Saturday, January 31, 2009
In our world whale sharks represent "instant tourism". In places where whale sharks aggregate divers throng from all over the planet to interact with these gentle giants. In many cases a daily rate of $200USD per diver is not uncommon. For a place like India $200USD represents a yearly wage for many impoverished fishermen rapidly providing the incentive for further protection of this species and others.
Existing whale shark dive protocols and ease of interaction with these animals allows operations to focus on the marketing and sales aspect of bringing whale sharks to divers. For India this program could be ramped up in a short period of time.
This organic and quite remarkable effort has paid off. Now, more often than not, whale sharks accidentally caught in nets are released with the help of a local team from "Save Whale Shark".
India Today writer Uday Mahurkar detailed the story of whale shark conservation in a simply terrific article this morning:
In September last year, fisherman Amrutlal Chauhan and helpers spread their nets in the sea near the Saurashtra coast, hoping to catch some fish. But what got trapped in the net took them by surprise. It was a 20-ft whale shark. A timely call was made to the local ‘Save Whale Shark’ campaign activist Dinesh Goswami who along with personnel of the forest and fisheries departments came to the spot to cut the nets open and set the giant fish free.
As we have long pointed out shark tourism enables local populations to sustainably manage sharks. The value of shark tourism in places like the Maldives is US$2.3 million a year-an estimated at 100 times more than the export value of that islands shark meat.
This is an industry drumbeat that's been gaining acceptance over the years and is now being adopted by forward thinking NGO's.
Unfortunately in many places this paradigm has also become a race between local fishermen who harvest sharks, for both fins and quick profits, and the newly developed and existing shark tourism operators in the region.
No where is this more aptly highlighted then recently in Malaysia and Mabul Island. This week State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun took the extraordinary step of calling for an investigation of shark fishing activities in the region. This is to applauded and kudos to the minister for this stance.
If Mabul Island and surrounding region is to retain it's sharks, local efforts in tandem with government are the key:
"Nature lovers and the global conservation community are fast becoming very influential lobbyists whose action could hurt the State's tourism industry in the long run if they decide a boycott of Sabah to protest against activities perceived to be cruel to whales and sharks," minister quote.
Friday, January 30, 2009
This particular operation is set to expire any day now:
Herald Online reporter Dineo Matomela should be noted for his coverage which looked systematically into the causes, the sharks, and the over all shark situation in the region.
Makes for facinating reading and a template for non sensational shark journalism-tackling the issues of humans and sharks in a thoughtful manner:
A ZAMBEZI shark was responsible for attacking and killing a Port St Johns lifeguard at the weekend, Natal Sharks Board head researcher Geremy Cliff said yesterday.
He said warm waters along the Eastern Cape coast in summer attracted the sharks. Seasoned lifeguard Sikhanyiso Bangilizwe, 27, was attacked by the shark on Saturday afternoon while swimming with a friend at Second Beach.
He was bitten on the shoulder, right arm, back and buttocks. Cliff said an examination of Bangilizwe‘s body had established that a Zambezi (bull) shark had attacked him.
Image: Bull shark commonly know in S.A as Zambezi
Inventor Ted Ciamillo plans to pedal nearly 2,000 nautical miles from the Cape Verde islands to Barbados at a depth of around two metres, surfacing at night to sleep under a tent erected on top of the sub, according to New Scientist magazine.
Editors Note: Every once in a while along comes a tech storyline made for television. If these guys make it even half the distance they are planning the end result will be a thrill a minute programming-cue the adventure, cue Nat Geo.
Cape Town - Cool-headed Witsand residents have accepted their toothy marine neighbour with some pride and are not about to be scared away from their beloved Breede River by any shark, big or small, they say.
Witsand hit the headlines this week after a huge four-metre female Zambezi shark, heavily pregnant with at least four pups, was caught about 5.5km upriver from the estuarine fishing village. Locals said they were more amazed than frightened at the appearance of the shark, estimated to weigh around 650kg.
For some it was proof of what they had believed for years, after regular sightings of large shadows under the water and mysterious disappearances of fish from fishing lines.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
I never thought I'd say this, but I am bored with sharks. This summer, it has been impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the TV without being subjected to yet another daring shark escape story.
On closer inspection, these yarns have invariably turned out to involve nothing more thrilling than an exceptionally timorous surfer paddling for safety after spotting a fishy shadow pottering quietly along the shoreline, minding its own business.
While sharks in Australia do, as the Australians rather wonderfully say, "take" the occasional swimmer, Kiwi sharks are about as predatory as a newborn ladybug. Occasionally, a shark will accidentally graze a surfer's calf with a tooth, while yawning: cue national panic and the mass closure of beaches.
Silliest of the many absurd shark reports the media has pestered us with this summer was one from Radio New Zealand. The national broadcaster quoted Constable John Paul Tremain as urging people to stay away from beaches near Dunedin because a large shark had allegedly chased a couple of surfers from the water.
RNZ said Constable Tremain did not know the "exact size or breed of shark" - terrifying news in itself; someone is breeding the things! - but was convinced it was "lurking with intent".
Lurking with intent? Intent to do what? The sea is where sharks live: sharks no more lurk in the sea than I lurk in my house.
