Thursday, April 30, 2009

Husky Dusky? Maybe!

Remember the mystery Shark?
It's still a mystery - but at least, we've managed to narrow down the choices to two likely suspects. And having gone digging, I found some brilliant pics on Andy Murch's great Elasmodiver website.
The two suspects look like this.

That would be a Dusky (Carcharhinus obscurus) on top and a Silky (C. falciformis) below. See the alignment and the size of the fins? And that caudal keel that for so long has left everybody baffled? Except that, apparently, it aint really a proper "caudal keel"? Read below and you'll understand - it's complicated!

And now, compare them with the mystery pic on top: any preferences?

Like El Tiburon and after a knee-jerk reaction in favor of it being a Silky, I now root for the Dusky. I've never seen a Dusky, but I've seen plenty of Silkies - and although I can't quite put my finger on it, the mystery Shark just doesn't "feel" like one of them. I'm specially unconvinced by the first dorsal, but then again, who am I to say!

Talking of which, Juerg cautiously tends towards the Silky - but being the good scientist he is, he has passed on the question to a very prominent (and probably, the best) Shark taxonomist who has come back with the following.

"C. falciformis it is, nice pics."

but then, after reflection:

"I was a bit deprived of sleep when I made the call on the identification, so that your friend may be on to something.
I did a composite illustration of C. falciformis vs C. obscurus, and append it to this note for comparison with the best of your two images.

The only carcharhinids with prominent keels when alive and dead are Galeocerdo cuvier and Prionace glauca, so that your Carcharhinus when alive and swimming shows a keel but not when dead. Rather like observing a live bird in a tree through binoculars vs a live bird of the same species in hand from a mist net, and again the same species of bird as a study skin.
Fin size and shape change with growth in Carcharhinus. I was wondering about your C. falciformis in terms of second dorsal shape, position of the first dorsal, and pectoral fin shape and relative size.

Tooth shape of upper anterolateral teeth and vertebral counts are diagnostic for these species, but until we can pack underwater mini CAT-scan machines, we have to rely on dead animals to voucher live ones. Shark watching is not quite as advanced as bird-watching, but it's getting there"

There you have it! And yes, it's complicated! But fascinating, too - at least to me!
But whatever Shark that really was, the myth about Bronzies (C. brachyurus) prowling the waters of Fiji remains just that, a myth! As expected! For now!

Stuart: there you have it!
Well, sort of.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

She's back!

Good girl!!!

We've last seen her in November where she was hugely pregnant.
She came in high, inspected the clients as usual but then circled and circled, clearly interested but never quite motivated enough to sweep in for a snack, to the point where in his frustration, Rusi decided to swim up through the water column and stuff a Tuna head into her mouth. But even then, she wouldn't swallow it but kept it between her teeth, circled once more and swam away.

The way we interpreted it was that she was ready to pop, had developed an according feeding inhibition (Tigers are cannibals and something must prevent the mothers from preying on the pups) and would leave shortly to give birth in some protected habitat. Judging from what we had experienced during her past pregnancies, we ventured the prediction that she would likely abscond for several months - and voilà!
And talk about following some inner clock: last time, she came back on April 24 - this time, on April 27. How cool is that!

Anyway, she finally turned up on Monday and was big, beautiful, mellow and ravenous like always!
Great that she's once again made it back unscathed!

But check her out: all skinny and with a flabby empty stomach! The good news being that there's plenty of space for Tuna heads in there and that we might be seeing much more of her in the days to come! Great for Lill and also, for Sasha who's currently visiting!

By the way, Tigers are unique among the Carcharhinids in being aplacental viviparous, having a caudal keel, having a peculiar inverse-tear-shaped pupil, having can-opener teeth...

Think: respiration!
First one that gives the correct answer gets a Shark dive for free!

And lemme tell you - if you love Tiger Sharks and haven't noticed...
I can see it in the pic!

Lynch Mob at the Gate!

For crying out loud!

Two weeks, ago, i blogged about a guy who wanted to start a new Shark viewing operation in Hawaii. It looked like a great undertaking and I wanted to congratulate him and wish him the best of luck for the future.
Yes as usual, some people were against it, but I thought that it wouldn't really be difficult to overcome their opposition. After all, Hawaii already had two highly popular and successful businesses operating in exactly the same way that were contributing to Tourism whilst furthering science and promoting Shark Conservation.
Piece of cake thinks me.

Boy was I wrong!
Not only was the newcomer forced to abandon his project: but in a sinister re-enactment of the 2002 Florida fiasco, the mob is now turning on the remaining operators in the attempt of having all commercial Shark tours banned statewide - this time apparently even regardless of whether the Sharks are being fed, or not!
Like in Florida, feeding Sharks with the intention of killing them would obviously remain perfectly legal. Fishermen 2, Shark Conservation 0!

I spare you the finger pointing and the advice.
Shark Diver over there has already said all there is to say and I invite you to go read those post, by starting with this one and then following the links. I certainly concur with their take on this total debacle, especially the part about the need for the affected operators to stop playing ostrich. They need to take control of developments via concerted, pro-active and public actions - and I'm not even sure that it's not already too late.

Just Great, isn't it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Desperately seeking Change!

As promised, back to the Sharks.

If this is true, many of us got to seriously re-think our approach to Shark Conservation.

