Sunday, August 29, 2010

Feast your Eyes!

There are heaps of underwater photographers.
Most seem happy to just depict what is but some are artists who always add a special dimension, like the totally unique and forever unequaled Wolfgang. And some, like Sasha, take the time to engage in proper post production by creative cropping and great proficiency with Photoshop.

And then, there's lucky man Marty Wolff.
He has clearly been a professional terrestrial photographer for a very long time and brings to the table the whole gamut of pure and simple total mastery of his trade whereby he always knows exactly how to handle the situation by creatively playing with the parameters of framing, lighting and exposure via shutter speed and lens speed - as it should be but is apparently all too often forgotten!
On top of that, he's a master of post production and I just so happen to be a total fan of the exact same color saturation and temperature he chooses to apply , in some ways very Botelho!

Please go and check out his new website: this is Photography!
Everything is a feast for the eyes, including the Marine section where some of the pics just blow me away - I mean, seriously, just look at that stuff, amazing! That's how you do it!
Needless to say that it contains several captures from the Fiji Shark Dive!

Marty: my utmost respect and admiration!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scott Cassell - doing excellent Stuff!

Sorry for the protracted silence.
I'm extraordinarily busy- but in a good way!
To be revealed soon! :)

But this is great and I wanted you to see it.
I first came across Scott's name when blogging about Luke's film where he plays the role of a sensei-like dive boat captain, probably not much removed from his remarkable real persona. Now, Underwater Thrills have posted this gripping account of a rECOn mission to Baja California.

Here's to Scott for walking the walk.
Where others rant and bloviate, he goes and does the job. No Facebook, no petition, just getting one's hands dirty and doing the heavy lifting - and nailing four poachers in the process!
Very well done!

Monday, August 23, 2010

On the Fly!

In case you're wondering about how we're getting our Shark teeth.
Just had a look at today's footage and found this remarkable sequence.

It depicts Rusi and Sharkman, a big feisty male named after a dear friend of ours.
Connectivity here is too weak for any meaningful video upload, so you'll have to do with a series of grabs. What they show is Sharkman taking a head (above), a tooth coming loose and Rusi grabbing it on the fly. Click for better detail.

Is this cool, or what!!

El Monstruo!

That's a Smalltooth Sand Tiger, the same species as on the El Bajo del Monstruo - off Roatan!!!
Story here!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More about Scarface!

Well, gee Wolfgang!
Thanks for telling Everybody – with friends like you, one sure doesn’t need enemies! :)

Anyway, yes, I really did nearly soil my pants!
Keep in mind that this was in 2003, meaning way before everybody and his dog would flock to Tiger Beach, plus it was our first ever face-to-face encounter. Previously, I had only encountered one big Tiger who chased my out of the water when I took a bucket of fish down on Osprey Reef in 1977, plus I had experienced a few short flybys that were equally totally unexpected, frightening and ultimately, disappointing.

After the encounter, I ran home and sent this to Ron and Val.

So, the tigers are the good guys, huh ... just push them away you said...

(Ron had just sent me a message stating, remember, Tigers are good guys and if he comes too close simply push him away. Bulls are much more dangerous than Tigers.)

Just came out of the water and here's what's happened: the 4.5m tiger turned up at the hand feed, snatched the bin and took it to 30m. There, she tried to get into it but was too big and got all pissed off as there were scores of bulls trying to steal its fish.
Remembering what you had said, I went down with Manasa and Rusi and was peacefully filming away, as she decided to have a go at us. Manasa had a fish and so did Rusi but when she came for me, all I had was the camcorder. She bit it twice and tried to wrestle it away (camera running), after which she then had a serious go for Manasa who had taken back the bin. She was really going for him and he was zipping around that bin trying not to get caught til she finally gave up.
Got it all on camera as well!

The following day, having somewhat calmed down, I wrote well, for panicking or getting aggressive there just wasn't enough time.. all i was trying is to hang on to my housing which was half-way in, monitor and all, with those teeth much too close to my hand holding the handle - and you know how they are, she would have just gobbled it down. It came out pretty rumpled but thanks to Gates, in perfect working condition (and still running).
Re-looking at the tape, I now think that having gotten the fish from Manasa and Rusi, she was assuming that I wanted to give her something as well.

Yes the camera kept running and you can all watch it right here: Papa's dance around the bin at 0:58 and the bite, at the very end at 6:51!

As to Doug’s picture, it is obviously stellar!
This is the very start of the bite and you can see her pushing on the monitor. Doug had what then was the best digital camera (you can see him at the end of the bin dance sequence), but it was slow to recycle and he missed the bite proper – still, to this day, the pic graces the Gates website and they can boast to build Tiger-proof housings!

In terms of size, I am 2m so she was about 4.5 meters long. And she has continued to grow!
Once it became clear that she would become a regular, we named her Scarface after the many scars disfiguring her mouth and exposing her teeth.

Initial encounters were rather problematic, which made for many entries in the Naughty File.
She would continuously try to steal the bin (4:15) and attempt to scare us away by gaping (0:28), which is Tigerese for piss off, this belongs to me, and when we wouldn’t acquiesce but fight back, she would get seriously angry and become outright dangerous, like on 6:31 where she is actively snapping and trying to cause harm.
No mellow and docile here - huggers: learn from it!

We did, abandoned our attempts to steer her with the prods which he hates with a vengeance all the way to wrestling them out of our hands and then spitting them out (3:43) and now keep the food in a large aluminum box that we have dubbed the Rubik’s cube for Tiger Sharks and that her best and incredibly persistent attempts will neither dislodge nor crack.