The ban on chumming and shark diving in Florida waters was poorly conceived back in 2001. This complete ban was conducted under a negative media storm by a well organized anti-shark diving lobby.
At the time a nascent US shark diving industry was comprised of just two operations.
Today Florida's waters teem with commercial shark diving species. An estimated 10-20 million dollar tourism industry sits idle as hotels and restaurants across the region shut down under one of the worst recessions in recent history.
Meanwhile, Florida's sharks are relegated to weekly news reports that do little to dispel the Jaws mythos with recent titles like "Shark Frenzy Caught on Tape" and the ever popular "Shark Alert". The state of Florida's-state of sharks-is at an all time low with an ever present perception that the waters of Florida are filled with rapacious predators waiting to strike.
The reality could be further from the truth and only the commercial shark diving industry can, if given a chance, work to dispel that media fabrication about sharks.
It is high time Florida reconsidered commercial shark diving operations off it's waters. Done right, with serious and lasting species interactive protocols, and even the threat of fines for industry infractions, Florida could ramp up a shark diving industry in less then two years that would feed local communities desperately needed tourism dollars.
If the ban on shark diving in Florida was in part done to stop the fear of shark attacks on humans, we would suggest the bans goals have failed. It is time to rethink sharks in Florida.
In a scene worthy of any action film, team members were towed 2 189km up the Breede River before the critter became tired enough to load up with tags and release:
Long-standing fishermen's tales of huge Zambezi sharks in the Breede River have been confirmed - and huge means just that.
Last week, researchers on an expedition to confirm the presence of this species - also known as bull sharks - not only caught one of these sharks, but the catch proved to be a world record at 4m (13 feet) and weighing more than half a ton.
Team tracking discoveries:
1.This Zambezi shark - who we have named Nyami Nyami (the Zambezi River god) is the largest of its kind known to science, measuring 4 metres total length. The previous known maximum length for this species was 3.4-3.5 metres;
2.The discovery of Nyami Nyami represents a significant range extension for Zambezi sharks in South Africa, as they were only known to occur to Cape St. Francis in the Eastern Cape;
3. Nyami Nyami appeared heavily pregnant, suggesting the Breede River may serve as an important nursery ground for these sharks.
Editors Note: The tracking data coming back from this female is invaluable to the understanding of this species behaviour. Needless to say you do not want to be a fisherman in that region...or do you?
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
His theory is bearing fruit, as untold numbers of these super predators are being found as far north as Oregon in population densities never before seen. As Scott recently told us "these animals breed at a rate of millions, if you take their primary predator out of the loop, they will explode on to the scene and dominate the niche the sharks vanished from".
Scott has a way of being right about his observations on the ocean:
BODEGA BAY, Calif. (CBS) In Mexico, they are called the "red devil" and "the beast" in Central America. They are jumbo squid: deadly, fast moving creatures with tentacles that can suck the life out of a human being.
The squid are devouring parts of large populations of native fish in Northern California.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has been tracking the population explosion of the squid. In just a few years, they have gone from occasional visitor to numbering possibly in the hundreds of thousands.
"It's a stout, very muscular animal, very high speed, excellent vision," said Karl Menard of the Bodega Bay Research Laboratory. "They are called the jumbo flying squid for a reason. They can actually leap out of the water and project themselves into the air into schools of nearby fish.
Full Story Video
Then there's the curious case of this food item which, by the looks of things, is allowing the blowfish population off the coast of Japan to remain intact:
Blowfish testicles have left seven Japanese ill, one critically, renewing public fears over the dangerous delicacy.The group ate raw meat and baked testes of blowfish - known in Japan as fugu - at an upscale restaurant on Monday in Tsuruoka, an old castle town 350 kilometres north of Tokyo.
As part of a HD failed venture to bring 24/7 wildlife programming to the world the camera system will allow the public and researchers to monitor these ungainly critters from the comfort of your desktop (ours is running right now).
For the shark world, you just may catch a natural predation, if you are lucky.
"I know how much positive correspondence we get from people all around the world who are absolutely captivated by the video. In New York, people said they would leave the video running on their desktop day in and day out because it was so refreshing to hear the sound of the elephant seals chattering," said Alan Friedman, chief information officer for California State Parks.
Click here for HD Seal Cam and good hunting!
Image:Lucky E-seal Isla Guadalupe survives shark attack. RTSea image
To distill this thought down, imagine 22 Chinese Americans waving protest signs outside a McDonalds directed at the predominately white customers inside. "Meat is murder" "Cows are killed inhumanely for this meat". You begin to see why this divide becomes almost impossible to bridge while the salient fact of whites telling Asians what they should and should not eat remains on the table for discussion.
That's not to say it cannot be done. Following the masters of the game WildAid and their campaign strategy of mass communication with members of the Asian community is effective. The subtext here is campaign effectiveness:
Having briefly observed and filmed the Chinese Flower Parade kicking of the New Year in San Francisco, I was amazed at the colors, smells and richness of the Chinese community. San Francisco has the largest Chinese Community in the USA, and a walk down Stockton Avenue is a walk into Asia.