It says that many fisheries, Shark fishing included, are completely supply limited.
In a nutshell, it would mean that the demand for Shark fins greatly outweighs the supply and that consequently, even if we managed to convince a lot of people not to consume Shark fins, it would have little to no effect on the market and thus, on the supply side represented by the size of the Shark fishing industry.
Couple that with the fact that price elasticity for Shark Fins is probably very close to zero (meaning that demand is not likely to decrease with increasing prices, and that prices will thus rise as stocks get depleted and always balance, or even outpace the rising cost of having to find increasingly rare Sharks in an increasingly empty Ocean) and that fishermen are perfect examples for the Tragedy of the Commons, and we are faced with a problem of truly epic proportions.

From that point of view and assuming (probably correctly) that the total sum of money available for Shark Conservation is finite, the answer to this particular debate is clearly No, go invest your money into more effective projects instead!

So, should we now re-focus all of our energy onto disrupting the supply side?
Declare Shark fishing to be immoral and illegal and prosecute anybody engaging in it?
As much as I would like to do that because I really do love Sharks and hate seeing them killed, I'm convinced that such an approach would not only utterly fail, but create a whole new set of problems on top of that.
Just think of the drug trade (and incidentally, the drug mafia is already part and parcel of the Shark fin trade) and you see where I'm coming from. Prices would skyrocket, violent conflicts would escalate and the slaughter of Sharks would continue unabated.
Plus, it would mean persecuting and criminalizing the fishermen, many of which are poor and are just trying to eke out a meager living in order to feed their families. That just can't be right, can it.
And they will not just take it laying down. Again, think of the coca farmers. Or the purported reasons for the piracy on the Horn of Africa.

Like it or not, any viable solution will have to end up being a pragmatic compromise.
The Asians and their predilection for Shark fin soup are a fact and no amount of rhetoric is going to change that in the foreseeable future - certainly not to the extent of significantly impacting the trade. Plus, and yes I'm repeating myself, who are we to dictate what they may, or may not eat!
And at the same time, fishermen need to be allowed to fish.

What to do?

The solution lays in trying to steer the discussion towards Sustainability.
And that means that we cannot just demand that the other side embrace our point of view: like it or not, we must be willing to engage in dialogue about killing some of the very animals we love and are trying to protect!
If we succeed, we can at least influence how many get killed, how and when - but the battle about keeping alive all of them is a lost cause.

Like in the case of Tuna, Billfish and actually, many Fishes that are currently being targeted commercially (want a current overview of the extent of the debacle? Read, this!), Sharks are being overfished to the point where some species are severely threatened.
Short-term (whatever that may mean, as some estimates talk about centuries), stocks need to be allowed to replenish and the fisheries targeting those species need to be pulled back accordingly.
But long term, there needs to be a consensus for allowing fishermen to harvest sustainable quotas.
Yes, of Sharks, too!

Thankfully, many of the principal NGOs and Government Agencies have embarked on this pragmatic and solution-oriented route. It's a complicated and multi-pronged process that is often polarizing and controversial (read this!). But I like agree with the general direction, and those who take it onto themselves to see it through deserve our respect and gratitude.
Well, most of the time.

Alas, the sheer magnitude and complexity of the task at hand implies that it will always be slow-moving - and time is of the essence!

This is where we, the small guys, can be of value.
Smallness can be a huge advantage - the main one being: No Committees!
Nothing gets watered down to the smallest common denominator but instead, we can create a positive ground swell that will ultimately benefit the "big boys", too, by being fast and nimble, vocal and irreverent, out-of-the box and politically un-correct, sometimes even visionary.
Or outright crazy, like wanting to base a Shark Conservation Project on the premise that it's perfectly OK to exploit Sharks commercially - and even -anathema!- to hand-feed them! What are the chances of that ever being approved by consensus?

And what about the fundamentalist and dogmatic zealot fringe, be it the idealistic Huggers or the Eco-Terrorists? They sure make a lot of headlines and some might say, they do so at the expense and to the detriment of the "movement".
But then again, is there such a thing as bad publicity? Plus, they will always remain the fringe, with the advantage that the majority will appear reasonable and moderate in comparison!

In a way, this is a true democratic process, where knowledge and opinions circulate freely via the electronic media and extremism, propaganda and disinformation are quickly identified, exposed and eliminated along with the fraudsters. And where like in Science, an open and often, robust dialogue will mostly lead to the right conclusions.
Don't we all wish that this would happen everywhere?

So yes, the task is daunting indeed!
But all together, big and small, cold realists and hopeless idealists, we can turn this thing around!
Looking for a Sea Change? Literally?
That would be us!

Let's get it done!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Finally Vindicated!

Night Owl excellence in blue!

I knew it all along!

So there you have it, black on white! In a scientific paper!
Early Birds suck! Night Owls rock! Full stop!

So here's to you: obnoxious ex-girlfriends, ex-bosses - and better fishermen!
And what about the worm? You guessed it: dumb as a brick, should have slept in!

Yes I just had to get that off my chest!
Back to the Sharks...

Feedback Loop!

What do the Great Auk, Caviar, Napoleon Wrasse and the Peppermint Angelfish have in common with the Shark Diving Industry?

The answer is that they may be subject to the Anthropogenic Allee Effect.
Obvious, no?

