Sunday, May 31, 2009

The closet Tiger Shark

In my book, Doug Perrine is Shark Royalty.

We met years ago in Fiji where we dived from the same boat but never really talked - until the day he took that epic photo of Scarface nibbling at my housing. Only then did he reveal that he was indeed "The" Doug whose pictures I had been admiring for years.
He's since been back and written what I still consider the best article about Shark Reef and over the years, my admiration of him has continued to grow. Always friendly, soft spoken, respectful and actually, totally self-effacing, he belongs to a small elite of image hunters who pair surprising modesty with unparalleled skills and amazing knowledge and experience. I put him in the same category as Ron Taylor who himself is such a refreshing contrast to all the wannabee yahoos with their big mouths and limited talent!
No wonder all dive operators rave about these guys!

Anyway, when i wrote the previous post, I noticed his amazing article about Greenland Sharks.
Remember my rant about Dirty Jobs? Turns out that Greenland Sharks are nothing like the sluggish stupid smelly monsters they were said to be - instead, at up to seven meters (yes, they are bigger than Great Whites!), they may well be the Tiger Sharks of the high Atlantic!
No, I'm not copy/pasting anything - you got to go read it all and enjoy Doug's talent and wealth of information!

Very very interesting, well researched, well written and garnished with killer images - as he always does!

Kudos Doug - you're the greatest!

PS he has just shot me a message that there is now an "updated version, with several corrections".

On sale at dive shops, WHSmiths, Tesco and all good newsagents Wednesday 20 May

That would be the latest issue of DIVE Magazine!

Check out the cover, and you'll see WORLD'S BEST SHARK DIVE, by our friend Douglas David Seifert (yes I know the link is old but it's the best one I can find) - and I think I can also decipher "Fiji"!
Doug was with us in February (sans, believe it or not, his trademark yum-yum yellow wetsuit, for which he has earned my eternal gratitude!) and I'm quite certain that it's a piece about us - and hopefully, he's got something nice to say about what we do!
And killer pics - this I know for a fact!

Alas, snail mail being snail mail, we're only likely to get a copy, if at all, in weeks or months.
I'd be grateful if somebody could copy the article and send us a PDF or preferably, a nice hi-res JPEG. I'd love to write a post about it and above all, about the author!

Vinaka Vakalevu!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Sharks" have venom!

Back to square one.

I've been following an entertaining and witty Shark thread on Southern Fried Science but as usual, talking about "Sharks" just doesn't cut it, unless you do that in very general, and thus rather unspectacular terms.

Think: "Birds". They fly - right?
No, actually "they" don't - but of course, most do!

My point is that one needs to focus on the individual species - and then, one will also find Sharks that have venom.
Granted, most don't. "Sharks" are also not ultimate Predators, but many of them are - in their own specific habitat, not in some vague entity as "the Ocean". As the Southern Fried Scientist points out, there’s no such thing as a perfect predator, just one that’s ideal for the environment it’s in.
Exactly! Go ask the Plankton off Ningaloo Reef whom they fear most!

Anyway, I just wanted to make that point.

Change is in the Air

1917 - and very likely pregnant!

Bless the folks of the St. Petersburg Times!

Following the umpteenth killing of a big pregnant mother Shark by some white trash in Florida, they went out to collect the public's reactions and came up with this astonishing and highly welcome article. How cool is that!

Coming on the wake of the launching of the Shark-Free Marina Initiative and the resounding victory of the guys from the Shark Safe Project in Ft. Myers, it appears to signal a shift away from the tired old and deadly preconceptions and towards a more enlightened view of Sharks and their role in the Oceans, at least in that nick of the world.
Finally! Let's hope it lasts!

Wouldn't this be a fantastic opportunity for some smart and forward-thinking politician to step up and promote a pro-Shark agenda? And prove that not all of them are opportunistic bottom-feeders like Gene Ward?

Fingers crossed!

Friday, May 29, 2009

More tiny Stuff!

I blogged about the Snake but I completely missed the Seahorse!

Both are among the "top 10 new species described in 2008" - and I also learn that in 2007, scientists managed to document a whopping 18,516 previously unknown species!

Well, the tiny guy above is the Satomi Seahorse Hippocampus satomiae (go wonder: shouldn't it be satomis or satomii?), apparently the smallest of them all (smaller than a "regular" pygmy as in bargibanti?).
But wait, that's not all: there's two more slightly bigger ones from 2008 - and they have already described two more this year!

And what about the pygmies that are regularly found by Fiji's liveaboard vessels, as in this post (and this one) by our friends of the Fiji Aggressor 2? Are they severnsi?
Only one way to find out!

And after the cruise, come and check out our Sharks!
No magnifying glass required - guaranteed!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thanks Lill!

Diving with Sharks in Fiji

Posted by FiNS on Apr 22, 2009 in Blog, Destinations, Environment, Marine Life

We received this from Lill Haugen, who is a Norwegian photographer. She’s spending an extended time in Fiji diving with and photographing sharks, helping to establish an image inventory of individual sharks:

Meeting a live shark, face to face, during a dive sounds scary, doesn’t it? A lot of people would say yes…and many inexperienced divers fear sharks. I did too.