A demonstration by the Shark Safe Project and aided by COARE approached shark fin soup restaurants and came out on the streets passing out information, but the shark activists were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of Chinese Americans flooding the narrow streets of Chinatown. Most passersby appeared indifferent, a few were angry, most just passed on without making eye contact. Even so, a hard core group of activists, many from out of the area gathered to pass out information for sharks.
I've been a member since before the update in 2005 and I must say that it isn't easy to do these assessments. We use all data we can find from surveys, landing data from fisheries and other sources, but the red list works best for animals on the savannah! We can't say that there are exactly 253641 spiny dogfish left in our waters and that last year it was 398526. We are not even totally sure that there is just one population of spiny dogfish in the NE Atlantic! Still, the spiny dogfish is one of the few elasmobranch species that we at least have SOME data on. For many of the skates and rays we don't have a clue of age for sexual maturity (which means that we don't know the generation time which is an important factor in the assessment) and we lack landing data specified down to species. All we know is that they are probably late in getting in mature and long lived.
Ever since I made my masters thesis on spiny dogfish (back in 1997) I have tried to make my colleagues set a quota on it in our waters. I mean, an animal that is 12 - 14 years old when it becomes sexual mature and that carries it's pups for 18-20 months (!), can't possibly tolerate a heavy fishing pressure. But since we are part of the European community, we have had to wait until EU finally set a - much to high - quota in 2007. In 2003 came a report most commonly referred to as DELASS (=Development of Elasmobranch Assessments). After having analyzed data and made several models, the conclusion of the report was that in 25 years the population of spiny dogfish in the NE Atlantic might have been fished down with as much as 95-98 %!
With this knowledge, the spiny dogfish was listed as EN (endangerd) on Swedens red list for 2005. The IUCN shark specialist group held a workshop for the NE Atlantic elasmobranchs in 2006 where spiny dogfish got listed under the highest criteria CR (critically endangered). (See figure below for explantions.)
We do these assessments to point out to those responsible that action needs to be taken, but it's not legally binding. The ideal situation is that the red list is blank - that all species are sustainably exploited or not threatend by habitat destruction etc. For some species, the situation is getting better after their debut on the red list, but for sharks action is very slow. Therefore we need people like you, reading this, to take action. Sign that petition, send an e-mail to that shop selling shark products or to a politician that has some power or make an activity celebrating the International year of the shark. Tell everyone that it's not ok to exterminate the sharks!
I'm VERY sad to say that it seems like the spiny dogfish will be listed on CR on the Swedish redlist for 2010. I've done everything I could to change it's dire situation. And it wasn't enough!
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
We decided a face lift was in order to celebrate this unlikely event so here's the old/new Underwater Thrills:Swimming With Sharks. More changes on the way as we get some cool new widgets and banghoffers loaded up here.
For now, welcome friends, lovers, and the odd assortment of cranks who hate everything we have to say and yet...end up just copying us anyway. We love you too!
Editors Note: That very cool image up there? None other than Gabriel Beyrent shot that scene with filmmaker Richard Theiss behind the lens.
Monday, January 26, 2009
That is until the anti-shark diving folks start playing the media game as well:
Stupid Shark Feeders in S. Africa
Video Post: Stupid people in South Africa sell the chance to jump into a cage for a cheap thrill while they tease sharks from the safety of a boat. These idiots take tourist to ’shark alley’ and tease these majestic animals. Sharks are the top of the food chain, and the operator is a jerk to tease them. If this is somehow appealing to your ego I’d like to knock your lunch on the floor; see how you like it.
What happens to the next diver doesn’t feed the sharks? Now sharks expect man to show up with fast food which might be a human life. I’ll bet these jerks taste like fish.
Take a look at what happens in this video. I can only hope the government of South Africa takes immediate action against the exploitation of Nature’s most magnificent predator before the next attack happens to kill out of total frustration. Not if, but when that days comes you will see how the media vilifies the shark… again. Who is really to blame for that death? It’s coming, just a mater of time. Sharks are patient unlike man.
Dateline NBC had the perfect opportunity to condemn these money grubbing jerks, but not a word about how stupid this is, no out cry for antagonizing the animals, nothing about the exploitation, nothing about what losers these so-call dive boat operators are. Once again MSNBC and Ann Curry drop the ball. Grow a pair Ann or go back to soft news where you belong.
Close call? Not for the shark, it was just bad luck on that day. Maybe next time luck will change hands, after all that is what it will take to stop this madness. One more example of how selfish stupid people think; they somehow have the right to do whatever gets them excited, no mater what logic tells us. Who gives them the right to profit this way? This is wrong, nearly dead-wrong for these adrenaline junkies and I hope you will make your voice heard. Please use social bookmarks to spread the word.
As you know Shark Diver does commercial shark diving adventures. As well as being strong industry advocates, we also work with an exclusive client list who own some of the top yachts worldwide. We have been working with this select group since 2003.
In November I got a call to create a one day Tiger shark expedition to the Bahamas...oh, and could we have the entire team assembled, cages in place, and two crew members at the airstrip in Freeport in one week?