Always on the hunt for something noteworthy, I stumbled across the term when leafing through Christie Lynn's remarkable Blog Observations of a Nerd. May all nerds be like her!

It concerns us very much as it means that the rarity of a species may increase its value.
This in turn will increase our demand for it and thus, increase the likelihood that we will be the direct cause for its extinction - as opposed to "natural causes" as in population bottlenecks or the difficulty to find equally rare mates.

The relevant scientific paper, a must-read, presents an alarming list of empirical evidence in support of the hypothesis. Some of it describes past mistakes but alas, most of it concerns the present.
Many of the Categories listed are indeed pretty obvious, like

Hobby Collections (rare Shells, birds' eggs and yes, the Auk)
Trophy Hunting
Luxury Items (caviar, abalone, furs, the Napoleon Wrasse and I would add: soon, Sushi and Shark fins, too!)
Exotic pets (e.g. some aquarium Fishes like the Peppermint Angelfish)
Traditional Medicine (as in Chinese - and what about this despicable new-age Quackery as in Shark cartilage pills and Shark Squalene?)

What however really caught my attention was this: Ecotourism!
This is what they write.

Ecotourism ventures have expanded greatly in recent years, with the public increasingly wanting to experience a closeness to natural ecosystems or species.
Such activities often involve encountering and/or observing rare species. Given that some ecotourism activities have been shown to generate disturbances that are detrimental to the fitness of observed species [21–23], we can assume that rare species, especially those that are charismatic, will be disproportionately impacted upon by ecotourism.
Consequently, activities such as observing rare birds, whales, primates, or nesting sea turtles have the potential to generate an AAE, especially when the animals are globally rare but with reliable sightings locally.
For example, Bain [21] studied the relationships between the number of killer whales Orcinus orca in the Southern resident population (eastern North Pacific) and the number of boats registered for conducting killer whale watching tours. He found a significant inverse relationship between the number of boats observed in one year with the whale population size recorded the subsequent year. Motorized boats are known to cause disturbances to whales and lower their fitness [21]. More interestingly, there was also an inverse relationship between the decreasing whale population size recorded during one year, and the increasing size of the boat fleet the next year, indicating that contrary to expected economics, the increasing rarity of that population of killer whales did not immediately stop whale watching but may have in fact stimulated it [21]. In 2001, the number of boats in the commercial whale watching fleet exceeded the number of killer whales in the population.
Because among the activities presented here, several are primarily stimulated by people interested in nature, it is important that these people are aware of and have an understanding of the potential effect their actions may have on the very species they appreciate. Consequently, informing potential ecotourists, collectors, and pet owners may in part facilitate the process of reducing the likelihood of an AAE and thus the impact on the species that are the targets of these activities.

How the trade of rare species should be regulated is a vast and ongoing debate.
The finding that rarity itself could be a criterion for immediate threat to a species because of the psychological and economic value people attach to it is, however, a new and important piece of information in the battle to preserve biodiversity.
At the very least, this finding should lead to the realization that declaring a species too rare to be subjected to legal transactions could be dangerous for the species if it cannot be fully protected. At most, it is hoped that such information could change our rationale on the manner in which biodiversity is perceived and exploited.

Food for Thought, isn't it?

May we be contributing to the demise of charismatic large, threatened and thus, increasingly rare Sharks by showcasing them to the public at large, especially when we "open up" or even, like in our case, create Shark hotspots?

It's really a difficult one but the answer I believe is this.
I've blogged about it before, here and here: like the paper suggests, we have an obligation (Patric: again, well said!) to educate the public but above all, to protect the resource we exploit.

This is the only way forward, especially when it comes to the Shark Diving Industry that deals with animals that are regularly demonized (yes, this has pissed me off - unbelievable!) on top of being severely threatened.
It's an ethical imperative - and it is good business, too!

Thankfully, many of us have come to realize this and the number of awesome and fully integrated Shark viewing eco-businesses is on a steady rise. And I may add: look at South Africa and the Maldives for excellence, vision and guidance!

It is as Patric said: grow up, step up, clean up and get it done!
Or else, get out of the way!

Friday, April 24, 2009

In German!

Actually, not quite!

Juerg has a blog on the SOSF website where he's posted a short piece on his research in the SRMR. The link brings you to the website of MTW, the Swiss Television's scientific program, with a feature they ran in 2007. When you click on the pic with the diver and the Shark, you will get a pop-up window with the actual footage.

The gibberish are Swiss Standard German and Juerg's Swiss German. Or to be precise, his Zurich dialect, a local variation of High Alemannic (Wikipedia rocks!). If yer from anywhere North of Stuttgart, you will snicker at the first - and when it comes to the second, I wish you the very best of luck!

Anyway, it's a nice piece showcasing Juerg's work with huge and small Sharks and featuring some footage from Fiji. For me, the most remarkable scene is the video of our village ceremony in 2004 where we formally established the Marine Park.

Viel Spass beim Anschaun!
(No, this is the real deal!)

Dolphins suck!

Being Mammals, they must!
End of debate!

Why I even bother to meddle in Cetacean matters is that like Blogfish, I do read Southern Fried Science - and I could not agree more on his take on them!
They are certainly thought provoking and eminently debatable!

Wanna really know where Dolphin-mania (too good a link for not re-posting it!) has led us: read this remarkable post!