When it comes to our private and very much personal relationship, it certainly improved - which is easy!
After that first attempt, she never, ever tried to bite the housing again. But on every visit, she would make it a point to pop by and give it a good sniff, resulting in some truly memorable footage. As an example, in one scene (mellow and thus not in the file) she comes from the left and positions herself inches away from the lens; then the whole body behind the head pivots from left to right and finally, she departs back to where she came from, without ever having touched the housing! In other scenes, I would have to lightly push her away, as in 2:40 and 6:08 where it looks like it is her touching the camera.
Stellar stuff!

Since I started lugging around the Boat, matters have alas become a tad more impersonal.
Now, it’s me who has to sneak up on her or position myself close to the feeder, where she barely deigns to acknowledge my presence by giving me a quick glance. Obviously, the size and electronic signature are completely different as the Fathom Imaging lens is one huge piece of inert material – or, horribile dictu, I may just be losing my sex appeal in line with what is happening in my terrestrial existence!
But despite of the snubbing: the love and the excitement will never falter!

Check her out (click to enlarge): here she is straight from the footage 3 days ago, beautiful and quite, but not yet terminally pregnant – meaning that she will stick around for another while before going walkabout, possibly for a couple of months.
So, what are you waiting for…. !!!

As to Wolf wanting to meet her?
I don’t usually share my girls but for him, I’ll make an exception.
He knows that and has long had an open invitation to come dive on the house – with one caveat: he will have to strap on a tank and do it on SCUBA!

So, what’s it gonna be?
DaWolf, will you make a small, insignificant compromise in order to meet a truly wonderful lady? Piece of cake for a waterman like you! Or will you remain the usual stubborn old fart and continue whining about the missed opportunity?

Am I putting you on the spot?
Well, altes Haus: wie Du mir! :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Arte Clip!

Well, here it is!
I had no idea that there would be an embed code, nor do I know whether this is only going to last 7 days like all programs on Arte+7 - so better watch it right away.

I love it, especially the incredible poise, eloquence and always friendly charm of Manasa - but I'm obviously biased!
And of course, great footage and wonderful, and intelligent editing by Martin who impresses me for having understood a lot in very short time indeed!


Sharks are People just like you and me!

Talking of Tiger Sharks.

Here's a recent paper from Hawaii.
It once again contributes very interesting insight into how Tiger Sharks forage for food.
If I understand it correctly, it tells us that the behavior of every single individual Tiger Shark is different, a fact that we Shark divers have known all along.

Tiger Sharks are long lived and are obviously (and unsurprisingly) able to learn from their personal experiences.
And when it comes to how and where to they travel, they appear to be able to remember information about any good feeding grounds they may have chanced upon during their previous walkabouts. Having stored both a sort of map and also a time frame, they are then able to replicate the experience by turning up again at the right place at the right time, as witnessed by the Tigers that prey on the Albatross chicks in Midway.
This information is strictly personal and is not being passed on among individuals or through the generations, meaning that there are individuals who travel a lot between food sources whereas others engage in a much more localized and quasi-territorial life cycle. This could be a mechanism by which Tiger Sharks may be able to handle intra-specific competition by focusing on different prey items.

From the paper - abridged for excerpts concerning Tiger Sharks, italics are mine.

A multiple instrument approach to quantifying the movement patterns and habitat use of tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) and Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) at French Frigate Shoals, Hawaii
Carl G. Meyer, Yannis P. Papastamatiou and Kim N. Holland


We equipped individual tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier Péron and Lesueur, 1822) and Galapagos (Carcharhinus galapagensis Snodgrass and Heller, 1905) sharks with both acoustic and satellite transmitters to quantify their long-term movements in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands).

Tiger sharks exhibited two broad patterns of behavior.
Some individuals were detected at French Frigate Shoals (FFS) year round, whereas others visited FFS atoll in summer to forage on fledging albatross, then swam thousands of kilometers along the Hawaiian chain, or out into open ocean to the North Pacific transition zone chlorophyll front, before returning to FFS in subsequent years.

These patterns suggest
tiger sharks may use cognitive maps to navigate between distant foraging areas.
Different patterns of spatial behavior may arise because cognitive maps are built up through individual exploration, and each tiger shark learns a unique combination of foraging sites.
Results show reef-associated sharks utilize a wide variety of habitats ranging from shallow atoll lagoons to deep reefs and open ocean and may provide important trophic links between these habitats.


Previous studies have shown tiger sharks alternate between wide-ranging behavior and more restricted movements and use a broad variety of habitats ranging from shallow coral reefs to open ocean (Polovina and Lau 1993; Holland et al.1999; Meyer et al. 2009a).
In this study, we used a multiple instrument approach to determine how these behaviors and habitats are linked for individual sharks over multi-year time scales.

For example, distinctive clusters of acoustic detections at East Island indicate some tiger sharks (e.g. TS4 and TS5) visited FFS for several weeks in summer to forage on fledging albatross and left when this prey resource ran out.
A combination of satellite and acoustic telemetry revealed these sharks then swam thousands of kilometers along the Hawaiian chain, or out into open ocean, before returning to FFS in subsequent years.
SPOT tracks suggest several tiger sharks navigated between distant patches of high resource availability. For example, TS3 and TS5 made highly directional movements between a succession of submerged banks and seamounts located between FFS and Pearl and Hermes Reef.

