Saturday, July 31, 2010

Third Party Endorsements!

Papa and Whitetip, stellar pic by Sasha

This why we love doing what we do!

We surfaced, cheering out loud from the adrenaline and then hop up into the boat fast since the tiger is still beneath us somewhere, and we know we are still in her realm.
On the way back the Divemaster tells us a story that went something like this: “One day the tiger shark, Scarface, showed up and she was agitated, angry, I could tell. She circled and circled above me and finally showed me the problem. There was a large metal hook in her mouth, right through the skin. She kept circling and so I knew what I needed to do. Scarface knows me, I’ve dove with her so many times, so I swam to her and put my hand on her mouth and stopped her, and I pulled out the hook.” The Divemaster goes to the front of the boat and pulls out a huge fishing hook, he keeps it in a box onboard as proof.

When deciding to go shark diving I had a lot of reservations, not only about the safety but about the fact that if I participated I was making a conscious decision to feed the sharks, to disrupt their natural patterns. In the end I’m glad I did the dive. I understand now more the power and beauty of these sharks. The divemasters say the sharks don’t come around every day, the tigers go missing for weeks at times, so they are still in their natural behavior, they still leave to mate and feed.

This opportunity has also provided the divemasters, all Fijians who believe they are protected from the sharks, the chance to intimately get to know these sharks and give us insight into their patterns. These divers can tell when a shark is pregnant; they know each shark by name. They have also started a tagging program for the bull sharks, to gain insight into their movement. While I didn’t feel the need to repeat the dive in Fiji, I think going once is a great experience. I don’t have a list of sharks to see and won’t be chasing them on a bunch of shark dives, but as our desire to see the world first hand and preserve the animals in it increases, we all need to decide where we stand on feeding or tracking or swimming with all animals. For me, seeing these animals once was enough to appreciate them more, I’ll never forget that dive – but from now on I will leave them to cruise the oceans on their own.

More by Mariah Boyle here - about darn Damsels!

I sometimes just go and search the web for comments by our clients.
They are completely beyond our influence and as honest as it gets, and thus constitute excellent feedback. Of many I discovered for 2010, here's a nice one about us and the fabulous Uprising Beach Resort, a glowing endorsement (yes, Nani rocks!) but what is obviously a very happy customer and a short trip report with video.
Among more "editorial" stuff, I found a really good writeup about the Shark dive, a more general piece featuring the fabulous clip by the BBC, a very (!) insightful description by a travel agent and finally, a fantastic series of pics by Sasha on CNTV!

And then, there's this video clip.
It's actually got nothing to do with us but depicts BLR over on Beqa Island and irritates me because somebody has just ripped one of our DVDs and stolen the footage, like on 3:12ff. The man with the yellow cap is of course Rusi .
But then again, it shows some nice vistas of reef diving in Beqa Lagoon and above all, it features historical footage and audio on 4:00ff. Yes this is Manasa aka lucky man Papa, probably about 10 years ago! He truly is the friendliest, most goodhearted, most positive, most wonderful person, ever!
And before you ask: yes, he's doing great!


Friday, July 30, 2010

What we are and do – and not!

Just in case!

From a recent message by a friend
It's getting to the point where the inmates are running the asylum.

Indeed – but not in Fiji!
Here are some considerations that we’re about to post on our home page. They reflect the fact that we’re catering to a specific market segment and mindset, and will as a consequence always remain unattractive for some other demographics.

Here’s why you should choose Beqa Adventure Divers.
  • This is the original product. Yes the company has only been established in 2004 but some of our staff are the very people who have discovered and named most dive sites within Beqa Lagoon and above all, developed the Fiji Shark Dive. No dive team in Fiji is this experienced! The Shark dive on Shark Reef has been conducted since 1999 and is the only such dive that has been described as The Best Shark Dive in the World by Ron and Valerie Taylor and a whole host of diving icons and publications thereafter.
  • This is principally a marine conservation project that includes a dive operation, and not vice versa. Our seamless integration of diving, conservation, education, outreach and research has been hailed world wide. We are not on the hunt for awards and personal fame of whispering and the like, but instead, prefer to work hard at researching and protecting Sharks in Fiji and elsewhere. We also do not enable anti-Shark media.
  • We are a renowned ecotourism operator and always strive to further reduce our ecological and carbon footprints. From installing fixed moorings on all of our dive sites to running fuel efficient engines, everything we do is geared to minimizing our impact on the environment.
  • We are beholden to Fiji. We cooperate closely with Fiji's government and local communities and stakeholders, and generally strive to make a contribution to enhancing the country’s international reputation and prosperity, and that of its people. With the exception of the directors, all of our staff are Fijians who partake directly in our success via a generous bonus scheme. All of our earnings accrue and are taxed in Fiji, meaning that we do not operate offshore booking offices and do not dodge taxes by circling our cash flow via shell companies in tax heavens.
  • Safety is our main concern and our safety record is pristine. Whilst always striving to provide a memorable and highly enjoyable experience, we observe stringent safety guidelines comprising regular maintenance, upgrades and surveys of all of our infrastructure, highly trained staff, exhaustive dive briefings, special Shark diving procedures, high staff to client ratio, non decompression diving and comprehensive emergency equipment and protocols.
  • We provide for excellent and exclusive service. BAD is a high end operator and we pride ourselves in being highly professional and mindful of the needs and comfort of our clients. Specifically, we limit the number of customers on our boats and you will never experience any dive where divers from other operations will join in and spoil your exclusive experience.
  • You will be able to capture stunning images. We are experienced UW photographers and videographers and know our sites, Fishes and Sharks. We have designed the Shark dive in view of allowing for unobstructed and clear views of the animals, and experienced elite amateurs will be safely positioned in strategic locations from where they will be able to shoot top-notch pictures and video.

