Diving with sharks: “A safer line of work”
Born in Holland, Phillip Peters first became fascinated by sharks on a family vacation to Spain. He was a child playing on the beach when a couple of waves rolled in, and with them two small sharks. As he grew up, he knew he wanted excitement in his life; no boring desk job for this man. He came to the United States in 1986 and started working with the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus. He did “all kinds of dare devil stuff.” He was an aerialist performing on the “Wheel of Death” resulting in several bad falls. “I’ve seen every emergency room in the country” he quips. He and his brother, Marco, trained and worked with the lions and tigers. Another act he performed regularly was the human cannon ball. The last time he woke up in an ambulance after a cannon firing gone bad, he said to himself “I need to find a safer line of work.” It was then he determined he was going to go back to that childhood fantasy of working with sharks. He first pitched his idea to the circus. He envisioned a show where he would be escaping from a shark tank, but they were unable to add it to their program. Then he envisioned a traveling aquarium, taking it on the road and spending a week or two at one location before going on to the next. His target audience would be smaller towns that were unable to have their own permanent aquarium. That vision was not financially viable. In 1994, he invested his savings into the traveling shark exhibit he is currently doing. The trailer that serves as his showplace is also his home. He and his sharks travel all over the United States. They have been to every state but Alaska (it’s too far to drive, he explains.) He has taken his show to Hawaii (they traveled five days by ship,) Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada. A perk to traveling the country is that he gets to do a lot of sightseeing. He is an American citizen and only returns to Holland every couple of years to visit his parents. Peters really likes his sharks and feels safe with them. “They only have mouths – not claws,” he says, remembering his days with lions and tigers. He has three nurse sharks in his exhibit, but not the same three he started with. He trades them out with other marine venues when they grow too large, and takes in smaller ones when they need a home. He feeds his sharks a variety of fish, like what they would find in their natural habitat. Prior to his Jesup show he was in California. A local fisherman offered him a variety from his day’s catch, Peters took it all and stored it in his freezer. They are currently dining on sardines, squid and cod. Peters does his own cooking in the trailer’s residential area, rarely eating out. The morning of his first Jesup show he was recovering from a bout of food poisoning. “My own fault” he says, suspecting it came from some ice cream that had thawed and was refrozen. He has no backup. He drives the truck, does the set up and the entire show by himself. What happens if he is sick at show time? He does the show. It doesn’t matter how he feels, he has the ability to power through doing whatever needs to be done. The show season slows in the winter. From November through March he will be performing in the South, doing boat shows, fairs, etc. in Texas and Florida. His home base is near Sarasota, Florida. Several years ago, he planted 2,000 palm trees. The trees are almost grown now, and he also has a greenhouse. These pursuits keep him busy in the winter months and will ease his transition into retirement, which doesn’t appear to be any time soon.
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