The first time I came across a small reef shark, I tried to swim away. Because it was a SHARK, and just the name creates fear in humans. But at the same time, I noticed that the shark desperately tried to get away from me! I was left fascinated and “hooked”, and after that every shark encounter has been magical, and deeply appreciated.

Fear of sharks comes from lack of knowledge…and the inaccurate man-eating image perpetuated by mass media over the years. Driving a car…or just sitting under a coconut-tree…is way more dangerous. However, you do need to treat sharks with respect, as even the most peaceful animal can harm you if harassed or cornered.

If you see a shark while diving, you are very lucky. They are disappearing from waters all over the world. Overfishing, especially due to the demand for shark fin soup, is eradicating sharks in our oceans.

Sharks are slow breeders and will not bounce back if overfished. Nobody knows what will happen to the oceans and marine ecosystems when the last shark has been killed and finned…but it will not be nice.

This is why divers from all over the world now seek out places to dive where they know there will be sharks. They already know that sharks are not mindless killers. Once you’ve met a shark underwater, you see that they are very cautious and intelligent creatures.

I took this picture of a three-metre bull shark on a designated shark dive in Fiji.

Bull shark at close quarters, on a dive in Fiji

Fiji is one of few places in the world where you can have the privilege of diving with these big sharks. On the famous shark dive in Beqa Lagoon, you might encounter up to eight different species of sharks on a single dive, from a small charming whitetip reef shark, to a large, majestic bull shark.

Shark Reef is a marine sanctuary, protected from fishing. Sharks are sacred to the people of Fiji and of Beqa. They believe in the protective powers of sharks, and they will not hurt any sharks.

The sharks here have never hurt any divers, although they easily could if they wanted to.

Sharing time with sharks on this dive is a great experience, and will alter whatever view you had on sharks forever.

For more information about the shark dive in Fiji, see the Beqa Adventure Divers website.

Editor's note: If you want to see more about what we do, check us out on this feature by MaiTV.
Thanks Lill, you rock - you may stay in the pit for as long as you like!

Tigers in Vava'u!

And talking of Tigers in Tonga - here's the proof!

Some sort of Beaked Whales managed to beach themselves at one of the local island resorts and within a couple of hours, four big Tiger Sharks turned up to share the serendipitous meal. Did they sense the blood from miles away? No they didn't, as this clever post by the Southern Fried Scientist eloquently explains!
Anyway, having interviewed a reliable witness, he estimates that the biggest one may well have measured between 5 and 7 meters - the Shark, not the Whale!

Great news - although I have no doubt that the Whale watchers are gnashing their teeth as always! After all, it's the traditional tooth gnashing and ankle biting season!

For you Whale aficionados, here's the head.
The adult animal was approx 7 meters long and Friedel of Blue Lagoon Resort (the top of the crop!) has taken all sorts of measurements which he'll be happy to pass on to anybody interested in the matter. Click on the image for better detail. The skulls have been buried and you can probably have those, too - provided that you come and take care of them yourself!

The Shark pic is by a visiting yacht that just chanced by.
You can read the tale of their very close encounter on their trip log.
All very exciting indeed!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Senseless Duplication


That's the number of entries that pop up when one googles "Shark Preservation".

I learned this when reading Oceanminds' post The Plethora of Non Profits: An Ego Battle after having been alerted to it by this post on Oceanic Dreams. Like Felix, I am impressed.

So true!
So much senseless duplication of efforts, fragmentation, inefficiency, squandering of resources and energy, useless overhead! Not to mention the Egos!

Kudos to Nico.
But: is anybody going to learn anything from it? As in promoting more joint efforts - all the way to -horribile dictu!- creating synergies via proper mergers like the real world?

Yes, Mergers!
As in: new name, less bureaucracy, more efficiency!

Yes I know, and pigs will fly!
Still, let's keep this one in mind, shall we.

YoSF - Vava'u!

Karen rocks!

She's one of the owners of Dive Vava'u, by far (trust me!) the best Dive and Whale Watch Operator in Tonga and the only Tongan Supporter of the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project.

The other day, she held a Shark Awareness Presentation in the best bar in Vava'u, Tonga Bob's Cantina. Despite it being low season, she managed to draw out a capacity crowd and the resounding success has motivated her to hold many more such presentations in the future.

Thanks Karen and all the best for the upcoming Whale season!
Yes, Whales are still nothing more than big blundering shipping hazards - but because of what you're doing for the Sharks, I will try and appreciate them just a little bit better!


Remember the Bends-O-Matic?

Italian made (which probably explains it all) and properly named the "SOS Decompression Meter", it was one of my favorite gadgets until that fateful day diving around the El Bajo off La Paz.
This was way before Cocos and Galapagos became the honey holes and we were doing open Ocean drift dives where we would bounce down to 60+ meters in the hopes of surprising a school of Hammerheads. I got severely nailed on the last dive of the day, leading to a memorable 6-hour wet recompression on the anchor line of the Don Jose' in pitch black water. Epic!

