Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Some of the usual Suspects

I just found this video of one of our Shark dives.

It has been obviously shot by one of our Clients (nice job!), as witnessed by his stationary position behind the wall of coral. As you can see, there's absolutely no need to go hopping about in order to "get the shot", as the feeders will guide the Sharks towards the cameramen, the more as the Bulls are trained to come in from the left. And don't tell me that this ain't close enough for Joe Diver!

You may also want to notice the stationary position of the feeders and the fact that they are wearing steel mesh gloves that will protect them from any accidental "nicks". Like on this day, the animals are generally mellow, focus exclusively on the feeders and take the bait with great gentleness - but there's always the risk of a mistake. This selective feeding technique also ensures that the viz remains good throughout.

Is this difficult and dangerous?
Yes it is and it takes years to make it look easy! This is nothing you may ever want to try at home!

Among the usual suspects, i recognize Scarface the Tiger Shark lady, Whitetail the Sicklefin Lemon, Whitenose the male Bull Shark with the white tip on his nose, Flop with the bent tip of her tail, Crook with her crooked mouth and a plethora of other Bull Sharks which are more tricky to identify.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Bulls are Running!

Pic: Sasha Safonov

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka friends!

Greetings from Shark Reef where the Bulls are running early, fast and furious!
It very much looks like the Main Season is well underway, with your average dive producing 2-3 dozen Bull Sharks of all sizes and dispositions. Whereas some of the big females are displaying the typical skin rashes from when they entered the rivers to give birth, others show deep and very fresh mating scars, a clear indication that the mating season is still in full swing. And then, there's the males: talk about being tattered, emaciated and ravenous! Clearly, Bull Shark sex is nothing for the squeamish!
And, there's a new batch of sub-adults which is always a wonderful sight to behold, as it signifies that the population is healthy and growing.
All-in-all, very exciting times for the feeders and the safety divers, as we often have to re-assert dominance and remind everybody of the procedures, like the requirement to cruise in from the left.

Needless to say, both us and the Clients are having a ball!

And there's a big newcomer, a dark and huge Giant Grouper that appears to challenge the dominance of Ratu Rua! We will obviously name him Ratu Va (Chief number four) and are looking forward to finding out who will turn out to be the ultimate Boso Man. For the time being, they are circling each other warily and engaging in a lot of posturing, with no clear results yet apparent.
To be followed!

Anyway, great stuff and a fabulous start to the 2009 season!

Happy New Year everybody!

Not Sustainable!

I've said it all before...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Birthday Dude!


James has just told me that he has turned 40 a couple of days ago.

James Who?
He is one of our shareholders and only known to those of you who have come diving with us at the very beginning. I tried Googling him and have only come up with this article by Doug Perrine, one of the first, and best ever written about Beqa Adventure Divers.
Amazing what has all happened since!

After having built the operation, James has moved back to the rarefied, and secretive spheres of the seriously Rich. He's presently freezing off his butt in NYC - and hopefully, earning heaps in the process.

Anyway buddy, all the very very best, also from Andrew and all of the Staff!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shark Heroes 2008

There's Shark Conservation and there's Shark Conservation.

Whilst we in Fiji have chosen to pursue a micro-project "on the ground", others have taken the route of going public and "big picture". Others again prefer to pursue their agendas away from the public eye. Others may be coming from a more scientific angle or work for some Government Agency. All of it is great and in its combination, it is the best recipe for obtaining results - which is the only thing that counts in the end.

2008 has actually been a good year for Shark Conservation.
Yes, the slaughter continues but there has certainly been great progress in fostering public awareness and solidarity. Shark Conservation is undoubtedly gaining traction and changing perceptions is an essential ingredient if we ever want to succeed on a global scale. Many have contributed and all need to be thanked for it.

Personally, I'd like to point out the contribution of two individuals:

Yahoo's Alibaba and Taobao portals are apparently discontinuing all advertising for Shark products as of January 1st, 2009.
That's really unbelievably good news, the more as both portals are based in Asia and had so far played a prominent (and ignominious) role in the global Shark Fin trade. Quite frankly, I would have never thought that Ethics could prevail over Culture and Business - especially in China which is so much associated with the consumption of Shark Fins.
Never have I been happier to have been proven wrong! Teaches me not to assume and never to give up Hope!
I know nothing about the details but apparently, the merit goes to one (Professor?) Brian W. Darwell who seems to have spearheded the lobbying, legwork and negotiating. The only person of that name I found is this gentleman and if this is him, he deserves everybody's gratitude and compliments!

My other Hero for 2008 is Peter Knights of WildAid, for having convinced CNN to produce the epic Shark segment for their Planet and Peril series. I cannot quite imagine any other Organization (maybe the BBC?) having that kind of global outreach and having achieved to capture their solidarity is a truly remarkable feat! Isn't it just Great to see all the sympathetic comments by the viewers who are very probably just ordinary people with no previous exposure to Shark Finning?

Yes, I know, Success has many Fathers as documented by the many NGOs, groups and individuals "congratulating" and otherwise hinting at having made a contribution - which they probably have. Good on them. In the end, we're all in this together.
But whatever the details, the fact remains that it always takes special individuals to harness those energies and to lead the charge.

Guys, as we say in Fiji, Vinaka Vakalevu!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sharks are Winners!


This is the winner of the "Science and Nature" category of this year's International Aperture Awards.

And this one, named "Cheshire Cat Grin", is the winning image in the "Oceans" category of this year's Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice International Award.


Kudos to Mark Gamba and Bruce Yates for their stunning pictures.
But above all, for having, maybe unwittingly, brought a gentle depiction of Sharks to the public at large.

Subtle as it may be, this really is Shark Conservation at its best.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fire in Paradise

Lucky is good.

But smart, popular and lucky is way better!

Case in point: Paul and Karen of Dive Vava'u, hands down the best Whale Watching Operator in Tonga. And I mean it!

Last week a fire destroyed Neiafu's CBD, an ignominious and condemned pre-WW2 wooden building that had long been the disgrace of the main shopping street. Home to a seedy bar and some small general stores, it was inadvertently torched by a group of kids wanting to smoke out a nest of honeybees. Were it not for the fact that some shop owners lost everything, the appropriate comment would be Finally! and Good Riddance!

The more as unlike others who stoically braved the approaching blaze by refusing to let go of their Bellini (I wish...) until it was too late, Mr. and Mrs. Stone proceeded to quickly organize the complete evacuation and then, the rescue of their adjacent dive shop. In a tell-tale and rare example of solidarity, the whole expat and much of the local community turned up to lend a helping hand. To be seen to be believed!

Good on 'ya guys - you sure did everything to deserve it!