By the same token, you should NOT book a dive with us
  • If you are not cool. Fiji’s has been rightly called the friendliest country in the world and we are eager to please you in any way we can – but this is still a developing country, cultures differ, and quality standards and above all, the concept of time are subject to interpretation. We generally run a tight ship but transfers may run late, luggage may be lost (but is usually found) and bookings may be mishandled - such is life in the tropics and Paradise comes at a price. In general, all problems get eventually resolved and losing one’s temper usually makes things worse, not better. Please also keep in mind that service providers are not servants and that nobody likes to be talked down at.
  • If you are an adrenaline junkie. Yes our Shark dive is in many ways a spectacle, but we respect the animals and our show has nothing to do with intrepid native heroes showcasing their courage and manhood, or whatever, by wrangling lethal apex predators. We try to convey a sense of wonder and awe and do not subscribe to notions of extreme Shark diving and the like. You are invited to join us as a spectator - and thank you, but we do not need your help. Concurrently, we do not enable radical close-up captures by amateur image hunters.
  • If you’ve been everywhere, seen it all and now it all better. You may indeed be incredibly important and good - but please, let us be the judge of that. We’ve been operating successfully and safely for many years and nobody even remotely matches our experience when it comes to these specific dives. Whilst you may unleash your experience, skills and creativity on our reef dives, our Shark dive is a tightly choreographed event where you will not be allowed to roam and improvise but will be directed and supervised instead. We very much encourage constructive feedback as a vital contribution to improving our product – but we take badly to vocal public lecturing, posturing and self-professed stardom. In the softest possible way, if icons like, say, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Stan Waterman and Doug Perrine don’t display those attitudes, neither should you.
  • If you are a Shark hugger. Large predatory Sharks are potentially lethal and need to be respected and not romanticized. Also, our Shark dive has nothing to do with a natural situation where the animals display natural behavior: it is essentially a show where we have conditioned the animals to observe a uniform, predictable and safe routine, this principally for safety reasons. Feeding Sharks is controversial but we believe that it does not harm the animals, a fact that is consistently being confirmed by all relevant research - and no, we’re really not eager to engage in this debate!
  • If you are an anti-smoking zealot. Smoking is a personal choice and we allow it during the surface intervals, provided that smokers retire to the stern platform which is downwind from the cabin and the fuel tanks. Smokers are not criminals and smoke does not travel upwind, ever.
There you have it - now you know!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Discovery Shark Week - same old same old!

Well, I guess the cat is out of the bag.

I just had a look at this year's Shark Week lineup and nothing has changed.
Underwater Thrills and Oceanic Dreams are uncharacteristically mellow. Like me, they're probably tired of wasting time on the subject, as despite of hopeful signs like the management re-shuffle, etc, Discovery appears hell-bent on once again focusing on attacks and thus, reducing the animals to dangerous man-hunting monsters.

As to whether this may be educational?
What education???
What can anybody possibly learn from this rubbish?

Oh well, as I said, I'm tired of this shit.
Cris Palmer and Peter Kimball over at the Huffington Post basically say it all. Great post and kudos for having brought this to the mainstream media.
Excerpts below, links and italics are mine, not theirs.

"Teeth of death," "Shark feeding frenzy," "The Worst Shark Attack Ever." It is that time of year again, when the Discovery Channel brings out shows like these as part of its annual "Shark Week" programming. This week of bloody feeding frenzies and vicious shark attacks is part of a larger trend in nature programming. Instead of seeking to educate or to promote environmental conservation, these shows focus only on presenting graphic, sensationalized animal violence.
Programs like those in Shark Week
-- while they might garner high ratings and attract advertiser dollars -- all too often mislead the audience, exploit animals, and fail to promote conservation.

We applaud Discovery Channel's partnership with Senator John Kerry to help end shark finning, but the general effect of the graphic Shark Week programming is not to promote conservation but to instill fear, terror, and hatred in the viewer.

Networks, studios, and filmmakers need to improve the quality of their work and invest in nature shows that encourage conservation and entertain without misleading.
However, viewers must also take responsibility for the programs they watch. We cannot expect to see more ethical, responsible filmmaking as long as we continue to support those shows that sensationalize and exploit animals.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Million Views - and counting!

Story here.

One more Darn Damsel!

Cribrarula exmouthensis rottnestensis anybody?

Thought so!
Thing is, when I started collecting Cowries, my trusted field guide featured one Genus, Cypraea and two species of Sieve Cowries, cribraria and cribellum.
Now, Cypraea has been elevated to the rank of Family and there's a plethora of Genuses, among which Cribrarula - and as to what happened to the species, what can I say: there's a whole array of cribraria all the way to Cribrarula cribraria cribraria zadela; Cypraea cribellum has become Cribrarula esontropia cribellum; and the above-mentioned West Australian Sieve Cowry has slowly morphed to its current nomenclature from no less than Cribrarula (Cribrarula) cribraria occidentalis f. rottnestensis!
Are you still following me?

The whole fiasco appears to be the brainchild of one Herr Doktor and avid conchologist (as opposed to malacologist) Felix Lorenz.
May this taxonomic orgy be in any way related to the fact that shell collectors are suckers for punishment and will consequently have to obtain a specimen of each species, race and variation? And that Herr Doktor Lorenz just happens to own a website where a gem rottnestensis fetches 150 bucks, and a Cribrarula exmouthensis magnifica, a whopping 800? Honi soit qui mal y pense!
And before you ask: guilty as charged! I own one of each - and a zadela!

Enter Gerry Allen and Joshua Drew - yes, as in barberi!
I spare you a repetition of the litany about Biodiversity, Endemism, Speciation, Continental Drift, Isolation, Splitters and Lumpers: it's all here should you care to be confused further.
Anyway, they've done it again.

