Friday, June 12, 2020

More Sharks in Pacific Harbour?


Well well.
Somebody has apparently seen a Shark or two in front of Nanuku Resort and now there's a bit of a kerfuffle, with various quarters offering their opinions.

Thing is, opinions are like assholes: everybody got one. 
Look no further than Dunning Kruger and you will quickly discern that that's just simply not good enough. If you wish to be taken seriously, you really got to inform yourself before making public pronouncements - and no, educated guesses and random unrelated factoids do not qualify!

With all due respect, the premise of this posting is just simply 100% incorrect!
Tashi Blue has valiantly attempted to rectify the story with the media but apparently with little effect, the more as Fijjivillage has only published excerpts of her entire statement.

So there.
We look back on more than 15 years of scientific research into these specific Sharks, and our findings = the actual evidence unequivocally shows that.
  • The big sharks are neither resident to the feeding sites, nor are they "territorial" = they have never only been hanging around Shark Reef or for the matter, Pac Harbour but instead, they have been visiting sporadically but have otherwise roamed all across Fiji, e.g. we have tracked them all the way to the Rewa, the Yasawas, Ba and even Vanua Levu. In fact, those mentioned Tiger Sharks are known to make astonishing trips of hundreds of miles that take them into open ocean where they then fall victim to the long liners = and you have all seen those jaws, and those of the Mako Sharks at the Suva handicraft market!
    But I'm digressing. In brief, nothing whatsoever has changed and our Sharks continue to roam the entire archipelago completely unperturbed, like they always have!
    Paper here, blog post with explanations here.

  • But more importantly, their food intake on the Shark dives has always been negligible = they have never depended on our handouts and they have never stopped hunting and are not now having to change their behavior, let alone venture out of their nonexistent "territory" because we feed less and they are "going hungry" or such nonsense. In fact, we note no different behavior and/or increased aggression, or the like during our dives.
    Paper here, blog post with explanations here.
Again, this is scientific evidence = fact.
In brief, there is no factual basis for speculating that any increased Shark sightings on the beach are due to changes in the Shark feeding schedules - and please don't comment that you disagree as there really is nothing to disagree about = you may, possibly, be entitled to your opinion but you are certainly not entitled to your alternative facts unless backed by solid evidence!

And this?
Sorry, nope, that's not correct, either!
Shark populations reproduce slowly and take a long, long time to recover = a single year since the export ban is just too short to have had any notable effect. But more importantly, recent research shows unequivocally  that fishermen are targeting smaller Reef Sharks and also the riverine Shark nurseries  - not for the fins but for the meat!
Especially the latter bodes really ill for Shark populations = in fact, for what it is worth, over the past few years we've experienced less and not more Sharks!

So what about those mysterious Shark sightings.
  • Firstly, that big blue expanse in front of the Nanuku Resort is called "Ocean". That happens to be where Sharks live, and an occasional sighting is only normal and should be no cause for alarm but rather, for joy as Sharks are an indicator for healthy marine ecosystems!
    In fact, the beach in front of the resort is a nursery for tiny baby Blacktip Reef Sharks that are actually very cute and perfectly harmless. Is that what the staff have seen? If so, go have a look as they are adorable! And in the past, there have also been reports of Tiger Sharks patrolling the shallows in front of the Pearl at early dawn.
    All that is normal and part of living on the coast, and it behooves us to act accordingly, see below.
  • Secondly, it is important for a aquatic recreationists to make responsible decisions.
    The ocean can pose many dangers, from currents, waves, and undertow to encounters with species that can cause injury to humans, whether they be sea urchins, cone snails or even Sharks. Learning how to swim (!), not swimming in rough seas, not swimming early morning or at dusk and not swimming alone are some considerations. This is especially important now that the schools are closed and many children go to the beach = perhaps instead of being unduly alarmist, it would be a better idea to explore hiring/training life guards to monitor the most popular beaches?
But there could also be cause for concern.
I ignore whether there is really any actual increase in sightings, and if so, whether it means that there is a higher influx of Sharks  - or whether it simply means that there are more observations due to more people being on the beach.
And, are those Sharks small and harmless or big and potentially dangerous?

Anyway, let's assume the former = that there are more Sharks.
If it's not the Shark feeding dives: what may have changed to trigger such a phenomenon?

IMO look no further than Covid-19!
  • When we did our tagging, one surprising result was that the bulls would aggregate in front of the Navua river (= receiver # 12) in the early evening, and this irrespective of tide. Only later did we discover the reason, i.e. people trying to avoid paying the rates by dumping their trash into the river, and that the Sharks had learned to take advantage of the windfall much like a pack of stray dogs would raid unsecured garbage bins.
    May this be an increasing phenomenon as money is tight, also with respect to the Qara-ni-Qio? And what about all the trash that is notoriously being left behind by the beachgoers, and then gets washed out to sea by the high tide? May this be attracting Fish and consequently, their predators, too?

  • Have you noticed the many pop-up Fish vendors on the side of the road, and the many ads for fresh Fish in the social media, etc?
    All along the coast, many, many more people than before are fishing - for fun, for kanakana but also in order to supplement their income by legal small-scale commercial fishing but unfortunately, also by illegal commercial fishing and poaching in the MPAs including Shark Reef. We know the perpetrators, we know who fills the tanks of the gang of scuba diving spear fishermen, we know who sells them the spear guns etc - but tackling these things take time and for now, the shenanigans continue unabated.
    Anyway, all this massive ubiquitous fishing, spear fishing and cleaning the catch directly on the coast is bound to attract Sharks, like it does everywhere else.
    And if you spear fish and are not careful, you may well end up having one of those close encounters described by Jonathan - not because of us but because that is what happens everywhere around the world, see here and here among many, many such examples!

    Anyway, where I'm coming from is that fishing and spear fishing close to, or directly at the picnic beaches is just simply unconscionable, and must stop. You have all seen it with your own eyes  - next time, do something about it!
And there you have it.
More facts and action - and less opinions, speculation and idle claptrap!

Have a great day everybody!
  

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