Right-left-and-center, the Bends-O-Matic claimed one victim after another, until it got officially discontinued sometimes in the 80ies. I threw the thing overboard on that day but have kept and still use the unequaled case.

The only place where it seemed to work flawlessly was New Zealand.
Kiwis may not be a lot of other things but in my book, they're the ultimate outdoorsmen: rugged, practical, uncomplicated, self-sufficient. And when they dive, they dive for food - and there's no such thing as "lingering" in those frigid waters. You dive down, grab whatever you wanted to grab and get the hell outta there. And there's certainly, no such fancy-schmanzy thing as repetitive dives, at least not in those days. And for single dives, the gizmo performed exactly as advertised and brought everybody back in total safety.

Why I'm making this lenghty intro is that I just read this article about Sharks in one of New Zealand's biggest newspapers. No hype, no drama, just a succession of cold facts (including the attack statistics) by people who understand that being in the water implies that from time to time, one may well come across a Mako or a Great White. As it should be.

Great reading.
If only the media could publish more of this and less of the other.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

1.47M P2+

A monster of nightmares (yes this is a link!)

That's a whole lotta viewers!

No wonder Animal Planet and Discovery continue to engage in these obscenities!
Millions of viewers can't be wrong - right?


Good on 'ya Sasha!

Great piece, great pics!

People are increasingly discovering Sasha's talent - and it could not have happened to a nicer and more modest guy! Enjoy his fabulous portfolio on Mail Online.

I just checked his blog and found the above.
Terrific - and very "Bruce"!!!


I get sent the weirdest Sharky stuff, but this one sure beats them all.

Posted right here - and there are 80 comments!
Among which "Puts a whole new spin on Maneater by Hall and Oates".

Oh well. Here it is, lyrics here.
Great song, especially this version.

I love Science!

Check out the video.

Attenborough or no Attenborough: it's of course bollocks.
There's no proof whatsoever that Darwinius masillae, or Ida, is leading directly to us humans and the hype is quite unwarranted.

Are the creationists gnashing their teeth? Undoubtedly!
What however makes me particularly proud is that the principal critique comes from within the scientific community itself. It's of course highly technical but it also spotlights the fact that the relevant paper was published prematurely and without adequate peer reviewing. Check out this useful synopsis on Wikipedia. Remember the Scientific Method?

This is Science at its best.
Contrary to religion, the conspiracy theories and that other esoteric rubbish where criticism is anathema, it thrives and excels whenever it triggers robust dialogue between proponents and dissenters, like in the present case.
The end result will be a consensus opinion that will very likely place Ida where she belongs, an important, but by no means exhaustive piece of evidence for Darwin's Theory of Evolution, just one, albeit important transitional fossil among many many many others.

Science rocks!
Back to the Sharks.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pecunia non olet - or does it?

Remember Les Stroud?

He of the Turkeys and Hams! Yes, this guy!
He popped into our dive shop on Tuesday asking for directions to the folks down the road. Dunno if he did it to spite us or because of a genuine mistake - thing is, we realized then that we had lost the battle and that Deadly Waters would be featuring their Fiji segment as planned.

We already knew they were trying to weasel in via the back door as one of the local liveaboards had long asked us whether we would be willing to host them and a group of clients for a professional 3-day shoot for Discovery's Shark Week.
When we finally managed to dig out some details, we were told that the group would come with their own safety divers, need a chumsicle and require no further service other than unlimited access to our site. It was also stated that the show "had not yet been named" and that they intended to try and bring the Sharks to the surface for topside shooting.

Sound familiar?
Here are excerpts from the original "Experiment List" of Deadly Waters, by Gurney Productions, Discovery's pet production house for anti-Shark programming.

Fiji: Tiger/Bull Sharks

To compare how depth affects the predatory nature of sharks, we’ll deploy two balls of frozen bait at different depths. One will be at the surface, the other will be eighty feet below. We’ll then watch if sharks in the Bahamas are more likely to strike deeper underwater and hypothesize a reason. Finally, Les will draw a comparison between Tiger, Mako, and Bull shark behavior.

We will head to a remarkable Tiger and Bull Shark feeding ground that has rarely if ever been filmed.
Although they are the deadliest shark on earth, these well fed Tigers and Bulls are used to seeing divers and usually ignore them – but every now and then they randomly attack and kill one – why? Is it something the diver does?

Les will go down in a specially designed clear polycarbonate shark cage which will make him appear to the sharks as though he is unprotected. Les will conduct a series of experiments to try to elicit an attack response from the sharks (he will be safe). He will flail about, float lifelessly, release a large burst of bubbles and finally hold freshly killed fish, in order to determine what is causing these well fed sharks to randomly kill humans!

Just Great!
After years of trying to establish a safe and mellow routine and to keep the Sharks away from the surface, having Les & Co. come and thrash our dive site!

We of course declined to enable the shoot. Yes, for the second time!
I'm sure you've read the link above (if not, please do) so I'm gonna spare you the bit about the evil anti-Shark propaganda and damage to Fiji's vulnerable tourism industry. Instead, let me post this letter from a fellow dive professional we work with.