Then marvel at the take of FAO, a United Nations org, on the "main negative impacts" of purse seines! Tho I must say that people with long memories cannot be surprised: it was the same FAO that recommended and promoted the use of long lines, drift nets and purse seines in the fifties and thus started the industrial pillage of the Oceans in the first place!
In the meantime, the Tuna management madness continues, with some species on course for extinction within the next few years.
Just Great!

But back to the Blogs: bookmark them both!

Deepest Dives!

Whale Sharks are truly amazing!

When choosing the links to the previous post, I noticed that I had announced Juerg's piece about Whale Shark behavior, but never posted the link.

Here it is and here is the story: epic!
Copyright considerations currently prevent him from posting the whole paper - but should you want to read it, feel free to drop him a line via his website.

Toothy Stuff!

Don't like the picture?

Look again: yes that's a tooth falling out of the Shark's mouth! The shadow even identifies it as a tooth from the lower jaw! Click on the pic for better detail - and well done Lill!

Sharks regularly break, lose and discard their teeth and this is especially true during our dive where they chomp down on bony and often partially frozen Tuna heads. Not to worry, they got dozens of spares lodged in a revolver dentition, and a replacement one will spring into action in as short as 24 hours! Apparently, it is estimated that some Sharks can end up producing up to 20,000 teeth during their lifetime! Amazing!

Those of you who have been on our dive know that our feeders have learned to scoop up the teeth "on the fly" and will comb the pit for any overlooked goodies after the clients ascend. Most of the teeth will end up as trophies in the hands of a friendly tahine but as of two months ago, we have started to keep the biggest and freshest ones for Juerg.

True to our belief that when collecting data, we need to always choose the least invasive techniques, we have stopped taking tissue samples by "sticking" the Sharks but have started to collect Shark DNA from the discarded teeth instead.
Apparently, this is a completely novel technique and only time will tell if the substitution will yield adequate results - but as long as there's is a chance, this is what we intend to do going forward. The teeth are being forwarded to Florida where they will hopefully contribute to mapping the global genome of Bull Sharks and developing forensic tools for monitoring the Shark Fin trade and maybe even be used in toxicological studies.
On top of that, some Swiss scientists are currently analyzing a batch for trace amounts of chemicals revealing the exposure to fresh water. This is really cutting-edge stuff and if successful, this could shed further light on the Sharks' yearly migrations, even to the point of identifying individual rivers when matched against according water samples.
All very exciting stuff indeed!

Wanna contribute?
Drop us a line: we're all for hosting self-motivated and intelligent people wanting to engage in Conservation-oriented science! Lemme however add a caveat before you start flooding us with requests: you will have to convince us that what you do will ultimately benefit the animals, you will have defer to Juerg's judgment and guidance, and you will have to secure your funding beforehand!

OK: ship 'em in!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love it!

A trailer for a book?

Great idea!
Kudos to Southern Fried Science for having posted it!

Shark killing Shenaningans - revisited

From The Chum Slick, June 9, 2008.

Long Island Cares Inc.--The Harry Chapin Food Bank, said it will no longer accept the 6,000 pounds of Shark meat it has received annually from Long Island Shark tournaments.

"We made a decision not to be a beneficiary [of the donated meat] because of the potential risk to women and children and the potentially inhumane way in capturing these fish. So we believe we are doing the right thing," said Paule Pachter, executive director of the Hauppauge-based, non-profit anti-hunger organization.


This is a big deal because some Shark fishing tournaments have long been hiding behind food bank charity giving as a defense to justify their decadent and cruel bloodsport. While Shark fishing tournaments are not the biggest killer of Sharks, so many of the species targeted by Shark tournaments are critically endangered--particularly Mako, Probeagle, Thresher, and Blue Sharks. This is not Shark killing on a commercial scale, but it is still completely unnecessary Shark killing.

On the "people" level, the largest recipients of the donated Shark meat from food banks are pregnant women and children. Pregnant women and children are precisely the populations at risk of mercury poisoning from eating Shark meat. Large Shark fishing tournaments often give out hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. If the organizers of these tournaments were so concerned with feeding the poor they wouldn't need to kill Sharks to do it.

Same-same for this year's abomination in Ft. Myers.
People in the know tell me that contrary to Mr. Donlon's lies assurances, the Salvation Army want nothing to do with meat from unethically killed and potentially contaminated Shark carcasses.
Actually, it appears that they have already turned it down last year!
"Thrilled" my ass!

But of course, Real Men (and their wives!) know that when it comes to killing, a little bending of the truth is perfectly acceptable and should never be an excuse for not doing the right thing! And let there be no doubt that Jack is a Real Man!
E-mail is and
I'm sure he's gonna be delighted at receiving some fan mail!

Shark Reef and the Fiji Shark Corridor

Great Pic: Klaus Jost and yes, that's Predator! Click on it!

From our new website.

Shark Reef Marine Reserve was established in April 2004 and is the first of its kind in Fiji, namely, a protected sanctuary for the Sharks.

We are however aware that modern Conservation guidelines dictate that instead of merely concentrating on trying to save individual species, one must instead focus efforts onto preserving the Ecosystems where they live. With that in mind, our Stewardship is not limited to the Sharks alone but extends to protecting the whole of Shark Reef with all of its inhabitants. Consequently, we have invested considerable resources in order to document its Fish life and the long-term effects of our Conservation efforts.