Gerald R. Allen, Joshua Drew and Douglas Fenner: Amphiprion pacificus, a new species of anemonefish (Pomacentridae) from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Wallis Island, pp. 129-138

Amphiprion pacificus n. sp. is described on the basis of four specimens, 30.9-48.3 mm SL, from Wallis Island and Tonga in the western Pacific. Underwater photographs also reveal its presence on coral reefs of Fiji and Samoa.
The new taxon is nearly identical in appearance to A. akallopisos from the Indian Ocean. Both species are generally pinkish brown, grading to orange or yellowish on the lower half of the head and side and possess a white stripe on the dorsal midline of the head extending from just anterior to the eye to the dorsal fin origin, continuing along the base of the dorsal fin to the caudal fin base. However, genetic results indicate that A. pacificus is more closely related to A. sandaracinos from Western Australia and the Indo-Malayan region, forming a moderately supported clade that is well differentiated from A. akallopisos.
Aside from genetic differences
A. sandaracinos differs from A. pacificus in having a uniform orange colouration and the white forehead stripe extends onto the upper lip. There also appears to be modal differences in the number of soft dorsal and anal rays (usually 19 versus 18 and 13 versus 12 respectively for A. pacificus and A. sandaracinos).

So now we got ourselves a Pacific Skunk Anemonefish to complement the Orange Skunk and the Skunk Clownfish proper! Meaning, another identical Fish featuring modal differences in ray counts and forming a moderately supported clade!
Sure puts a whole new twist on the meaning of skunked!

As my guru laconically comments, we are going to see more of these very similar, geographically isolated populations described as new species, as the DNA guys seek recognition for their research.
Gee - can't wait!

All of which leaves me in a conundrum.
Am I gonna continue to follow the tribulations of a bunch of guys gallivanting off to some remote locations in search of ubiquitous and long described Fishes that may, or may not feature slight modal differences - or shall I rather be incredibly impressed by people like John, Richard and Rob that strap on their rebreathers and come up with unequivocal and spectacular discoveries from completely new habitats?

Take a wild guess!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No way!

No, this is for real!

Not quite - but bloody cool!

Hat tip: Blogfish!

Dolphin-safe Tuna - epic Post!

Once again, huge kudos to David!

He continues to expose the smoke & mirrors that is Dolphin-safe Tuna.
Having expanded on his previous award-winning post, this is as crystal clear as it gets, and great reading on top of it. Extremely well researched and brilliantly formulated, it is also highly thought provoking as it sheds light on the complexity of conservation where nothing is just simply black or white and everything is interconnected.

There are no simple solutions here.
Like it or not, humans will continue to consume animal protein and satisfying that demand will always come at a cost, and any viable solutions will always have to be pragmatic compromises. Amid a multitude of bad alternatives, the best ones will be those focusing on long term sustainability and adequate management measures. This also implies a commitment to preserving biodiversity as a whole rather than attributing special status to selected pet species.

As David writes
A conscious choice to go back to a previously-banned fishing method that kills large numbers of charismatic animals puts a bad taste in my mouth, but the fact is that fishing for dolphin-associated schools of tuna catches primarily non-endangered dolphins and adult tuna. Dolphin-safe tuna fishing is killing dozens of species, many of whom are endangered, and threatening the integrity of entire ecosystems.
The old way may be the better of two bad choices.

Totally agree!
With one caveat: are we really unable to develop techniques allowing us to segregate among the bottom-oriented Tuna and the surface-oriented Dolphins when catching Dolphin-associated Tuna?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mega Jaws - Pop or Porn?

Have we all been screwed?

Meaning myself, BAD, Kristina from Niuwave Media who acted as the local facilitator and put her reputation on the line, as did Papa who mediated the contacts to a storyteller in Rukua, the Tui Cacau who graciously agreed to being interviewed, the Fiji Audio Visual Commission who facilitated the shoot – and above all, Fijian ancestral beliefs and traditions?
I hope not – but things sure look suspect!

I’m talking about Mega Jaws by Yap Films.
It has just aired on History Channel Canada and is slated for SyFy as part of Beast Legends , a series about mythical creatures that are being re-created through computer graphics. The episode explores the legend of Dakuwaqa, Fiji’s best know, albeit by no means only Shark God.
And yes, we were part of it!

From our initial correspondence.

Day 2 - The bite force test - we have obtained a Gnathodynamometer from the University of Oklahoma. The Gnathodynamometer measures the bite force of sharks. We would like to have Steve dive with it. Is that possible? We can bring it and have you and your team check it out.

"Experiments": as already discussed, I believe that kind of "off-the-cuff" stuff to be utterly useless, scientifically irrelevant and in the present case, a disservice to sharks which are once again being reduced to "teeth", if you get what I mean. I actually blogged about just such a "feat" here. So, the bad news is that the answer is "no thanks".

I assure you that we are not reducing sharks to merely "teeth."
In fact, we are hoping to work with Dr. Sam Gruber to show just how intelligent sharks are. We have had extensive discussions with him already and I am very hopeful that we will be able to work with him.

Day 4 - Final Sequence - Dakuwaqa prevents a modern day pirate ship boat from pirating.

Dakuwaqa preventing piracy etc.
Look, in the softest possible way, some tribes here really believe in the Shark God and one must be culturally sensitive. You would also not dream about re-writing the Holy Bible and staging some bogus miracle by Jesus Christ which you just happen to make up on the fly - right?
Thing is, there's no piracy in Fiji and even if there were, D just doesn't do those things. D helps members of selected tribes by guarding their boats during ocean crossings and by saving those people (and no others) when they may get shipwrecked. He apparently also punishes miscreants on Taveuni. He also will not attack the people of Kadavu as he lost the fight with Kadavu's guardian spirit, the Octopus. He apparently also helps corral the fish during fish drives on Beqa. Full stop.
What you propose is going to be viewed by some as sacrilege and the last thing we want is to be the operation that has enabled that stuff. So, if you want to re-enact anything, do re-enact what people will tell you when you interview them whilst you're scouting.