Upon reading the experiment list it leaves me in a state of amazement.
The idea of putting Les in a perspex tube to incite an attack on a diver is totally irresponsible. It shows zero thought to any future divers & is trying to promote an attack. Where did they come up with the theory that any diver/swimmer has ever been attacked let alone killed by a bull shark in Fiji? The other experiment of trying to lure them to the surface also goes totally against the safety that the operations in that area adhere to which is to keep them deep & not surface orientated.
I hope very much that this project does not proceed in Fiji as it is the last thing that the diving or tourist industry here needs.
On a purely selfish note; we want to use the bull shark dive as a drawing card to get guests to book on our liveaboard & this show will do nothing to help us down that path. The reality is that it may even deter divers from coming to this destination in the future as they will simply associate Fiji with bull sharks attacking people.
This is not good news & lets hope that it does not happen. I could go on & on about this but in short the bull sharks here have no history of attacking people so to let someone in the water for a few days to make a sensationalist documentary about that happening & potentially create attack scenarios on people in the future is abhorrent.

Well, we sure gave it our best shot.
We tried convincing the liveaboard that this was not the kind of business and publicity they, or Fiji wanted. A friend spent political capital trying to convince their offshore headquarters. More political capital was invested in seeking dialogue with the Fijian Authorities. Hell, fearing the worst as they were always gonna be the dark horse in the process, we even had somebody try and talk sense to our local competitor!

I guess we should have known better.
Money apparently talks - much louder than one's professed love of Sharks and fake Eco-branding.
And contrary to the title of this post, it does have a smell. It reeks of greed, recklessness, stupidity and disrespect of one's host Country. This is now their legacy - and I'll leave it at that.
See, I'm still trying to be polite!

But in the end, it's not our Country, not our dive, not our operation - and hopefully, not our reputation, either. Although as always, we'll have to share the negative repercussions, as will Fiji Tourism.

In the end, the real losers will be the Sharks.
A great shame - especially because we got so close to doing the right thing.

PS: Underwater Thrills have followed up with this great post. Kudos.

Great Men think alike

I knew this was coming - and Bingo!

Check out this video.

It tells the story of the roll-out of the Shark Free Marinas Initiative but in the end, the anchor attributes the success in Ft. Myers to the same people. This of course is not true and Shark Diver was quick in pointing out that the praise for it must go to the Shark Safe Project.

Sloppy journalism?
Yes, maybe - but oh-so-predictable.
The reason being that both outfits have their own "Marinas" initiative, with virtually identical goals and virtually identical logos. In fact, having dug around a bit, I notice that the "Shark Safe Marina" logo is identical to the "Shark Free Marina" logo of the Bimini Sands Resort and Marina.
Check it out - no wonder the lady was confused!.

Is this going to be the harbinger of yet another one of those nasty and stupid Eco-wars that are so commonplace in the wonderful world of Conservation? Yet another WWF vs Greenpeace vs Sea Shepherds?

I've said it before, Shark people are uniquely toothy, opinionated and vociferous - on top of being as tribal, back-stabbing and petty as any other self-respecting closely knit group where everybody knows one another and many have years of shared "history", be it life-long friendships or irreconcilable enmity.

I'm certainly no exception to that rule, especially when it comes to Fiji.
And having dared to dabble in "Shark Politics" far away from home, I'm very much subjected to the very same dynamics. In fact, when it comes to these two Orgs, I'm increasingly being asked to finally commit to one "camp".

Thing is, why should I.
Both have managed to mobilize great, talented and committed personalities, some of which I admire very much and some of which are among my best friends. Both strive to achieve the same goals by promoting smart and inclusive Conservation.

Should this not be about the well-being of the Sharks?
And if so - will it be possible to bury any hatchets and unite the efforts in order to roll out one coherent, efficient and successful campaign - and one only? Or are we really going to see two identical organizations with identical messages "compete" for the very same Marinas - and appear stupid and petty in the process?

Yes, it may already be too late - but please, guys, give it some thought.

PS: Felix spotted this as well.

Friday, May 22, 2009



WildAid and their Active Conservation Awareness Program have done it again.
Great idea to run this anti-finning clip in Mandarin! The narrator is Sūn Yànzī, arguably the most popular Mandarin female singer in Asia.

For smart and culturally sensitive advertising, also see this clip featuring Ang Lee.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Remember Mr. Donlon's abomination?

Here's what I got five minutes ago.

Dear Friends
It was just announced a few moments ago that the Ft. Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and its City Commissioners all voted unanimously to immediately change the upcoming "Are You Man Enough Shark Challenge" to a total Catch and Release tournament with chase boats and live streaming video beamed back to television monitors at the tournament headquarters!

There will be no "shark kill" tournament!

This came just days before a large organized shark conservation and education protest was scheduled this weekend in front of the tournament headquarters. It has been confirmed that the sponsoring business owners were virtually unanimous in their support as well and actually had decided to make the tournament "catch and release" just hours prior to the commission vote.

Margret Meade once said, "Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.......indeed it is the only thing that ever has!"
There are many heroes in this effort and hundreds of individuals behind the scenes who helped make this environmental victory possible. Those hundreds of you who took the time to write an e mail and voice your concern to the tournament organizers fueled the fire!