Naturally the answer was "yes". In a flash I had Luke Tipple our Dive Operations Manager and Richard Theiss on the phone and in 72 hours we had approved the yacht, pulled our benthic cage system out of storage in Florida, and started to Fed Ex full face mask communications gear (Ocean Reef) to our vessel.
The client was going to use a 120' charter yacht, fly in for one day, hit Tiger Beach and jet out again by nightfall. It's a tall order, but if the weather gods align just right and you know what you are doing, this site delivers.
Two round trip tickets to Miami from L.A for the crew (Richard dropped another project for us and agreed to shoot for the client), a few last minute deliveries of gear and voila, there was our Shark Diver Crew at the airport at 6.00am waiting for a private prop jet to arrive with the client.
That's when things...went south. Not everything in the shark world works out perfectly, and best laid plans, including moving a complete vessel assist shark diving service 300 miles down the coast and over 3000lbs of gear, sometimes don't work.
Our crew sat on the tarmac from 6.00am to 7.00 to 8.00 and then a call to Luke Tipple and myself, "The client reports they had an accident last night in Miami and will not be able to make it".
Right about now you start running the numbers for what this expedition cost and you start to feel very bad for the client. After all we're here to show people sharks not sit on the tarmac in Freeport. So, in the end, our boys enjoyed a round trip cruise aboard a very nice yacht from Miami to Freeport and back, got to take in the airport scenery, and spent the next 10 hours on the way back dumping many hundreds of pounds of dead and rotting fish off the stern (chum).
To our Shark Diver private clients-next time, you know we'll be ready!
Patric Douglas CEO
Actually, they were two, Alex and Ila, and thanks to their wonderful initiative, 2009 has been declared the International Year of the Shark.
Ever since having become a Member, we've been working on a concept enabling us to create a positive buzz for Sharks all across Fiji. We are lucky insofar that Shark Conservation ties in beautifully with Fijian Culture as for many indigenous Fijians, Sharks are sacred and killing them is Taboo. As an example, many of our feeders hail from Beqa Island and are thus protected by the Shark God Dakuwaqa.
Earlier this month, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International issued a statement thanking Congresswoman Madeleine Bardallo (Guam) for introducing legislation that would close a loophole on shark finning. Bordallo re-introduced the Shark Conservation Act (HR 81) that closes a loophole that was supposed to be taken care of by last year's HR 5741 which stalled in the Senate until their session expired. The act now requires that all sharks taken in U.S. waters must have the fins naturally attached. The new legislation alters previous legislation that currently permits a vessel to transport fins that were obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel. Patricia Forkan, president of Humane Society International, applauded Bordallo's actions.
"Each year, tens of millions of sharks worldwide have their fins cruelly cut off at sea and are then thrown back overboard to die a lingering, painful death."
"Shark finning threatens the survival of essential marine species, and we commend Congresswoman Bordallo for addressing this cruel and wasteful practice."
Shark finning was banned in the U.S. by the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000, but enforcement is complex and the loophole allows circumvention of the law. The Shark Conservation Act must still make its way through the halls of Congress and on to the Senate for final passage and implementation. To motivate your congressperson, you can make your voice heard through Oceana.org's Wavemakers web page which will forward your personal email to your elected representative.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
I'm very flattered to have been asked to contribute to this nice blog. I will go out lightly by presenting a short video clip, that proves why I'm qualified to post on a shark diving blog - even if the videoclip is from an aquarium. (Also, I want to try how it works using blogger - I'm used to myspace).
Shark dive 1
If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to ask me!
In this Florida case perhaps they did know:
TAMPA | At first, Roger Young thought he was the victim of a practical joke. A great white shark in the Gulf of Mexico? No way," the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission captain recalled.
Over the years, Young has been sent on his share of wild goose chases. "But if we get a tip, we have to check it out, no matter how improbable it may be," he said.
The anonymous call, placed two years ago this month, reported that a white shark, like the villain from the movie "Jaws," had been caught on a grouper longline boat and brought into Madeira Beach.
"The species has been protected since 2004," Young said. "If you catch one, you have to let it go."
If you don't, it can be trouble.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Efforts to halt the open sale of shark fins on a global-marketplace website seem to be paying off.
Shark Diver reports that attempts to purchase shark fins on Alibaba.com earlier this week were met with less success than previously. Of the 10 sellers contacted, only two responded.
This is a decline from early January when Shark Diver, using its company name and doing nothing covert, contacted 11 sellers via the website and received responses from nine that fins could be purchased, even though the site stated these sales were going to be removed.
"Closing down the channels of commerce is the trick," said Shark Diver CEO Patric Douglas. "This is a good first step, and I'm cautiously optimistic that they get it."
"Given where they [Alibaba.com] were to where they are now is a victory. It all starts with one," added Douglas. "This is like a million army ants taking down an elephant, but as one domino falls, we move on to the next." Other websites that Douglas referred to as alleged shark-fin selling points are TradeKey.com and ecplaza.net.
"Finning" is the practice of slicing the fins off of live sharks then throwing their bodies overboard, where they sink to the ocean floor and die.
All sharks are at risk, with the larger fins commanding a higher price. Fins from basking sharks can fetch as much as 1,000% more due to the size, for display in store windows. There has been a huge loss of West Coast blue sharks reported in California, and it was not until recent tagging revealed that these sharks were migrating seasonally to Japan and back, though many never did make the trip back.