Piracy – Your notes are completely understandable.
The problem that I am having is that we are operating without knowing exactly what we will hear from the tribal leaders. My hope is to have Kristina from Niuwave visit them this week so that we have a better idea of what we’ll hear about DW from them. Once this happens we can start to write the scenes of our show based directly on what hear from the tribal chiefs. This is quite urgent as there are computer graphic portions of our show that need to be confirmed and approved as soon as possible. We also don’t want to offend anyone and want to describe and portray the legend accurately.

Keep in mind that once again, people here really do believe in the legends as part of their unique cultural heritage and that it is not automatic that they will be willing to share them with outsiders - this requires a lot of respect and cultural sensitivity and needs to be approached accordingly.
I cannot emphasize enough that Fiji is not Hawaii with its bogus "traditions" and that the indigenous population are proud of their heritage and thus need to be treated with respect and not as some actors in some kind of "native soap opera".
Having said this, there's no need to embellish anything anyway: you will be able to record fascinating stories against the backdrop of a fascinating country, people and huge predatory sharks: more than enough for great programming! Are we on the same page regarding this?

I hope my answers above show that we are on the same page.
If you have any concerns or comments please let me know and it would be great to keep the lines of communication open as we move forward. I am really looking forward to working with you.

Light blue is yours truly, dark blue is Jeff Thrasher of Yap who acted as Director.

The Fiji shoot was not easy.
During our research, we came to understand that the legend of Dakuwaqa is complicated and that different traditions are in part contradictory. Untangling the confusion is difficult as people won't easily share with strangers, the more as they have been convinced that upholding their ancestral beliefs may be regarded as being un-Christian.

As a minimum, there’s one Dakuwaqa who may be living in the village of Rukua on Beqa but who may have also left when the Fisherman Clan of Rukua re-located to the islet of Benau near Taveuni following a dispute over a sweet pudding.
Then, there’s also a Dakuwaqa who was born as a human being but went to live in the sea whereas his brother became the first Tui Cacau, or Paramount Chief of the province of Caucadrove encompassing parts of Vanua Levu and Taveuni.
And then, there’s also another Dakuwaqa of unknown origins that likes to engage in fights and is mentioned in the legend about why Sharks don’t attack the islanders of Kadavu.
And yes, there's more!

Anyway, Jeff arrived with Associate Producer Alex McIntosh, likeable hosts dashing Steve Leonard and Kathryn Denning (beautiful, majestic killing machines??? Really???) and filmed on the Shark dive, in Rukua and on Taveuni.
Apart from the inevitable clusterfuck and raw nerves, the shoot was uneventful, the animals cooperated, the team was genuinely pleasant and everybody seemed very happy with the results.

Once they were back in Canada, we had the following exchange.

As per today’s conversation, I’m giving you my footage for free.
I know that you and Alex understand that Dakuwaqa must be treated differently than, say, Dragons as this is not a legend but a living God. We’ve talked about it before, you can thus just not “add” to the story by inventing stuff like the “pirate attack” etc, the same as you can also not “add” to the Bible.
I also know that you understand that I’m a Shark conservationist and as such take exception to people reducing Sharks to teeth, aggression and attacks. Hence the following conditions: you may NOT use my footage if in the final edit
  • Dakuwaqa turns into some toothy aggressive monster, etc (he is essentially a protector)
  • The Sharks are being depicted along the usual stereotypes, with mention of attacks, testosterone , aggression and the like. You have now witnessed yourselves how timid they really are despite of their size.
Also, that footage is for this show only and must be destroyed upon the completion of the show.

I assure that we meet the requests that you laid out in your email and are not painting sharks and vicious, predator machines.
We have acknowledged your requests and have a copy of your email with the materials release that you signed while we worked together in Fiji. The show is coming together quite well and I think you'll be very happy with it. The underwater cinematography is impressive across the board and the shark feeding/dive scenes are amazing.
I am sure you’ll also be happy with how our story is respectful of the Fijian people and their culture.

So, I hear you ask, what’s the fuss all about?
Why I’m increasingly concerned is that I literally stumbled across a synopsis of the episode on the Beast Legend website. As far as I can remember, it explains that after Fiji, the team travels to Florida to meet Burgess who assists in reconstructing the jaws of a Shark that is larger than the Megalodon to serve as a template for the Shark God. They also travel to Bimini where they meet Doc who explains the various Shark senses.
The final reconstruction then apparently displays computer graphics of a gigantic Dakuwaqa attacking a nuclear sub (!) wanting to perform illegal test in Fiji waters!

Having asked Yap for clarifications, they have all gone AWOL.
Not only are they playing ostrich, they have also deactivated the link which is – not quite what I would call being transparent and accountable, and trying to address my concerns!
So, what are we to believe?

Thing is, I do have some understanding for poetic license and the constraints of wanting to produce a successful program. In that sense, a larger-than-life toothy Shark God may be regarded as Pop culture and not strictly Shark Porn.

But the buck stops at the depiction of real Sharks and above all, at Fijian culture - and when it comes to that, I’m increasingly becoming apprehensive!
Or am I just being a paranoiac sissy?

So here’s the deal.
I’d be very interested in any feedback from viewers in Canada. The episode can also be viewed online once it is not anymore not currently available.

As to the good people over at Yap.
I shall send them this post so that they have yet another chance and clarifying the matter – as in living up to one’s claims of integrity, high standards!

Anybody taking bets?

PS taken up by Patric here. What can I say - he's a Canadian!
Just kidding - as is he!

PS2 just had a good talk with Jeff who being a freelancer cannot officially speak for Yap. Very good convo that has gone a long way in assuaging my fears. Kudos for having chosen to respond!
More as I get to see the episode.