Population Bottleneck


I came across this piece about Cheetahs and had to think of the Sharks.

Dunno if anybody has focused on this yet - but with 90% to 98% of the oceanic Shark populations already gone, we may well be facing the exact same outcome even if we did manage to pull them back from the brink of extinction. Deprived of Genetic Diversity, the population will eventually crash - regardless of numbers and of whether they are still being hunted.

Not that I really had any high hopes anyway - but alas, it just shows how incredibly complex the issues are, and how difficult it is to restore a viable balance once the damage has progressed beyond its tipping point. And let there be no doubt that when it comes to pelagic Apex Predators, it probably has already.

It's a complicated topic but if you're interested, you may want to start with this and then take it from there. There is also this about the (controversial) concept of Minimum Viable Population Size. And if you like formulas, this (sort of) explains Effective Population Size.

It will be interesting to see the results of the ongoing genetic studies that are presently being conducted on various Shark species, among them one about Bull Sharks to which we have and are continuing to contribute.

Luckily, when it comes to coastal Sharks, the damage to stocks looks less irrevocable - so far. Shark Conservation has gained considerable traction and I believe that we really do have a fighting chance - but we need to do something right now.

Fingers crossed that we're not too late.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Very nice!

I just came across this delightful little presentation.

From what I can gather, it was put together by Hawaiian (?) UW photographer Frank Baensch.
May he also be a prominent surfer (this would be him) and aquaculturist? If so, very impressive!

Anyway - Great idea, pix, presentation and message!
Kudos!

(Pic Darrell Wong)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saving the Bahamas Tigers


There has been a lot of brouhaha about a series of images depicting the killing and butchering of a pregnant Tiger Shark in the Bahamas. Here they are.
I'm obviously outraged and saddened.

Several Shark Diving blogs have posted them along with scathing comments and much energy has been invested in trying to ferret out the perpetrators. So far, it seems, they haven't been identified, nor the exact location and circumstances of this despicable act.

Question is: then what?
Are we going to inundate them with hate mail once we know who they are? Write more blog posts? Contact the mainstream media? Launch petitions?
And if so, is that going to make them behave differently in the future? Is that going to save a single Shark? And even if the answer is yes, would that be the most effective way to channel our frustration?

Thing is, people like that think that we're just a bunch of whackos anyway and could not care less about our opinion.
And why should they. What they do is perfectly legal and "Sport" Fishing has a following numbering in the millions and disposes of a well-organized and powerful lobby that will easily dispose of such a minor inconvenience.
It is also very good business for many Island Nations, one of them being the Bahamas.

Wanna see what those people are really capable of?
I pulled the above pic from the image gallery of Mark "The Shark" Quartiano, a mega-asshole and VIP favorite operating out of not some oscure Third World Country, but Florida, USA. A guy like that doesn't even get nailed when he kills protected species, like the Bigeye Thresher depicted. There are 1073 pictures, 90 pages of murdered Sharks - and this by just one man and one boat!

Keeping that in mind, do you really believe that our outrage and let's face it, our hopelessly incestuous blogging, petitioning and clamoring is going to make any difference at all?
Hardly - unless we take it to the next level.
But if we do, I'm convinced that we do in fact have an excellent chance for success.

No, not in having recreational Shark Fishing banned in general, that would just be delusional.
What we need to do is to heed this as a wake-up call that something has to happen. When it comes to the Tiger Sharks in the Bahamas, I believe that we should stop whining and instead focus our energy on making a real contribution to Conservation, and that right where it really matters to us. As Shark Diver (yes them again..) correctly remarks, now is the time for action and not only words.

Here's what I believe can be done.
Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm by no means an expert in Bahamian diving and have no clue of the "politics" and the like - but the impression I get is this.

We all know about the uniqueness and popularity of Tiger Beach.
It has been featured "everywhere" and has become one of the world's safest, most reliable and most widely published hotspots for diving with macro Sharks. Everybody who has been there raves about it and it is consequently attracting more and more tourists, film crews and scientists, to the point that bookings have now to be made months in advance - and this despite of an increase of dive Operators targeting that site. It is safe to assume that all of this it is very good business indeed.

On the negative side, lacking any established user protocols, there is an incipient issue of overcrowding. Some documented incidents show a trend towards ever more reckless, and thus dangerous interactions with the Sharks. There is a bitter ongoing feud between the Bahamian dive Operators and those Operators visiting the site from the US. There's another feud between "established" Operators and perceived interlopers. The site's notoriety is also increasingly attracting Shark fishermen who can legally target the animals.

I've said it before, if one disregards the feuds, politics and history, the crux of the problem is that Tiger Beach is not being protected.
Now, wouldn't that be a wonderful opportunity and challenge for somebody? To make a real difference?
Do I hear "Petition", "Ethics", "Image", "Public Opinion" and the like?
C'mon guys - get serious.

In Banking, we have a saying that Money talks, Bullshit walks.
The Bahamas are a poor Island Nation which is desperately dependent on Tourism income. Which begs the question, how much do the Bahamas get from the Shark Tourism to Tiger Beach?
In licensing fees from the Operators? Directly from the Divers? In ancillary revenues by the Tourism Industry as in flights, meals, accomodation, souvenirs, duty free sales, gambling etc etc? In terms of local employment? In berthing fees, fuel sales, shipyard business?

And how much income do the Bahamas derive from the Sport Fishing business?
Get the gist?

Thing is, it doesn't have to be that way.
Think about e.g Cocos or the Galapagos - and the solution could be this.
  • Tiger Beach is declared a Marine Sanctuary - and thus fishing there is being outlawed
  • there is a code of conduct and access is being regulated
  • any Operator wanting to work there will need to obtain and pay for an according license that can be revoked if he infringes on the regulations
  • when a vessel operates there, there is a daily park fee for the vessel and each of the customers
  • ideally, that money is being used for enforcement, along with the obligation, and authority of each Operator to be of assistance
Is there anybody over there in the Bahamas or in the neighboring US who would like to step up to the plate and get the job done? As in, talking to the Bahamian Authorities and having it implemented?

But, I hear you ask, isn't that a mission for somebody "important", a powerful NGO or the like? Hell No! Anybody can do it!
Me, a nobody, did something very similar all by myself in Fiji, and then expanded on the concept with the help of BAD that was created for just that purpose. And I'm proud to report that others are now proudly reporting our achievements!
But I'm digressing. Shame on me.

Back to the Bahamas.
Run the math and you'll see that it's a compelling case, an easy sell.
It's not like you would be asking for some wide-ranging legislation, or the like. In the big scheme of things, Tiger Beach is nothing but a small speck in the middle of nowhere and you would be providing the Authorities with a viable concept, incremental income, good publicity, even the formula for enforcement!
Why would they ever say no? For them, there's only upside!