This behavior indicates these sharks knew the locations of the bathymetric features from previous experience and were navigating between them.
Tiger shark movements became more localized
around these features, and although we do not know whether foraging occurred at these sites, seamounts are often hotspots of resource availability (e.g., Rogers 1993). Open ocean SPOT detections of TS4 in late fall 2006 were associated with the transition zone chlorophyll front (TZCF), an area of high productivity and important oceanic foraging habitat for apex predators (Polovina et al. 2001).

Long-term, reciprocal movements between distant locations suggest
tiger sharks possess detailed cognitive maps of resource availability.
The precise, seasonal arrival of certain tiger sharks at FFS in time for albatross fledging indicates these sharks may also use internal clocks to guide their movements (Olding-Smee and Braithwaite 2003).

Unlike mammalian apex predators such as bears (Gilbert 1999),
there is no evidence of social transmission of foraging traditions in sharks, hence locations of good foraging areas must be uniquely learned by each individual.
Tiger shark movements presumably include some element of exploration enabling them to discover new foraging locations (Meyer et al. 2009a). Sharks are long-lived animals which, over time, could build up detailed spatio-temporal maps of productive prey patches.

In contrast to tiger sharks TS3, TS4 and TS5 which were only present at FFS for short periods, tiger sharks TS1 and TS2 were detected at FFS at all times of the year and showed more extensive use of shallow lagoon habitats.
Similar inter-individual variability in long-term movement patterns has been previously described in tiger sharks in the Main Hawaiian Islands (Meyer et al. 2009a). These different patterns of behavior could result from unique individual learning experiences (i.e. each shark learns to exploit a different combination of prey patches) and serve as a mechanism for intraspecic resource partitioning, giving rise to prey specialization.

Albatross fledgling predation at FFS provides strong evidence of prey specialization in tiger sharks.
This directly observable phenomenon produces a characteristic cluster pattern of acoustic detections of tagged sharks at fledging sites. Our results indicate a subset of tiger sharks present at FFS during summer intensively target these fledging birds (e.g. TS4 and TS5), while others (e.g. TS1 and TS2) apparently do not. Thus, although overall this species has a very varied diet, this may be due to the contributions of many individuals each focusing on a narrower range of prey (e.g. Tinker et al. 2008).

The ability to directly observe tiger sharks feeding on albatross fledglings at FFS enabled us to interpret the tight clusters of tiger shark detections recorded at albatross nesting habitats during fledging season.
In most other cases, direct observations of foraging are not possible, but determining when and where sharks are feeding is essential for advancing our understanding of their ecology.

The timing and location of other ecologically important behaviors such as mating are also completely unknown for most shark species.
Future studies could shed light on shark
feeding and mating by combining instruments which tell us about spatial behavior with other devices which directly measure feeding or inter-animal interactions (e.g. Papastamatiou et al. 2008; Holland et al. 2009).

Which of course appears very pertinent to what we see here in Fiji - not so much in our Tigers but very much in our Bulls!
We now keep track of close to 100 named individuals and many of them, like Whitenose, Crook, Bum and Hook, have been around ever since I started to keep tabs in 2003 - and I can tell you that we know each other very well, all the way to knowing the peculiar behavioral traits of every single individual Shark - and undoubtedly, vice versa!

Over time, we've learned that there is a clear differentiation between those individuals which we call regulars and who are extremely well acquainted with our routine and thus highly predictable (Bum for instance always takes 3 heads back-to-back), and others that are much more transient, turn up at irregular intervals and are much more difficult to handle.
And then, there's the rather stunning case of Long John that we've named after crippled Long John Silver of Treasure Island 7 years ago: he inevitably skips the first half of the year but then turns up exactly between July 25 and August 3 and stays until December! And after all these years, he never takes food from the feeders!
Go wonder!

Surely, we must be witnessing the same cognitive faculties!
Long John is of course an extreme example, but just think of the females that all come back in January after having gone to the rivers to give birth: they all very obviously remember the location of Shark Reef and also, the required etiquette - and we hope that they don't only do it for the food, but because they like us, too!

But whatever the ultimate explanation, and yes I'm undoubtedly speculating as usual - isn't this just fascinating stuff!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hit and run in the Atlantic!

Very interesting!

Once again, some stellar stuff by Guy Harvey & Co.!
I literally stumbled across this plethora of information about Atlantic Ocean Tiger Sharks when googling for the pic of Doc in the previous post. It very much confirms the results from Hawaii insofar that Tigers roam immense ranges spanning thousands of miles. Are they proper territories? Probably not as that would imply that they are defended against conspecifics which does not seem to be the case as most tracks overlap.

The picture that is emerging is that Tigers are basically hit & run predators.
When they are not exploiting regular periodic food aggregations like the Laysan Albatross fledglings in Midway or the Turtle mating sites all across the South Pacific and probably elsewhere, they are always on the move, make a point of turning up at irregular intervals, linger for a while and then carry on. Like this research in Australia's Shark Bay shows (watch the video: cool!), they thus influence the behavior of their prey that never quite knows when they will appear and have to engage in costly avoidance behavior. Check out the research papers (bottom of page) or consult the very good synopsis in Predators as Prey by Oceana, one of the bibles of every Shark lover.
Fascinating stuff!

But what was Correia doing in July, smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (click to view)???
It really is true that the more we learn, the less we know!

Which obviously brings me back to Fiji!
2010 has been an exceptional year for Tigers as so far, they have been around throughout the wet season from January to May and continue to be regular visitors at present.
This is obviously speculative, but we correlate this with this year's El Niño that led to a very dry Summer, meaning that there were no floods when the Tigers are believed to linger closer to the rivers. We're now in a La Niña, meaning that the weather will remain dry but cold until September and then likely become very wet indeed, with heightened risk of flash floods.