It is here, in these protected waters that divers can observe and interact with some of the oceans top predators and a multitude of Fish species on The Shark Dive.

Taking Shark diving to the extreme, the regular Shark population comprises 8 different species: Whitetip Reef Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Grey Reef Sharks, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Sicklefin Lemon Sharks, Silvertip Sharks, Bull Sharks and Tiger Sharks.

If Shark diving is your thing, then Shark Reef Marine Reserve and The Shark Dive are for you!

Shark Reef Marine Reserve is however about much more than just The Shark Dive.

The cornerstone of Shark Reef Marine Reserve are the ongoing research studies in the effort to learn more about these often misunderstood animals and in turn assist in their long-running battle for survival.

Beqa Adventure Divers is proud to be associated with the establishment of Shark Reef Marine Reserve in 2004.

None of this would have been possible without the involvement of the Fiji Department of Fisheries and the traditional owners of the reef, the villages of Wainiyabia and Galoa to whom we extend our special thanks. Both villages have agreed to relinquish their respective fishing rights to Shark Reef and in exchange, every diver who participates on The Shark Dive pays a 'Shark Reef Marine Reserve Levy' of FJ$20. This money is collected by Beqa Adventure Divers and deposited monthly into each village's community bank account.

After 5 years, it is not anymore only a question of providing cash flow to the community: even the initially skeptical 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.

Following the results of our telemetry studies, it became apparent that the relatively small area of Shark Reef would not be sufficient to provide for adequate protection for our larger Sharks that roam a much wider area.

It is thus that in 2007, we have decided to greatly expand the Shark protected area to comprise the complete fishing grounds, or Qoliqoli of the two original partnering villages and the village of Deuba, once again with the formal endorsement of Government.

The such established Fiji Shark Corridor stretches for approx. 30 miles on the southern coast of Viti Levu all the way from the Navua river to the limit with Waidroka and includes the MPAs of Shark Reef, Lake Reef and our upcoming Combe Reef Marine Reserve, along with all other fringing reefs in the area, all the way to the foreshore.

One of the toughest tasks facing Shark Reef Marine Reserve, or any protected area, is to stop illegal fishing.

In April 2004, Beqa Adventure Divers sponsored the training of 12 Fish Wardens from the local community: 2 each from Waniyabia, Galoa, Beqa Island, Yanuca Island, Waidroka, Navua and staff members of Beqa Adventure Divers. The training program, conducted by the Government of Fiji, has allowed the community to monitor their protected waters as the Fish Wardens are attached to the Fisheries Department and have police powers to stop any illegal activities. We have doubled up our efforts and as of March 2009, all of our staff are officially empowered to protect the waters around Pacific Harbour!

To carry the Fish Wardens out to patrol the protected waters, The Shark Foundation in Switzerland has donated a boat to Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Reef Warden, in 2004. Following the arrival of our second Bladerunner, MV Hunter, Reef Warden has been sold and the money re-directed to research.

The boat and crew are on call 24hrs a day and perform random patrols to ensure no fishing is taking place.

Shrimp Suck!

Shrimp Cocktail anybody?

That would be up to 90% Sharks, Rays, Turtles, marine Mammals, Fish, Invertebrates and a permanently devastated Ocean floor. Oh, and somewhere in there, you may even find some Shrimp - if yer lucky!

Don't believe me?
Much more right here!

Think about it, OK?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reductio ad Absurdum?

Well well.

I found this amazing piece on YouTube.
In essence, somebody has ripped one of our videos, The Sharks of Shark Reef, and reduced it to the following presentation. That would be 45-odd minutes of Shark ID footage boiled down to a measly 3:32!
Kind of summa summarum - and then, summarum again: straight from the teaser to the closing credits, with Tootsie pasted somewhere in between!

Anyway, it still shows a lot of the usual suspects and may even tickle your appetite for more!

About our Sharks

Pic: Adi by Michael Aw

More Sharky stuff from our new website.

Welcome to our Shark Diving pages!

This is what has made us world-famous and this is likely the main reason why you have decided to consult our website.
Good choice!

First and foremost, forget everything you may have seen on other Shark dives!
The Shark Dive is like nothing you can experience anywhere else - guaranteed!

Contrary to regular SCUBA diving, there is no pre-determined set of guidelines governing Shark diving as all Shark diving protocols are always highly situation-specific.
Each operator must devise his own set of diving and safety procedures depending on the individual locations, the species mix and other variables, foremost of which very personal considerations - like one's experience and beliefs on the matter in terms of what one is aiming to achieve, how and why. For us, the latter is first and foremost Shark Conservation and Shark Research and the Shark Dive is merely a means to facilitate that goal.

All of that is explained in the following sections "About diving with Sharks" and "The Shark Dive" and also in the pages devoted to Shark Reef Marine Reserve and the Fiji Shark Project. We strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the contents in order to be best prepared for this unique and exhilarating experience!