Editors Note: What was not mentioned in this article were the 100's of people involved in this campaign and the "One" who started it all Wolfgang Leander.
It has been an effective run so far. Adding to that success we are excited to introduce guest bloggers to our site who have a long track record for shark conservation and observations on sharks that change perceptions.
So without further fanfare we would like to welcome Goblin Girl to Underwater Thrills:Swimming With Sharks.
Goblin Girl you ask? Here's her bio:
I'm a marine biologist from Sweden working for the Swedish board of fisheries since nearly 15 years. In my daily job I mainly work with applications processed in the enviromental court. I review them from a fish and fishery point of view. Whenever there is a shark related question in Sweden or Sweden is involved internationally, I'm the one they consult to suggest what Swedens standpoint should be. I'm part of several shark groups like ICES WGEF (working group on elasmobranch fishes) that review data and leaves advice for fishing quotas in the northeast Atlantic. I'm also doing updates both for the national redlist as well as IUCN:s global redlist on sharks. I'm cofounder of the Swedish Elasmobranch Society.
Media often call me when there have been shark attacks and I appear regularily on Swedish nature shows on tv. I appear in a film that is sometimes shown on animal planet called "Science of shark sex".
I've been talking about sharks ever since I was a little kid (3-4 years old). I saw Ron and Valerie Taylor, on tv, diving with sharks and wanted to do the same. So far I've only seen white sharks from a boat (they got afraid when the cage went into the water), but I have snorkled with great hammerheads, nurse sharks, whitetip and blacktip reefsharks. Plus dived with sandtigers, sandbars, wobbegongs, lemons, large stingrays, blacktip reef sharks etc - all at the same time! (Yes, it WAS in an aquarium.) My holidays either goes to destinations where I can swim with sharks, see them in aquarium or see goblin sharks.
"Goblin girl" is my nickname since I simply love goblin sharks (Mitsukurina owstoni). Whenever I get the chance I trawl the net for new info and photos. I'm a dedicated collector and have more shark items than I can count! My office at work is looking more like a toy shop than anything else.
Apart from sharks, deep sea animals is a great interest as well as everything else living in the sea. I also have a great interest for music, with over a 1000 cd:s and I read probably more than I should.
Charlott - the Goblin Girl
She's a Goblin
She's a Goblin Girl (snip)
Pink all over
Some is tan
From every land
They look good...
"Goblin Girl" by Frank Zappa
Editors Note: You can see why she'll fit in perfectly here. Welcome again Goblin Girl!
The subject is our own Sevengill sharks. As it turns out San Francisco Bay is teeming with these huge and reclusive critters.
David is one of a few filmmakers who think "sharks first" when it comes to making films about these magnificent animals. He has distinguished himself in the industry as s serious documentary filmmaker and serious shark advocate. Join him this month for the opening of his new film City of the Shark:
Dear Ocean friends,
I would like to invite you to my new film City of the Shark-
prescreening at a fundraising party for shark research - this coming
Thursday, the 29th at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco.
This will be a first time screening of this 15 minute documentary on local sharks, including tagging and tracking the sevengill sharks of the San Francisco Bay with researchers from UC Davis and the Aquarium of the Bay. The event will include live sharks, live music by rocker Mike Gibbons who did the soundtrack for the film, food, drink and sharky conversation. Please come support our local sharks and the Aquarium of the Bay Foundation.
We will also world premiere at the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival
Feb 21 at 1 PM.
Ill be hosting a series of shark films at the festival, and afterwards I will be moderating a panel discussion sponsored by Greenplanet Films titled Sharks: Myths and Misconceptions. Please come if you can and pass this on to anyone interested in sharks and the ocean.
For a healthy ocean,
"City of the Shark" Preview Screening
Thursday, January 29, 2009
6:00pm - 8:30pm
Friday, January 23, 2009
We witnessed many blog posts detailing the slaughter but no real initiatives put forth to stop it. It is now 2009 and the venerable Andy Cobb has weighed in on this issue. While we do not always agree with Andy's take on things, we do agree that local conservation initiatives save sharks, but they have to start somewhere:
Shark Tourism Full Story
Shark diving in S.A is a huge International tourist attraction and the flagship species are the white shark, tiger shark, bull shark, the spotted ragged toothed shark and a whole host of varied flat sharks. Many visitors are well travelled to dive with sharks and are knowledgeable and passionate about sharks.
The white shark cage diving industry is now just a money making racket by the majority of the operators, the tourists pay large sums of money and are crammed onto a boat, to watch white sharks being fed, and breaking the S. A. law against such activity in a MPA.
Turns out Melanie was front and center at both the swearing in ceremony and with the Washington conservation crowd at the International Conservation Caucus Foundation Ball where Shark Trust Wines were served to a standing room only crowd of conservationists and politico's.
For America's only wine brand that supports shark conservation efforts and raises awareness about sharks that was a pretty neat trick. Melanie reports that she is now out of wine in the D.C area for a while, another successful event and a unique way to get shark conservation efforts on the agenda in Washington.
