Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gene Ward - call back the Hound Dogs!

A day's catch in Hawaii. No effect on Shark behavior? Not a public hazard? And the Ecosystem?

You may have noticed that I've retracted a recent series of posts about the situation in Hawaii.

I did so after Patric from Shark Divers traveled to the islands and met with the two local Shark operators and the representative Gene Ward.
Ward is spearheading a populist movement aimed at shutting down the Shark tours but on that meeting, he assured everybody that he was not anti-business but merely wanted to enforce the law that prohibits Shark feeding in state and federal waters.

The Shark operators have no problem with not feeding the Sharks.
The Shark populations they visit on their tours three miles off the coast are resident Galapagos and Sandbar Sharks that aggregate there in response to the activities of crab fishermen. Whether anybody feeds them or not, that's where they now live - and not on the coast where all Shark attacks in Hawaii have occurred, incidentally NOT perpetrated by those species.

Since everybody involved in that private meeting seemed to agree on the way forward, I decided to facilitate the upcoming town hall meeting by desisting from any more "inflammatory" comments. I've watched a (painfully boring - the things one ends up doing for the "cause"...) video of the meeting and true to his word, Ward has kept most of his comments centered on the issue of legality.
The law of course is bad and based on faulty assumptions
- but I guess that's another fight for another day.

So far so good.
What is not good are Ward's attack dog Makani Christensen and their Shark Task Force, a recent re-enactment of the venerable State of Hawaii Shark Task Force. Contrary to their predecessor that united community leaders, scientists, government officials and other stakeholders, this is a pure Shark hate group.
They are aligned with safewatersforhawaii a local clone of the infamous anti-Industry CDNN (compare the "Myth vs Truth" section!) and stopsharkfeedinginhawaii and have literally thrown the kitchen sink at anything and anybody related to Shark viewing - from stoking fears that Shark viewing might lead to more Shark attacks, to "concerns" about the likely effects on the Sharks and the ecosystem (George Burgess - shame on you!), to claiming that it violates the sensitivity of native Hawaiians.

All of the above is of course rubbish (was that "inflammatory"?) and I shall be posting a series of excerpts from a document by a wise, and anonymous (which proves that he's wise!) Hawaiian debunking them in non-inflammatory lingo.

For the time being, read this.
It's an eye witness account I received one week ago by "somebody" spearfishing on one of the Hawaiian islands.

XXX and I went snorkeling, and he was free-diving down to the bottom (~50 feet) to spear various fishes.

XXX is an incredible free-diver -- he casually drops down to 50 feet, stalks the fish for a while, then usually nails his target perfectly with a 3-prong spear. Anyway, on one dive down, he and I both saw a 4-foot white-tip shark swimming by, and neither of us gave it much concern.
But then I saw a good-sized grey-reef shark come up from behind a rock where XXX couldn't see it. I was up at the surface, holding a mesh bag with all the bleeding/dying/thrashing fish . The shark circled around the rock and came up behind XXX, just inches above his right shoulder.

I saw XXX taking aim at a Uhu, and I yelled at him through my snorkel, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!".
He didn't see the shark right behind him, so when he heard me yelling, he thought I was saying "Uhu! Uhu!", like I was cheering him on. So he shot the Uhu and the shark went nuts (the white-tip had left -- only the grey-reef was still there).
It bolted around in front of XXX where the thrashing uhu was at the end of XXXs spear. I thought for sure XXX would see the shark at that point, but apparently he somehow missed it, because he casually swung the spear around bringing the fish to his chest, so he could hold on to it while he swam back up to the surface.

The shark was thrashing around back where XXX had shot the Uhu, then started following up the blood trail right behind XXXs fins.
As he was kicking upward, the tips of his fins were almost smacking the shark in the face. I kept yelling "XXX! XXX! Shark! Shark!", but he didn't seem to notice.
Finally, when he was abould half-way up, he looked at me and I pointed vigorously behind him. He turned *just* in time to kick the shark off as it was charging him from behind. XXX kept kicking it off all the way to the surface, bringing himself, the speared Uhu, and the shark up to me.

I immediately held the mesh bag with the bloody fish out of the water above my head, and XXX tried to do the same with the Uhu; but the fish was too heavy and it bent his carbon-fiber spear over and the Uhu was flopping at the surface.
This only amped up the shark even more and he charged XXX again, and XXX kicked it off.
Then it charged me, and I had to kick it off (the blood was dripping down from the mesh back I was holding). XXX quickly got the Uhu off his spear and offered it up to the obviously hungry shark, but the shark didn't see it floating on the surface, and it kept charging us -- first XXX then me, then back to XXX, then back to me, etc.