PS3 read Diving Discoveries' comments here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to manage Shark Populations

Very interesting paper!

Coming from a fisheries biologist, the intrinsic (and correct!) assumption is that Sharks can be fished sustainably provided that they are being adequately managed. For that, one of the factors that must be taken into account is the capability of depleted stocks to rebound - and when it comes to Sharks, it is obviously not good news.
What I found interesting is to discover that different habitats, life histories and adult sizes have resulted in different species-specific reproductive strategies that need to be considered when formulating those management measures.
Highly recommended reading for everybody!


A demographic technique is used to compare the intrinsic rates of population increase of 26 shark species hypothetically exposed to fishing mortality.

These rates (r2M) are used as a measure of the relative ability of different sharks to recover from fishing pressure.
The method incorporates concepts of density dependence from standard population modelling and uses female age at maturity, maximum reproductive age, and average fecundity. A compensatory response to population reduction is assumed in pre-adult survival to the extent possible given the constraints of the life-history parameters.

‘Rebound’ productivity was strongly affected by age at maturity and little affected by maximum age.
Species with lowest values (r2M <> 0.08) were small coastal, early-maturing species. Sharks with mid-range values (r2M = 0.04–0.07) were mostly large (> 250 cm maximum size) pelagic species, relatively fast growing and early maturing.

Possible selection pressures for these three shark groups, management implications, practical applications for the derived parameter r2M, and recommended areas of research are discussed.


Compared with other marine fishes, sharks have relatively low productivities, but nevertheless there is a wide range among species, which have differing abilities to withstand, or to recover from, exploitation.
The range is at the lower end of the scale compared with most exploited teleosts, many of which have high turnover rates and fecundities (e.g. Pacific sardine, Sardinops sagax, r = 0.34, Murphy 1967). The resulting spectrum of r2M values offers a unique view of the relative productivities of the species examined and should prove useful to managers in considering the intrinsic rebound potentials.

Although we found no obvious patterns by taxonomic category, the results do reveal an interesting pattern along the productivity continuum with regard to adult shark size and certain life-history traits.

In general, there was a tendency for smaller-sized species to mature earlier, to be shorter-lived, and to have higher intrinsic rates of increase r2M than larger species, as expected from ecological and evolutionary theory.

Sharks with the highest rebound or r2M capabilities (r2M > 0.08) were smaller, inshore coastal species
that mature early and tend to be comparatively short-lived (smoothhounds, Mustelus spp., bonnethead, Sphyrna tiburo, and sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae).
These species may be naturally selected for fast turnover in the protected and predominantly benthic environment of inshore coastal areas, especially shallow bays and channels of estuaries and reefs.
These sharks are undoubtedly vulnerable to predation throughout their lives because of their small size, so have countered by evolving short generation times to outproduce their production losses to predators. By maturing early, they benefit from a higher probability that their offspring will survive to reach maturity and begin reproducing.

Those with the lowest recovery capabilities (r2M < 0.04), tended also to be coastal species but were generally medium to large-sized sharks, slow growing and late to mature (Pratt and Casey 1990) (e.g. leopard shark, Triakis semifasciata; dusky shark, bull shark, Carcharhinus obscurus;C. leucas; seven-gill shark, Notorynchus cepedianus; lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris; sandbar shark, Carcharhinus plumbeus).
These medium to large-sized coastal species appear selected for a long reproductive life. While slow growth and delayed maturity lowers the probability of a juvenile reaching reproductive age, it also makes possible a long life span, large adult size, and larger, more fit offspring (which the large-sized adult females are capable of producing) (Stearns 1992). This long reproductive lifespan helps to bridge lean years, when vagaries in prey availability may compromise preadult survival, for unlike their smaller counterparts, finding and capturing food in a more open and less predictable foraging environment is probably a greater problem for these sharks than predation. Thus, a multi-year reproductive effort may be essential for ensuring that each adult, on average, successfully replaces itself during its lifetime with at least one other mature adult. As mentioned by Stearns (1992), delayed maturity permits further growth and increases in fecundity with size, as well as initial higher fecundity or more fit offspring. In terms of productivity, this can outweigh advantages of early maturation, but only to the point where fitness gained through increased fecundity or juvenile survivorship is balanced by the fitness lost through longer generation time and lower survival to maturity. The r2M rates for these slow-growing, late-maturing species are similar to the rates of population increase estimated for dolphins and small whales (see Reilly and Barlow 1986; Perrin and Reilly 1984).

The sharks within the mid range of r2M-values (0.04–0.07) were mostly large (> 250 cm maximum size) pelagic species, relatively fast growing (Branstetter 1990; Pratt and Casey 1990) and early maturing. These include the blacktip, Carcharhinus limbatus; grey reef, C. amblyrhynchos; silky, C. falciformis; Galapagos, C. galapagensis; mako, Isurus oxyrinchus; white, Carcharodon carcharias; tiger, Galeocerdo cuvier; and blue shark, Prionace glauca.
These sharks from the middle of the r-continuum seem to be selected for size and predatory capabilities. For those living a pelagic existence in a lean though relatively predictable environment, it seems vital to reach a large size quickly to enable the swimming speeds needed to capture swift prey and to cover large distances within vast ranges in search of widely dispersed prey. Larger animals can travel farther between feeding bouts and with greater energetic efficiency than can smaller animals (Schmidt-Nielsen 1972). These fishes appear to invest early in somatic growth, thus delaying sexual maturity but subsequently living longer. Perhaps the most important management application for these rates is for use in examining and ranking various shark species, and for tailoring management strategies that better address areas of vulnerability for the three life-history types described here.