Will it be tedious, difficult and controversial? Not really!
Will the Operators gnash their teeth and try to convince us that such a measure would mean the demise of the business they run? Sure they will - but, does Cocos work? And the Galapagos? I mean, business-wise? The fact is, Clients love to pay for Conservation and most of the incremental costs could easily be passed on to them. Will their numbers dwindle because of that increase in price? Certainly not!
Granted, the "code of conduct" may deter some of the more "demanding" Clients - but how much of the target customer base would that really be? Provided that the ever-present Huggers don't get the upper hand when formulating the rules (and we can pre-empt that by proposing those rules ourselves), I can very well imagine a set of protocols that would improve on safety whilst still offering a great experience to the Clients. Isn't that what we should be striving for anyway? Wouldn't it be fair to anticipate that a protected site featuring more "orderly" protocols may even attract more Clients?

Makes sense? Any takers?

Hell, it's such a no-brainer that I might even decide to do it myself!
Just imagine the huge blow to the egos , and the reputation of the concerned Operators, Shark lovers and Shark user groups if some loudmouthed bozo from the South Pacific parachuted in and managed to pull this off right in their own back yard!
And if he then would publicly flaunt them for not having protected their own Sharks due to their laziness, narrow-mindedness and petty bickering. After having been shown how to do it!

Because, believe me - and if you don't, go ask my friends: that's exactly what I would do!
And that's a Promise!

The ABC of Commercial Shark Diving

Photo Doug Perrine

Patric over there wrote this in a comment to a post.

It's as good as it gets and deserves to be published verbatim and front page.
If everybody could really bring themselves to heed those recommendations, the Shark Diving Industry would spare themselves much of its current self-inflicted plights.
Brilliant!

"If we were advising a new operation under those parameters you set forth we would suggest the following. All answers are based on a ten year site plan.

1. Discuss whose waters these are. Are these the operators home waters or is this being done in another countries waters. Big issue here-know where you are operating.

2. Caged diving vs non caged. We would suggest caged first for the following reasons. With caged diving you can get more divers with varying levels through your dive site safely.That translates into more dollars for the operation. Over the long run your divers skill level will drop. There's a finite pool of top shelf and seriously experienced open water shark divers out there, once you burn through those you need a program that can take anyone at anytime. Cages fit that bill. For a business this makes sense your safety parameters with a cage system is 98% or better.

3. If no cages set your safety protocols as conservatively as possible and NEVER deviate from them. The main issue with cageless dives we have seen worldwide is the resetting of safety protocols "on the fly". If you are doing open water Mako shark dives and have spun up a safety protocol DO NOT start offering cageless night diving with Makos six months later.

4. Always do everything you do with a mind towards the shark diving industry as a whole and to an "end game". Assume a shark attack on one of your divers and drill down the logical outcome from it. Is your operation defensible? Could your divers have been protected with simple chain mail arms and leggings? What will the world think of the sharks and your operation after the attack? What is gov response?

5. There is no such thing as "assumed risk" in commercial shark diving that is a myth put forth by those who have experienced operator error. You are not protected by "assumed risk", it is not a shield or cover for your operation. Ever. In fact the more years you have safe open water or cageless encounters the more your operation is "assumed by your divers" to be safe.

6.Embrace and guide other operations who come to your dive site. It is a natural fact of shark diving, if you have success at a site others will come. We have seen how "snubbing the new guy" works or how the virtual arms race that is "outdoing the other guy" works as well. It is counter productive to the entire industry. I know this is "heretical thinking" but our industry track record on this sucks the way we have been doing it, let's try something new.

Media

The world media is anti-shark diving, it is biased, and it is a monster. The 24 hour news cycle needs stories for the machine, should you as an operator provide a shark attack story your would will be rocked. As a last thought consider spinning your entire operation around shark research and produce data and results.Quickly.

The media will find is difficult to fault both a shark research team and a commercial shark diving operation. At least it provides a thin veneer of legitimacy for what you do.Remember in the mind of the media we are all yahoo's out for a cheap thrill.

Some thoughts."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Julie MacDonald

You may want to remember that name.
No, not fondly.

The more, as she has managed to become a colloquialism.
If you want to know why, read This - and This. This. And This.
And there's obviously more

Shocking - and alas, not surprising.
But great that she was finally found out and disposed of.

Not that this would ever deter the incumbent.
Now that some of his cronies are being removed, he has frantically issued a flood of egregious "midnight regulations", among them one that cripples the Endangered Species Act by further curtailing the very same Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service on top of that.
Did 200,000 signatures against it matter? Not at all.
Obviously.

Despite the best efforts by the Administration, they however seem to have made a mistake and Congress can, and hopefully will act quickly to have the regulations removed. If not and they are allowed to be enacted, they will take years to unravel.

We'll see.
And hopefully, this time, our voices will count for something.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Whithout a Lobby


Back to the serious side of life and a timely post alerts me to the plight of the Bluefin Tuna.
It's a great piece and I invite you to go check it out and to follow the links.

Thing is, they are not alone.
Across all Oceans, all Apex Predators are on the verge of extinction and contrary to the Sharks that have finally attracted some advocacy, nobody seems to care much about the other species. Or is there really a grassroots Movement that lobbies against the extermination of the various Tuna and Marlin, the Broadbill and the like? Dunno, really, but I fear that the principal Organizations dealing with this topic are more likely concerning themselves with how to kill them in the most efficient, and just maybe, in the most "sustainable" way (often, not even that).

Am I boring you?
Is that maybe because contrary to the case of Sharks, our Western "Civilizations" are among the principal consumers, along with being some of the worst perpetrators?

We boast about having established "Dolphin-free" Tuna nets - but what about the Tuna?
Does their life carry less value, I mean ethically, than that of another very similar animal , the only difference being that we have chosen to eat one and not the other?

Do I hear "Sentient", maybe even "Extraterrestrial" , "Ambassadors" or "Matrix Energetics"?
Yeah right...

Sure, agree, one has to choose one's fights and mine is Saving Sharks.
Still, we need to keep an eye on this. Not only because of the problem with the bycatch but also, because all is interconnected anyway and the slaughter will impact oceanic Sharks in ways we may not yet know. Species Protection always equals Habitat Protection and the other Oceanic Predators are undoubtedly an integral part of the equation.

You may want to keep that in mind next time you decide to indulge in Maguro Sushi or vitello tonnato. Or Sharkfin Soup - because ethically, it's the exact same thing.

Effective!