When it comes to our Sharks, you have the chance of seeing the following 8 species:

Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus)
Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus)
Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhinchos)
Silvertip Shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus)
Tawny Nurse Shark (Nebrius ferrugineus)
Sicklefin Lemon Shark (Negaprion acutidens)
Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

We are maintaining an exhaustive database about our Shark dives and as of January, 2009, we dispose of over 2,000 complete data sets. This enables us to run statistical models in order to try and figure out whether there are any recurrent patterns governing the presence, and behavior of our Sharks.
However, weather patterns in the South Pacific are subject to wide year-to-year variations due to the influence of the El Niño Southern Oscillation. It is only fair to assume that this will also influence Sharks as part of the Marine Ecosystem. Many more yearly data sets will have to be collected in order to hopefully once largely take this specific variable out of the equation.

So far, preliminary insights can be summarized as follows.

Our Whitetips, Blacktips and Greys are resident and can be encountered at any time during the year.
Numbers vary between just a few and approx. two dozen depending on variables like weather and tides but also, the presence of other larger Sharks, foremost of which the Tigers.
Whereas the Blacktips are largely confined to the shallowest depths, the Greys and Whitetips are most prevalent at 10m but will occasionally venture down to the Arena at 30m.

The Silvertips, Nurses and Lemons are what could be called "regulars".
They probably live in close proximity to the feeding area (maybe deeper in the Beqa Channel) and turn up shortly after we enter the water. With the exception of the Nurse Sharks which are nearly always there, their appearance is more sporadic and not -yet- predictable.
As with the other Sharks, numbers vary: up to fifteen Nurse Sharks and up to six Silvertips or Lemons. Like the Bulls, these species are confined to the deeper reaches of between 15 and 30m.

Our Bull Sharks are the stars of The Shark Dive and we have devoted a lot of resources in trying to better understand their behavioral patterns (click on image for bigger resolution).
In general terms, they turn up in ever increasing numbers in January and are very consistent through August where numbers start to dwindle in view of their birthing and mating season in October-December where one is likely to see only a few individuals, most of which sub-adults.
Maximum numbers during January-April can be as high as 40 individual Sharks on a single dive and with 47 named Bull Sharks as of January, 2009, we may well be looking at a population size of in excess of 100 individuals.
As with the species above, the Bull Sharks are not residents of the diving area but ascend from deeper water once we start the dive and "call them in" by baiting the ever-hungry Giant Trevally and Red Bass.
We have learned to distinguish between "regulars" that turn up very frequently, and more transient individuals that are individually known but only turn up sporadically. In very general terms, we are however witnessing some sort of "rotation" by all Bull Sharks, whereby individual Sharks will turn up for one week to ten days and then disappear, only to turn up again weeks, or even months later. This may be an indication for the size of their range (probably not a territory, a term that implies that it is defended against conspecifics) or it may be an indication that they are not really bound to any range or territory at all but roam freely throughout the whole archipelago instead.
So far, the data we have collected via our satellite and acoustic tags are not sufficient to precisely interpret this rather surprising behavioral pattern, but they are nevertheless a good starting point for formulating advanced and testable hypotheses .

When it comes to our known five Tiger Sharks, the data collected so far are rather inconclusive.
Preliminary evidence suggests that they are less prevalent during the top Bull Shark period of January through April. The reasons for this are unknown and subject to speculation: it may be due to the overwhelming presence of the Bulls acting as a deterrent, or it may be due to some regular occurrence like their breeding cycle or other seasonal feeding opportunities elsewhere, like the flooding of rivers during the wet season, Turtle aggregations etc. Again, this is pure speculation and would have to be confirmed by e.g. obtaining further insights into their seasonal geographic movements via acoustic and satellite telemetry tools.
Once the Tigers turn up, they will make regular, although sporadic appearances, this probably due to the very large area they are known to patrol. Of interest, they mostly turn up during our second, shallower feed.

All-in-all, we believe that The Shark Dive is well worth a visit year-round.
What is certain is that every single dive is different - but always exciting, intriguing and highly rewarding!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In a Nutshell

You may have noticed that we're currently working on a new website.

That requires a whole lot of editing and when adding a page about Shark Diving, we've come up with the following. In a nutshell, it summarizes our current beliefs about our Shark Dive and Shark Diving in general. "Current", as in Panta Rhei: all is in flux and we shall never stop learning!
Yes, including the links, that's a mighty big nut! More like a coco de mer!

About diving with Sharks

Worldwide Shark populations are being slaughtered at an unprecedented scale and Shark Reef Marine Reserve is one of the few places left where one can regularly observe several species, some of which in impressive numbers.

Some of the Sharks you will observe are rightly considered to be largely harmless, like the Tawny Nurse Sharks, the Whitetip Reef Sharks, the Blacktip Reef Sharks and even the Sicklefin Lemons which we have found to be extremely placid despite of their size, reputation and teeth-studded grin.
Some other species are more problematic, like the unpredictable and competitive Grey Reef Sharks and the fiercely territorial Silvertip Sharks.
The Bull Sharks and the Tiger Sharks however are clearly a class in their own. They are Apex Predators who grow to an impressive size and have a notorious reputation for attacking humans.

You will be diving without the protection of a cage and in close proximity to the animals.
Accordingly, one of the most-asked questions we have to address is: how safe is it?