In brief: Tigers now, but they may well disappear towards the end of the year!
And again: this is pure speculation as we just do not dispose of enough yearly data sets to correlate our Shark sightings with ENSO!
Meaning that all I've said so far may be totally wrong!

Scarface by the way, being the usual hussy (being aplacental viviparous, she doesn't even have to wait like the other Carcharhinids), has once again gotten herself into trouble and is again very much pregnant and consequently huge - and I mean HUGE!
The way she looks, she'll be leaving us soon to engage in her usual months-long trek to her unknown pupping grounds, something we may well once try to decipher going forward.
Same-same for the big Bull ladies, some of which are are definitely rubicund and accordingly famished!

All-in-all, August diving is just great!
Stellar viz, nice cool weather, plenty of Sharks!
So, what are you waiting for...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Image is shifting!

There goeth the gravitas :)

Great Stuff!

I was really happy to see this piece about Sharks in the Scientific American.
It clearly indicates a change of paradigm - or would you have expected to see any of the mainstream media, ever, use attributes like intelligent and curious when talking about Sharks, say, three years ago?
It's a frustratingly slow process but still, it really looks like exactly in the same way we've learned to appreciate the true nature of the terrestrial predators, Shark are slowly being recognized for being equally important - along with all of their species-specific and also individual traits that make them so fascinating for people like us..
25 years after Jaws, it's about bloody time!

Is there going to be backlash?
Sure there will be, as always - but the clock is ticking, literally and figuratively.
The likes of Capt'n Billy, Vic Hyslop and Mark the Shark are really just a sad and biologically extinct relic of yesteryear's mindset, as are the Shark kill tournaments and even the always frustrating stupid anti-Shark sound bites and stereotypes, and the attack-centric programming of Shark Week. We'll have to contend with plenty more of those - but the tide has clearly changed and is basically unstoppable, like the real thing out there.

What I also really do like is that as the article illustrates, Shark research has clearly shifted from being strictly academic or fisheries-oriented to being geared towards Shark conservation.
Nowhere is this more apparent as in the person of Doc Gruber who over time has become one of the most vocal proponents of Shark conservation. He is of course one of the, if not the absolute top dog in Shark research and thus brings to the table unequaled and irrefutable scientific knowledge and credentials, and decennia of hands-on experience, paired with the all-important gravitas (well, most of the time, see above) that only age can confer. When he opens his mouth, like right here, that counts for something!
The great thing about Doc is that like all of us old-timers, he has witnessed the collapse of Shark stocks and in his own life time and very much first hand, and thus does suffer from precisely zero symptoms of shifting baselines. Great to see what was very much a Shark catcher and Shark dissector in line with the ethics of the 70ies understand what's going on and become a fervent Shark protector instead! Great also to have a guy like him being recognized by all quarters, sometimes I suspect grudgingly - meaning that he can not only counter the anti-Shark propaganda of the forces of evil, but also the counterproductive pseudoscience of the Shark huggers!
Well done Doc - again!

Anyway, I'm totally digressing.
What I really wanted to say is, don't ever give up, especially not now.
We're clearly winning and although it's never gonna be easy and remains frustratingly slow especially considering the urgency of the problem, we will prevail in the end.

And that's a promise!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Douglas David Seifert on Shark Feeding

From this February's DIVE Magazine.

I've patiently waited for them to post it online, as they usually do, alas to no avail.
So there, I'm probably breaking some copyright - but I do it for a good cause: this is, by far, the best opinion piece about Shark feeding, ever and it must be read by everybody!
Bloggers: please re-post!

Doug is obviously a friend and a very, very fine human being on top of that.
But that's not the point: having been everywhere, he knows the industry inside out and on top of being one of the very best Shark photographers (just look at those images - again!), he has also garnered an incredible wealth of knowledge about diving with Sharks - and this from personal experience during thousands of Shark dives on every corner of the globe, not from having watched TV from the safety of his couch! Add a razor sharp analytical mind that is able to distill the details into the big picture and draws the right conclusions, and you get this brilliantly written article.
Can you sense that I maybe like it, and the guy as well? (:

Fabulous stuff, and no, not because we are being mentioned - because everything he says coincides one hundred percent with what I believe as well!

So, without further ado - click for detail and enjoy!

Ridiculously awesome!

Here's another look at Hanifaru's Mantas - and a Whale Shark!

Hat tip: The Dorsal Fin.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fingerprinting Great Whites

This is way cool.

Story here.

Gulf Oil Disaster - out of Sight out of Mind?

From a message by a friend.
He's a Shark researcher who operates out of New Orleans.

There is a lot of that going on right now.
In my opinion it is still a horrible thing and the worst disaster this area has seen, however it happened in the 8th largest body of water in the world.

Its not surprising that the oil is becoming more and more difficult to find.
Dilution and currents do amazing work when it comes to surface oil. Also the shear amount of dispersant played a huge role in why the average person is not seeing the oil, it all sank to the bottom where it could be doing either no harm at all or more likely a large amount of damage to the benthic and pelagic communities.

I highly doubt we will see an immediate drop in population numbers, its even possible that misleading reports will appear stating there was no damage because they will see an increase in species populations because of the fishing ban.

Shrimp numbers for example should be very high because that's a lot of boats not going out there everyday. These reports are coming on the news, local publications, and internet sites.

The further away we get from capping the well, the more people will forget this ever happened and getting funding and proper research completed will become more and more difficult.

