Friday, October 24, 2014

Ila vs David - big Kerfuffle!

Totally uncool - monster tournaments. Source.

Oh my.

Whilst I was away, the shit has hit the fan.
And yes, having been asked and after much deliberation, I'm gonna wade right in - and I may add, with much trepidation! :)

But first.
Please read David and Neil's paper about recreational Shark fishing in Florida. At the time, I did applaud it as the way I read it then, it aims at advocating catch-and-release as a more benign alternative to (lethal) trophy fishing.
After having re-read it, I stand by that judgment.

But of course, there is a big BUT - and here's where Ila comes in!
You must now read the op-ed by Ila - not this censored edited version but the original that includes the contentious assertions about the paper and its authors.
You can find it (after a toothy intro) here.

The reaction was of course immediate.
David did post this and his interventions with Live Science did lead to the abovementioned editing - and totally unsurprisingly, things have since escalated. The usual tribalism is king and there is now a David camp vociferating against the Ila camp and vice versa, and what could have been an interesting discussion has long become irrational and personalized and is really benefiting no-one anymore.

My take?
From what I can discern, the question about whether Fish in general and Sharks in particular feel pain remains largely unresolved, with both camps being able to cite scientific literature in support of their viewpoint - but do those minutiae really matter in the present case?
Whether it is "pain" like we perceive it (from what I can observe, probably not) or another sense of acute discomfort, it is pretty much evident that being hooked is certainly a traumatic event that will always have negative consequences for the Sharks. Even if the animals are being released, some of the consequences will be transient and some will be more permanent and possibly debilitating - but a considerable percentage of the Sharks will die, and this depending on a whole array of variables ranging from the fishing technique to the length of the fight to the handling of the animal to the Sharks' species-specific resilience, etc etc. 
With that in mind, the topic of catch-and-release fishing for Sharks touches on animal welfare all the way to Shark conservation and on that, I'm 100% with Ila in stating that it is certainly never "good".

But here's where I differ - reluctantly!
I am a recreational fisherman. Although I strictly fish for food, and this only for non-threatened species, I'm not gonna try to deceive and obfuscate and state clearly that I certainly do so principally for the thrill and the challenge. I understand that this will disappoint some purists, but this is how it is. I could also add that for obvious reasons (= I love Sharks and yes, they are not Trout!) and because technically, Shark fishing sucks, I'm totally against targeting Sharks - but that's not the point.
The point is that there is thousands upon thousands of people like me. The point is that in this real world we live in as opposed to some idealistic but equally unrealistic utopia, they constitute an economically important, powerful and well organized force whereby if we really want to further the cause of Shark conservation among the recreational fishermen, we must learn to work with and not against them - re-read this.
Again: reluctantly - but that's the only viable strategy!

David and Neil know that.
I've now followed them for many a year and there has been considerable evolution - incidentally, like with yours truly, read these posts bottom-to-top! The net result of their efforts and those of many other equally evolving Shark conservation advocates has been, among others, the reforming of several kill tournaments, the establishment of the Shark Free Marinas Initiative (again, read bottom-to-top), the adoption of length- instead of weight records by the land-based Shark fishermen, etc - by no means perfect but still a notable step in the right direction. 

With that in mind and like their recent paper against weight records, the chastised article is not proof of their affiliation to nefarious fishing interests like asserted but rather, a testament to David and Neil's advocacy of positive, albeit (only) gradual and organic reform!

And one last thought if I may.
Whereas the Hammerschlag labs are simply brilliant in their outreach, they continue to fail quite miserably in handling critique, be it ever so benign. Guys, in the softest possible way: if you publicly circulate your research in the mass- and social media, you must a) develop a better strategy for dealing with the inevitable, equally public and possibly unsubstantiated criticism and b) develop a thicker skin - and I can certainly spare myself the examples as I'm sure you understand!
Or not? :)

End of wading!
Comments policy: read this! :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

North Carolina - Shark Feeding Frenzy!

Again, very cool!
On Thursday, October 9 at around noon, while at a retreat at Cape Lookout National Seashore off the coast of North Carolina, the leaders of One Harbor Church witnessed a shark feeding frenzy. The men were out fishing for the evening’s dinner when they stumbled across more than 100 sharks attacking a school of blue fish. As seagulls and pelicans joined in on the meal, the men began to cast into the surf, catching fish.
Would those be Blacktips - JSD?

Bimini - Sharks and Idiots!

Vincent Canabal hand feeding Tiger Shark. We shall come back to that. Source.

Very cool!

CJ has posted another video.
No need to explain as he does that perfectly! :)
Of special interest to me is the apparent lack of aggression between the Tiger and the Bulls - and despite the Tiger's jaw deformity: may those passes at the end of the video be agonism all the way to early jaw gaping?


Back online!

Well, I was away and now I'm back.

