Watch Mike deGruy’s TED TALK HERE: Hooked by Octopus.
Mike deGruy was born on December 29, 1951 in Mobile, Alabama. It was here, at the confluence of 5 rivers, with an amazing delta flowing through rich swamps of alligators, birds of every flavor, fish, deer and snakes, all emptying into Mobile Bay and finally the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, that Mike gained his enthusiasm for the ocean – a love that continues to this day. From an age earlier than he can remember, he was in the water, first as a swimmer, then springboard diver (which led to numerous national and international gold medals and a college scholarship), then on to SCUBA diving in the warm waters enveloping the Gulf Coast. There is no time in Mike’s life when he was not
fascinated by and embracing the natural world. He left Mobile to attend high school at Sewanee Military Academy, then to North Carolina State University where he received a BS in Marine Zoology.
Following college, Mike moved to Hawaii, established residency and entered a PhD program at the University of Hawaii (UH) in Marine Biology. As a graduate student, Mike worked at the Waikiki Aquarium where he became the Curator of Invertebrates. After 3 years at UH, a job opened up in the Marshall Islands as the resident manager of the Mid-Pacific Marine Lab. This seemed a fascinating break from the rigors of school, so Mike applied and got the job.
Living in Enewetak, Marshall Islands for three years was a pivotal time for Mike. His knowledge of and curiosity for the ocean and its fascinating creatures grew tremendously as he spent thousands of hours underwater during his years there. When it seemed time to return to Hawaii and finish his degree, two things happened in sequence that changed the course of his life.
The first of these incidents was on April 2, 1978. Mike and a fellow researcher were diving in a little known area of the Enewetak Atoll. Mike was taking still photographs when he was violently attacked by a Grey Reef shark, ripping the top of his right arm off and leaving him bleeding profusely in the “sharky” waters of the lagoon. His diving partner was less severely attacked by the same shark. They were 10 miles out, no land in sight and there was nobody in their 21 foot boat tohelp. Needless to say, things were grim for the two researchers as they were separated at the surface – left alone to deal with a dire situation in the middle of a lonely ocean.
It is still a mystery as to why Mike was not eaten that day. Enewetak is famous for its enormous population of sharks Mike was bleeding heavily, hundreds of yards away from an empty boat, his diving partner nowhere to be found, rough seas surrounding him and he was severely injured. It was the fact that he was 100% convinced he was going to die that saved his life. When you are already dead, there is no reason to panic, so Mike just rolled over on his back, used his left hand to clamp off the blood flow from his right arm, and slowly kicked toward the boat, waiting for the inevitable – even imagining where the first attack would hit him. The second attack never came and when Mike finally reached the boat, he saw blood on the gunwales – his friend had made it back – he called up and was helped into the boat. Two years and eleven operations later, he is fine, only a partially operating right hand and ugly scars left as reminders.
Shortly after returning to Hawaii and back to school, the inventor of the Nautilus Exercise equipment appeared in the Waikiki Aquarium and saw Mike’s tank of Chambered Nautilus on display. This was the second life-changing event of that year. The man insisted he wanted to replicate this display at his facility in Florida, and sent Mike and several others to Palau, in the Western Caroline Islands, to collect a few Nautilus for him. At the last minute he gave the grad students a camera and asked them to document the expedition. Knowing nothing about filmmaking, Mike and the crew read the manuals for the 16mm Arriflex camera on the plane ride to the south pacific where they proceeded to make a film. It was the worst film ever made, but it was also the most fun Mike could remember having; it seemed this might be a way to exercise his desire to educate, but rather than to a classroom of Zoology 101 students, to millions on TV. So upon return to Hawaii, he quit graduate school, hung his filmmaking shingle and never told anybody he didn’t know what he was doing.
For the next ten years Mike travelled the world shooting sequences and films for a variety of clients, primarily the BBC, PBS and National Geographic. Soon he began producing as well as hosting the films and is the recipient of many awards including BAFTA and EMMYs. Then came Mimi. Mimi Armstrong was an associate producer for Ted Turner and was making a film about the American Trust Territories in the Pacific and decided to hire a Hawaiian crew rather than bring a crew from Atlanta, and Mike got the call. She is still paying that invoice as they were married two years later! Mimi joined Mike’s company, the Film Crew, Inc. and together they began producing natural history films. Mike and Mimi now live in Santa Barbara, California and have two teenage kids, Max and Frances.
For the last several years, in addition to continuing filmmaking, Mike has become a speaker, master of ceremonies and interviewer for a wide range of audiences. He has interviewed James Cameron, Sir David Attenborough, Al Gore and many others on stage and brings decades of experience of world travel, interactions with media broadcasters, dealings with foreign agencies, hundreds of ocean stories and tales of creatures great and small, to entertain his audiences. Mike has dived under the ice at both poles, been to all continents, become a submersible pilot, dived hundreds of times in many types of submersibles, filmed the hydrothermal vents in both the Atlantic and the Pacific and had more meals on the Titanic, now resting at 12,500 feet deep, than did the doomed passengers.