Saturday, March 29, 2008

Science in Action!

Juerg is about to wrap up his first batch of experiments and I've asked him whether he could post a short summary of his endeavors.
Here we go:

"The Fiji Bull Shark Tagging Program is in its fifth season.

What started with a few pop-up satellite tags in 2004 is now a much broader research project aiming at understanding Bull Shark Behavior and Ecology. To summarize the first 2008 field season (January to March): it has been spectacular and highly satisfying!

We've collected lots and lots of data, done spectacular dives, the Sharks have been very well "behaved" and best of all: we learn more and more about these fascinating predators!

So far, we have deployed more than two dozens acoustic tags and a state-of-the-art miniaturized pop-up satellite tag.

Sharks equipped with Acoustic Tags will give us presence/absence data.
Whenever a tagged shark c
omes into detection range of a so called underwater listening station (receiver), it will be picked up and we will know what individual was there at what time of the day. Some of those tags also tell us the temperature inside the shark’s stomach - any guess what that could be?

The bulk of these tags has been hand-fed, mostly to Bull Sharks.
This is for sure the least invasive technique and Rusi has proven his usual mastery in ensuring that they were placed with the correct individual Sharks.
The downside of this technique is that the tags will only stay in for a few days to maybe a few weeks, but we are able to collect some very valuable data never the less.

In addition, we have attached a few acoustic tags externally and those will hopefully stay on the Sharks for much longer and keep us informed on how often and how long they visit Shark Reef and other reefs during the year.
For instance, we tagged Bumphead externally on February 23rd. That didn't seem to stress her at all and she hung around for a few days before going walkabout. Yesterday, she turned up with the tags still properly attached. Where did she go? Hopefully, the receivers placed on the other reefs will tell us.

But it certainly shows that most probably, the Bull Sharks do not spend all their time on Shark Reef but wander around, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time.

Here, Pop-up Satellite Tags could tell us more.
These tags collect temperature, depth and location data for a preset time interval. After that, the tags de
tach from the animal, float to the surface where they establish a link to a satellite to which they download the data - and we will eventually get an e-mail message ‘from the Shark’ telling us where it has been and what it has done!
Cool, isn’t it.

Well, of course it’s not quite that easy and and the data require a lot of analysis before we can safely say what has happened. But for sure, it’s exciting.
The satellite tag we have deployed this year is due to pop up sometimes next week.
So keep your fingers crossed that all goes well!

Besides these ‘technical’ approaches, we have also collected Observational Data, for example, who is feeding and how many times, who does not feed and just hangs out with its mates, plus how do the different shark species on Shark Reef interact with each other. Altogether, we are getting to know our beloved beasts better and better!

So next time you visit Shark Reef Marine Reserve, keep looking out for a tagged animal.
And enjoy the show!"

Thank you Juerg and Moce Mada!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


When it comes to opinions, there’s controversial and then there’s just plain asinine.

Take for instance this, and many other articles and posts dealing with the Bahamas Shark Incident and Adventure Travel in general. They all portray us as as a death-seeking, reckless and lunatic bunch of complete idiots and desperadoes that need to be stopped for their own, and the sake of mankind at large.

Well, as the Germans say, "paper is patient", it does not care about the rubbish people write on it.
So is obviously the web which is increasingly populated by whackos and wannabees hawking their latest Conspiracy Theories (Reptilian Humanoids anybody?), extolling the virtues of esoteric Quackery (how about Cetacean Aquacranial Therapy for a change?) and yes, sniping from the comfort of some air-conditioned suburban office to enlighten us with these increasingly irritating pieces of supercilious horse manure.

What ever happened to the Pundits, "erudite (i.e. non-rude) persons who make comments or judgments, esp. in an authoritative manner"?
As in: intelligent, informed and above all, impartial and unbiased?

Having been drawn into the unfathomable depths of the current US primary process, I'm starting to wonder.
Does the political preference of, say, senior Chihuahua-owning and Bible-thumping middle-class white Baptist widows residing in rural Pennsylvania really constitute a valuable piece of information worthy of profound analysis on Larry King Live?
Is anybody, ever, going to revert to the Big Picture and put things back into proper perspective? And, maybe, educate the public in the process?

Instead, to get back to our nick of the universe, all I can see is an unnerving succession of, I'm sorry to say, uninformed and condescending morons pontificating about the dangers and ethics of feeding Fish and how what we do teaches Sharks to associate humans with food. The "obvious" consequence being that the so conditioned Beasts will then retaliate and devour some other poor innocent and unsuspecting sod when denied an adequate culinary offering.

Did I once say that I wasn’t about to join the fray?
Well, I guess I must have changed my mind. Seriously, enough is enough.

About the former, may I point out that people who attract Fish by offering them food are called Fishermen, not Divers.
Worried about the safety of your precious beaches? Go break the cojones of the guys surf casting from the breakwater, how about that.
So, please, take your fight to IGFA and not us.

The latter at least sounds plausible. Plausible, yes - but it is dead wrong never the less.

With the notable exception of a prominent statistician who has obviously never seen it fit to leave his office in favor of some lowly menial in-loco experience, all relevant industry professionals assert that they cannot discern any such behavioral changes. As a matter of fact, nor can we, and this after close to ten years of baiting.
But then, our collective experience is obviously worth precisely zilch as everybody knows that we’re just a gang of greedy reckless lunatics whose sole aim in life is to kill our clients whilst lining our pockets in the process.