First, a big thank you!
The response to the gazetting of the SRMR has been overwhelming and I just won't have the time to thank everybody individually - so there!

Second, the video is finally back up.
And third, please re-read this about Collier's demented dog who bites all the hands it sees and then runs out into the street to bite random people in the hands and in the ass! The same shit is now being asserted in an egregious publication by the Bangladesh Post Office SRI, no less, and I shall have to post a comment about it as soon as I work myself through my current backlog.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

The SRMR Video!


Yes I know.

That video has been on and off all day.
It will be re-uploaded shortly, likely after our long Fiji Day weekend.

Thanks for your patience in this.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Shark Reef Marine Reserve - breaking News!

I'm over the moon!
But first, watch this.

Did you see it, right at the end?
Yes, we've just received the official notification that from its humble beginnings as one of dozens of locally managed MPAs in the country, the SRMR has now been upgraded to a National Marine Park - one of the first if not the very first in Fiji!

Oh boy has this been an adventure!
It is the result of a whopping 11 years of constant advocacy and cajoling all the way to begging: hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails, dozens of formal meetings and position papers, several governments, multiple ministers, five different village chiefs chairing numerous village meetings with ever changing village committees, having to wait for the outcome of the ultimately failed Fiji Shark Sanctuary campaign, and the list goes on and on and on. And mind you: all these years and enormous effort had to be invested into a conservation project that was completely undisputed and where every single stakeholder had given his approval since the very beginning!
This just as an aside and as a warning to those groups that want to quickly parachute in and get fast results and instant gratification - this is not how Fiji works!

But in the end, we've pulled it off.
We are highly grateful to Government and specifically, to Frank Bainimarama for not only having single-handedly saved our sorry ass back then in 2010, but for getting Cabinet to finally endorse it. And an enormous shout-out goes to Aisake Batibasaga, Principal Research Officer at the Department of Fisheries, for his unwavering support and encouragement all throughout this interminable process. It is thanks to his very personal efforts that it got finally tabled, and for that we shall always be grateful to him.
Vinaka Bati, you're a good man and a good friend!

Our massive thanks also go to the village of Galoa.
Shark Reef lays is within their fishing grounds, and I must really say that contrary to others, working with them has always been easy, and fueled by mutual trust, respect and above all, honesty. To celebrate this event and show our appreciation, we will very shortly increase the marine park levy, with all incremental funds flowing to Galoa only.
Vinaka vakalevu!

And then there's our unmatched team.
Here's to James for having founded BAD and to Andrew for his excellent leadership, loyalty and hard work; to Papa and Nani that have been invaluable guides when navigating the treacherous waters of local protocol; to Rusi, quite possibly the world's best Shark feeder and my dive buddy who continues to inspire me every single day; and to the BAD boyz an gals that always make me so proud.

And then!
Here's to those wonderful people that have been helping us since the very beginning - for a decade of friendship, counsel and encouragement, and above all, for stellar company and shared adventures: Valerie and the late Ron, Juerg, Gary and Brenda, the Hawaii gang of Jack and his disciples John, Rob and Richard and least but not least, Alexander Goldknecht of the Shark Foundation who funded our first patrol boat, continues to fund Juerg' research and is a sponsor of the ongoing GFSC.
And to you, the many loyal friends we've made on the way, and the thousands upon thousands of visitors that have enabled us to keep going and finally achieve our vision of a tourism-based integrated Shark research and conservation project, and reach finally this milestone.
And to our detractors - your have only strengthened our resolve!
Thank you so much!

Oh yes this is long - but it has to be!
So, please, bear with me for another bit.

Back to the SRMR.
Yes in the big scheme of things, this is a nothing, a tiny insignificant speck in the vastness of the ocean - but here's why it may well be just a tad more than that.
As far as I know, this is possibly the first time anywhere that the public sector is conferring the day-to-day management of a National Marine Park to a private entity.
There will be a management committee comprising representatives from Fisheries, BAD, private societies and academia - but whereas Fisheries will always retain the final say in anything, BAD are the only operator entitled to conduct Shark dives, will regulate daily access, monitor the reef, coordinate research, and police and even enforce the fishing ban via our fish wardens. To that effect, we will be shortly conducting our fourth fish warden course, after which every single one of our staff will be a honorary park ranger with full authority to inspect vessels and catches, and apprehend perpetrators.
Methinks this public-private partnership is a great and possibly ground-breaking template, especially for developing countries with their notorious lack of resources - so you purists out there, please do consider the many advantages before summarily slamming it down!

Leaves the video.
Contrary to last time, this is obviously a professional job.
We commissioned it because we knew that something was cooking and as chance would have it, it just got completed one hour ago - in fact I'm posting this minutes after having obtained the Vimeo link! The editor is none other than Jackie's husband Dave who happens to equally be a keen Shark diver - and it sure shows, nobody else could have done it the way he has, bravo!

