As far back as he can recall Hans Walters loved sharks. As a child growing up just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the 1970s, he would spend hours flipping through the encyclopedia memorizing details about the many different types of sharks.
Hans’ love of sharks led him to attend college in Florida at the University of Miami where he earned his degree in Marine Biology, but that career was put on hold when, in 1982, he became the lead singer of the Miami-based metal band ZToyz (pictured at left).
Hans spent the next nine years fronting ZToyz as they opened for huge stars like Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Ramones, and Humble Pie. The video for their song, “Miami Breakdown,” played on MTV, and Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider covered one of their songs on a solo album.
In the early 1990s, ZToyz broke up and Hans decided it was time to do something new with his life. Putting his degree to use, he applied for a job at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and his love for sharks was rekindled. He went on to earn his Masters degree in Marine Biology and is now a shark researcher and supervisor at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York (pictured below).
But Hans hasn’t left rock and roll entirely behind, before he arrived at the aquarium, the sharks were given names like Sand Tiger Shark 1, Sand Tiger Shark 2, and Sand Tiger Shark 3. Hans started referring to them as “dirty stinkin’ rock and rollers,” and these days they’re named a bit differently. Visitors now spend time with Axl, Duff, and the rest of Guns N’ Roses as well as Janis Joplin and members of AC/DC and Bad Company.
Years ago, hanging out on the Coney Island boardwalk with Dee Snider, Dee told him he always admired that Hans had a backup plan if his career in music didn’t work out. Hans’ response: “Music was the backup plan. Marine biology was the original plan.”
The New York Aquarium is also where Hans met animal behaviorist Martha Hiatt, now his wife (pictured in the player above with Bruiser the Sea Lion). They came to StoryCorps to talk about his unusual career trajectory and how much of his life was actually motivated by his love of sharks.
Originally aired June 10, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.