Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tonic - bad for the Sharks?

Tonic on OWT - source.


Read this.
The author did contact me a while ago asking what I thought about the topic, at which I replied, c/p, Methinks yer wasting yer time there… those sharks can easily stomach a bit of stress… compare to when they get hooked and have to endure long fights … or better, compare to those 100m being killed every year and ask yerself, where should you invest your time… 

Well, she has obviously persevered.
I must say that I'm rather underwhelmed - by the persevering, by the quasi-verbatim parroting of Wikipedia, and by the I believe inaccurate and confusing content. Not a big deal really, and I was gonna ignore it - but now both David and Domeier have chosen to chime in, and it is obviously creating a bit of a kerfuffle which is actually orders of magnitude more irritating than the post itself!
So there.

But first, watch this.

This is the real tonic.
Sharks go into a catatonic state when flipped upside down, and this has been used by researchers as a comparatively non-invasive method to restrain Sharks when working on them, e.g. when inserting acoustic tags etc. Contrary to what Wikipedia claims, it appears to work with most Elasmobranchs as witnessed by the above but also countless other pictures and video of all kinds of Sharks of all kinds of sizes.
It is certainly stressful but likely not life threatening and considering the alternatives = chemical sedation or restraining with ropes or hauling out of the water, I find it an elegant way to profit from a natural phenomenon and can certainly live with the bit of discomfort it causes - as probably can the Sharks!

So what about this rant?
What I find appalling there is the disrespectful forced manhandling that serves no other purpose than to create a stupid macho show for stupid tourists. That may have been cool decades ago but times have changed - now it is only pathetic and we in the industry should be better than that.

Now, watch this.

Yes this is obviously Cristina.
Ethically, the big difference here is that there is no forcing: the Sharks are obviously eager to approach her, to the point that I hear that they will sometimes push away other Sharks from her knees in order to get the "treatment".

But this is not tonic immobility!
Contrary to the real tonic that is being linked to e.g. mating, I cannot imagine any "natural application" where a Shark's sensitive snout with the many nerve endings and ampullae may ever be stimulated in this way. 
I'm clearly speculating - but I believe that the rubbing may possibly lead to sensory overload, i.e. some sort of trance-like state and/or that the sensation may be highly pleasurable, both of which would explain the total relaxation and the fact that the Sharks are apparently coming back for more and even competing for Cristina's attention. 
In any case, this is not at all what has been investigated by those researchers, and the findings of the various papers about tonic cannot simply be applied willy nilly to these specific situations!

And those pics of Eli and the Tigers?

Does that look like tonic to you?
Whilst I can see that Eli tries, so far unsuccessfully, to stimulate their snouts, the Sharks don't appear to enter a trance-like state but instead remain in constant movement and are never really relaxed, to the point that I would argue that I see signs of irritation and/or lack of orientation. Yes the Sharks do come back for more - but IMO they do so because that's where the bait is, not because they desire more manhandling.
What Eli does, is merely to use a trick to flip those Tigers on their back that can sometimes result in one to multiple rotations around their axis - and the posted pictures of inverted and/or vertical Tiger Sharks are completely misleading as they merely depict a totally transitory state.
All this is possibly slightly stressful - but it harming them? Most likely not!

Ethical considerations?
Yes contrary to the example from Cuba, the Sharks appear to approach voluntarily - but this is essentially a circus act showcasing a person manhandling big predatory Sharks. I must say that I'm on the fence on this one which is obviously highly subjective - but I anticipate that in a couple of years, we will look back on it like we now look back unfavorably on the ubiquitous Sharks wrangling of the eighties. And this may even apply to Cristina's show and before you start, yes, even to our hand feeding of Sharks!

When it comes to the latter.
We still believe that hand feeding is the best and safest way to showcase our Bulls - but as the number of Bulls has continued to increase, we have continued to adapt our protocols and are now hand feeding way less than before, this not for ethical reasons but principally in order to manage the risk to our feeders.
May we once be forced to phase it out completely? Who knows, possibly yes - but not quite yet!

But I'm digressing as always.
Tonic or no tonic, tricks or no tricks, feeding or not: there are now simply too many unprepared and reckless people interacting closely with Sharks in places like Tiger Beach and alas, Bimini. And like the idiotic riding, the trend appears to be ever increasing, to the point that quite recently, some imbeciles have even tried to secretly set sail to Guadalupe to go and flip a GWS for some moronic show on Shark Week. I hear that they got stopped by the authorities - but they or others may try again elsewhere, and I must say that I don't like any of these developments.
Shark feeding is easy, and inducing tonic and the likes possibly too - but to do it sustainably and safely over a long period of time is not a question of bravery or of mastering some simple skills but instead requires dedication, knowledge and quite a bit of serious risk management, something Eli appears to be increasingly aware of.

And I see very little of that.
Instead, I see too much yahoo bravado and adrenaline chasing, too much self promotion, too much profiteering, too much outright stupidity - and way too less knowledge, and respect, admiration and love of the animals.

Once again the question is, quo vadis.
And alas, I'm not terribly hopeful.


Douglas Seifert, World Editor, DIVE Magazine said...

Manhandling (or woman handling, for that matter) of marine life for the sake of bravado and a photo opportunity is nothing short of appalling.

The obvious lack of respect for nature, the debasement of the animals with stupid pet tricks and insertion of photobimbos and a relentless pandering to a circus sideshow mentality demonstrates most clearly how undeserving some people are to be so close to nature and its wonderful creatures.

To have these rare opportunities and to squander them for the sake of egotistic chest-thumping for the camera shows low intelligence and low self esteem.

It is true that diving pioneers and trailblazers once experimented in ways that today we are not proud of, but that was then, this is now. You know who you are and you are not trailblazers. You are imitators not innovators.

Shame on you rodeo clowns, mermaid pimps, fraudulent shark whisperers and other animal exploiters.

You cannot speak of conservation and expect to be taken seriously when your actions are in the same vein as Seaworld's Orca shows you fashionably decry thanks to Blackfish and the public's mood of the moment.

Shape up or leave nature alone.

DaShark said...

Wanna tell us how you really feel? :)

Maybe a tad harsh - but yes, 99% agree.

jsd said...

I agree Douglas - except for the bit about these types suffering from low self esteem. My take is that they are narcissistic non-entities with no discernible talent: fiddling around with sharks is their supposed short cut to fame.

Shark Diver said...

When Cristina is touching the sharks, their eyes stay open, a sign that they are relaxed and comfortable. When Eli handles them, that is not the case.

Speaking Truth to Slack Jawed Troglodytes said...

Methinks I LIKE this "Douglas Seifert" whoever he is.