In a delightful interview, MBL Senior Scientist Roger Hanlon talks about the seminal experiences that inspired his career, diving experiences both heavenly and scary, and the methods and cameras he uses to study cephalopod behavior in the wild, across the globe.
By Kathryn Knight
How did you become a scientist?
I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was athletic, but I was always attracted to nature. I was a nerd; I had an organic garden when I was 13 and I was interested in astronomy and plants. When I went to college at Florida State University, USA, I majored in Biology and it just grew on me. I saw the crystal-clear water and beautiful fishes and I was hooked. I learned free diving first, breath hold diving down to 40 feet (12 m), in Wakulla Springs, Florida, where the ‘Tarzan’ films were made in the 1930s and 40s. Then I tried SCUBA diving when I was a senior (4th year) at university.
Where did you go after university?
When I was in my late teens and early 20s it was the Vietnam War era, so there were no choices. After I graduated from college in Marine Biology, I went to be a lieutenant in the army. I spent two years on active duty and ended up in Korea, but when I was decommissioned from the army, I decided that I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to go travelling and diving for a year. I spent almost 5 months diving in some of the most beautiful places on the planet like the Palau Islands in Micronesia. There, by a stroke of pure luck, I ran into a diving scientist and entrepreneur named Walter Stark, who was pretty famous and had written several articles for National Geographic. He had a beautiful new research boat, so I showed up, said I wanted to learn diving and he hired me. I dived with him for 4 months and learned underwater photography and ichthyology from him. At that time, he was on contract for National Geographic to film sharks, so he gave me the questionable job of holding the giant arrays of underwater video lights hooked up to a generator in the boat and I had to follow him around with his big camera and film sharks. I was in heaven, but it was dangerous. Read more …
Photo: Roger Hanlon (center) filming with the HyperSpectral Imager while diving in Raja Ampat in Indonesia’s West Papua Province. Credit: John Pierce.