And what about the relevant Scientific community?
There, opinions vary but on closer inspection, they once again are not based on facts, but on personal conjecture and on individual preferences instead.
In my experience, your average Marine Biologist tends to be highly paranoid about having some large Shark sniff at his heels (or, God forbid, gobble down a priceless specimen!) whilst he's engaging in some groundbreaking field research. Thus, any activity that could carry even the most remote risk of infringing on his well-being will inevitably be frowned upon, proof or no proof.
The veritable Shark specialists on the other hand could not care less about such mundane trivia and continue to bait, tag, manhandle and generally, interact with Sharks in total impunity. And, some would say, in reckless lunacy.
In brief, nobody has so far deigned to stoop so low as to try and scientifically prove, or disprove those assertions.

Is anybody of Authority ever going to present us with some proper evidence?
Watch this space!

Having said this, I reject, denounce and repudiate, and deeply apologize for the foregoing which is evidently nothing but the un-erudite ranting of some reckless and incompetent lunatic bozo. Considering who I am, not only a Shark diver but also, believe it or not, a Lawyer, I’m sure you understand.
No Pundit intended!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

BAD Footage

No, you got me completely wrong: it is us who is BAD!

This is just a short post to alert our US friends to the airing of "Shark God", a documentary that David Ireland, the Wildlife Man, has filmed with us in 2007.
It will be shown on Discovery's High Definition Channel (hence not the "normal" Discovery Channel) on 17/4/08 at 8pm and at 11pm, on the 18/4/08 at 3am and 4pm and again on 19/4/08 at 10am EST.

Judging from his toothy website featuring a vast array of death-defying encounters with -to name but a few- ferocious Reptilians, angry Rhino and killer Boars and of course, giant and mostly lethal Marine Monsters, David seems to be quite a character. And lucky, too!!!
Once again, he doesn't disappoint, as, and I cite: "Sea God" is arguably the most extreme shark film ever produced and one of the " Wildlife Man`s" greatest achievements."

Actually, the Staff tell me that they very much enjoyed the man and the shoot and that David is really a very nice, mellow and professional bloke with a passion for Shark Conservation.

Did the Shark God Dakuwaqa drag him down to an untimely, and watery death, I hear you ask with bated breath?
Of course, ah aint telling!


Friday, March 07, 2008

Ta da !!!

Great News!

It has taken weeks of cajoling and subservient supplication - but the Hawaii Dream Team have finally agreed to roll out the Results of last month's Fish Count. They however ask me to include the caveat that this is work in progress that may remain in a state of change.

I cite:
"But does one ever complete such a project? It is already ramifying into realms of possible new species description, biogeographical considerations, faunal and habitat changes over time, etc. (....)
Obviously further research is required at SRMR to fully assess the faunal diversity.
Considering the constraints of observer time and survey methods utilized, the 381 fish species recorded during a brief window of time in a limited area is an impressive number and indicative of a rich and diverse fish fauna.
The shark population at SRMR would appear to be supported by a solid foundation at lower trophic levels."

Besides featuring several Range Extensions and very possibly, some new Undescribed Species, the List is a treasure trove of supplemental information that can be accessed by clicking on the small links in the lower right corner of the pictures.
Having promised not to embarrass John with further accolades, I must however insist in commending Rob Whitton for setting up a phenomenal, instructive and user-friendly website - way, way better than we could have ever imagined or hoped for!

We all are obviously incredibly proud and unendingly thankful.
Guys, from the bottom of our hearts, Vinaka Vakalevu!

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Our friend Michael Patrick O'Neill has just won the Science/Natural History section of the 65th Pictures of the Year International contest.

The stunning winning picture depicts a Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara).
Formerly known as Jewfish , it is recognized as a critically endangered species by the World Conservation Union owing to its relentless pursuit by fishermen and trophy hunters. After the USA and the Carribean began protecting it in the 90s, it is staging a tenuous comeback, however with the fish's slow growth rate it will take some time for those populations to return to their previous levels.
After our Giant, or Queensland Grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus), this is one of the largest Bony Fish found in Coral Reefs (the largest Bony Fish being the Ocean Sunfish and the largest Fish being the Whale Shark). Of interest, both Groupers are believed to be protogynous hermaphrodites, with all young starting out as females and only a few large individuals becoming males.

Congratulations Michael!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

New Kid on the Block!

To the discerning Sharkaholics, male Silvertip Sharks are somewhat of a Holy Grail.
Having dived many of the iconic Silvertip spots from the Burma Banks to Valeries' Reef to Avatoru Pass, I've only ever seen one, a tiny sub-adult hovering above Silverado Rock in Cocos Island.
People in the know tell me that whereas the big females are resident, the males are transient and also prefer much deeper water, well below recreational diving depths.

Same for Shark Reef: so far, Madonna, Joker, Lady and the other Silvertips have all been females - so imagine my surprise and excitement when this lil cocky fella came dashing into the Arena!
Did he only turn up for a quickie or will he make a Commitment and hang around?
Men being men, only time will tell - but he's been back again, as documented by the above picture.

And who is the lucky, and talented photographer, I hear you ask?

None other than the intrepid guardian of not only the Cute and the Furry (or was it "Hairy"?)

but also

the very Big and the very Noisy,

my friend Karen Varndell of Dive Vava'u!

I think it's great that the Bold and the Toothy have a place in her heart as well!

Fingers crossed that our very first male Silvertip will become a regular and thus warrant an own name.

Which one?
Well, obviously, Adam!