This I believe is about saving the Whales.
And some furry animals, too!

Do you care about the details?
Really? If so, here's where you can find more pix information!
All I can say is that it sure beats hanging a fully clothed chick from some fishing hooks in order to save Sharks! In London, the capital of the global Shark fin trade! Nah, I'm gonna spare you the link - but if you insist, Google "Sea Shepherd hangs some ugly Woman from Hooks" and take it from there!

And (I hear you ask with bated breath), have the Japanese stopped killing Whales as a consequence?
Sure they have!

And Now for Something Completely Different!

I've been looking for an excuse to post this for quite a while.

This is the time.
After laboring over the previous post, I'm kinda feeling all Sharked-out.

I once found it on the SeaWay Blog and although it's got nothing to do with Sharks, it features Nature, Water, small and obscure Predators, Aggression and the Matrix. And Sex!
That should be enough to qualify. Amply.

Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Quo Vadis, Shark Diving?

Check out this video



Yeah, right... what to say...
Even toothy Patric over there at Shark Diver has been unusually restrained in his comments.
Guess we're are all kinda speechless.

Maybe the way to start this thing is to say that one probably shouldn't blame the clients.
Fortunately for all of us, Diving has gone mainstream - but that implies that we really get to see all sorts. The fools we encounter have no particularly nefarious intentions, they are probably just a reflection of what's out there in the general population, and I'm gonna refrain from commenting about the peculiarities of this or that Country - tho being your average xenophobic and campanilistic European, I certainly could!

This may surprise you but I don't even take issue with the tug-of-war with the Lemons.
The Sharks very likely couldn't care less and their reward should amply compensate them for any perceived discomfort. Predation ain't a pretty and peaceful thing and most meals down there come at a cost, energetically and otherwise - just picture those Tigers and Great Hammers that are studded with Stingray barbs and you may agree that Evolution has most likely selected for a fair degree of resilience in Predators.
Not to worry.

Thing is, Shark Diving has certainly come a long, long way!
Mind you, places like Cocos and the Galapagos are still very much the way they used to be - that is, minus the profusion of Sharks, but that's another story altogether. But there, one obviously doesn't need to bait.

Baiting for Sharks was started by professional UW photographers and cinematographers like Cousteau, the Taylors or Herwarth Voigtmann, a German guy who convinced his girlfriend Vreni and then his daughter Bine to pose topless whilst hand- and mouth-feeding Grey Reefies in the Maldives. The images were spectacular and inspired a whole generation of divers.
In the beginning, those were purely private and professional undertakings and kept strictly separated from recreational diving.

The first "proper" commercial Reef Shark feeding operation were probably Stella Maris and UNEXSO in the Bahamas (or maybe it was Herwarth when he decided to go commercial), and Rodney Fox most probably established the first commercial cage diving operation.
But I'm digressing.

Anyway, back then, the Reefies were a real big thing.
With everybody toting along some camera, the clients wanted to emulate the published work of the pros and were willing to pay any price to get face-to-face with a Shark. Shark dives were thus highly lucrative, prompting every Dick Tom and Harry to venture into the business of commercial Shark feeding.
It all was sort of ragtag and improvised (read it, very funny!) and resulted in the establishment of feeding stations like the "Lion's Head" in the Maldives or Avatoru in Rangiroa that were being "worked on" by every Dive Shop in the vicinity. Other feeding stations like those on the Burma Banks or "Valerie's Reef" in PNG were established by Liveaboards and equally shared.
Did anybody care to try and have those areas protected? Of course not - but mind you, those were the 70ies and the 80ies and there was no realization that matters were dire, nor was there the Internet on which to find that information.
Anyway, inexperience being inexperience, competition being competition and Reefies being Reefies, it was only a matter of time til the accidents started piling up.
Sound familiar?

Fortunately, those incidents were only "minor" ones and confined to the feeders who would then be able to proudly, and heroically display the nicks to the ever-present adoring bimbettes.
But they were perceived to be bad for Tourism and the Authorities stepped in and enacted feeding bans. Or, as the sites were not being protected, the bad guys stepped in and fished them out. Fact is, most of those "shared" places have been decommissioned.
The Bahamian and Ozzie operations, on the other hand, quickly saw the writing on the wall and resorted to chainmail suits when hand feeding or to other techniques like Chumsicles and have continued to operate basically unchanged until present times.

Again, I'm just talking about small Reef Sharks - and still, in my recollection, all those commercial dives were strictly structured as spectator events whereby no direct interaction was ever allowed between Sharks and Customers. Consequently, no Customer was ever hurt.
See where this is leading...?

Today, it seems to be an established fact that recreational diving with predatory Sharks in unbaited conditions is possible and safe provided that one respects some basic safety procedures, as in not to interfere with natural predatory events, to be aware of their corporeal language and not to dive in murky water.
Does that extend to macro Predators? Probably the answer is yes, although not having any personal experience with Great Whites, Makos and Oceanic Whitetips, I'm just relaying the opinion of other people in the know whom I trust. Not really being terribly brave myself, I'll however probably give it a pass, especially when it comes to Great Whites.
Thing is, without bait, chances to see any of them are close to zilch anyway.

Owing to Rodney's original insights (and common sense), baited commercial macro (predatory) Shark encounters have so far remained strictly confined to cage diving in oceanic conditions and involve blue water species like Great Whites, Makos and Blues.
The Pros have obviously continued to do what Pros do, and that is, to push the envelope. We all have seen those images. So have the camera-toting clients and I fear that it's only a matter of time until somebody will perceive a competitive edge in taking them cageless.

When it comes to the hitherto more obscure macro Reef Sharks as in Tigers, Bulls and Great Hammerheads, maybe even Lemons, the Jury is still very much out. Until quite recently, there weren't any "established" diving sites for those species and nobody really seemed to have any strong opinions about them, either. That is obviously changing.
The actual consensus seems to be that diving with them, even it baited conditions, doesn't necessarily require any cages.
We at BAD certainly concur with that view.

We will also always defend the right of anybody to interact with predatory Sharks in baited conditions - but only as long as that is being done in private.
Then, it is the same as any other dangerous private undertaking. Having done it myself, I know it to be exciting and highly rewarding and I wish those guys the best of luck and loads of fun. Let's not forget that much of what we consider to be perfectly mainstream today has been pioneered by individualistic adventurers who had the vision, curiosity, recklessness and above all, the balls to give it a try.

However!