The slow-growing, late-maturing sharks with lowest r2M -values should be least resilient to fishing mortality, and
protecting their reproductive stock should be the priority.
Their delayed maturities and long life spans suggest that all the years during which each female is reproductive are necessary simply to ensure that at least one pup of each sex survives to adulthood. There should be protection at least during the peak reproductive years, possibly by establishing minimum and maximum size limits based on the size at which females first reproduce and the size at which fecundity declines with senescence or beyond which further survival is low. There may also be benefits from fishing only the oldest adults if they exert a constraining pressure upon population growth. Removals from the more numerous immature stock (many of which will die of natural causes during the extended juvenile phase) may well have less impact than removals of the reproductively valuable, adult females. And for some species, both females and young may need special protection if vulnerable in reproductive or nursery habitats (especially in coastal areas that are highly accessible to fishermen or to environmental disturbance).

The more oceanic species with mid-range r2M-values and relatively fast growth rates should be better able to withstand fishing pressure than their late-maturing coastal counterparts.
Some stocks in this group should also be less prone to depletion because of the greater likelihood of continual ‘seeding’ by conspecifics from other areas within their extensive oceanic ranges. But these species are also among the most marketable and vulnerable to the extensive and productive oceanic fisheries, which sustain high exploitation rates. In addition, there are insufficient data with which to adequately assess the extent of this direct and incidental harvest, no regulations or requirements for reporting the shark by-catch in the Pacific oceanic zone, and little monitoring or management of the by-catch in the Exclusive Economic Zones of most countries (Stevens 1996). For this reason, continued catch monitoring and trend analyses are needed to ensure that harvests do not exceed the rebound capabilities of these species. Also, to definitively assess the impact of exploitation upon these large pelagics, much more needs to be learned about the geographic extent of their populations, their habitats, and how different population segments are related.

The small, inshore coastal sharks appear to have the highest rebound potentials to buffer and recover from fishing mortality.
To some extent these species may also be protected from commercial exploitation by their small size and low yield potential, but the proximity of their habitats to centres of human population also makes their entire populations vulnerable. These species are highly accessible to fishermen and relatively easy to capture. If subjected to direct or indirect harvest, not only should they be fished at levels no greater than their r2M values, but special protection should also be imposed for vulnerable stages of their life cycles, particularly the reproductive stages. And even though their rebound rates are the highest among the sharksexamined in this study (8–14%), these rates are still comparatively low for fishes and actually more comparable to the rates of population increase estimated for certain pinnipeds (see Barlow et al. 1995). Furthermore, these sharks are limited in their compensatory flexibility because their already low average age of female maturity (which limits the option to breed earlier), small adult body sizes, short life spans and small brood sizes interact to limit abilities to increase productivity.


These findings reaffirm that when dealing with elasmobranchs, certain paradigms developed for teleostean fisheries management must be put aside.
For instance,
rather than thinking in terms of maximizing yield, the focus should instead be on ways to preserve reproductive capability, allowing for the survival of adults through their most-contributing reproductive years.

Also, because adult stock size and recruitment are so closely linked, we need to abandon the assumption that recruitment overfishing happens relatively late in the history of a fishery following growth overfishing.

Recruitment overfishing refers to that level of population reduction at which the rate of entry of new recruits into the fishery also begins to decline. But with elasmobranchs, this condition, unless the stock is continually replenished by an influx of conspecifics from adjacent areas, will occur almost immediately because of the strong link between stock size and recruitment of progeny.

Furthermore, unlike ‘r-selected’teleosts, there is little chance of the trend being reversed by subsequent large, successful year classes entering the fishery.

Many sharks, especially coastal species, may require certain protections as a basic condition for continued fishing at any level

PS: Having been outed by Patric (thanks) and before anybody starts to hyperventilate, let me clarify where I stand on the topic of banning all Shark fishing:
  • In general terms and on a global scale, I support sustainable fisheries (for all species), meaning that fishing is OK provided that yields remain below the level at which stocks can replenish. For many species of Sharks, stocks are however already severely depleted, meaning that they must be first allowed to recover and need to be strictly managed thereafter.
  • I fully support regional efforts aimed at banning Shark fishing locally as they offer a counterweight to the global onslaught and preserve pockets of biodiversity in view of a possible (although alas not probable) replenishment of depleted stocks elsewhere.
  • Shark finning is a specific fishing technique that is both wasteful and extremely cruel, and it needs to be completely banned.
  • Trophy fishing for Sharks sucks and the record keeping by the IGFA is totally anachronistic and needs to be reformed.

SRMR - Step by Step

The Shark Reef Marine Reserve continues to deliver.

Here's another recent publication by Juerg - please click on it for details.
You may be surprised that it does not focus on Sharks - but ever since its inception in 2004, the SRMR has been the backdrop for a whole array of scientific research projects ranging from Fish Taxonomy all the way to Shark Behavior.
In a way, this a sort of open air laboratory where experiments can be predictably replicated and observations cover a large uninterrupted time frame, allowing us to record unusual behavior but above all, long-term changes throughout the seasons and as overall local conditions improve owing to our stewardship, thus attracting more species and more individuals.

This little piece was published in Coral Reefs.
It adds yet another footnote to the life history of the ubiquitous Sharksucker, Echeneis naucrates. It eloquently illustrates how disposing of such a unique research station enables to discover behavior that would otherwise remain largely undetected.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Absolutely Nothing to be proud of!

The Warsaw Grouper, Epinephelus nigritus, is critically endangered.
This means that it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

Sad story here.

Shark Savers PSA!

Nice video!

Will it be effective?
For this to work, tens of millions of Shark fin soup eaters will have to take the pledge.
For that to happen, this video will need to go viral - not just anywhere, but specifically, among the eaters of Shark fin soup, i.e. principally in Asia and within Asian communities elsewhere.

So there.
Dear readers, please circulate this wherever you can!

Friday, July 23, 2010

BAD Sharks!

This is Nick. Award-winning pic by our friend Sam Cahir.

Please check out our Bull Shark Page.