To be continued - and that's a promise!

PS - thank you Martin!
PPS - Manta Trust here. Thanks!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Western Australia - Government Bashing?

Well it was inevitable.

The bloody controversy is raging again.
And I cite.
With the start of the summer beach season, I expect there will be pressure to begin killing tagged great whites that set off acoustic alarms near beaches. The government has noted that this will not happen, but it is a logical next step in the current thinking.

There is no anti-Shark conspiracy here.
Yes the retribution killing is totally misguided, principally because it does nothing to improve public safety, and it is good to say so and to suggest better strategies - but let's spare ourselves those gratuitous innuendos and accusations shall we. 

The facts?
Yes Rory is undoubtedly under pressure, how could it be otherwise - but there is no evidence whatsoever to justify those continuous public attacks on his integrity. Yes Barnett is certainly not a Shark lover  -  but he was not obliged to accept the recommendations by the EPA, and yet he has done so. Yes more could be done to educate and inform the public - but Sharksmart is definitely a big step in the right direction. Yes those killings are totally unwarranted - but the WA government is also spending millions on research and Shark-friendly mitigation measures.

I understand the passion and the outrage.
But this is slowly smelling like some people are trying to make a bloody career of it, and this continuous public bashing of the authorities does only further alienate them and is certainly not conducive to promoting more Shark-friendly policies.

Seriously, people, you really need to calm the fuck down!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Bremer Canyon - two!


Here is a more recent article.
These are really wonderful observations, and we can only hope that the Riggs team will translate them into yet another fascinating documentary - highly successful funding drive here!

Here are those Orcas - nice! :)

And the mysterious super-predatory giant GWS?
They really got to stop riding that tired old pony - last June, CSIRO did reveal that it was much ado about nothing, and that the tag, not the Shark carrying it had been likely eaten by another GWS.
End of mystery - sorry!

But I sure look forward to the next documentary!

Monday, October 06, 2014

PAT Tags - fishy Data, cagey Manufacturers?

Acoustic tag in front, PSAT tag at the rear. Source.

Please do read this.

Prima vista, nothing spectacular.
As far as I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong), it simply states that the researchers don't have direct access to raw data but instead, they are using data that are being processed/analyzed either by the tag manufacturers or via proprietary software given to them by the manufacturers; and that some of those processed data might be faulty; and that because they are commercial entities, the manufacturers tend to be reticent about their algorithms and software specs - meaning that the researchers need to engage in constant dialogue with the manufacturers and not simply blindly rely on those processed data.

So what's the big deal?
Turns out that behind the scenes, this has led to some major kerfuffle, with some reviewers encouraging a more open dialogue about this issue but not wanting to stand in the front lines; whereas others have been positively outraged and have accused Juerg of being cavalier and incendiary, of disrespecting fellow researchers and more nonsense of this sort.
IMO this is a clear indication of the fact that a) there is a problem, b) many researchers are a tad too timorous (a euphemism), maybe because c) the tag manufacturers, being quasi-monopolists, are exerting way to much influence (another euphemism) on their customers and d) journals may be lacking fortitude, too!

Long story short, I'm disappointed.
I thought that science was better than that.
Kudos to Juerg for having persevered and gotten this published in the end - the question being, will this now lead to more pointless demagoguery, or will this now be discussed publicly as should have happened all along?

Anybody taking bets?

Imagine then, an Ocean without its Monsters; loveless and boring.

 And I cite.
After fishing out the big sharks from the east coast waters, either through fishing methods that involve a lot of bycatch like long lines and gillnets, or through targeted shark fisheries, the ecosystem changed.
In the absence of large predators, a sizeable population (for which we had no fishery) of adorable cow-nosed rays began foraging in the eelgrass for their preferred shellfish food. I don’t blame them. It would take very little to convince me to rummage face-first in the mud for fresh scallops. The mechanical disturbance of foraging rays to the eelgrass, uprooted those plants. The habitat for all of the invertebrates and fish that need it for shelter was lost. By that same token, the rookery habitat for the juvenile fish for which we had our own fisheries was lost; damaging the fisheries and our economy. Our fishery economy was further damaged by the loss of shellfish to ray predation. Without shellfish to filter the water, pollutants were retained and plankton bloomed, causing a depletion of oxygen and creating dead-zones and poor water quality.
Plankton bloomed?
I like this guy - for obvious reasons!
I've found his long 5-part treatise about Sharks, from trophic cascades to Shark strikes, by pure serendipity when searching for a picture of a PSAT tag. Please do take the time to read it in its entirety, from first to fifth post as it is really as good as it gets - highly entertaining, intriguing, exhaustive and remarkably erudite.

Fifth post here, with links to the preceding ones.
From what I understand, the author is likely Chris Reeves - this guy.

In any case - kudos, well done!