Jeff Corwin has extracted blood from a whale shark, had his tank bitten by 2,000-pound Steller sea lions and been lunged at by venomous snakes all in the name of educational television. He holds a master’s of science in wildlife conservation but is best known for his work on the Emmy-nominated Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin.
Sport Diver: What has been your most dangerous encounter?
Jeff Corwin: I’ve had 40 wolves shadow me, and sharks bump me. I’ve had a lot of things happen, especially in the water, but never felt like, this is it.
SD: Have you ever been afraid of an animal?
JC: I’ll give you a great example of when I was scared — but it wasn’t because of an animal. I went on a dive a couple years ago off an oil rig in Louisiana in 5,000 feet of water. I had an Auger mask with a microphone so I could talk. The tide was vicious — 15 to 20 knots. It pulled me through a maelstrom of rusty pipes covered with sharp barnacles. It was a maze of death. Then I had to drop through this layer of freshwater mixing in. I couldn’t see anything and then — Boom!
SD: An attack?
JC: No, the water turned crystal clear. I saw fish I would never have seen otherwise. I’ve been to Palau, Indonesia and Australia, and this is one of the most spectacular dives I’ve ever done, with a handful of nonnative species, hundreds of dusky sharks and thousands of red snapper.
SD: What’s the funniest thing you’ve caught on camera?
JC: Well, I try not to be very anthropomorphic. I feel like I have a good sense of humor, but I try to be on the other side of the joke — the receiving side.
SD: Surely an animal has made you laugh.
JC: We’d been in New Zealand with a scientist and a colony of yellow-eyed penguins, which mate for life. We had been watching a couple: Flux and his wife Fleur. Flux was doing all the work, climbing 300 yards up to a rock to feed the chicks. Then we see Fleur looking over her shoulder as she has an extramarital affair with the neighbor Tony. It felt like something from an episode of Cheaters.
SD: Did viewers see this moment?
JC: Most of what makes me laugh won’t make it to TV, but this scene will because it is interesting science. How does that define her role as a parent? We look at animals as black and white but we’re seeing the grays — literally, Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe they’re not as monogamous as we think.
Find his latest book, Jeff Corwin’s Explorer Series: Sharks, on iTunes.