We have been featuring Shark Trust Wines on all our commercial shark diving vessels since the brands inception. As a stand alone wine series they are excellent, as a back end way to message shark conservation efforts, brilliant.
The multi-faceted Bahamas campaign was in part driven by a series of slick online video's highlighting the impending disaster at Bimini complete with first person interviews with affected locals and conservationists. In the history of conservation efforts this is a relatively new phenomenon, easy and quick eco messaging with extreme effectiveness. Here's one example from the Bimini campaign, as a force multiplier for education and as a conservation tool these video's are key to conservation efforts.
Once again Kudos to all those who did the heavy lifting here, this was an amazing turnaround:
The campaign to save this site was driven by old fashioned pressure, letters, and a very slick series of online video's posted to You Tube and other eco sites. Today the Bahamas announced they will be creating a Natures Reserve in the area. Kudos to the many who started this project and who carried it through to this day, and to Doc Gruber and his team as well. As a template for the creation of other marine sites in the Bahamas this eco challenge was one for the books:
The Bahamas government has created a marine reserve off the island of North Bimini, preserving critical mangrove habitat and a shark nursery that had come under threat from a resort there.
The reserve, which will be protected from most fishing and other "extractive activities," is home to endangered species such as the Nassau grouper and the Bimini boa, as well as a vibrant nursery for lemon sharks.
The decision -- approved by the Bahamas cabinet Dec. 29 but announced last week -- is a setback for the Bimini Bay Resort and Marina, which has been clearing some of the island's mangroves to build a hotel, a golf course, a casino and two marinas, some of which have already been constructed.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham had initially considered establishing the reserve in the late 1990s, but his party lost power in 2002, and the development proceeded. Ingraham's party won back control in 2007.
Philip Weech, director of the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission, said the government concluded that the mangroves on North Bimini's North Sound contribute to the nation's fisheries as well as tourism. It is vital for the fisheries in the area to retain the ecosystem in that area," Weech said, adding that the reserve "helps us also to deal with the issue of climate change, flooding, storm surge and the biodiversity that's there."
Under the plan, the government will allow traditional land crabbing in the protected area, along with limited catch-and-release bonefish fishing.
Samuel Gruber, a University of Miami professor who has studied lemon sharks for nearly 20 years as head of the Bimini Biological Field Station, called the creation of the reserve "miraculous."
Gruber and four colleagues published a scientific paper last year showing that dredging in the North Sound for the resort construction in March 2001 had cut the first-year survival rates of juvenile lemon sharks there by more than 23 percent.
Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, who has collaborated with Gruber on his shark research, said the Bahamas' decision is significant because mangroves represent "essential fish habitat, and they're dwindling all over the globe."
The Bimini Bay Resort and Marina did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. Weech said any further development, including the planned construction of a golf course, would be allowed only if it did not jeopardize the reserve.
Demian Chapman, a Stony Brook professor who has also conducted research in Bimini, said the golf course "would be a disaster" because it would damage the reserve's water quality.
"It's just like having a sewage plant next door," he said.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
That was until this week when the U.K press forever trolling You Tube for free content got a hold of it and voila-instant media classic.
Thinking about rolling out a new television show? For us this unique "easter egg format" would be a clear winner:
At the beginning of this year I was in studio doing a nation wide ad campaign for AAA Auto Insurance. You may ask yourself, how does auto insurance translate into commercial shark diving?
It does when you get to introduce your own 60 second commercial with "Hi, I am Patric Douglas CEO of Shark Diver, we take people to see the big sharks like Great Whites and Tigers...." the studio time was a lot of fun. I ended up doing my impression of the lizard insurance company character to the AAA script. That stunt generated much laughter and at least one spilled coffee on the other side of the glass.
So, if you happen to be in your car this year, and you also happen to be hearing one mans tale about shark diving and car insurance, yes, that is me and I am Patric Douglas CEO of Shark Diver. I also really use AAA Auto Insurance as well and as you can tell, highly recommend it.
Ahhh, media, it's the lifeblood of our industry. Oh, and stand by for the entire month of March we have some more fun on the way, seriously you're going to like the month of March-brought to you by Shark Diver.
Patric Douglas CEO
Lately I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to screen my white shark documentary, Island of the Great White Shark to large crowds, to discuss shark issues with the audience, and be interviewed by newscasters. Their questions and comments would be wide-ranging, expressing a variety of opinions. While I tend to avoid op-ed positions (I find I get long-winded as you can see) and prefer to enlighten people with the facts, sometimes I feel compelled to express just where I stand.
Eco-tourism has taken an interesting journey, evolving from the hunting safaris of the past into photo safaris to its current position as a conservation-minded endeavor. In the process, it has moved from a high adventure, risk-your-life type of activity to that of ecological enlightenment. This is not to say that it is without risk - from inclement weather, to a charging animal, to tenuous or hostile political environments in some developing countries. But those involved in eco-tourism who choose to promote it as a thrill-seeking, dangerous activity are behind the curve regarding its future and in the end can do more damage than good.
This is particularly true of shark diving. Many leading NGOs have turned towards shark eco-tourism as a possible new strategy to pursue. While past strategies of regulation and prohibition have produced legislative results, eco-tourism offers an additional supportive approach by providing countries or businesses with economic alternatives to curtailed anti-conservation activities while also providing a means to educate the general public with first hand experiences.