When it is being done commercially, we strongly believe that any Operator conducting baited Shark Dives must ensure that the Sharks and the Customers are always kept strictly separated.
This may require using Shark cages or it may require other protocols aimed at obtaining the same result. As I shall never tire to repeat, procedures will always be situation-specific and will always imply a judgment call by the operator. That judgment, we believe, should however never extend to allowing interactive Shark Dives by Customers. Certainly not in Fiji but probably nowhere else, either.
Baited Shark Diving is not recreational SCUBA Diving - never was and never will be.
Whereas on Reef Dives, certified divers are routinely left to fend for themselves, we believe that on baited Shark Dives, the onus of supervising the Clients and ensuring their safety rests squarely with the Operators.

We also believe this, although it doesn't directly concern this tread.
Exploiting a dive site automatically entails a personal obligation for its Stewardship. This is especially true for Shark Diving and I invite everybody to refrain from diving with Operators who do not make a contribution to Shark Conservation in general and who do not aim at protecting their sites in particular. We've made that mistake 40 years ago and we must learn from that experience.

Having been one of them, I'm certainly acutely aware of the aspirations of the many gifted and experienced hobby photographers and cinematographers.
They tend to be the wealthiest, best traveled, most experienced and also, the most influential of our Clients and we love to showcase their work as part of our marketing, the more as they often match and sometimes surpass the results of the Pros. After all, once one has mastered the technique, much is due to pure luck and perseverance which are not linked to somebody's professional qualifications.
Whenever possible, at BAD, we try to position them in such a way that they will "get the shot" , which they mostly do - but that's where the buck stops.
Whatever their level of experience and regardless of their sometimes vociferous reservations, our Customers are never allowed to go fully interactive or to go exploring by themselves.

We reserve that right for bona fide Industry Professionals, and even then, never without close supervision. It's obviously an arbitrary and imperfect differentiation - but that's where we have chosen to draw the line and that's that.
Despite of the obvious dilemma of having to choose between business and principle, we remain of the opinion that this is the only sustainable way for us to operate in this Industry.

I just corresponded with another Industry Professional about this and got back this comment.
"There always exists risks of an accident or the unexpected taking place and as the organizers and "folks in charge", we have a moral (as well as probably legal obligation) to ensure that people are not hurt on one of our adventures, through actions we encourage. We have discussed and continue to discuss ways to reduce that possibility, but we need to do that without taking away the major reason of why people are there and what we are trying to offer them. I entirely agree that we must all tread very carefully, for the sake of our clients health, but perhaps even more so for the sake of the sharks."
I could not agree more - that's precisely the Catch-22 we're facing.

We will always be asked by our Customers to make exceptions and to push the envelope just a tiny little bit more. That's what Customers will never cease to do in their quest for ever more adrenaline and ever more spectacular images.
The privilege, and obligation to make those decisions is however not theirs, but ours. It is us, the commercial Operators, who need to define the limits of where this can be allowed to go - for the safety of our Clients but for our own safety, too, and for the sake of the survival of our Industry. I believe that when it comes to Commercial Shark Diving, we have reached the very limit of what is possible whilst still being reasonable. One more small step in the wrong direction and it's gonna bite us all in the ass.
I just wish that everybody in the Industry could agree on this.
(Yeah I know I know, and Pigs will fly...)

Let's be honest about this - and this is directed to you, our valued Customers.
We the Operators know it already.
Don't get me wrong, predatory Sharks are not Man-Hunters - but they're certainly never, ever harmless, either!
In fact, predatory macro Sharks are bloody dangerous and anybody claiming otherwise doesn't know what he's talking about! It is great to be pro-Shark and anti-"Jaws"- it is however utter foolishness to believe that your Love is being reciprocated.
It is not!

Although I concur with those who say that interacting with the nervous and frisky Reefies is more challenging than interacting with the Big Boys, it is equally true that the resulting accidents are relatively harmless.
Having witnessed quite a few bites, I know that piscivorous Reef Sharks couldn't care less about human blood and will leave it at that. I also know that the bites, albeit painful, are easily fixed with a couple of stitches and some antibiotics - in fact, dog bites are probably worse. Barring a tragedy as the severing of a major artery, the victims are certainly going to survive.

Macro predatory Sharks may seem manageable and in the case of Tigers with their placid cruising speed and dreamy eyes, they may even appear to be outright mellow. It is also quite safe to assume that they equally have no interest in attacking SCUBA Divers.
But let there never be a doubt about how immensely powerful they are, and how potentially lethal! Their bites are always devastating and once blood has been spilled, there's no reason to assume that they will never jump at the chance for a meal, the more as many of them are generalistic feeders whose diet includes mammals.

Please, let's not be stupid!

Accidents have happened and will continue to happen - that's the nature of what we do and we're also certainly not infallible.
I would also presume that each and everyone of us is striving to conduct things as safely and professionally as possible. After all, we would all like to conduct good, sustainable business.
Also, none of us has a Death Wish - right?

Thus, and contrary to maybe others, I'm quite willing to accept that there will be freak accidents and bona fide mistakes.
Where I personally draw the line is where those events are clearly the result of negligence and hubris. Yes this will always remain a learning experience - but the learning curve needs to be bloody steep!
This is now a global Industry and we should profit from it, by always being eager to keep abreast of what's going on in other parts of the world. That includes taking on other people's insights and being willing to learn from mistakes, our own and those of others, too.
By the same token, we should always keep in mind that what we do affects everybody else in the Industry, and vice versa.

That's why I am so shocked by this video.
It is obviously preposterous and embarrassing and depicts a bunch of stupid, reckless and disrespectful morons - but that is not the issue. As I said, they sure come in all shapes and guises and it is up to us to deal with that. I sure hope they've left a huge tip!

The issue here is the apparent utter failure by the Operator to provide those guys with any guidance, it is his obvious disregard for safety procedures and it is also his failure to recognize the damage a video like this will inflict to his reputation, and to that of the Industry as a whole.

Quite frankly, I still keep scratching my head.
What possessed him to let this happen on his watch? Is he just being oblivious of the dangers? Or, is he maybe trying to occupy a competitive niche by attracting the mavericks?
Perhaps he just doesn't give a shit - but whatever his motivation, or lack of: This is just not sustainable.

It is also profoundly disrespectful.
Turning this site into a circus arena makes a mockery of those people, foremost of which Jimmy Abernethy, who cautiously nurtured Tiger Beach into being one of the best, safest and most prominent Shark Diving destinations in the world and committed so much to educate divers and to protect and justify Shark Diving's existence.
A good friend just wrote "Funny, last night at dinner a colleague and I were discussing the absurd video and how insulted I felt after viewing it. I had a range of emotions of embarrassment, disappointment, anger and sheer disbelief and a bit of shame that this is what we have come to in what we all had so passionately protected and cultivated over the years."

