You've reached (Dr) Steve O'Shea, once upon a time curator at NIWA and once upon a time professor at AUT, squid chaser, but nowadays someone spending time in the city of Bordeaux, southwestern France, writing of my life and some of the more unusual twists in it that have led to my current status and latest adventure. I am almost done.
I studied cephalopods, that is 'octopus and squid,' and the marine environment for nearly 25 years, during which time I participated in many expeditions, from sampling seamounts, deep-sea fishing, to chasing the Giant Squid. My exploits have seen me travel extensively on expeditions around New Zealand, the Bonin Islands in southern Japan and 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 but sadly all died during our attempt to rear them. Our approach was a simple - there must be hundreds of thousands of juvenile giant squid for every adult - all we had to do was catch the juvenile and grow it up in captivity ..... in a very big aquarium. Unfortunately it was easier said than done. That said, I do hope someone achieves it one day because I'd like everyone to have an opportunity to see this magnificent animal alive for themselves. The alternative, the approach of my peers, had been to search for the relatively rare adult - an idea that remained 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.
Over my career I have published more than 40 papers on squid, octopus, whales, fisheries and conservation, and been involved in a dozen-or-so documentaries. This isn't a lot actually, but my career was cut short. I guess that's what this website is all about. An explanation as to how and why. Before I get to that though, here's a little bit about me.
I encountered my first giant in 1996 and have since handled more than 130 of them, most retained as bycatch in commercial fishing nets. I have preserved and displayed a number of the better ones around the world, in New Zealand, France, Taiwan and America. Examination of their corpses has taught us much about these animals weights and lengths, their behavior and life history, yet despite this, and finally capturing it on film in 2012, there is much that is unknown. Some of this information is online at www.TONMO.com, some is still in my head, and some remains locked away in the minds of certain of my colleagues.
I have always used Giant Squid as a hook to lure people into other important matters, the likes of conservation, for people are fascinated by charismatic megafauna, the 'big stuff,' moreso than they are the smaller but oftentimes infinitely more bizarre stuff. If we know so little about this big stuff then we obviously know even less about the small.
I have been most fortunate in my life to have met many wonderful, interesting and influential people, and I have been involved in a lot, but I am also aware that there is still so much to do and to discover. My greatest concern is for the welfare of the environment - and not just in the oceans - because political procrastination and commercial interests are driving many species to the brink of extinction. It is a sad age in which we live.
I am looking for a new role to play in society. If you can help me, please contact me.
A brief history of me
What follows is an account of who I am and how I got here that is more up-do-date than anything you'll read (or hear) available. It is long. Sorry. That said, what I have been writing for the last four yers is longer.
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. Words in many journals document my transition from office walls to tent, briefcase to back pack, shoes to bare feet, dress pants to shorts or jeans, and computer to fishing rod. This was my voyage of self discovery is one - to me as interesting as my life-long quest to capture Giant Squid live on film.
I've always loved the sea, and it always will, but my travels have shown me another and equalling enthralling world - that of life on land and in the air. My passion now extends to insects and birds, and snakes and frogs to name a few, from the jungle vestiges in Borneo to isolated pockets of bush like the Bois de Vincennes in Paris, France. They're all connected in one way or another, from the ocean depths to the mountain heights. All are so very fragile.
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 was forever to be seen with a bucket in my hand into which I placed my little treasures. Each time the tide receded I would crawl the length of the beach on my knees, my nose up against in the tideline drift, eyes searching for the minutiae deposited by the receding tide, a potpourri of crustacean limbs, insects, sand grains, jellyfish and exquisite tiny shells. The perfect life for a child it was, but strangely, even though there were three of us and a number of similarly aged kids on the beach, only one of went on to focus on marine biology. It must have been a combination of opportunity and some natural predisposition to the aquatic realm that drove me into my chosen career.
Like many kids I found school a chore, especially secondary school in Papakura, at Rosehill College. Here few teachers understood me, with the curriculum delivery of some about as engaging as the plot of a phone book. The limited subjects on offer also didn't interest to me. Nevertheless I did have several wonderful, inspirational teachers, most notably Mr Breeze, my chemistry teacher, and for some reason, always on first-name basis, George Hawkins, my art teacher. To the two of you I am indebted for your kindness and inspiration, even though I went on to major in neither of those disciplines you taught.
By 15 I was diving and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of marine species. Basically I could tell you the Latin name of any mollusc (shell) you found on the shore, and a little story about it too. I was forever charging off into 'the wild' with my best friend, the late and ever-so-great Dave 'W for Wonderful' Gibbs in search of some small or rare or little known shell somewhere, diving at a specific location, depth and time of the year, day or night. Dave and I could talk shells all day and night long.
Things only improved for me when I went to University in 1984. First there was the BSc (1988), MSc (1990), and then PhD (1999) [all from the University of Auckland] (the PhD took forever as I was also working at the time - not something I would recommend).
I was so very fortunate to be mentored by two wonderful professor's, Michael Miller (left) and the late John Morton, and exposed to a generation of brilliant natural historians, taxonomists and conservationists the likes of Bill Ballantine, John Walsby and the late Professor's Brian Foster and Dame Patricia Bergquist. Good teachers and mentors can make you, and bad ones can break you; having been involved in the education system for many years I can assure you that there is both good and bad out there. Auckland University was brilliant in my day and my professors were without compare.
Many months were spent at sea between 1987 and 1991, much to the disdain of my collegues (for I was never there), but these were important years that would shape my attitude towards the effects of fishing on the marine environment, and conservation in those to follow.