Safety is our main concern and we believe that we have devised a set of procedures aimed at preserving the unique experience of being in the water with these charismatic animals whilst making The Shark Dive as safe as we possibly can - both for you, our valued customer, but also for our feeders who interact with the Sharks on a daily basis.
These procedures include
  • All clients must attend our detailed and exhaustive Dive Briefing where we explain the dive site and dive, our procedures and where we address any questions and concerns.
  • All participating divers must be fully qualified and divers with less than 30 open water dives must be specially supervised by one of our Dive Masters.
  • We shall allow no more than 20 customers on any such dive.
  • The Shark Dive is essentially a show where you will be led and positioned to witness the feeders interacting with the Sharks. We do not allow personal exploration and all participants are required to observe the same dive profile and bottom times.
  • By the same token, we do not allow any personal interaction with the Sharks. When conditions permit, selected clients will be escorted closer to the animals in order to enable them to capture images. The decision to do so resides exclusively with us and each client will be supervised by a member of our staff.
  • Everybody is required to wear dark, full body wetsuits and black gloves (provided by us) and all shiny or brightly colored gear is not allowed.
Our rules are being constantly reviewed and adapted to new insights or changing conditions.
As an example, the ever increasing numbers of Bull Sharks have prompted us to re-design the layout of the "Take Out", to change the feeding routine whereby the feeder is now flanked by "bodyguards" and to completely discontinue the routine of letting anybody position himself in the "pit". That location is now exclusively reserved for professionals, and that only on "mellow" days.

Shark Diving however is not recreational SCUBA diving and will always carry a special risk that cannot be excluded by even the most stringent safety measures. You will be diving with wild and potentially lethal predators and the unexpected can happen at any time.

Whereas we shall do our utmost to always try and keep you out of harm's way, it will ultimately be your decision, and thus your assumed risk, to engage in this potentially dangerous activity. You will be required to act responsibly, to remain vigilant and to alert us to any problematic situation that may arise.

We have blogged extensively about our protocols, Shark diving and the complex issue of feeding and conditioning Sharks and we invite you to go and read those posts. They are

About our procedures: Diving with Sharks
About baiting, feeding and conditioning: Pundits and The same old Allegations
About Shark diving: Quo Vadis, Shark Diving?
About diving with macro predatory Sharks, also: Totally agree!
About interactive Shark dives: Interactive, Touching the Sea and Stupid
About our newest procedures: Swamped!
About the Shark Diving Industry: Bon Appetit!

In general terms, please always consult our Blog to keep abreast of any new developments.
Thank you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Totally agree!

Luke is spot on.

We've never met nor talked, but I hear that he's one of the up-and-coming young guns in the Shark film and TV game and if this post is any indication, that is very good news indeed! About time somebody with experience and a brain hosted one of those productions!

Back to his post, it reflects much of what we have repeatedly asserted all along: Great Whites, Tigers, Bulls and all the other macros are first and foremost Apex Predators and need to be treated accordingly. Acting otherwise is a fool's bet and has no place in responsible Shark diving, especially when it is done commercially - the more as there are excellent guidelines about how to engage in this activity.

For once, no complaints: read Luke's post!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mortal Enemies!

That would be us Divers - and Sharks! On 2:55! It started out like this, on a small beach in the French Riviera. The year is 1942. And then came 1956 and the epic "Le monde du Silence" that won both the Palme d'Or in Cannes and an Academy Award, One unforgettable episode features an accident (was it?) with a whale calf and a subsequent encounter with Oceanic Whitetips. I found it on YouTube but unfortunately, the embedding has been disabled and you will have to watch it here. Chances are that you will not like what you see. "Avenge the Whale"??? That was rammed, speared and shot? And a research vessel with a harpoon on board? Indeed: French accent and all, it's the Calypso of Jacques-Yves Cousteau! But that was 1956 and things have thankfully changed. Or have they?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

To Kill or not to Kill

Nomen is not always Omen.

Case in point: Ed Killer who runs a weekly fishing newsletter in the TCPalm.

Three weeks ago, he published a piece with the same title that touches on two recent posts of mine: the one dealing with Jack Donlon's abominable Shark Monster tournament; and Animal Planet's despicable portrayal of Bull Sharks.

Kudos to a sports fisherman for having come up with an unbiased and nuanced description of the current debate - and with an equally impartial description of Bull Sharks! If all his peers were like him, we could surely find some common ground for taking this issue forward.
Again, well done!


On April 15, the Fiji Reserve Bank has devalued the Fiji Dollar by 20%, effective immediately.
Concurrently, it has established a series of measures aimed at preventing capital flight.

Prima vista, this is great for the Tourism Industry.
Based in foreign currency, prices for a holiday in Fiji have just dropped by 20% and that may indeed lead to an increase in demand.
Great for you, our valued customer!

Question is, is it good for us?

Common wisdom has it that a currency devaluation will automatically trigger domestic Inflation - especially in an Island Country like Fiji which is heavily reliant on imports, foremost of which Oil products but also essential goods like milk, butter, meat, flour and canned food.

BADs principal outlays are our fuel bill and the wages of our 15 wonderful staff.
I expect fuel prices to rise very shortly indeed. That may well mean that we will be forced to re-instate our fuel surcharge after having repealed it at the beginning of the year.

