[Interview] Tom “The Blowfish” Hird for COCAINE SHARKS
Still from COCAINE SHARKS l Discovery+

It’s that time again, gang. “Shark Week” is back on Discovery Channel, and this year’s round of programming is sure to have fans titillated and ready to go. With Jason Momoa hosting, fans can expect adrenaline-inducing original hours of sharks from new and continuously explored destinations, all captured on-camera by Discovery’s dedicated science and research field teams. Needless to say, there’s a lot for us shark fans to get our eyeballs on.

For “Shark Week,” Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky got a chance to chat with marine biologist, Tom “The Blowfish” Hird. Focusing on the upcoming COCAINE SHARKS segment, they chatted about concerns he might have had going into this particular project, how the area of science surrounding drug impacts on sharks is still new, and what was the most interesting thing he discovered during COCAINE SHARKS.

Launching into COCAINE SHARKS, this is an incredibly fascinating research topic. As a shark behavioralist and going into this study, what were any concerns that you had just launching into this research project?

Tom Hird: The trickiest bit is trying to quantify behavior. That’s always the trickiest bit. Whenever you do behavioral studies, normally for a peer-reviewed paper, you would repeat them 30, 50, 60, 70, 100 times over, because behavior is so subjective. It’s what you see at that time, how you interpret it. So that was always going to be the tricky thing for me was looking at the behavior, but thankfully, we kind of knew, certainly myself and Mark Rackley, who is the lead cameraman on it, who’s got a huge amount of shark experience, far more than I have. He’s a real legend. We told ourselves this is black, this is white, and this is the gray area. We’ll stick with the black and white, because those are things that we can put a little bit more stock by and say bumf, that’s very clean. That’s very clear. It’s not ambiguous. So, quantifying the behavior was always going to be the hardest thing here.

And then you had previous studies done on the salmon and other fish to build an idea of how the sharks were going to react if the cocaine did impact them in any way.

Tom Hird: Yes, the studies that were done in those scenarios were very interesting, because they matched up with previous sorts of research and studies that I’d looked into, which is that these chemicals can affect these fish in entirely unique ways. So, we saw these really, really agitated salmon. That was very, very clear that they were doing that. There was another study that we looked at, where they took some trout, which had been affected by methamphetamine, and they’ve seen that actually, they became very slow, very lethargic, and showed signs of addictive behaviors. It was very, very interesting stuff.

But transposing that into sharks is incredibly difficult. We know so little about the shark brain, even less in terms of actual direct scientific studies, lab studies of here is cocaine, give it something directly. So, this is an area of science that is really yet to be explored in any meaningful way. And yet, it’s definitely one that we need to start looking at quite seriously.

Yeah, and it’s clear from watching the segment that you guys found enough to start the ball going for broadening future research projects. One thing that I wanted to ask you was there anything that truly surprised you being up close and personal with the sharks, particularly when the mockup bales were engaged in the water?

Tom Hird: I think the thing that most interested me or certainly piqued my interest was, because I’ve done previous work with sharks and sound. I’m the only person alive to play heavy metal to sharks twice. Play it live, I want to point out. Played it live. I didn’t put on a CD. I was there with a guitar, well, with the bass obviously.

When we were dropping the bales, it was the sound of them hitting the water that really, really interested me. Because the sound of them hitting the water, and so many of them hitting the water, replicated the sound of struggling fish. And so, that’s going to bring sharks in from the wider area that weren’t underneath [to] that line of bales. So, you could very easily have a scenario where you have a plane, which does have cocaine in it and is binning the cocaine out, where the physical sound of the cocaine hitting the water is bringing sharks in that are entirely new to that situation.

And then if those bails start to break up, or if a shark starts to investigate those bales, then you’ve actually got sharks being introduced to cocaine that had been brought into that area simply by the sound of something hitting the surface. So, I thought that was very interesting. It’s kind of like ringing the dinner bell, if you will, but there’s no food available.

“Shark Week” will kick off on Sunday, July 23rd at 8 PM ET/PT on Discovery Channel.

Check out Tom “The Blowfish” Hird in COCAINE SHARKS, which premieres July 26th at 10PM ET/PT on Discovery, and “Great White Fight Club,” which premieres July 24th at 8PM ET/PT on Discovery.

Sarah Musnicky
Follow Me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *