Although he grew up on the other side of the country in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, Bart Shepherd was drawn to the Academy at an early age. A youthful aquarium hobbyist who began keeping tropical fish at the age of six, he remembers how his reference books and magazines were filled with photos of colorful and unusual species taken at Steinhart Aquarium. Visiting as a tourist in 1994, Shepherd was excited to learn of the Steinhart’s many milestones.
“Under John McCosker’s leadership in the seventies and eighties, we were the first to display white sharks and flashlight fish,” he says. “Before that, Earl Herald put Steinhart on the map with the country’s first televised science program, Science in Action. These guys were charismatic spokesmen and strong leaders.”
This early inspiration combined with the cold winters at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, compelled Shepherd to move west. With every intention of finishing his graduate thesis, he packed up his Volkswagen Jetta and drove to San Francisco in August 1996.
“Within a few months,” he admits, “I needed a break from staring at the computer monitor. So I got the name of Steinhart’s then-curator, Tom Tucker, from a former colleague at the Virginia Aquarium. I interviewed with him to be a volunteer, and we really hit it off.”
Soon, Shepherd was spending his afternoons feeding fish and cleaning the Aquarium’s roundabout and stingray holding pool. A few months later in February 1997, he was offered a full-time job. In 2011, after fourteen years at the Academy as Aquatic Biologist, Senior Aquatic Biologist and Curator, Shepherd was named Director of Steinhart Aquarium.
“I’m a scientist. Ultimately, I don’t believe in destiny,” he says. “But when I think back on moving out here without knowing a single person at the Academy, I have to say there was something very special about this journey.