Regarding the other price hikes, they are likely to be inevitable once new stocks are being brought in. As most prices are controlled by the Prices and Incomes Board, I expect that to gradually eventuate during the present month.
Once again, we will have to monitor the situation but it is quite apparent that our staff, and their families, will end up being at the receiving end of these unexpected developments. If so, it is our ethical imperative that we will need to raise wages - and accordingly, our prices which are expressed in Fiji Dollars. For our foreign currency based clients, this will very likely still amount to a price reduction, albeit not by the full 20%.

Please keep watching this space.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Global Warming - Dogma? Religion? Conspiracy?

I really thought that Anthropogenic Climate Change was a foregone conclusion.

I thought that the polar caps and the alpine glaciers were melting. That Ocean Acidification was a major threat and well-supported by unequivocal data. That Oz was in dire straights.
Granted, the Academy Awards may be just the self-masturbation celebration of the Californian liberal intelligentsya. But the Nobel Price should account for something and confer both legitimacy and scientific gravitas - or not?

No, apparently not.
Watch this.

Clearly, the guy is no fool. He may even have a point.
If so, it would indeed be highly alarming. One of the principal differences between Science and Religion is that Science should never be dogmatic and always welcome a robust dialogue with dissenters - mind you, scientific dissenters using scientific data and methods, not fraudsters like the proponents of Intelligent Design!

The guy is Ian Plimer and he has just written a book called Heaven and Earth.
Although most people haven't read it as is just being published, it is already causing quite a debate following this op-ed by a prominent Ozzie journo. Another good piece here.

Being scientifically minded, I will of course read it.
Probably, I'll be impressed - but I shall probably not be swayed.

It's a difficult one.
The very nature of Science implies that there will always be intelligent, well-meaning and well-documented dissenters. Non-specialists like most of us are then left with the conundrum of whom to believe.

For my part, I try to follow the debate and if sufficiently convinced, I tend to go with what is considered to be the "consensus opinion".
When it comes to Global Warming, the consensus opinion is represented by the Nobel Prize Laureates, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and many other reputable Organizations. They believe that Global Warming is a fact and that it is caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, foremost of which our emissions of CO2.

If one dismisses the obvious disinformation campaigns and the rubbish of the inevitable conspiracy theorists, there is still a large group of bona fide -and thus, respectable- scientists who are looking into the issue. They can be divided into a majority of proponents and a minority of skeptics, the latter being divided into several factions, from people that deny that there is any warming at all, to people who accept that it is happening but claim that it is not caused by humans.
As I said, it's really a difficult one - check out the links!

But regardless of who will be ultimately proven right, this is why I'm likely to stick to the Global Warming hypothesis.

Let's assume for the sake of the argument that Global Warming turns out to be nothing but a hoax, a mass hysteria triggered by the propaganda of the Socialists and the Liberals, a scam perpetrated by the scientific mafia in order to get more funding: does that mean that we should throw overboard our newly discovered Ecological conscience?
Reverse Cap & Trade? Shelve Solar and Wind and drill more instead? Go ahead and cut down more forests? Tell Detroit to resume the production of SUVs? Reap and pillage like we've always done? Continue the unbridled expansion of our collective Ecological Footprint at the expense of the Environment? Further add to the disgraceful track record of our Stewardship of Planet Earth?

Surely, the answer can only be, No we should not!
Hoax or no Hoax, Truth or Fallacy: the actual debate about Global Warming is offering us a unique chance to re-assess our way of life and to revert, or at least halt the negative impact we're having on the Environment.
Can any Conservation-minded person really be against that?

And then, there's this.

Can we really afford to take the risk of being wrong?
Do we really have the option of disregarding the warnings, do nothing and continue as before? Only to say Oops once the doomsday prophecies turn out to be true and we are faced with the Apocalypse?
I've blogged about just this in respect to the Fisheries industry. The Precautionary Principle dictates that when presented by plausible theories like the present one, one has to assume the worst case scenario, stop procrastinating and act accordingly. Once the required data have been collected and once a solid scientific consensus is established (although I would argue that this is already the case), one can then always reverse course and relax the measures.
Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration states just that.

Yes, that's a lot of debate and a lot of links to sift through!
Yet, I believe, nothing could be more important.
Further arguments here.

Vox Populi

Back to Square One.

A new fight has erupted in Hawaii over a planned Shark Viewing operation.
Like the hugely popular Hawaii Shark Encounters, it would operate three miles offshore outside of State waters and thus escape State regulation.

As always in these cases, the residents are up in arms.
Once again, there's talk of "ringing the dinner bell" and all the other commonplace prejudices.
Like it or not, that's what most people believe and I did like hearing that the operator is planning to address the concerns with the community. Best of luck on that one!
I also did like his focus on Conservation. That might of course just be a marketing gig but if HSE's non-profit Shark Allies is any indication, we may well take that at face value. For now.

Still, it's gonna be an uphill battle.
People's minds are set, fueled by despicable rubbish published in the media and by the primeval fear of being eaten alive. Very very hard to overcome, especially since in Hawaii, Shark Attacks are a fact - and maybe even on the rise! Yes, it's a tiny number compared to the number of aquatic recreationists - but still!

In the meantime, the true perpetrators continue to operate in complete immunity.
There, I've said it again!

Best of luck out there!
Looking forward to yet another Ecotourism operation!
And don't forget: it comes with obligations!

PS: the plans have been canceled due to the pressure by the community.
A great shame!

PS2: RTSea has just weighed in with this exhaustive and important post - read it!