The growth in the Bull Shark population has been truly stupendous.
Whereas in 2004 when we started, seeing 10 Bulls would have been absolutely spectacular, we've just recently recorded our all-time high of at least 60! Talk about having to constantly adapt our safety procedures!
There are several possible explanations for this trend, the most plausible being that over time, we've created a Churchill, Manitoba for Bulls, meaning that like in the case of those Polar Bears, an ever increasing number of essentially solitary alpha predators have chosen to aggregate in response to the regular availability of food - and who knows, maybe also because of the chance of exchanging some reef gossip, the availability of sexual partners or the spectacle of clumsy bubble blowing divers!
Or because they all love Rusi!

Does this harm the Sharks?
We believe it does not. We've now named just a couple short of 100 individuals and keep tabs on their appearance, and from what we can discern, none of them appears restricted to Shark Reef.
Instead, they turn up for a couple of days or weeks but then disappear for weeks on end, leading us to the assumption that they are just pursuing their usual Sharky agendas. This coincides with observations of ranking and spatial distribution patterns that have been reported from other Shark feeding sites.
These are huge animals and the Tuna heads we feed them are quite lean and bony and highly unlikely to provide for enough calories to sustain such an important population - the more as quite a few of the regulars never feed at all!
Go wonder!

Since deploying the boat, we've collected and posted quite a number of ID shots.
Take a look at them, and maybe when you come visit us next, you'll be able to identify a couple - or, you may even discover a new one and be given the right to name it!
Good luck!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shark Tournaments - increasing Traction for Catch&Release Format!

Those game fishermen continue to kill Sharks.

But the tide is clearly turning.
Congratulatory reports like this one are thankfully disappearing.
Instead, the media are increasingly adopting a much more critical view by focusing on the ethical implications of those feats, or whatever and the plight of the animals that are being targeted.
This is specially apparent in the case of those horrible Shark kill tournaments.

Case in point, this article from Bermuda.
It bemoans the wanton killing of eleven Tiger Sharks (for Lobster bait?) and contains references to the Shark Free Marinas Initiative, the work of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Ultimate Shark Challenge. All-in-all and despite of the appalling circumstances, this is excellent pro-Shark advocacy and kudos to James Whittaker for having listened to the right people!

And then, there is this post by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.
Very unfortunately, it provides a platform for once again highly problematic statements by a Shark researcher, this time by one Lisa Natanson who appears to be a habitual groupie of the East Coast's kill tournaments.

Yes, taking samples from Sharks that have already been landed by fishermen is vastly preferable to lethal sampling.
But to then go as far as to become a vocal public apologist for the kill tournament format is totally unacceptable. Will those people ever learn to just keep a low profile, do their job and keep their mouth shut?
Thankfully, other more enlightened colleagues raise their voice in dissent

While acknowledging the scientific benefits that can accrue from tournaments, Dr. Robert Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida nevertheless believes that the pressures on sharks are too great for tournaments to continue.
“I’m not saying that we aren’t gaining useful data from this sort of sampling,” he says. “But scientists have been taking these sorts of samples at tournaments for nearly 50 years.
It’s questionable that the research benefits gained at this point justify the cost to shark conservation.”

How many more vertebrae does Ms. Natanson need to collect before waking up to the reality that Sharks are endangered and require protection and advocacy - especially by the people who research them? Will people like her ever overcome that apparent pervasive fatal disconnect between their research and the required ethical sensibility?
Yes, what may have been OK in the past is not OK anymore - how about some adaptive evolution!

Once again, kudos to Bob Heuter for having spoken up.
Having very much been part and parcel of the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge, he knows what he's talking about and represents the future of Shark research, as do Neil and of course Juerg!
Well said!

Nature Management

Very interesting!

Obama has a new Ocean Policy and you can read about it here.
I did quickly skim over the relevant document and found this remarkable paragraph.

The time has come for a comprehensive national policy for the stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.
Today, as never before, we better comprehend the links among land, air, fresh water, ocean, ice, and human activities. Advances in science and technology provide better and timelier information to guide decision-making. By applying the principles of ecosystem-based management (which integrates ecological, social, economic, commerce, health, and security goals, and which recognizes both that humans are key components of ecosystems and also that healthy ecosystems are essential to human welfare) and of adaptive management (which calls for routine reassessment of management actions to allow for better informed and improved future decisions) in a coordinated and collaborative approach, the Nation will more effectively address the challenges facing the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes and ensure their continued health for this and future generations.

Forget the notion of there remaining some remote and pristine corner worthy of being called Wilderness!
We are everywhere – physically, but also in the air, in the climate, in the water, in the soil, from the tip of the Everest to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. And those who profess the contrary and are advocating hands-off policies and a return to Rousseau’s views of noble savages living in harmony with nature are either hopelessly na├»ve (or hopelessly optimistic) or fatally subjected to the fallacy of shifting baselines, or both.

Granted, panta rei.
But this is not some natural change dictated by the slow progression of geological and evolutionary processes: this is an explosion of anthropogenic extinctions and habitat degradation that is simply unprecedented, a full-scale war on biodiversity that for the most part is completely irreversible and seemingly unstoppable.
May I be a tad overly melodramatic? On the contrary – just look at the mess we’ve made!

But whereas we cannot change the past and ever bring back what we have irrevocably destroyed, we can at least try and halt the onslaught.
I’ve said it before, if we choose to do so, we may indeed succeed in preserving some highly reduced, less diverse, less attractive resemblance of what once was. But whatever we will call it, it will never again just be, it will be something that we will need to continuously defend and to actively manage.

As the Pew correctly remarks
The policy reflects a "modern outlook that doesn't mistake the oceans for wilderness, but a work zone where we need zoning,"

The sooner everybody understands this, the sooner we can embark on a common route aimed at achieving realistic, tangible and above all, sustainable and long lasting results.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

About booking the Fiji Shark Dive

There seems to be some confusion, so there.