We head out to the islands to check everything out in 2 weeks so I'll be sure to let you know what we see, but I have a feeling that this will be exactly like they were last year and we will still have a health population of lemons.

Please also read this article.
Looks like it's just a matter of time before somebody shouts drill baby drill again!

And who's surprised!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Best picture, ever, from the Fiji Shark Dive - you just must click on it!

I truly am a sucker for punishment!

Yes, I’m posting one about Guadalupe - again!
And before you start screaming that I’m meddling, got no clue and should just shut the f up and mind my goddamn business and the like, lemme answer the question in this article: Shark diving in Guadalupe is the business of a) the Mexican government as the owner of the resource, b) the Shark diving operators drawing their sustenance from that site and, yes, c) every single Shark diving operator around the planet!
And that includes me!

To make the obvious example, Jimmy’s accident did reverberate across the entire industry and I can only commend him for having handled it as well as humanly possible, mainly by observing strict silence in public and talking only with the directly affected persons and authorities - and still, the backlash has been truly astounding.
Here in Fiji, apart from having had to face a barrage of questions, that accident prompted us to try and learn from the little that eventually transpired, re-visit our procedures and institute a regimen that is one of the strictest and most intransigent anywhere - especially for image hunters! Others alas seem to have learned nothing whatsoever - and I’m certainly gonna leave it at that.
For now!

Back to Guadalupe.
The X-Ray Mag article is basically a re-hash of this piece by Pete Thomas plus, on the side, a great interview with Wolfgang in his endearing incarnation as Shark-, and free diving nutter. He's being his usual wise man and I fully concur with his assessment: GW differ from other species in being ambush hunters (of mammals); and diving with them outside of cages is not for everyone.
Which begs the question, who, exactly, does qualify?

So for once, instead of clamoring about ethics, this or that technique, operators and egos, let’s try and look at this from a pure business perspective.

This is how it works.
New Shark diving sites start up by being discovered by a few individual adventurous divers or spearos, often acting upon the information of local fishermen. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the case of Lupe, that would have been the San Diego Diving Locker gang, i.e. Howard, Marty, Jeremiah & al.

Later on, somebody -in this case, Lawrence Groth- will then try to set up a more organized venture, initially for his friends but eventually, for a few selected clients.
At this stage, the site is still something of a secret that is handed around among insiders and attracts the crème de la crème of the image hunters that start publishing a first batch of totally unique and spectacular images in the media.

This media exposure quickly attracts the first customers proper, generally speaking, other professionals plus the more adventurous elite amateurs.
If the site has not been secured by the original commercial pioneer, and it rarely is, other operators recognize the commercial potential and start moving in. This never happens organically and peacefully and this is why all multi-user Shark dives are marred by vicious infighting among the operators.
Correct so far?

As the number of operators expands, so does the customer base.
This expansion is characterized by a marked shift in demographics. In essence, the top people who have published the first images move on to new discoveries, the elite amateurs become scarcer whilst the bulk of the client base consists of generally less experienced and also, less ambitious Joe divers.

In Fiji, now a mature market, our client base can be characterized as follows.

5% are bona fide professionals and by that I mean people who derive 100% of their income from diving and/or publishing images. That means that we do not accept the notion that there’s such a thing as a semi-professional UW photographer and the like, exactly as we do not accept semi-professional lawyers or semi-professional surgeons - and neither should you!
In general terms, 90% of these people are a delight to work with. They are extremely experienced, know the industry inside out and above all, have learned that it is very much in their own interest to respect and to listen to the local experts. The others are, well, very different and will leave Fiji very disappointed indeed.
When it comes to these clients, we follow industry standard and allow for quite a bit of leeway. Always within what we consider our absolute limits, we will strive to let them capture spectacular images, like the one above by Douglas, by organizing special dives and positioning them in selected radical spots.

25% are elite amateurs, for lack of a better word: the Wetpixel gang.
I used to be one of them, albeit pre-digital, and thus can very well relate to their ambitions: they are generally highly passionate all the way to being fanatic, wealthier, better traveled, quite experienced and mostly excellent divers, tote expensive hi-end equipment and are brilliant photographers and videographers, and want to emulate the work they see published by the professionals.
They are also quite cumbersome to service as they are quite reckless all the way to being outright adrenaline junkies, request special treatment for their gear and special positioning in relation to the animals, often complain about not having been able to capture the ideal shot and generally try to convey the sense of being specially valuable and important whilst at the same time asking for special discounts.

Once again, approx 60% of them are a delight to work with .
That being the magical word: if they give us the respect and are willing to undergo a process of gradual crescendo, we will be happy to go the extra mile and they will end up capturing some truly fabulous images.
Case in point: Sasha who has been with us many times, totally listens to our advice, is increasingly well acquainted with the routine, knows the animals and is thus being allowed to get ever closer to the action – and gets to capture simply stunning images in the process!

Alas, the other 40% are, well, what they are.
They are never satisfied, are unpleasantly vociferous, bully the other divers, always want to push the envelope, know it all better and are generally a nightmare to handle.
Check out the last points in this recent post and you’ll understand that we’re simply not interested in their business.

Leaves 70% of our clients that are just ordinary Joe divers.
These are people who come to Fiji to just experience the Shark dive and explore our reefs and who are generally delighted by what we got to offer. Apart from being the bulk of our business, they are the easiest to service as they generally follow instructions, have no overbearing asocial ego and are totally happy to just observe and enjoy something which to them is new, safe, unique and exhilarating – and on top of that, they are happy to pay full price!

Now if you do the math, here’s what you come up with.
4.5% + 15% + 70% = 89.5% of our clients are a delight and 10.5% are just assholes - there, I said it!
Is Guadalupe really radically different?