Penny Miller who networked and boldly wrote Governor Crist's office and the Ft Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce in Florida strongly voicing her anger at this throwback to an African Big Game Hunting mentality!
Mary O'Malley and Lupo who were relentless in their pursuit of information on the "toxic" shark meat that was ostensibly being given to the homeless in an effort to "spin" killing sharks into a "positive justification" by the tournament organizers. They uncovered the falsehood that the Salvation Army had not even been contacted at all this year by the tournament organizers as advertised on their web page and they did not even want the meat in the first place....toxic or not!
Lawrence Groth who is a tenacious truth seeker that never gave up and pursued sponsors, tournament organizers, wrote blogs and even went "undercover" to film the "secret" shark kill tournament in Sarasota last week and planned the protest event on the Ft Myers side.
Neil Hammerschlag whose academic candor roused the environmental spirit of young supporters and helped turn the Commissioners around and to ultimately get the vote in favor of the sharks passed in commission chambers!
The scientific intervention by Dr. Sonny Gruber of the Bimini Field Station/University of Miami fame and Dr. Bob Heuter, Director of Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota lent credibility and sound insight to this project's goal and gave the tournament organizers a viable alternative to still making a success of a Catch and Release tournament.
And of all the bloggers around the world, Mike Neumann, Patric Douglas, Wolfgang Leander, Heidi Coluzzi and dozens of others on all continents, who raised their voices in protest and demanded environmental reason to prevail.....

Thank you one and all!
The sharks won this one today....thanks to a unified effort by everyone. Now with this momentum let us not allow it to fade. Let us all continue to pick the battles and take every opportunity to make a difference for the shark globally. Our children are counting on it....and our planet can not survive without our collective conscience.

The former president of the Nature Conservancy, John Sawhill once said..."in the end, our society will be defined....not only for what we created....but for what we refused to destroy....!


Gary and Brenda Adkison
Directors Shark Foundation,
954 554 8918

(Sour grapes) story here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shark Free Marinas!

Mark the Shark has just killed another Tiger Shark.

At 14 feet and 1200 pounds, she must once again have been a pregnant mother, like the other Tiger in the Bahamas and the two Hammerheads killed by Bucky Dennis. And then, there's the upcoming abomination of Mr. Donlon in Ft. Myers that is specifically targeting more record-sized and thus pregnant Sharks.
That's what "game" fishermen do for fun, the more as their Association has no ethical problems whatsoever to sanction those killings as legitimate records. In my book, that's being tacit instigators, accomplices and enablers. Even the hunting community doesn't do that anymore - and thankfully, there seems to be growing opposition to those gruesome trophies even among the fishermen themselves.

But the cold facts are that all of that is perfectly legal.
All of our vocal condemnation, petitioning and picketing are not likely to change much in the short term. Game fishing is big business and we're hopelessly outmanned and outgunned.
Yes, I'm repeating myself! Again!

Which brings me straight over to the Shark-Free Marina Initiative.
It's a great idea that started with this post by Shark Diver in September, 2008. Type "Shark Free Marinas" into the search box of Underwater Thrills and you will be able to follow its gradual inception by several enlightened marinas in the Bahamas.

Now, it's being rolled out on a global scale via its own org., website and blog

This is smart Conservation aimed at organic cooperation instead of confrontation, via a nifty feel-good campaign. Good for the marinas, good for the Sharks. And I'm sure that the ultimate thrust is to educate the fishermen in the process.

Smart, cheap, effective - Conservation bootstrapping at its best.
Kudos guys!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Frothing with Blood!

Are those guys for real?

The carnage: two surfers got nicked at New Smyrna Beach, the Shark bite capital of the world (great recap here, kudos to whoever wrote it!).
One was treated on the beach, the other drove himself to the hospital.

And this is what The Fear Beneath made of it.
New look, same morons. I've blogged about them before.

Oh well, yesterday's feel-good piece was just too nice to last.

Monday, May 18, 2009

FYoS - Great Job by Stanley!

I'm indebted to Stan.

Stanley Simpson is Fiji's up-and-coming young media star and he's been behind the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project all the way from its inception.

First, he published a very cool and very pro-Shark spread in the January issue of Fiji's premier lifestyle magazine, Mai Life. In February, he then approached us with the idea of a Shark special on Fiji's first private TV channel, MaiTV where he hosts his show Simpson@Seven.
Stan prides himself on his thorough research and investigative Journalism and after having seen what he had done in the magazine, we were more than glad to extend an invitation to come and experience our dive. Timing was particularly fortuitous as Ron and Valerie were just visiting and very graciously accepted to sit down for an interview.

This is now the result and all I can say is Well done Stan, I'm impressed!
Not only because he insisted on coming personally despite being a diving newbie and despite his good old-fashioned Fijian galeophobia (yes that would be the correct medical term!). But what really impressed the hell out of me is how he has managed to highlight the topic from various angles and avoid any sensationalism whilst still conveying a sense of adventure, awe and excitement. Being the one with the big mouth, any factual, or errors in "messaging" are mine, not his.