It is really this simple.
In order to experience the Fiji Shark Dive, you will need to have a confirmed booking with Beqa Adventure Divers and you will need to board one of our vessels that will take you to Shark Reef Marine Reserve.
You can book with us directly - or via an intermediary, i.e. one of many reputable international travel agents that market our products, one of the local hotels we co-market with or one of the many local tour desks and hotels throughout Fiji we co-operate with. They will help you make a booking with us and earn a commission in exchange.

This is what does not work.
We generally cannot cater to last-minute walk-ins as we tend to be fully booked.
And above all, and contrary to the past, we just cannot anymore accommodate other dive shops wanting to join the Shark dive by taking their clients to Shark Reef on their boats. Specifically, at present, we do not have any such deals with any of the resorts situated on Beqa Island. Thus, anybody booking Shark dives when staying with them will not be joining our dive.

The reason for this is that this was never about maximizing our profit.
We will thus never run a cattle dive but instead, we will always try to provide a professional, personalized, enjoyable and above all, extremely safe experience and have thus decided to limit the number of customers on any one Shark dive to 20 only. Even on the rare days where we may not reach those numbers, we prefer that our customers enjoy that special feeling of exclusivity and will still turn away other operators.

The one exception to that rule are special charters.
At present, the price for such a charter is FJD 2,800, non negotiable, for which we will run an exclusive Shark dive even for other operators. But having said this, we will still limit the dive to 20 customers and we will retain full control of the dive and continue to enforce all of our procedures, inclusive of the rules about capturing images.

I hope this will help avoiding any further misunderstandings.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free Diving with the Big Ones?

Great pic by Fred Buyle - and yes this is a link!

You may want to check out this video clip.
Will it be kept online, or will it be retracted?

It shows what I believe to be an investigatory bite by a large Tiger Shark.
I hear that the free diver (no it was not a dummy) was not hurt in the process, which is great. If I may venture a hypothesis, the animal does not look highly motivated and may also not have liked the taste of rubber.

As to the diver's apparent total lack of reaction, hmmm...
Playing possum may well be a life saving reaction once one is being cornered by a Grizzly - but from everything I've ever experienced, the correct way of addressing the unwanted attentions of Sharks is to confront them. Mostly, a determined stare and a small shove will do the job but sometimes, the reaction needs to be way more assertive - before one ends up in the animal's mouth! To remain completely passive, to me, equals surrendering the initiative to the animal and hoping for a positive outcome - not really what I would consider the best of survival strategies!
In the softest possible way - there are lessons to be learned here and no, this is not proof that Tiger Sharks are harmless!

Which brings me straight over to the subject at hand.
Safe free diving with large predatory Sharks and other large marine predators is certainly possible, as witnessed by countless such encounters in South Africa - and not only there! Now, some of the same highly experienced free divers are mounting a commercial expedition to the North-Eastern Pacific. And yes this includes Guadalupe and having asked, NO it does NOT include cage-less commercial encounters with Great Whites - whether free diving or on SCUBA!

The one factor that caught my eye is the emphasis on education and training.
Free diving is not snorkeling, far from it: both mentally and physically, it is a highly demanding sport requiring life-long training and dedication. And when interacting with marine life, it also requires ocean sense, i.e. a profound and instinctive knowledge of the ocean and the animals that can only be garnered in years of experience, often whilst spearfishing. No wonder that so many excellent free divers describe it as a transcendental experience!

And I may add: no wonder that many of them progress to become Shark divers - on SCUBA!
Just teasing!

Bottom line?
Like mountain climbing with which it shares many similarities, free diving needs to be tackled in increments - and if free diving with large pelagic predators can rightly be considered to be the Everest (yes I'm being facetious), it needs to be addressed in exactly the same manner: by experienced, well prepared and well trained individuals and with excellent guides.
With that in mind - may the expedition be a total success!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

SyFy Stuff!

Behold the Sharktopus!
More about SyFy and Sharks in an upcoming post!

Fiji Times on Sharks!

Kudos to Samuela Loanakadavu.

He witnessed the over harvesting of Sharks and decided to address the topic.
The result is this remarkable feature in Fiji's biggest newspaper, the Fiji Times. Well researched and formulated, it clearly highlights the importance of Sharks for their habitat and why protecting them, and consequently, the reefs they live in is very much in the national interest.
In a nutshell, if Fiji looses its natural resources, we may as well kiss our tourism industry goodbye.

As to Aquatrek, bah.
What you read is a verbatim copy/paste from their website. How pathetic and once again, not the journo's fault for assuming that people don't lie in public.
And yes, I'm again being petty and yes, I'm digressing.

What needs to be added to the article is this.
It is quite correct to observe that like everywhere else, Fiji's marine resources are being over-exploited - but having been there, I can assure you that in comparison to most other tropical destinations, Fiji is in many ways a trailblazer in sustainable marine management!

As to the role of Government, it is not only aware of the situation but is actually very much working on solutions.
But this is an emerging country and the Department of Fisheries only disposes of so many resources, and a succession of Governments with varying priorities has not been helpful. Plus, the qoliqoli system whereby the villages are the trustees of the reefs requires lengthy consultations and education at the grassroots level, something that once again implies investments in time, people and money.
But despite of it and the magnitude of the challenges ranging from climate change mitigation and coordinating the Pacific Tuna fisheries all the way to re-mapping the individual qoliqoli entitlements and modernizing the antiquated fisheries laws, progress has been remarkable.

And when it comes to Shark conservation, Government has been nothing but supportive and frankly, a joy to work with. At present, under a new transparent, accountable and highly result oriented management team, Fisheries are in fact actively pursuing pro-Shark policies and having been involved in that process, I am indeed very optimistic.

Keep watching this space!