Sunday, September 18, 2011

Aliwal Shoal - What has happened to the Tigers?

Aliwal Shoal Tiger and diver, by DaWolf - a thing of the past? Notice the Blacktips in the background.

I must say, when it comes to SA, I remain of two minds.
Having been a staunch anti-apartheid advocate, I was overjoyed when the despicable regime finally disappeared. Mandela transcends positive attributes but then came the pathetic Mbeki - and Zuma, let alone Malema are frankly a disgrace and cause for grave concern.
When it comes to conservation, there is of course the brilliant terrestrial track record that on top of preserving vital unique habitat is contributing millions in tourism income. On the marine and especially, sharky side of things, not really impressed. There's certainly a lot of research, some of which is rather impressive; but when it comes to getting those Sharks protected, I see ALOT of self congratulatory media by the various bikini models, artists, sharktivists and whatnot - but in terms of having achieved tangible results?

The Shark diving Industry?
SA's Shark diving has been developed and very much put on the map by visionary, and probably equally crazy icons like Andre Hartman, and the legacy is being continued by excellent people like Mike Rutzen or Chris Fallows for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect. Other people, not so much - but such is the Industry everywhere, tribal and petty! Plus, news like these are of grave concern as such banana republic shenanigans will come at the direct expense of safety and reputation, and I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, I'm digressing as usual.
Why I'm writing this post is that this has piqued my interest.
Apparently, way less Tiger Sharks show up on the Aliwal Shoal dives. Apparently, the reason for this are poaching for trophies - and the highly controversial Shark nets.
This stuff: antiquated, ineffective, unselective, an ecological crime that needs to be stopped.

But is that the most plausible explanation?
Firstly, has anybody checked the data? Has anybody taken the time to go and corroborate those reports by talking to the KZNSB, by looking at fisheries data and by following up on the poaching allegations?

Secondly, Wolfgang reports that
The dive reports I received lately are alarming: Very few tiger sharks sightings, and the tigers don't stay, making one or two brief passes only to leave the scene altogether.

Sharks including Tigers don't like to approach people and that's why the dedicated Shark diving operators attract them with bait. In Aliwal Shoal, this is now thankfully done with ZIBS, a Shark friendly implement that is however not dispensing any food. Thus the Sharks are being teased in and then waste time and energy that could be spent on productive hunting, which is however not the topic here.
The topic is that this could well lead to negative reinforcement whereby individual Sharks wise up to the fact that they're being cheated and learn to avoid that situation.
And then, there are the notorious swarms of Shark hugging bimbettes and intrepid freedivers abusing the Sharks as underwater scooters: do you really believe that those disrespectful stupidities are in any way conducive to those animals ever wanting to come back?

Which brings be straight over to the following.
In my experience, Tigers are rather placid (and incredibly determined!) and just want to do their thing in peace without being harassed.
Juerg has been here for a lightning fast go-see and informs me that his next paper is about to get published. In it, among other topics, he documents how other Shark species have reacted to the stupendous increase in our population of Bull Sharks that has culminated in our sighting of approx 100 individuals this June - and counting, next year there will be more!
I don't want to pre-empt his conclusions but one of the results will be that we're seeing less Tiger Sharks. From my personal observations, this is because they just cannot be bothered to come and join the fray in order to compete with the Bulls - this the more as the Bulls are clearly not intimidated and on the contrary, have even been observed to shoulder away the Tigers when getting to the bait!
Talk about a total lack of respect!

And then,there's the famous Shark Rodeo in Walker's Cay.
As far as I know, only a very few of the famous Bulls bothered to ever turn up at the chumsicle and when they did, they made one or two brief passes only to leave the scene altogether. Tigers, a big fat zero - and this despite being frequently sighted in the vicinity, despite of the yummy fish smell and despite of the massive commotion caused by the Caribbean Reefs and especially, the Blacktips!

Or maybe because of it!
Blacktips are your quintessential asshole Shark: lightening fast, frisky, in-your-face assertive and unpredictable - certainly nobody any self respecting Tiger Shark would ever want to be associated with, especially if they came in packs!

May it be that the exact same is happening in Aliwal Shoal?
May there have been an increase in Blacktips? May there be some correlation between that increase and the decrease in Tiger Shark sightings? May Tiger Shark diving in Aliwal Shoal have become the victim of its own popularity - among humans but above all, among Blacktip Sharks?
Some form of interspecific exclusion, competitive or not?

Yes I'm clearly speculating - but has anybody looked into it?
Thing is, I fully support Wolfgang's cry for better coordination and better Shark protection in SA - tho I fear that achieving any degree of co-ordination, let alone cooperation will be difficult (...) and that in view of the current banana republic shenanigans, few operators will have the guts to speak up against the inept Government policies. But, as always, all should happen based on factual data - and when it comes to those Tiger Sharks, I'm not that sure.

And since we're at it:
Tiger Beach? Feisty Lemons vs placid Tigers?
Questions questions... :)


tonylindeque said...

I alway enjoy articles on shark related topics. Your comment...''swarms of Shark hugging bimbettes and intrepid freedivers abusing the Sharks as underwater scooters'' is excellent but in this article you mention Wolfgang....who is also a ''underwater scooter poser''.
Whilst every mention of sharks and their protection helps the cause it is difficlut to take anyone claiming to be a conservationist seriously when they have pictures of themselves hanging on a shark, whale turtle etc.

Wolfgang Leander said...


I appreciate your comment.

What you say about underwater "scooter posers" is a point of view I respect. I touch sharks, yes. I leave it to others to say whether that is right or wrong.

I do not "pose" when I hug a shark. Some folks take my pic when I do it - fine by me but I couldn't care less.

I also hug street dogs without knowing them once in a while. And I hug my wife. Nobody would call me a dog hugger or a wife hugger.

I hug people I like, same with animals. That's all I can say.

You don't have to take me seriously because I hug sharks. I don't claim to be a "conservationist".

Whenever I think I should draw the public's attention to sharks being harmed in concrete situations (such as the abusive baiting methods applied by some South African shark operators) I become active.

That doesn't make me an "activist" per se.

I would never join a group of "serious" activists carrying banners saying: "Stop eating shark fin soup" in front of a Chinese restaurant, and I would not start a shark conservation group like so many others have done and will do - that is not my way.

If I feel that I should fight for a specific cause, or denounce hypocrisy in the shark world, I become a temporary "activist", as it were.



Anonymous said...

You are hitting the nail on the head.

Diver pressure probably has a lot to do with the decrease in sightings.

Of course the nets should go. But that is another story.

Jean-Pierre Botha

Peter Southwood said...

Wolfgang Leander
You say people just happen to take photos of you touching sharks, but who puts those photos up on your blog, since you "couldnt care less"?

Wolfgang said...


I saw your comment only today.

While you seem to have a point, I should perhaps stress that when I said I couldn't care less I meant that I don't interact with the sharks so that somebody should take my pics. If some photographers do, among them my son, and if the pics are good and expressive, then I share them with others by posting them in my blog - why not?

I know that some people don't like me touching sharks, others do.

And those who see those type of images for the first time will probably think: wow! sharks don't seem to be as dangerous as they are being commonly portrayed.

Thus, such images have perhaps some educational effect.

Go well,