That's clearly a testament to his maturity and to his professionalism - but it's also a testament to Fiji, a Country where people have lived with and revered Sharks since time immemorial and where the Ocean with its beauty and its hazards is just a fact of life and Sharks are not subjected to the hysteria that is so prevalent in our Kaivailangi culture.
In fact, local lore has it that Shark attacks are merely Dakuwaqa's inevitable, and just punishment for some misdeed by the victim and consequently, they barely make the news and certainly don't deter the villagers from going to the beach.

Now, about "that" footage.
I've shot it in 2007 and blogged about it shortly thereafter. And I stand by what I said then, that it depicts an act of reckless showmanship and that it will remain a one-off - which it has.

Rusi took the decision on the spur of the moment on a particularly mellow dive (see, she's completely relaxed and doesn't even deploy the nictitating membrane - if at all, she looks mightily surprised) and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Don't get me wrong - it's not an excuse, it's just what happened on that dive.
Still, those are really unique images and for us in the know, they showcase Rusi's unparalleled Shark handling skills and the special relationship he has developed with our biggest and friendliest Tiger Shark Scarface.

But once again: this is a big no-no and pretty darn stupid on top of it - please, do not try this at home!

Having said this: Enjoy!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Problem with "Sharks"

Try defining "Sharks".

I've looked up the various definitions in Google and inevitably, there's talk of "large and voracious" and "sometimes attack humans". And then, there's the human "Sharks" that are "ruthless, greedy and dishonest".
Talk about animals having a bad reputation!

The correct definition would instead list these elements: marine, fish, cartilaginous skeleton, 5-7 mostly lateral gill slits, tough skin covered in denticles, carnivorous. All rather vague as in the definitions for "Birds" and "Mammals" (no mention of "attack humans" here - and yet they do!) - and for good reason, as a Whale Shark, a Cookiecutter Shark and a Great White are as different as, say, an Elephant, a Shrew and an Orca!
To say, "Sharks do this and behave like that" is just dead wrong - and I for one am guilty of having fallen in that trap all-too-often!

Which brings me straight back to the Shark operator controversy in Hawaii.
Yes, Hawaii regularly experiences "Shark" attacks - but those are overwhelmingly attributed to one species, i.e. Tiger Sharks, large predatory Sharks that target big prey (as in Turtles) close to the coast. That's where most aquatic recreationists do their thing and that's where from time to time, somebody gets attacked - mind you, very very rarely, a clear indication that they really want nothing to do with us.
I betcha that drowning and fatal boating and surfing accidents are way more prevalent - so what about banning those activities first, the more as the causality is irrefutable?

The Sharks showcased by the Shark Tour operators are however not Tigers, they're just Sandbars and Galapagos Sharks, smallish piscivorous Sharks that in Hawaii frequent the open Ocean and couldn't care less about some swimmer on the coast - because they eat small stuff like fish and squid and because they just don't live there. Yes they are "Sharks" but they are completely different from Tiger Sharks in terms of size, behavior, nutrition and habitat.
Think "fishing": what are the odds of you ever, ever catching an oceanic Fish like a Blue Marlin whilst surf-casting off the beach? With the wrong lure? See?

To make a connection between feeding a few Fish scraps to a Sandbar (mind you, 3 miles offshore) and an attack on a surfer by a Tiger Shark makes about as much sense as claiming that feeding Mongooses at home will trigger more attacks by Bengal Tigers in the Jungle - meaning, zero!

Alas, the public at large just doesn't want to know better.
It's up to the affected operators to try and set the record straight and there has been a first attempt with this, and other articles in the Hawaii press. Data are data and the interpretation is unequivocal.
Except of course to the usual vermin, see the comments section - just gotta love the guy! "Since 1990" - no shit! Did I say self-promoting asshole? Absolutely not! See, I'm learning to be polite!

Of all Shark operations I can think of, Hawaii's Shark viewing tours are probably the safest, most harmless, most ecologically unproblematic and most widely frequented and thus educationally valuable. Hell, it's just a fun snorkeling gig!
It would be such a crying shame if they had to succumb to mass hysteria and the ambitions of a local politician wanting to get elected.

From the bottom of my heart, I really wish them the very best of luck.
Fingers crossed!

Uh oh...

The Darwin Award website (do browse!) features these statistics.

Obviously, no Sharks anywhere in sight.
But Blogging???

(Beware of Heisenberg!)

Poking Bull Sharks

How serendipitous.

I was just wondering about how to use this latest fantastic pic by Sasha - and here comes Mr. Fernandez!

Mr. Fernandez decided to poke a Bull Shark, always a real bad idea.
What really puts him up for an honorable mention at the Darwin Awards is that he did so whilst hanging on to a freshly speared grouper. As Shark Diver said, Sharks and Idiots are a real toxic mix. We've blogged about it for the past couple of weeks.

For now, Mr. Fernandez remains in the gene pool - but fear not, he's planning to go back!

But I'm digressing.
All I really wanted, is to showcase Sasha's pic.
Click on it - just amazing!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Kiwi called Paul

Small small wold!

Check out the video.