This is not about Ethics, or the like.
This is about the professional standards and the future of the Shark Diving Industry
and quite frankly, it's all rather disheartening.

Let's hope somebody learns something from it - tho alas, I'm not about to start holding my breath.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Alas, it's gonna get Hot!


As so often, Helen is spot-on.

By the very nature of who we are and especially, what we do, we're sort of situated at the outer fringes of Fiji's Diving Industry.
Having once memorized that If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings" (and "committees"!), I've chosen to be more of an Executive Summary kinda guy and try to avoid those gatherings.

Luckily for us, we're clients of Resort Support.
Nomen being Omen, their dedication extends well beyond the completion of their projects and we would be stupid if we didn't shamelessly take advantage of that.

Stuart is our conduit to the arcane world of Fiji's Diving Politics and Political Correctness (and preternatural experiments involving Hypothermia) and I'm quite content to have him and Andrew handle that in their own Q-Celtic gibberish. DO click that link and then continue, you'll be amazed... I had no idea!

Helen on the other hand is part and parcel of Fiji's equally arcane local Marine NGO scene and keeps me abreast of developments there. Being more of a Hugger, she's also my very own advocatus diaboli and plays an important role in tempering our sharkophilic, and some would say, reckless exuberance. She's also involved with Reef Check and the like and has been coaching our Eroni in several aspects of local Conservation, last of which the Great Butterflyfish Count.

Anyway, Helen was the person I contacted when we were swamped in Crown of Thorns early on this year. Thankfully, the critters have been told to move on but I remember Helen commenting that in her view, this was the harbinger for a bout of Coral Bleaching.
Unfortunately, it seems, she is right. The picture on top, from NOAAs Coral Bleaching Outlook page, bodes ill indeed.

Indo-Pacific Bleaching Outlook:

The area most likely to suffer thermal stress with the potential for severe bleaching during the next 15 weeks is a region spanning Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Far Northern section of the GBR. Less severe thermal stress is expected in a broader region including all of the Cairns section of the GBR. To the west, the model currently predicts a threat of moderate levels of thermal stress from southern Borneo across through Timor-Leste to southern Papua New Guinea and Torres Strait. This level of potential stress then picks up in the central GBR and east extending across Vanuatu and New Caledonia to the east-southeast of Fiji. Some mild stress may be seen around Madagascar. The greatest warming is expected to begin from late January through February.

Weekly maps right here.
Although ENSO predictions are neutral, some characteristics are pointing to a continuation of this year's La Niña. Others have other explanations but the long and short of it is that we're in for hotter and wetter weather in our nick of the Pacific.

Whatever the cause - this sucks!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Great Stuff!


Having gone snooping (yes that would be me...), I've just discovered a new Fiji post by out talented friend Sasha.

And being my nosy self, I haven't allowed myself to be deterred by the Cyrillic hieroglyphs but have unabashedly thrown them at Yahoo's and Google's translation services, with interesting results - and this not only from a linguistic point of view!

Turns out that Alexander has been extraordinarily busy - and successful too!

I find the link to this killer "Portpholio" (I just love Ghostpipefish!) in Russia's Octopus Magazine (where we'll be featured shortly in another article by Sasha) and the information that the picture on top is gracing the iconic BBC Wildlife Magazine 2009 calendar - that would be 1 in 12 from thousands of submissions!
Great Stuff!!!

And I also learn that Alex and, of all people, my friend Chip share 6th place in the Color Print category at this year's Antibes Festival! And he's 21st in the Portfolio category!
That's a great place to be in so soon in his career, especially considering that the field features such seasoned and award-winning pros (and BAD friends) as the two Michaels, Aw and O'Neill!

Indeed, Sasha, "In these bad times it is desirable to sometimes warm itself and its friends by warm pictures from the edges of warm, good reef akulkami, as well as the portion of positive news."
Mission accomplished!

Smart Conservation!

Maybe it's the legacy of decennia of successful terrestrial Conservation - but South Africa seems to be a fertile breeding ground for efficient and intelligent Shark Conservationists, which of course is great!

Case in point: Lesley Rochat who has posted this video on YouTube.
Shame that she has de-activated the embedding feature and thus limited its circulation.

I like it because despite being chillingly graphic, it nevertheless manages to remain pragmatic and doesn't gratuitously vilify and demonize the perpetrators and the Authorities.

That's smart Conservation.
Those are the very same people one will eventually have to meet in order to flesh out what cannot be but a compromise. Ultimately, it is them who will have to sign , and then do (or stop doing) something and that requires that one continues to talk. Yes, certainly assertively but never impolitely.

How not to do it is amply demonstrated by the recent Whale hunting fiasco - and I'll leave it at that.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pulitzer!

From the iconic Chum Slick, a piece of pure Genius, pics and all.
Thank you El Tiburon!

Jellyfish Tits!

A good friend of ours spent her Thanksgiving in Cabo San Lucas and ran into a Jellyfish while snorkeling. Jellyfish, meet tits. Thankfully she sent us pictures...oh, and thankfully she is recovering nicely.

Not every post can be a Pulitzer Prize expose on an environmental horror show, or a preternatural insight into the inner-workings of green politics.

It's Me You Bitches! Ms Sharky!

--Ms Sharky


Friday, December 05, 2008

Name this Shark!!!


We currently pride ourselves in having named 36 of our Bull Sharks - and counting!
This is all part of our enormous data base where we laboriously record all the relevant parameters for each of our Shark Dives. Having progressed well beyond 1,000 data sets, we're now safely within the realm of Statistical Relevance and are currently busy analyzing the facts and comparing them to our perceptions, sometimes with surprising results.

Thing is, 36 individuals is far from being exhaustive.
Perfect Sharks cannot be named as they cannot be recognized when they turn up again. In fact, to qualify, an animal has to show some flaw. So far, we have mostly concentrated on peculiarities in the shape of the fins, some prominent scar or some color mark which we deem to be indelible.

Having researched Fiona Ayerst and seen her Bull Shark ID Project, we shall certainly explore the possibility of basing our ID of the remaining Sharks on the individual pigmentation patterns of the head. With an estimated population size of close to one hundred individuals and up to 40 Sharks present at peak times, it's going to be a huge challenge to get a proper fix in the whole mêlée - but we'll try to avail ourselves of the ever-present camcorder and take it from there.