At about this ti
me, I noticed XXX was laughing in his snorkel.
As soon as I noticed that, I suddenly realized that I had been (and still was) laughing in my snorkel also. I guess it's just a weird sort of reaction we both had -- and it was a funny scene, in retrospect.
The shark turned away and headed for the Uhu, now a few feet away from XXX and I (as we were both back-peddling towards the boat).

But the shark somehow m
issed the Uhu, then turned back again for us.
There was a big green cloud of blood below the Uhu, and the shark swam right through it. I expected the shark to turn and eat the dying Uhu, but instead it got even more excited and charged both XXX and I again.
XXX kicked it off, then I kicked it off, and finally it found the Uhu, and took the entire thing into its mouth (except the tail), in one gulp.

XXX and I both saw it glide down back to the bottom, with the uhu tail sticking out of its mouth. I stopped laughing l
ong enough to say "I think we might want to get back in the boat now"; and this only made XXX laugh harder. It was a very strange thing -- because it was both nerve-wracking and extremely funny at the same time.

After hopping back in the boat again for a few minutes, we both jumped back in the water and continued hunting for fish.
We figured that the shark was now well-fed, and wouldn't bother us anymore. I did see it swim by later on, but it never came close. All the same, I left the mesh bag in the boat, rather than carry it around.


Interesting huh.
Equally interesting that Ward's proposed legislative amendment to the Shark feeding ban includes the following exemption, and I cite.

c. Persons, including commercial and recreational fishermen, engaged in the taking of marine life that results in captured, injured, or dead fish being incidentally eaten by sharks shall not be considered in violation of this section...

Well well.
So who, exactly, is feeding the Sharks close to shore and (for the sake of the -wrong- argument) "teaching them to associate humans with food"? Maybe spearfishermen like Ward's very own Makani?
How many incidents like the one above happen inshore every day - and what do the Sharks learn in the process?

Ward may indeed not know this, but Mr. Christensen sure does: EVERYBODY from Florida to the Pacific to Oz knows that wherever there's regular spearfishing, the Sharks will start circling as soon as anybody enters the water and come charging in when they hear the sound of a speargun - to the point where some dive operators carry around speargun triggers to lure in Sharks!

Gene, it may be OK to try and enforce the law - although I'm sure that the state of Hawaii is facing more pressing problems right now.
What is not OK is to be perceived as an anti-business, anti-tourism demagogue pandering to unfounded and irrational fear and being abused by fanatics who are pushing self serving agendas right from your very own office.

Please, pull back the hound dogs.


Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

Thanks Mike. Your efforts to pull back from a fight were in good faith and I think you showed a lot of restraint.

The issue is now legislative.

I think that Rep Ward himself sees the vision here - his underlings perhaps not so much and we should keep pressure on them to stop pushing "the shark fear" in Hawaii.

It's a complete disservice to the islands sharks, demonizing them, and to Hawaii's 40,000 shark tourists.

What amazes me are the names and businesses that are listed as supporters on the Safe Waters Hawaii site.

Have they read that site and do they understand how the presentation of all sharks as bloodthirsty killers hurts these animals?

DaShark said...

So you've caught on to the same phenomenon huh.

I can see (!) the Pelagic Foundation but - the Humane Society??? WTF???
Who's next - PETA and the Sea Kittens?

Yes Ward seems OK but it's equally apparent that he has been conned into being the political front man of a coalition of Shark haters and Fish killers.

Let's just hope that the man keeps his wits.
The "feeding" issue has been put to rest as everybody has agreed on the way forward.

Now, it's about one thing and one thing only: preserving jobs and millions in tourism income in a time of recession.

Wilson said...

Hoolllyyyy f*#k O_o Let it be known that had that been me who the shark was charging, I would not be laughing, but screaming through the water while simultaniously dying in my snorkel. Twice.

I guess if you're so used to being in the water, a shark encounter that (I use the term lightly) 'annoying' wouldn't be much different as going out for an afternoon jog only to have some dog chase after you, to which you'd err casually kick it aside.

Lame comparison I know, but the only one I think I can draw, since my mind draws a blank when it comes to me potentially dealing with sharks :(

DaShark said...


No, we never take Sharks lightly and know all too well how dangerous they can be.

But so can be your dog!
Actually, the comparison between dogs and specifically, Grey Reefs is quite accurate!

The trick is not to create dangerous situations and to understand the language of the animal - and yes, Sharks do signal their mood very much like dogs do!

What is important to know is that predatory Sharks do not hunt us. That Grey Reef got stimulated by the erratic movements of the struggling fish, and by the fish blood. And then, it "went nuts", which in Shark lingo is called frenzy - but still, all it wanted was the fish and not the humans!

They should have avoided the situation by not shooting when the Shark turned up.
And when the situation unfolded, they should have given up all the fish straight away and retreated to the boat - which, being very experienced, is essentially what they did.

Not to worry Wilson!
Maybe you should consider giving us a visit and learning to dive!