Nothing really remarkable, just our usual fare - but when researching its provenience, I came across the remarkable story of the recovery of Paul Morris.

Paul got attacked by a Great White whilst kayak fishing (quite a story!) and then spent years trying to overcome the long-term effects of that encounter.
Eventually, he ended up joining two other Shark attack victims on Kiwi presenter Phil Keoghan's reality show "No Opportunity wasted". The goal was to overcome their fear and dive with Sharks. All three of them passed with flying colors.
The host: Beqa Adventure Divers, Fiji.

You can read Paul's account of his Fiji experience here (pics here).
He has since created DivePlanet, a remarkable portal about diving in New Zealand. Interestingly, there's a large section about Rodney and Andrew Fox's research and conservation of Great White Sharks.
He also has a Blog where he posted a piece about dealing with one's fear of Sharks - maybe useful, and he sure would be the right person to ask for advice.

Paul, good on 'ya mate!

Scarface and Rusi

From Sasha's Blog.

Scarface - ultimate 5.5 m long pet of Rusi and the team of Beqa Adventure Divers.
She was absent for five months from the Shark Reef for birth giving, and finally returned again three weeks ago, right on time for my visit to Beqa Lagoon. I was lucky to be on one of the dives then she appeared in all her glory.
There is something surreal, gravity defying in interaction between The Feeders and this ultimate shark which guests have chance to observe - Rusi barehandedly guiding these monster, crouching and jumping around, and strong mental bond between two can be strongly felt even from the distance.
Scarface always inspecting everyone and everything on each of her visits, everyone on the dive has chance to look into the eyes of these gigantic shark from few centimeters away.

In Sasha's English, "barehandedly" translates into "with his hands - protected by a steel mesh glove"! Promise!

Anyway, this gives me the chance of posting the answer to that question: apart from many other peculiarities, Tiger Sharks have a visible spiracle!
Bet that until now, you haven't noticed!

More about Scarface and her favorite feeder very soon!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bloody cool News!

Pic: Frederic Buyle


Yes this is the language of Molecular Analysis!

From Species Delineation and Evolutionary History of the Globally Distributed Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari)
Vincent P. Richards, Marcy Henning, Wayne Witzell, and Mahmood S. Shivji

Molecular analyses are resolving many taxonomic uncertainties, including revealing that species once thought to cover wide geographic areas are often complexes comprising 2 or more genetically distinct species.
In addition to providing taxonomic clarity and more accurate biodiversity assessments, such findings have management and conservation ramifications as many of the newly identified species may have limited ranges and relatively small population sizes rendering them more vulnerable to human impact.
Consequently, the accurate delimitation of species boundaries is an important conservation need, especially for exploited species.

First the Manta Rays, now this.

The Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari), a large coral reef–associated batoid of conservation concern, is currently described as a single, circumglobally distributed species.
However, geographic
differences in its morphology and parasite diversity have raised unconfirmed suspicions that A. narinari may constitute a species complex.
We used 1570 bp of mitochondrial and nuclear sequence
data (cytochrome b, cytochrome c oxidase subunit I, and internal transcribed spacer 2) to assess the validity of A. narinari as a single cosmopolitan species and infer its evolutionary history. Specimens from 4 major geographic regions were examined: the Central Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Western Pacific, and Central Pacific.

Phylogenies described 3 distinct, reciprocally
monophyletic lineages with no genetic exchange among regions. Based on combined genealogical concordance and genetic distance criteria, we recommend that the Western/Central Pacific lineage be recognized as a distinct species from lineages in the Central Atlantic and Eastern Pacific. The latter 2 lineages, separated by the Isthmus of Panama, are proposed as subspecies.
A basal
position in phylogenetic analyses and statistical parsimony results support an Indo-West Pacific origin for the A. narinari species complex, with subsequent westerly dispersal around the southern tip of Africa into the Atlantic and then into the Eastern Pacific.

Original paper (including the gibberish at the top) here.
Just stunning!

Croc stalks Nude Beach!

This one?

The croc: Crocodylus porosus, the world's largest reptile.

The Town: Darwin, Northern Territory.

The Country: The wonderful, and deadly Land of Oz - where else?
G'day mates!


Another "cool" pic! Still got no clue who took it!

I'm not finished quite yet.

Whereas Patric writes that he's "done with this thread, for now, until the next image or video comes out. Laid down the gauntlet and no one came to pick it up. So much for all the so called industry leaders out there who demand respect.", I'd like to wrap it up with this post by Richard Theiss on the RTSea Blog.
Richard has established himself as a sort of arbitrator who tries to be impartial, objective and see everything from the helicopter perspective - alas, being so close to the "action", I often try but mostly fail.

This is how my recent ramblings read in polite English.

I have said before, I am a big supporter of safe and responsible shark ecotourism - shark diving, if you will.
But my concept of "safe and responsible" that promotes conservation, works with scientific research, and provides a safe environment for both divers and sharks, is not the same concept as some others in the industry.
Over the past several months, there have been a series of media publicity and community public relations gaffes the net result of which has been to show shark diving to be a haven for reckless thrill-seekers and it is fueling government and community forces to clamp down or place an outright ban on shark ecotourism at some key sites.

