You've reached (Dr) Steve O'Shea, once museum curator, university professor and giant squid chaser, nowadays a mature (in age) student of marine science at a university in Sydney, Australia. They say every decade we need to reinvent ourselves. I've a lot of experience doing just this.
For nearly 25 years I studied deep-sea life, especially cephalopods (octopus and squid), and participated in many expeditions. My research saw me travel extensively, all around New Zealand, the Bonin Islands in southern Japan, and the Sea of Cortez, using submersibles, nets, deep-sea robots and sleds. In a Discovery Channel first way back in 2001 my team even caught and filmed juvenile giant squid off New Zealand. We had them in tanks aboard a ship until all sadly died. Our approach was a simple - there must be hundreds of thousands of juveniles out there for every big adult - all we had to do was catch them and grow them up in captivity. It was of course much easier said than done. I do hope someone achieves it one day. It would be truly awsome to see. Until we tried this the approach of my peers had been to search for the relatively rare adult in situ - something that had been but a dream until Dr Tsunemi Kubodera went eyeball-to-eyeball with one more than a decade later in 2012. The smile on his face was priceless.
I've published more than 40 papers on squid, octopus, whales, fisheries and conservation, and been involved in a dozen-or-so documentaries. However, looking back, now that I'm getting on, I am all-too-aware that I should have contributed more. Unfortunately my career was cut short, in its prime so to say, so I never got to see many projects through to completion. I guess that's what this website is all about. An explanation as to how and why. Today I am working towards playing a new role in society. I look forward to those challenges that no doubt lie ahead.
A brief history of me
I was born on 14 December 1965 in Auckland, New Zealand, the second of three siblings, one brother, Michael, and one sister, Gina, to mum, Patricia (Pat) O'Shea and my late dad, Bert.
In 2011 I left society, academia, the public eye and New Zealand to travel the world, replacing office walls for none, briefcase for back pack, shoes for bare feet, dress pants for shorts or jeans, and computer for fishing rod. Though I've always loved the sea, my travels took me to a new world, oftentimes far from it, deliberately so. As a consequence my passion soon extended to insects and birds, spiders and snakes, and frogs and lizards, to name a few.
As a child I spent my holidays on Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island, swimming, rowing boats, climbing rocks, searching for life in rock pools, and fishing. I had a wonderful childhood. The sea was my playground. A collector was born: there was always a bucket in my hand into which I placed my little treasures. By 15 I was diving and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of marine species. My mentor was my best friend, the late and ever-so-great, dearly missed, Dave 'W for Wonderful' Gibbs. At Auckland University, I was extremely fortunate to be mentored by two more wonderful people, professors Michael Miller and the late John Morton, and exposed to a generation of brilliant natural historians, taxonomists and conservationists that are with us today only in memory: the late Bill Ballantine, and Professor's Brian Foster and Dame Patricia Bergquist. Good teachers and mentors can make you and bad ones can break you. I had the best; they believed in me. I've been around the education system for many years now and have seen many academics that would crush your will to live.
To fund my way through university I worked as an environmental consultant, and spent considerable time at sea aboard commercial fishing boats. I didn't get much university work done and throughout my Masters my research on and interest in cephalopods, octopus at the time, waned. The result was a Master's thesis on the taxonomy of New Zealand octopuses that was truly diabolical. To make amends I continued on this subject for a PhD, but before finishing it I got a phone call from the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA), formerly the New Zealand Oceanographic Institute (NZOI), asking me if I wanted a job. It was late 1994. Without hesitating I said yes, and that's when my professional career really took off. After many years I finished my PhD, wherein I recognised 42 species of octopus in New Zealand waters, including many that were new to science. The entire thing was published: 280 riveting pages worth. It's not a bad piece of work, but like every body of work it isn't without error. I just wish critics would read its introduction, especially the first paragraph, and then try and compile something comparable that is faultless. Good luck to them.
My job at NIWA involved working on the weird and wonderful, oftentimes bizarre deep-sea fauna. I was also charged with developing and curating the enormous collections of invertebrates that NIWA held. This exposed me to a fantastic diversity of marine life and some very colourful people. Colour is good.