And if it is not – what’s the fuss all about?
Ever since Rodney Fox pioneered diving with Great Whites, cages have been the 100% safe way to go - be it at the surface, submerged, cinema or self propelled, they are equally good! Rodney the pioneer has been using them successfully for the past 30+ years. Lawrence the pioneer is doing so successfully in Guadalupe.
So, why are you trying to fix something that is not broken?

Whatever the self serving rhetoric: taking clients outside of the cage adds an additional dimension of risk, period.
What is the benefit of doing so, the more as everybody seems to agree that if there should ever be a fatal accident, the Mexicans will sweep in and close down the site – for everybody, perpetrators and bystanders alike?
Are you maybe letting the inmates run the asylum?

If my premises are in any way correct, 90-odd percent of your clients are perfectly happy with the current product, the more as the pros are being accorded special privileges anyway. And keeping in mind that the bulk of your clients are inevitably going to be ever more Joe divers: should your procedures not become gradually more conservative rather than less so?

Leaves a measly 10% of volume who in all likelihood do not even represent 10% of cash flow!
They are the ones who are clamoring for ever more radical encounters, and this in a place where the animals are being brought to within a mere inches from their lenses and visibility is stellar anyway. Is it really credible that upping the ante would lead to better images - or is this just, as I believe, nothing more than the insatiable quest for ever more bravado and adrenaline?
And: how many of those people would you feel comfy in taking outside of the cage anyway?

Guys, will all due respect – and I got plenty of it!
The question really boils down to this: are you really willing to risk everything in order to satisfy less than 10% of your client base?
Amos can just move on – can you?
Ever heard of risk/reward?

I believe the choice is simple.

You can continue doing what you are doing now.
You can shut up and let the most aggressive and reckless among you run the show whilst you’re busy pursuing your pathetic feuds – and incidentally, I was saddened to see that even the stalwart Patric appears disheartened and is considering to bow to those stupid ideas. Sorry to see!
Even assuming that nothing terrible will happen: where will that leave the industry in, say, 2 years when the adrenaline junkies will again ask for more more more and somebody will be tempted to up the ante again? And in 2 years after that?
Is that in any way sustainable?

Or, you can finally close ranks and put an end to the shenanigans by presenting a unified front vis-à-vis the perpetrators and the Mexican authorities – and yes, that requires that you bury the hatchet, even if only temporarily and for this one cause only, talk to each other and do something for the common good!
And no, it’s not only Club Cantamar and Amos – I’m in the same industry as you and know it is not!

Once again, it’s all about the math.
Guadalupe is world renown for being the premier site in the world for seeing Great Whites in stellar visibility. And yet, in the big scheme of things, total capacity is comparatively tiny, probably not even 2,000 clients per season.
How about trying to expand your client base instead of bowing to the demands of a clamoring minority of less than 200 customers. How about starting to look beyond the US and Europe and their broken economies and aggressively market in Asia where I promise you, there are a lot of eager, increasingly wealthy and on top of that, extremely pleasant clients.
Hell, incredibile dictu – you could even join ranks and do a common marketing push for Lupe as a destination! Think Caymans!
Yeah I know I know, and pigs…

Just my two cents.
Yes I’m an outsider - but as your industry peer and precisely because I am an outsider and not emotionally invested, it breaks my heart to see what a great unique site you have and how you’re letting it go to shit by just sitting there and doing nothing,

Wanna think about it?
And by all means: always feel free to write me the usual nasty messages!

Shark Diver - the Movie

From Luke Tipple’s Producer’s notes.

I'd never thought to make a film like this.
For so long I've been stuck in the documentary and reality TV mind-set that the entire realm of dramatic programming was a completely foreign concept. Added to that, I've never thought of myself as an actor!

Well, he has done it and I must say that I really, really liked the result!
A long time ago, I used to run dive expeditions to remote locations and more recently, I spent 13 months on a continuous dive cruise across Micronesia and Melanesia. Being stuck on a boat like that was really like being in a prison, with the added risk of drowning as we used to quip. I can thus totally relate to Luke’s portrayal of the monotonous job of a dive guide taking clients Shark diving, the sense of frustration and loneliness that goes with it and the desire to break out and for once do something private, personally rewarding and useful – as the real Luke has done with this movie pilot!

Thing is, I really like the guy.
We’ve actually never met but we’ve interacted a lot in connection with the roll-out of the Shark Free Marinas Initiative, and I’ve found him to be highly professional and committed, and totally dependable – actually very much not like your usual diving jock, let alone your quintessential ozzie macho!
Must be the karmic influence of Patric’s chai coffee!

Case in point, this production.
From a stellar website to the great plot and the unusual filming technique, and yes, the acting, this is a testimony to the talent but above all, to the outright tenacity of the Tipple clan who have delivered a great product against all the odds of having had to go the fully independent and fully self funded route. Kudos to them and kudos to the sponsors and people like Richard and Scott Cassell who believed in the project and added their energy and time pro bono.

As to future episodes of what is meant to be a 6-part series, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Considering the continued economic slump, it’s not gonna be easy finding the funding – but then again, this really is top notch material!
Having asked Luke about where he stands, here’s what he wrote back.

If there's a message to be told it's that there's more to the ocean and sharks than the depths and jaws.
There's real people who daily make a bargain with themselves and the sea that today I dive with you and acccept that that's where I may stay. It's also about how we represent our idols and our fears. The constant negativity towards sharks as portrayed by the typical shark porn centric show is simply juvenile masturbation. It comes from no knowledge or respect for how the job is done and ends in an unsatisfying and lackluster climax.