As to when the next stupidity will explode, fear not: it will, and pretty soon, too!
I'll try to remember Richard and be polite!

Ethics should not need to be regulated

Amen to that!

Sharky of The Chum Slick has written this great post about the recent killings of Sharks by sport fishermen. And let's not forget Mr. Donlon's abomination in Ft. Myers!

What is particularly riling is that in order to book themselves an IGFA record, they specifically target the largest individuals - and those are invariably pregnant females, i.e. the very breeding stock that would deserve special protection, and not persecution. To compound the problem, they are very easyly caught as they turn up at predictable times in the coastal Shark nurseries.

How does it feel to kill a pregnant mother and dozens of babies? Or to sit in a bikini on the corpse of a threatened animal?
So much for IGFA's "sportsmanship" and proclaimed conservation efforts - and I'll leave it at that.

Luckily, some are bucking the trend.
Very shortly, I'll be able to tell you about a great initiative that aims at protecting Sharks by working organically with the sport fishing community.
Keep watching this space!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Yes, this time, I'm the Johnny-come-lately!
Two blogs have posted this already - but it's just too good to give it a pass!

Here u go- epic!

Going going.......

Read this post by WhySharksMatter.

And here are the latest figures (May 2009) published by TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network by the WWF and the IUCN.

The preface to the numbers reads as follows.

Species and species groups
The FAO Fishstat Capture Production database reports capture production of sharks for 100 shark species and a further 30 groups. While there appears to have been some improvement in the level of species-specific reporting in recent years, most shark catch remains recorded in generic shark categories.
In 2007, only 20% of the shark catch data reported to F
AO was reported on a species basis (up from 15% in 2003). The remaining 80% was reported as various groupings of shark species with over 35% in the single category of “Sharks, rays, skates etc nei5” and a further 18% in the “Rays, stingrays, mantas nei” category.
Total reported shark catch peaked at just under 900 000 t in 2003, then declined to 750 000 t in 2006 before increasing to 780 000 t in 2007.

Trends in catch by species and generic shark categories in the period 2000 to 2007 are shown in Table 1.
Notable trends in the species-specific data over that period include that reported catch of:
• Blue Shark Prionace glauca continued to increase with catch more than doubling to reach 45 000 t in 2007

• Spiny Dogfish Squalus acanthias halved from 32 000 t to around 1
6 000 t
• Leafscale Gulper Shark Centrophorous squamosus has fallen from over 3000 t in 2000 to 570 t in 2007

• Pacific Guitarfish Rhinobatus planiceps fell from 2600 t to 20 t in 2006 and no catch was reported in 2007
• Portuguese Dogfish Centroscymnus coelolepis fell from ove
r 4000 t in 2004 to just over 700 t in 2007
• Silky Shark Carcharhinus falciformis fell from over 11 000 t in 2000 to around 2500 t in 2007.

Nei refers to ‘not elsewhere included’
In the generic shark categories, reported catch of:
• “Sharks, rays, skates, etc nei” fell from 413 000 t in 2003 to 291 000 t in 2007
• “Various sharks nei” fell from 33 000 t in 2000 to 783 t in 2007
• “Rays, stingrays, mantas nei” peaked at 221 000 t in 2003, but had fallen to 139 000 t by 2007

• “Dogfish sharks nei” increased from 9000 t to 19 000 t, while “Dogfishes and hounds nei” fell
from around 3000 t to around 1200 t
• “Raja rays nei” increased from around 6300 t in 2000 to just under 45 000 t in 2007
• “Mantas, devil rays nei” increased from 900 t to over
3300 t
• “Thresher sharks nei” increased from just over 500 t
to around 16 000 t in 2007
• “Hammerhead sharks etc nei” increased from around 2000 t to over 3600 t.

As noted above, trends in the data are, however, difficult to interpret.
It is unclear, for example, whether a decline in reported catch
of a species represents a decline in abundance, deterioration in reporting of catch data or improvements in species identification which results, over time, in transfer of reported catch from generic categories to species categories. Further, declines in overall shark catch may reflect the impact of stricter national and/or regional controls on shark catch and by-catch, or on fisheries for species in which sharks are taken as by-catch.

You will have to click the pics to get a better magnification

Yes the figures are probably difficult to interpret.
But see the Silkies and Oceanic Whitetips? Going going........
And how they are slaughtering the Blues, Scalloped Hammerheads and Makos?
Luckily the Bulls and coastal Sharks in general seem much less affected. Fingers crossed!

And here are the perpetrators:

Table 3: Average catch of key shark catchers, 2000–2007 (t)

1 Indonesia 110 528
2 India 70 758
3 Spain 57 685
4 Taiwan 48 493
5 Mexico 34 535
6 Pakistan 34 270
7 Argentina 33 639
8 USA 29 909
9 Japan 25 930
10 Malaysia 24 500
11 Thailand 24 156
12 France 22 328
13 Sri Lanka 22 029
14 Brazil 20 498
15 New Zealand 18 260
16 Portugal 15 137
17 UK 14 301

Do you still think this is just an "Asian" problem?
Well - think again.