Our Shark names are
  • rather Pedestrian like "Whitenose" (you guessed it...)
  • Ethnic like "Adi" (pronounced "Andi" and meaning "Lady" or "Princess" in Fijian)
  • Evocative like "Annie" (who has a cut anal fin)
  • Honorific like "Madonna" (with her sexy facial mole, the next one being "Cindy" as in Crawford) )
  • Phonetic like "Tootsie" (in reference to her protruding teeth)
  • Imaginative like "Long John" (a male with a truncated tail fin named for the hobbling Long John Silver)
  • Far-fetched like my favorite, "Cilla" (she has a cut pelvic fin, leading to Elvis the Pelvis - but this is a female, hence "Priscilla"!)
  • Acronymic as in "Brat" (Broadreach Academic Treks)
  • Outrageous like "Bevis" (who we didn't quite have the heart to name "Butthead")
  • or sometimes Emotional like "Sorry" (because she has a hook embedded in her eye).
In brief, anything goes - so really, this new, medium-sized female who has lost the lower lobe of her tail should be a no-brainer!
C'mon, give it a try!

Should you be the lucky winner of this naming contest, you're in for a treat!
Long in the making, we're finally rolling out our innovative DiveShare, your very own ticket to a whopping fifteen weeks in Paradise - and you could become one of the first proud owners!

Think "Time Share": the concept is old, but to my knowledge and with the possible exception of one or two Liveaboards, it has never been applied to the Diving Industry.
DiveShare
owners purchase the right to come diving with us for one week each during the next fifteen years. The entitlement is fully negotiable, enabling the owners to sell, gift or even rent it out, either as a whole or in yearly installments. There's even a double money-back Guarantee!

Target customers could be
  • Satisfied repeat Customers, an ever increasing part of our Client base
  • Time-share and holiday home owners in Fiji
  • Anybody wanting to make a cool present to a diver
  • Dive Clubs who could raffle a yearly trip among their members
  • Shark NGOs who could auction them off when soliciting funding
  • Regular professional intermediaries who could sell them and pocket the difference to the discounted pricing
  • Shark Conservationists wanting to make a valuable, and highly welcome contribution
Any Questions, and I expect you to have many? Look no further than the exhaustive Q&A section that should hopefully cover most, if not all of them! Comments and Suggestions? Always welcome, ship 'em in!

Wanna give it a go?
Just drop a line to Andrew and Nani. The sharkier and more imaginative, the better! Don't forget to explain the reason for your choice of name.

Best of Luck!

Fare well, Reef Warden


Insiders know that we're all about Shark Conservation.

In fact, the Dive Shop is merely an extension of Fiji's first Marine Park dedicated to the protection of Sharks, Shark Reef Marine Reserve.
The Fiji Shark Project hinges on the concept that successful and above all, enduring Conservation requires that the Stakeholders be fairly compensated for any resulting loss of income. Beqa Adventure Divers is the vehicle by which we can generate the required cash flow to do just that.

When pondering about the best way to go ahead, it became instantly clear that one of the main challenges we would face was going to be, to successfully enforce the fishing ban.
We thus decided to sponsor the training of a dozen local Fish Wardens by the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries, two of which, Papa and Tevita, we employ. In fact, having established the Fiji Shark Corridor, we're about to process another batch in order to reflect the joining in of Deuba Village.
Fish Wardens are like Game Keepers: they are empowered by Government to police, enforce, search, impound and arrest and can avail themselves of the help by the Disciplined Forces like the Police and the Navy.

To round things up, the Swiss-based Shark Foundation generously sponsored the purchase of a special-purpose fast skiff which we named "Reef Warden" and have since maintained and used for patrolling the Reserve. The regular patrols and a couple of "incidents" ranging from stern warnings all the way to temporary arrests and the confiscation of illegal catches have sent the message that Big Brother is watching and we're reasonably confident that poaching, if any, is minimal.

In fact, after 5 years, the fishermen love us to death, as the Reserve has become saturated with big Fish and the resulting spillover has lead to substantially increased fishing yields on the neighboring unprotected reefs. It thus really looks like we've managed to create a win-win situation for everybody involved and that the local community has learned to respect and appreciate what we do.

With that in mind, Reef Warden was definitely becoming under-utilised, a bad thing for a boat that is best kept in constant motion. Also, our newly commissioned second hydrofoil catamaran MV Hunter has proven to be a superior patrolling craft in terms of comfort, eco-friendliness, running cost and speed. Having consulted the Foundation, it was resolved to sell Reef Warden and to re-invest the proceeds into other Foundation projects in Fiji, likely a new set of experiments by our indefatigable Juerg. Reef Warden has now left us for what we hope will be a new, exciting career skimming the azure waters of Beqa Lagoon.

We will miss the pretty, elegant lady.
Moce Mada, Reef Warden, and may Dakuwaqa always protect you!

Goin' College!


Great picture, huh?

Taken with a tiny pocket camera by one of this year's junior Academics!

A very gracious post by Patric (Thank You!) has just reminded me that this one of our most stunning and rewarding success stories.
Not only because this is apparently one of Broadreach's most popular programs and thus likely to run for many years to come; not only because of what we are obviously able to achieve in terms of creating future Shark Protectors by changing perceptions; not only because it dovetails so well with our holistic approach and is so much fun and such a welcome change of pace, especially for our more junior staff - but very much also, because it is the brainchild of one of our very own BAD Girls!

Tiff (she's gonna kill me for posting that link...) joined us as a volunteer in the Marine Park Project when we opened our doors in 2004, but then had to make a decision for a "real" job and opted to go and do what she likes most, and that is, to work in Marine Education.
Nobody could have been better qualified to set up this specific program - but it still took months of dogged groundwork in order to hammer out the curriculum and above all, to convince a skeptical Board that putting some Teenagers in front of huge predatory Sharks was not the apex of total and utter lunacy!

And look at it now!
With the Teenager program thriving, it is even being expanded to College Students!
More "academic' in scope, the new curriculum will undoubtedly benefit from the presence of our very own Marine Scientist Eroni - and vice versa! And are we already discussing a further expansion into a year-round multifaceted program comprising proper internships and the like?
Most certainly!

Tiff, again, well done! I'm impressed!
Very much looking forward to it all!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Eureka! barberi!

Photo Scott W. Michael
The story, when I first heard it, was spectacular.

The Coral Triangle is the epicenter of marine Biodiversity, a region that has been spared during the Glaciations and where many tropical species have found refuge, only to begin re-colonizing the Oceans once it got warmer again.
In fact, if you progress to anywhere from its center, Biodiversity decreases. As you can see, it stretches from Indonesia all the way to the Solomon Islands. Biodiversity however decreases even within that region, with e.g. the Solomons featuring a lower number of species than, say, Irian Jaya.

