Eric Hovland

Associate curator, resident shark guy

The Florida Aquarium

It's always Shark Week in Eric Hovland's world. The native of Wisconsin and marine biologist helped develop the unique sea life collection when The Florida Aquarium opened in 1995 and has been with Aquarium throughout its 25 year history. He is the aquarium's resident handlebar mustache wearer and fan of all things shark.

Where are you from?  I grew up in Wisconsin but my heart is in Tampa Bay, and my Viking heart is in Norway.

How did a Viking from Wisconsin end up wrangling sharks in Florida? I came from Wisconsin to start and and build the Florida Aquarium -- after a 12-year stint in Texas gaining my education as a Marine Biologist at Texas A&M-Galveston and experience in a number of Texas aquariums.  

Who’s your hero and why?   A combination of Jacques Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom’s Marlin Perkins. They introduced me to the world of the wild ocean and the jungle -- two of my happy places. And with a dash of Leif Erikson -- he introduced us to the New World! 

What do you do for fun or hobby?  I enjoy brewing beer, participating in international mustache championships, and, of course, SCUBA diving and Viking (traveling) the world from the Tropical Reefs to the Fjords!

Tell me about your job. I am an Associate Curator and All Around Shark Guy and very lucky to be able to share daily the mission of our Animal Wellness and Conservation programs via various media and personal story telling. 

What do you like about about your job? I am very lucky to be able to work with Florida’s wildlife as well as sea creatures from around the world and to be able to tell their stories and engage our guests from close and afar.  And did I mention we’re helping SHARKS!?!

What’s something people don’t know about your job? We are developing a Center for Conservation down at Apollo Beach where we can conserve and raise corals. Soon we’ll be rescuing even more sea turtles. And in our future: a facility for helping sharks.

What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you on the job? One recent event involved our giant pacific octopus Scylla and Facebook Live.  Right at the start of our broadcast for World Octopus Day [October 8] Scylla grasped me in arm, and arm, and arm, in arm … and held me tight, pulling closer and closer until -- BLAST! She shot ice cold seawater right down my shirt and pants with a good 20 minutes of filming yet to go.  Life is comparatively short for any octopus and Scylla is gone from this world now but we’ll always have World Octopus day…and fishy pants. 

What do you recommend your visitors do for fun when they come to Tampa Bay?  Enjoy our beautiful environment respectfully and safely sharing them with sharks and other sea creatures. And when you’re ready to come out of the sun or the rain join us here at The Florida Aquarium. Then join me later for a brew at one of our many many world class breweries!  Skål! 

What do you wish people understood better about sharks? Sharks have had a bad rap ever since "Jaws." While a fantastic movie, it was absolute murder on sharks -- in a PR way and more.  I want everyone to understand that sharks are highly diverse and unique creatures that are absolutely vital to our oceans and our way of life.  And by "way of life," I mean breathing.  About half of our world's oxygen is generated from healthy productive seas.  This process cannot continue without the balance of life from the coral reefs all the way to the sharks.