However, the NGOs commitment to eco-tourism becomes shaky when safety protocols are not strictly enforced, resulting in aberrations like some of the incidents or activities that have received broadcast media or YouTube attention - like riding, grabbing or playing "kung fu" with passing sharks or cage breaches due to unsafe bait handling. The days of high testosterone, "face the malevolent monster" are at an end and undermine the efforts of those who are working hard to build a general public consensus regarding the importance of shark conservation.
I have personally seen how shark eco-tourism can be beneficial, as I brought out in Island of the Great White Shark at Isla Guadalupe. Those shark diving operators who have been a model of effective eco-tourism have supported the island's "biosphere" status financially, supported Mexican shark researchers both financially and logistically, and have acted as unofficial watchguards in the absence of Mexican enforcement due to the country's limited resources.
Criticisms of Eco-tourism:
Eco-tourism is not without its critics and many of their concerns are not based on the welfare of the participants but on the animals themselves. Here are the two most common complaints often levied against shark eco-tourism and my take on the issues:
1. The animal's normal feeding behavior is being disrupted.
Well, to be honest, I have my concerns when feeding takes place pretty much year-round. I am concerned with sites like Stingray City in the Caymans and other similar spots where the potential for negative feeding behavior is possible because of an endless stream of tourists with bait in hand. These sites need specific scientific study to determine if there are detrimental effects taking place.
At a site that I am familiar with, Isla Guadalupe, this same complaint has been used by certain political forces in Mexico who are determined to rid the island of all boat activity. In this case, I believe it is a weak argument. When hang bait is used to attract the sharks, a certain number of them succeed in occasionally catching the bait being wrangled by the crew, but we are talking about bonito or tuna carcasses (the sharks often spit out bony tuna heads) - not a major source of nutritional quantity or quality. For the 3-4 months that the sharks are at the island, this activity does not supplant their normal feeding behavior (primarily pinnipeds and whole tuna) or leave them starving the remaining 8-9 months when they migrate.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss this issue with shark researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The consensus was that a specific study would be needed for a definitive answer (researchers don't like to guess) but the feeling was there is probably some behavior modification regarding the sharks "recognizing" the presence of shark diving boats but a negative impact on their feeding habits from hang baits alone was a bit of a stretch.
2. Animals will associate humans with their food/bait.
With regards to sharks, the fear is that providing bait to sharks will make them associate humans with their food and become more aggressive to divers, surfers or swimmers - in essence that we're teaching the sharks to eat people. While a specific scientific study would be needed on a site-by-site and/or species-by-species basis to determine it once and for all, I can at least add my anecdotal observations.
In all my years of shark diving, I have yet to see any shark become specifically aggressive towards the divers in cages or myself (where I am often more exposed to the sharks) when conservative baiting is present. This is not to say that I am willing to put my arm in front of a floating bonito while a white shark bears down on it and expect the shark to swim around me. Nor will I place myself in the midst of a group of frenzied reef sharks tearing apart a large piece of bait and act surprised if I get nipped accidentally. But with all the various prey and various scents that sharks detect and recognize, to assume that a shark will equate fish blood to human prey is an A equals B logic that my experiences just don't support.
The Shark's Role as Predator:
In building public awareness in shark conservation it is critical that we build consensus based on truth. And the truth is that to maintain a healthy eco-system nature needs its predators - even the big, fearsome ones from sharks to grizzly bears to lions, tigers and so on. Many of these animals benefit from the "warm and fuzzy" factor. We look at the mother polar bear and her cubs strolling across the Arctic ice and we get all soft inside, forgetting the fact that the polar bear is a ferocious predator - a role defined for it by many, many years of evolution.
Sharks do not have the warm and fuzzy factor working for them. They live beneath the waves in their own realm and for centuries all man has been able to do is scratch the surface of that realm and form attitudes steeped in ignorance and fear.
So at one end of the attitude spectrum there is "sharks are killers" and "the only good shark is a dead shark." What we must do is to educate people as to the important role that has been defined for these animals through millions of years of evolution. For some of our larger sharks, their role as predator and scavenger may not be a pretty one, but it is absolutely vital in preserving the intricate weave that we call the marine eco-system.
Unfortunately, I have sometimes seen the spectrum move too far in the other direction. For some people, their enthusiasm as shark advocates pushes them to ascribe social or human-like traits to sharks that don't really exist. To promote sharks as cuddly puppy dogs who smile at our approach is not a responsible position based in fact and can ultimately be dangerous not only to the cause of shark conservation but literally to any person who interacts with a shark, forgetting at a crucial moment the animal's refined sense of self-preservation, of flight or fight. Timothy Treadwell tragically lost sight of this while studying Grizzly Bears.
This circles back to my earlier comments about shark diving. As a professional filmmaker, I am paid to take a calculated risk in filming and sometimes exposing myself to an animal that might choose to defend itself aggressively. Eco-tourists who pay to see these same animals should do so in a safe environment. If we promote some of our most maligned sharks as gentle, loving and smart (in human terms), we are setting up the cause of shark conservation for the inevitable backlash when someone is injured in an unprovoked (or provoked) shark/human interaction.