What do I want from this?
The means to make the next episode. Whether from private or corporate investment I have story to be told and it will be said. As far as a conservation message there's enough beaters knocking on that door.
I just want to make a predator beautiful.

Lean back, relax and enjoy Mark and Luke’s film.
Oh and if you feel so inclined - you can help them as well!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fiji - Humpback Volunteers?

Just got this from Helen.
We actually see a lot more Humpbacks in Beqa Channel than ever before and with that in mind, collecting baseline data is timely indeed.

Humpback whale research volunteers needed

Fiji Fisheries Department, WWF, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and USP are looking for volunteers to assist in humpback whale research in Makogai and Levuka from August 27th to September 18th.

Research will primarily be land-based yet boat surveys to record whale song, collect whale fluke images, confirm species identification and monitor behaviour will also be undertaken. Volunteers must be willing to work long hours and learn new research skills.

A training and awareness workshop will be run in preparation for the surveys from August 18th and 19th.
All are welcome.

For more information, please contact: Saras Sharma (, Cara Miller ( or Penina Solomona (

BAD on Arte!

Denis and his RED One - from this post by Sasha.

Just got a message from Martin Blanchard.

BAD will be featured on Arte this Monday, Aug 16 at 19:50.
Titled Fidji, parfums d'îles this is an episode of Les nouveaux Paradis, a series by What's up Productions that focuses on ecotourism ventures around the globe. You can watch the episode directly, or you can watch it later online on Arte+7 where all shows are being showcased for 7 days after airing.
Arte is one of Europe's most prestigious TV networks and we are really very proud to add this feather in our cap.

This has been a rather challenging shoot.
Martin and sound guru Laurent came to Fiji in the middle of the Lagoon case and working around the temporary chaos did require some, hmmm, flexibility. Plus, the weather was iffy, the viz challenging (see the pic!) and the animals spooky. Luckily, UW cameraman Denis is a BAD veteran, good friend and consummate professional and eventually managed to get the stuff he required - after much frustration and even more perseverance!

I haven't seen anything yet so me too, I'm waiting with bated breath!
Enjoy - I hope!

Here's to the Aquarium!

And here's to Lori, Mike, Milo and Leni!

This is now the third Shark Free Marina in Tonga.
Forget the old and helplessly dated Mermaid - the Aquarium is clearly the place to be in Vava'u, and not only if you are a yachtie! The brainchild of Lisa and Ben who have moved on, it was taken over by Lori and Mike two years ago and is now bigger, hipper and more popular - and still as friendly as before!

Apart from being a favorite hang out of the decent locals, his remains the obligated port of call of every yachtie visiting the Port of Refuge.
There are moorings for hire, free wi-fi, excellent and cheap food and by far the very best coffee (!) - but above all, this is the place where everybody is happy to help you navigate the treacherous waters of getting things done in a place where time begins but then gets caught in a gelatinous warp of the spacetime continuum called Tonga Time. Don't ask, that's just the way it is, probably a third consequence of the Theory of Relativity!

But I'm digressing as usual.
Well done - and yes, still counting!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

David on Shark Conservation

Not much going on in Sharksville.

Luckily, David aka WhySharksMatter has stepped in and once again written a brilliant post, this time about Shark conservation.
I actually agree with 99% of what he says - which is highly unusual! :)

But: some of those NGOs...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Managing Shark Stocks - a new Commission?

Shark stocks continue to be on the decline.

This is obviously just a part of the larger picture.
Despite of a plethora of orgs that try to monitor and manage Fish stocks, it appears that those efforts have so far fallen well short of attaining the aim of achieving the sustainable management of fisheries and the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

This is where this new paper fits in.
It advocates the creation of a new international commission for the conservation and management of Sharks that would be comparable to the IWC but at the same time, avoid the various shortcomings of that organization.

Whereas I instinctively cringe at the thought of yet another layer of bureaucracy, it is however evident that the problem is global and requires a coordinated global approach - however with ample scope for regional solutions that reflect the fact that there are huge differences between species, habitats and geographical locations.
Food for thought.


The current rate of shark global exploitation and mortality is arguably so high under current management regimes that unless a renewed initiative is undertaken some species of shark will become effectively extinct.

Current efforts to sustainably manage shark mortality are driven primarily by domestic laws in a few countries, big international non-governmental organizations (BINGOs) promoting environmental laws in the countries or regions where they exist, a handful of regional fisheries management organizations (e.g., IATTC and ICCAT), and inter-governmental organizations such as CITES.

The absence of enforcement capability is often argued as the critical component in the failure to protect sharks from overexploitation.
The remedy advanced here goes far beyond the need for stepped up enforcement, and calls for the creation of an entirely new international management regime, the International Commission for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (ICCMS). Such an agency could learn from the experiences of management bodies tasked with conservation of species biologically similar to sharks, such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to improve its efficacy. Critics have identified many organizational flaws that reduced the IWC’s effectiveness during its earliest years. Some of those flaws are examined here and remedies are suggested that an ICCMS could use to create a more effective management regime. The life histories of elasmobranches and large whales are compared to illustrate their similarities as a biological foundation for the selection of the IWC as a model.

5. Conclusions and discussion

Now is the time to establish an effective international body dedicated to sustainably manage and conserve shark species.

Many shark populations continue to decline and the status of others is unknown, often because of the absence of basic demographic information. As noted, the category of shark is a subset of the larger group of elasmobranches. This document focuses upon sharks because they are generally wider ranging, and of greater public appeal. Nevertheless, an organization such as described in this paper would inevitably consider all elasmobranchs.

