When it comes to birthdays, John McCosker’s 50th was hard to top. Instead of hopping into the cliché red Porsche, Dr. McCosker, at the time, squeezed into a deep-sea research submersible and sank 3,000 feet below the ocean surface off the Galápagos Islands. A veteran of those waters, he discovered a strange rabbit-faced creature he called the Galápagos ghost shark, which later was given the Latin name Hydrolagus mccoskeri. “That was the best birthday present I could ask for,” he says.
Besides authoring hundreds of scientific papers and influential books including Great White Shark (coauthored with Richard Ellis), McCosker, who is currently a senior scientist and chair of aquatic biology at California Academy of Sciences, has been a consistent presence in ocean/fish/shark-related documentaries produced by the Discovery Channel, BBC and Nova, including an IMAX film on the Galápagos. Hence it’s no surprise that he is the go-to source for local reporters whenever there is something fishy (or sharky) in the news.
You could live anywhere. Why Marin? Because of its proximity to, and distance from, San Francisco.
What makes you happy in Marin? Our friends and acquaintances, the beauty of the surroundings, and the restaurants.
What gets on your nerves here? The increasing traffic.
What’s your personal idea of luxury? Flying business class.
What do you value every day? The opportunity to travel and explore, and to discover new facts and ideas about plants and animals and to share this information with others.
What person has influenced you the most? Early on my father inspired me to be a naturalist, and these days, I’d say my wife, Pam. We met when she became the public information officer of the California Academy of Sciences and got married in 1987. We are dive buddies, fishing buddies and life buddies; her friends often ask her, “Why did you marry him? Why didn’t you just adopt him?”
What’s been the most fulfilling moment in your work? There have been so many, but perhaps the most memorable was releasing Sandy, the live white shark that we had in captivity at the Steinhart, off the Farallon Islands one foggy evening in August 1980. She was the first white shark to have survived captivity.
What’s your desert island book or album? Straight Man by Richard Russo.
Do you have a favorite Marin view? Seeing San Francisco from under the Golden Gate Bridge when I’m returning from sea and seeing San Francisco from above the bridge when I bike to work.
What do you like about yourself? That I’ve had the opportunity to travel, dive and fish with Pam around the world and to motivate others to explore and care about life on earth.
What is your favorite journey? Biking home over the bridge.
How do you want to be remembered? As someone who tried to leave behind as small a footprint as possible, and for my tombstone to read, “He was curious.”