Let's be true to the facts, true to the sharks, and true to the belief that people can rally behind a cause like shark conservation without being misled, no matter how sincere the intentions. The truth shall, in this case, set the sharks free!
With his pulse on events in entire region "Sharkman" delivers up great conservation content.
Today, foodie blog Gastronomic Ruminations (click link) covered Lovesharks.sg new initiative in the foodie world, "veggie sharks fin" and a unique way to encourage those who love the fin to love something a little less odious:
lovesharks.sg invited some bloggers and I to dinner to try a Vegetarian Shark's Fin Soup as part of their pro bono campaign for shark conservation. Their intent was to change the local (well, its mostly the Chinese) mindset about consuming Shark's Fin as a prized delicacy through education and presenting alternatives.
I love Shark's Fin Soup but as a diver, I feel peer pressure to refrain from consuming Shark's Fin. I decided to go with an open mind as it was an interesting cause that has been subject to much controversy. Some say that only the fins are harvested and the shark is thrown back into the water (leaving the bleeding, finless animal to die a slow and painful death) while others say that the whole shark is used.
I guess they decided not to hurt any animals by opting for a vegetarian meal. Hmm, I may love vegetables but I also love to eat meat so I wasn't sure how I would enjoy a vegetarian soup dish that is meant to emulate the robust flavours found in good quality shark's fin soups. Admittedly, the flavour comes from the rich stock as shark's fins are inherently flavourless. Then again, the point of the dinner was about learning to "love" live sharks and not shark's fins.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A reminder that a free screening of the documentary "Island of the Great White Shark," by RTSea Productions, will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the MLK auditorium of the Santa Monica Public Library. Filmmaker Richard Theiss, executive producer and cinematographer for the project, will be in attendance and will conduct a question-and-answer session after the film, as well as discuss his experiences filming great whites and other sharks. The screening of this 45-minute film is part of an ongoing lecture series sponsored by Heal the Bay's Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
Theiss, who four years ago joined an eco-tourism charter to Mexico's Guadalupe Island and the surrounding waters to observe the great whites, became passionate about this subject and began documenting the work of shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos Padilla. The resulting film from this trip details the important role great white sharks play in a balanced ecosystem and also focuses on the marine scientists dedicated to studying and protecting these sharks.
"These are absolutely magnificent creatures living on a razor's edge of possible extinction. And there are some very dedicated people working tirelessly to prevent that," Theiss said. "This is a story that needed to be told."
Millions of sharks, including great whites, are killed each year for their fins, as accidental catches on commercial fishing vessels and for souvenir jaws and teeth.
Admission to the screening is free on a first-come, first-served basis. The main library is at 601 Santa Monica Blvd., with a pay parking structure available on 7th Street, north of Santa Monica Boulevard. For directions to the library, visit www.smpl.org/depts/branches/index.htm. For other information, visit www.healthebay.org/smpa or call the aquarium at (310) 393-6149.
-- Kelly Burgess
Photo: Great white shark off the coast of Guadalupe Island. Credit: Sharkdiver.com
On January 1st, 2009 were were pleasantly surprised to discover all overt sales of sharks fin had been removed from Alibaba.com Many in the shark conservation world hailed this as a great victory and presented Alibaba.com with kudos both online and in the news. Overt sharks fin had been removed from one of the largest web trading portals on the planet.
Our policy has been to verify results. Shark conservation projects should never accept half measures and what we subsequently discovered at Alibaba.com was not good news at all.
On January 2, we were able to source close to 80,000lbs of sharks fin by just requesting it from the sellers of shark products via their site. A loophole. We followed up this discovery with a post about what might be done to mitigate these sales on Alibaba.com. A Red List would inform and educate both sellers and buyers of sharks fin and other banned products at Alibaba.com.
These suggestions were modeled from the kind of safeguards you find at industrial chemical sales portals, the software for these safeguards exists and the implementation of these safeguards a relatively simple matter.
This week we went back to Alibaba.com posing as a buyer once again in search of sharks fin and this time asking for 4000kilos a week or 8, 800lbs. The results were promising.
Of 10 sellers of dried shark, and whole shark products only two answered our request, both said they could source as much sharks fin as we requested. This represents a big drop in the numbers of positive answers to buyers interested in sharks fin via Alibaba.com.
Here is one of the results:
Re:Inquiry about Dried Salted Shark Meat
|From:||Mr Hxxx Cxxx|
|Date:||Fri, Jan 16 2009 09:26:08 (GMT)|
When the darkest days of America overshadowed the rest of the planet.
"We the people" elect Barack Obama.
Monday, January 19, 2009
One of these people is Amanda Cotton whose black and white imagery of large predatory sharks strikes the right note about these animals in ways color photography cannot. As we blogged about her a few months back, "when shooting in black and white you are forced to tell a story to make the shot work, Amanda's work is just plain organic".
We discovered this week she launched a new blog (and the shark crowd goes crazy).
Kudos Amanda, while your images give voice to the sharks now it's time for you to give voice to your images...oh and we'll be here to help as well.