, but we still have a long way to go to ensure their survival. Luckily, we have the next generation of shark enthusiasts engaged in Sharks4kids.