Amongst the differences between shark and cetacean species is that the former are a significant component of incidental catch in longline and trawl fisheries.
Cetaceans occasionally become entangled in fishing gear, but the level of incidental catch for most species is relatively low compared to sharks. Unlike sharks, cetacean interactions with fishing gear are more frequently the result of specific targeting by fishers than by incidental bycatch.
Consequently, fishers targeting cetaceans have more control over which species are landed.

The survival of any species ultimately rests on the health of its supporting populations.
Monitoring the status of many marine species often requires observed individuals to act as a proxy for the rest of the populations hidden beneath the surface of the ocean.
This raises a second key difference between sharks and cetaceans; the necessity of the latter to breathe at the surface makes them far more visible and more avoidable. Because the biology of sharks do not require regular trips to the surface, none of the techniques used to assess and monitor cetacean populations are viable for monitoring shark populations, making estimation of shark abundance and demography far more difficult. For this reason, it is common to estimate the size of an entire shark population by extrapolation from a limited number of individual observations based on incidental bycatch, using stock assessment models.

Establishing an ICCMS could provide a repository for shark population data, potentially increasing the accuracy of management tools, such as stock assessment models.
Retrospective analyses of international organizations have facilitated the identification of many of the problems that reduced the effectiveness of the IWC during its formative years. An ICCMS is likely to face many of the same problems encountered by the IWC. For an ICCMS to be effective it must establish rules that allow selective incentives to be used to improve cooperation during decision making. It must also establish inter-governmental organization to promote its goals and objectives on an international stage.

Potentially of greatest importance is the establishment of relationships with epistemic communities.
The international community is more interconnected than ever before. Likewise, the relationships between independent scientists, government representatives, and members of epistemic communities are more intimate. This intimacy is likely to be the most effective tool an ICCMS would have to address the need for international management of sharks.

The issues involved in managing a highly migratory, straddling stocks like sharks, requires both international cooperation and domestic involvement and resource allocation.
Effective management of sharks is simultaneously too international and too local for any one group to effectively address the problem
, a sentiment echoed as a fundamental principle underlying the CMSMoU on sharks.

An ICCMS would represent the physical embodiment of the conservation goals and cooperative efforts needed to sustainably manage shark resources.

Such an entity could be vital in addressing some of the most basic questions facing shark management and conservation, such as the extent of these specific stock declines and the methods most suitable for evaluating them.
Without an ICCMS, the current management of shark species will likely remain unchanged with little chance of sustainably managing any shark stocks on a global scale. Likewise, without such an entity there will be no global check on the wasteful practice of shark finning.

The need for taking action to sustainably manage and conserve species of sharks is incontrovertible.
Whether an ICCMS is the optimal solution or action is debatable, and likely will be debated by colleagues in the now extensive epistemic community. For these reasons and for brevity, this paper does not propose the specific structure for an ICCMS despite highlighting ways such an entity could address the shortcomings of the IWC.

5.1. Afterward

Sharks are among the most threatened groups of marine species.

This paper has emphasized shark conservation and management issues drawing the attention of international governmental organizations and big international non-governmental organizations (BINGOs). The entities currently involved with international shark conservation and management range from the Food and Agriculture (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) via the International Plan of Action (IPOA-Sharks) and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); to Regional Fisheries Management Organizations; and international governmental organizations such as the Convention on Migratory Species and Wild Animals (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as well as many others.

Despite these international efforts, increasing demand for shark fins and cartilage, sport fishing, and bycatch have led to the depletion of shark stocks that are 30% lower than two decades ago, and the lack of adequate conservation measure continues to drive several species close to extinction.

These words paraphrase a summary of a February 2010 CMS meeting and the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the conservation of migrating shark species.
It is serendipity that this meeting occurred just after acceptance of this paper by Marine Policy. The MOU would limit fisheries-related mortality of sharks to sustainable levels, with an emphasis on 7 species in particular [great white, basking, whale(shark), porbeagle, spiny dogfish, shortfin, and longfin mako sharks], but excludes other important shark species.
Although the MOU prohibits the contentious practice of shark finning, mortality from bycatch and recreational fishing is not considered.
Despite the signing of the MOU by many of the CMS participating delegates, some key countries refused to sign, despite its non-binding nature.

The CMS meeting was followed the next month by CITES’ 15th Conference of Parties.
The meeting considered a slate of proposals, including protection of 8 shark species under Appendix II, and the Atlantic bluefin tuna under Appendix I. The 8 shark species denied listings were: the porbeagle, the scalloped, great, and smooth hammerheads, oceanic whitetip, and the spiny dogfish. The sandbar and dusky sharks were withdrawn and not proposed. Approval for listing would have limited trade on these species.

Signing of the CMSMOU, while non-binding, signaled a limited willingness by a few nations to take tangible, multi-lateral, steps toward shark conservation. The lack of action to list several shark species under the CITES appendices suggests an unwillingness to take more binding action.

The truly unfortunate aspect of failing to list these species under CITES, is that CITES can more effectively promote conservation because listing allows a country to enforce the trade limitations of Appendix I or II, regardless of whether capture occurred within its own EEZ or not. Failure to list the bluefin tuna, despite a local RFMO, further reinforces the point of this paper.

The effectiveness of an ICCMS will likely depend on a multi-pronged approach that engages member nations and promotes willingness to look beyond self-interest, as well as engaging non-governmental groups with the potential to promote shark conservation and management.