Apparently, the fable went, Fiji is an ancient portion of the Triangle that had broken off and subsequently, rafted across the Pacific to its present location.
On its travels, Ark-like, it had carried along a sample of the Triangle's marine opulence, thus establishing a new independent and so far overlooked Biodiversity hotspot. That would have been remarkable insofar as the direction of the prevailing wind and currents, and thus, of larval (and thus marine species) dispersion in that region is East-to-West and thus opposed to Fiji's assumed tectonic progression.

May the fabulator have been a prominent member of Fiji's diving community with a vested interest in promoting that destination?
You Betcha!

Having promptly pestered my Taxonomist friends, what really happened seems to be this, and I cite:

Well, there is a fragment of truth in it.

Somewhat east of the Solomons-New Hebrides chain of today’s islands, an intra-Pacific plate subduction zone (Vitiaz trench) developed and gave rise to a string of volcanic islands on the west side of the trench, of which Solomons was at the west end and Fiji was at the SE end. The Ontong Java Plateau was on the Pp east of this island arc and it was moving west toward the subduction zone as was the portion of the Pp with the string of islands. The OJP pushed into the island arc and together they moved onto the continental basins formed by the sequential openings of the Coral Sea-Tasman, New Caledonian, and South Fiji basins. A right angles to the east of the island arch, a vertical [we’re talking Mercator projections] westward subduction zone was forming along the Pp margin which was creating the Tonga Islands. As the linear Solomon New Hebrides-Fiji arc pushed against the other forming-formed basins, the Fiji end got latched onto the north end of theTonga ridge. The north Fiji basin started opening between the New Hebrides and Fiji causing the NH to move west and Fiii to move east carrying a few pieces of the NH with it. Then the Lau basin began opening and split the Tonga ridge into the west Lau ridge, with islands forming, and the east Tonga ridge with its islands.

When the original island arch was continuous, presumably the fishes (and other organisms) had continuous distributions. The separation of Fiji from New Heb on one side and from Tonga on the other allowed many taxa in Fiji to evolve into separate species.

It is more complex that this boiled down scenario conveys, but this is generally what happened. So yes, the island arc formed out on the plate could have had a uniform biota which the geological contortions split up isolating Fiji (and also Tonga, from Fiji)

Thus enlightened (?), I gather that what this means is that Plate Tectonics may have contributed to Fiji's Endemism but likely not boosted local Biodiversity. Nothing to sniff at by any stretch of the imagination - but certainly, nothing really unexpected, either.
In fact, everybody in the know assures me that Fiji's marine Biodiversity is comparatively low and very much in line with what would have to be expected from its distance to the Triangle's epicenter.

Provided that you believe in Darwinian Evolution, and I assume you do, you may remember that one of the principal preconditions for Speciation is Isolation.
With Fiji haven broken away and gone walkabout, a new basin was opened and Gene Flow was interrupted as the genetic pool of Fiji stopped cross-breeding with the genetic pool of the Solomons in the West (and Tonga/Samoa, who in turn sit on their own tectonic micro-express, in the East). Whether owing to different selective pressures, Genetic Drift or the Founder Effect, the thus isolated population then had the chance to evolve into new, genetically distinct Species endemic to Fiji.
As I said, nothing unexpected: the more remote an Island, the higher the chances for Endemism, marine and not, as witnessed in Hawaii, the Marquesas and even tiny Lord Howe.

Still with me?

I sure hope so!
Thing is, Island Biogeography and especially, (terrestrial) Island Speciation never ceases to amaze me.
Take for example Fiji's endemic Iguanas, probably descendants of a Green Iguana that had rafted over, Kon Tiki-like, all the way from the Americas (Australia has Goannas, not Iguanas) and then speciated into the three endemics. I just love the name of the latest discovery!

Or take the incredible incubator Megapodes, some of which exploit the heat of active calderas. Once widely distributed throughout the Pacific, their local extinction correlates with the arrival of Homo sapiens and its bird-killing stowaways and introduced domesticates, alas an all-to-frequent pattern. Present in Vanuatu and Tonga - but not anymore in Fiji!

Or, you can find such puzzling oddities as parthenogenetic giant Monitor Lizards having evolved, some say, in order to be able to prey on Dwarf Elephants on Komodo. Or Micro-Herps and another tribe of highly endemic Iguanas in the Caribbean.
And the list goes on and on and on......
Simply fascinating!

Back to Fiji's Fishes, there is indeed an increasing list of endemic species being discovered.
Take for instance the famous USP Rabbitfish, or Bicolored Foxface that is common on Shark Reef. Or the spectacularly yellow, non-aggressive but nevertheless, venomous endemic Ovalau Fangblenny which is being mimicked by the yellow phase of the non-venomous but Fish-biting Bicolor Fangblenny. Or the three hitherto undescribed (and alas, hitherto uncollected and thus, undescribable) Fishes we found on Shark Reef last February.

And then, there's the lil fella above, as far as I know the very latest (described) discovery.

Gerald R. Allen, Joshua Drew and Les Kaufman: Amphiprion barberi, a new species of anemonefish (Pomacentridae) from Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, pp. 105-114

Amphiprion barberi, a new species of anemonefish fish, is described from 46 specimens, 16.3-85.8 mm SL, collected at depths of 2-10 m from coral reefs of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa.
It is closely allied to
A. melanopus, which is widely distributed in the western Pacific. The two species exhibit significant colour-pattern differences, including a mainly reddish orange body in A. barberi and dark brown or blackish body in A. melanopus. Adults of the new species also possess fewer spinules (11-19 versus 19-26) in the upper-opercular series than A. melanopus. Genetic data presented here confirms the separation of these species.

barberi, I discover, having a very pertinent connection to the above, Triangle, Tectonics, Biodiversity and all!

Anyway, just Amazing!
This is Fiji's commonest Anemone Fish - and now, it is revealed that anybody who has ever seen them and not bothered to instantly engage in ecstatic outbreaks of Eureka! or the like, has been a total and utter ignoramus! At latest count, that would be everybody and his dog. And the dog of his dog!
Wanna feel real stupid? Google A. barberi, A. melanopus, A. rubrocinctus and A. frenatus and compare the pix!
Hah!

Well, spinules or no spinules, Gerry is da man when it comes to Damnselfish (not a typo as anyone having taken pics at the Take Out will confirm), so who am I to raise my eyebrows and to bubble prick or picnic skunk the online fish nerds now bubbling happily among themselves about A New Clownfish!!!, as a friend knowingly admonished.

The more as the Hawaii gang is due back in February!
Having seen the error of our lumping ways, we shall forthwith swarm out and collect several dozen specimen of just about Anything!
The commoner the better!
Maybe even the Darn Damsels, serves them right! Wanna bet that we'll manage to find some aberrant spinule or vomerine canine or some other equally indisputable and -spensable diagnostic feature?

Watch this space!