To fund my way through university I worked as an environmental consultant. Between all of my sea trips and contract responsibilities I didn't get much university work done, and my research on and interest in cephalopods, octopus at the time, waned. My Master's thesis on the taxonomy of New Zealand octopuses really was a shocking piece of work - the only reason I continued with a PhD was to make up for the shocking job I had done on it. I set about building collections to improve my research - something that took me years.
In late 1994, I got a phone call from the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA; formerly the New Zealand Oceanographic Institute, NZOI) in Wellington, asking me if I wanted a job. Without hesitating I said yes. And that's when the roller coaster ride started for me. From January of 1995 to 2003 I spent most every waking (and most sleeping) moments thinking about or working on the marine environment. Unfortunately my PhD took many years to finish, but when finally bound I'd recognised some 42 species of octopus in New Zealand waters, many of which were new to science. It's not a bad piece of work, but like every piece of work it is not without error. I do wish people would read the introduction, especially the first paragraph, before throwing stones. In the cephalopod community at the time there were truly some horrible people.
My job at NIWA involved working on deep-sea fauna rather than the shallow species with which I had more experience (at the time). I was also responsible for developing and curating the enormous marine collections NIWA held. As a conequence of this I was exposed to a fantastic diversity of marine life and some rather colourful people that came to research the collections.
Shortly after joining I encountered my first Architeuthis, the Giant Squid, and my first Globster (right) - the first of many dead whales I would examine over the course of my career. My life was never going to be the same again. I never intended to be in front of a camera, and certainly never intended to lead an expedition looking for Architeuthis, but life has a habit of throwing curve balls your way. In fact I didn't even want to work on squid (because I was an octopus expert), and really didn't know the front from the back end of one when I started. That all seems like such a long time ago now.
It is hard to sum up 7 years of work in a few paragraphs, but, as things happen, in mid-2002 I received yet another phone call (I have definitely had more than two phone calls in 7 years, but these two were the biggies). I wasn't expecting it - an offer to return to university to do what I loved - that is to 'teach.' My reaction was an instant yes, but then insecurity crept in and I saw myself saying goodbye to all of those things that were dear to me - the squid, the collections, a few good friends, and the fantastic resources available to someone at NIWA.
Whether I made the right decision or not I will never know, but I took the new job and relocated from Wellington to Auckland in January of 2003, where I remained for 8 more years, pursuing novel research opportunities, teaching, mentoring and supervising students, and contributing towards a new generation of cephalopod experts and conservationists that would, I hope, have it easier than I ever had. My life hadn't always been a picnic. I hoped to do my own university professors proud.
Squid and whales were to follow me wherever I went, as were documentary crews, with the discovery of the Colossal Squid in April 2003, Dr Tsunemi Kubodera's stunning images of the adult giant squid, in 2006, and my research on stranded whales that was to follow. During my tenure I also inherited Directorship of a Research Institute, the Earth & Oceanic Sciences Research Institute (EOS), and was to spend an inordinate amount of time developing research programmes and university infrastructure to allow students and staff to conduct their research. I was good at what I did, and liked, I thought, though acdemics can be unpleasant sometimes.
The subject of my university tenure is the subject of my biography, but to cut a long story short I had a two-year affair with one of my PhD students, for whom I left my wife of nearly 20 years, only to learn later that this student had been having an affair with someone else for a significant amount of time. This revelation destroyed me. Clinically depressed I found myself on the edge of a balcony convinced that my life as I knew it wasn't worth living. Depression is a killer. I resigned from AUT to commence a new life, and indeed, a new life did begin.
One day whilst driving somewhere to meet a dear friend I picked a hitch hiker up from the side of the road. My life would never be the same. What we'd expected would be a 5-minute lift up the road turned into a four, going on five-year adventure around the world. I have learned what was worth holding onto and who my real friends were.
We are based in Bordeaux, southwestern France,right now, having moved here from the beautiful city that is Paris. A new adventure has started. We are planning another soon enough.
And that, if you managed to read this far, is basically who I am and how I got here, wherever that may be at this point in time. Along the way the facial hair has come and gone, and on the right, beardless for a change, I'm releasing a young bull shark in an estuary in Queensland, Australia. Despite the rain life was good. Life was truly excellent in fact.
My interests these days have changed little from those of my childhood. Once a geek always a geek. I am passionate about conservation, and the systematics, biogeography, comparative morphology (and a little bit of function) and culture of cephalopods, but I am also passionate about photography, cuisine, culture, travel and adventure. I will always have an interest in Giant and Colossal squid, but if you don't hear about me chasing the Colossal then one day I hope you can find me in western Australia where my ultimate dream would be to start up a backpackers, dealing with a new generation of environmentally conscious youth, and, if lucky, the occasional old bugger like me in need of an ear.
Although I've written no popular books I am in the process of completing several. In the interim you'll have to read my contribution on cephalopods and deep-sea life in general; a bibliography of some of the more science-oriented publications is detailed in My Publications.
I have a substantial library of books on cephalopods, some very old, which one day I might sell. In fact if you are in the market for a career's worth of books on these squid and octopus then drop me a line; I will sell them. I also have a plastinated giant squid that I will sell, if you are in the market for your very own 5-metre-long piece of history.
In parting, there are a couple of people out there to whom I will always be indebted just for being who they were, and for always being supportive, particularly my former wife Shoba (above right), and my hitchiker Cyrielle (above left). And I'd like to say thanks to a few true friends; you know who you are because you'll have heard from me often.
What tomorrow holds I don't know. But you can contact me and find out if you don't read about it here first.