It wasn't long before I encountered my first Architeuthis, the Giant Squid, and my first Globster (right) - which proved to be the first of many dead whales that I'd end up examining over the course of my career. Soon I was also in front of a camera leading an expedition looking for Architeuthis. This was something I was never comfortable with - the camera was not my friend, though people maintained it was.
Seven years later, in mid-2002, I received yet another phone call that I wasn't expecting. I'd been offered a position at university to do what I really loved, what I'd always wanted to do - the opportunity to inspire and to teach. In taking this position I saw myself saying goodbye to many things that were dear to me - the squid, the collections, a few good friends, and the fantastic resources that NIWA had available. Moving to Auckland to a relatively new, resource-poor, poorly thought of university, Auckland University of Technology, was a decision not made lightly.
Whether I made the right choice or not I'll never know, but I took the job. And so it was that in January of 2003 a new life began for me.
Giant and Colossal squid, whales and camera crews followed me about. Within a few years I was promoted to director of a Research Institute, and charged with developing business, infrastructure, resources, supervision of students, mentoring of research-inactive staff, and development of research programmes. I was good at what I did, and liked by most, but within every organisation there are dissenters, and some that simply obstructed everything I tried to implement because that was their nature.
To cut a long story short, in 2010 I left my wife of almost 20 years for a PhD student of mine, following a two-year affair. It was serious. We had plans. Unfortunately, six months later I learned that she was living a double life and had been having an affair with another at the same time. This revelation and the way I learned it destroyed me, because I'd not seen it coming. The final nail in the coffin was when she maliciously set about destroying my career, for I'd served whatever purpose it was that she'd had of me. I'm not at all proud of having had an affair - we all make mistakes and I certainly wasn't the first to make this one - but I don't believe I deserved the treatment I would receive as events unfolded. Clinically depressed I found myself driven to the edge of a balcony convinced my life wasn't worth living, and that the lives of everybody in it would be better off it I just weren't there. Stripped of confidence and dignity I resigned from AUT.
One day whilst driving somewhere to meet a dear friend in Northland, New Zealand, I picked up a hitchhiker. I didn't want to, but she made eye contact in the rear-view mirror as I drove on by. Feeling terribly guilty I stopped, reversed up and offered her a 5-minute lift up the road. Of course I told her off for hitchhiking alone too. It wasn't safe to do so. You never knew what sort of deviant might pick you up. LOL. Well, six-years later we're still together and have had quite some adventure around the world. This is a story that one day I'd love to tell.
At one point we found ourselves settled in Bordeaux (France). Nearby, I learned, my childhood hero Jacques Cousteau was buried. I had to see him. I wanted to talk. It was time for me to stop running from who I was, to forgive myself for the mistakes that I'd made, to focus on what I'd achieved, and to accept that I still had something inside of me to offer others. I guess he heard me loud and clear. I left inspired to lift my game, to stop punishing myself, to learn from my mistakes, and to look forward instead of back. And just like that I did.
A year later my hitchhiker friend and I both live in Sydney. I've returned to university, albeit as a student, to do another PhD in something new, the ecology of coastal marine sediments. My re-invention is not yet complete, but I have come a long way from where I was 12-short-months ago. Whether I get a second chance to teach, or whether I go into environmental consulting, who knows. It all depends on the opportunities presented along the way. Will I do things differently second time around? You can bet your bottom dollar I will. I've shaken depression, nicotine and alcohol, and am a better and healthier person today for all of my experiences than I was in my so-called heyday. My days of working on cephalopods are probably behind me, though I love them still. I remain an ardent conservationist, but these days I am also passionate about photography, cuisine, culture, travel, and adventure in general. And I understand the need for a balance between work and play.
In parting, there are two people out there to whom I will always be indebted. There is of course my former and amazing wife Shoba (right), and then there is my wonderful hitchiker love Cyrielle (left). Without the support both of you have shown me I wouldn't be here today.