Living Sharks Museum - Curator
KEITH M. COWLEY
SHARK ADVOCATE, EDUCATOR
Keith Cowley began his shark story as a precocious youngster growing up on the Connecticut coast where he palled with his retired grandfather, a commercial fisherman. Captivated by sharks and ancient animals, he spent his high school summers diving and digging for prehistoric shark teeth in Maryland and North Carolina. After high school he followed project leads given by an encouraging teacher that set him on a path as an amateur paleontologist. Unable to afford college he trekked across the country using his artistic prowess to obtain interpretive exhibit design work. This work fueled the gas tank and opened up opportunities to gain more experience digging, preparing and exhibiting fossil material. A serendipitous meeting with a future employer in Arizona set him up for a job helping to design and then curate a new paleontology museum and area attraction back in Connecticut in the early 2000's called Nature's Art. He worked with Triebold Paleontology to layout and display several western species of prehistoric animals, including a forty-five foot marine reptile Tylosaurus proriger. He assisted with a related short-term exhibition at Mystic Aquarium titled Savage Ancient Seas. The museum eventually went from an exhibition gallery to full retail environment. So he switched focus to the development of educational programming and enriching exhibitions (which included sculptural concept design and signage for two dozen full-scale prehistoric animals set on a mile-long trail system). As the facility became a growing family attraction, Cowley parted ways and returned to traveling and digging up prehistoric sharks until the recession landed him in seaside Westerly, Rhode Island.
Cowley continued to fund his interests with art and design, including a gig with Animal Planet, while digging deeper into modern shark biology and conservation. As is his way, he took up opportunities to experience as much as he could without a degree. He had a chance to work on a dragnet trawler, to experience the commercial fishermen's perspective as an adult. Additionally he spent over five years collecting fisheries data on highly migratory species (including sharks) and monitoring shark tournaments as a NOAA contractor. He made friends and partners with conservation organizations to understand the differences in functional impact. As a Creative Consultant he has designed marketing campaigns, assisted partnerships, developed packaging designs, helping artisans launch products that give proceeds to proven conservation organizations through his moniker Wild Animal Trust. He has since been out on research boats and public expeditions to observe great white sharks, as well as experienced the shark tagging process aboard the vessel Ocearch during Expedition Nantucket. In 2018 Cowley transformed his art studio/ Living Sharks Project research office into the first iteration of Living Sharks Museum, housing artifacts from his travels as well as his personal collections of shark history and conservation. Cowley is utilizing the museum as a platform to advocate for threatened and endangered shark species, while developing educational materials and programming on and offsite. His goal is to "protect shark history and shark future", using facts and artifacts to teach and inspire future shark advocates.