Q & A 

How did you first encounter Steinhart Aquarium?

My parents dragged me here as a boy in 1954. Aquariums were a big deal in the fifties and sixties. The Steinhart was one of the foremost examples of grand old European style aquariums in the U.S. During one year in the sixties, the Steinhart drew more visitors than the Louvre Museum in Paris.


How did you pursue a career in marine biology?

I became an oceanographer at precisely the right time. Jacques Cousteau had popularized oceanography with his undersea films. They had captured the attention of government officials who said, “Where's the American oceanographic discoveries coming from?” Before I knew it, the Office of Naval Research was paying for my graduate studies in oceanography.


What was the most exciting specimen you've brought to the Steinhart?

Sandy, the great white shark. It was the first great white to survive in captivity. A local fisherman caught it and brought it to us. After four days, we let it go back to the wild. We tagged it so we know it lived for a least a year after that.


What can we do to prevent sharks from disappearing from our oceans?

Begin by convincing people not to support the sharkfin soup market. Enforce legislation to prohibit the taking of shark fins. Finally, educate the current generation to convince their parents not to eat shark fin soup.


What excites you most about the new Academy being built in Golden Gate Park?

The living coral reef. It will feel the same as when you go scuba diving but without getting wet. You'll be side by side with the fishes. I think it will be so spectacular people will come to their senses and say, “We have to protect this!” Our only hope is public education.


Why is science important?

Science provides predictability. Science gives you tools to explain the past. When you know the past you can predict the future.

Have a Question?


Q: What brought you to Steinhart Aquarium?


A: In 1972 every university on the coast wanted an oceanographer. After completing my dissertation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I taught briefly at UC San Diego and then pursued a post-doctoral fellowship in Eastern Australia. While diving off the coast of New Guinea I received a telex: “Steinhart Aquarium director drowns. Position open. Are you interested in a job?” In 1973, I became the youngest guy on the staff, and the head of the staff.

More about Dr. McCosker


Department: Aquatic Biology


Expeditions: 24



Steinhart Aquarium Research

Seafood Guide

Dying for a Bowl of Soup

Shark Finning (PDF)



Aquatic biologist John McCosker talks about this elusive fish that was long thought to be the missing link between fish and amphibians.

Life in the Sea
Aquatic biologist John McCosker has seen a change in the public’s perception of the value of life in the water.

Destructive Fishing
Current shrimp fishing techniques are devastating to the ecology of the ocean, warns aquatic biologist John McCosker.

Shark Fin Soup
Will sharks on this planet go extinct because of human stupidity? So asks our shark expert John McCosker.


Selected Publications and Films

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