Monday, December 27, 2010

Upon further Reflection!

There’s something I wanted to share with you.
Whenever I post something a little more substantive, there’s obviously a lot going on behind the scenes. This time, I have been severely reprimanded – and been caught out as a total ignoramus in the process!

Nah it’s not about one of my rants.
In fact, those who have earned my respect and thus, the right to criticize me rather like my rants. They know me and know that I have zero (make that −273.15°C) tolerance for stupidity, hypocrisy, bullshit and lies and that I consequently loathe such things as political correctness, new age whackoism, conspiracy theories and religious piousness - and above all, all facets of pseudo-, alternative- and anti-science! They also know that my rants are generally motivated by my own ethical imperatives rather than tribalism or obscure secret agendas of world domination and the like. In my former incarnation, I was a staunch proponent of meritocracy and its inevitable consequence, accountability, and I thus pride myself in being an equal opportunities blamer and praiser – actually, with an emphasis on the latter!
But I’m digressing as always.

No, surprise surprise, I got slammed for this!
Looks like whilst trying to sort through all of that pseudoscientific speculation, I’ve committed the exact same sin I criticize in others!

The contentious issue: my endorsement of this interview with Avi Baranes.
Indeed, I must confess that I’ve been caught up in its overall pro-Shark messaging and have completely failed to properly analyze the specific content of what was being said!
Mea culpa – totally!

My critic will remain unnamed – no, you won’t be able to guess!
Suffice to say that he is highly intelligent and that he totally knows what he’s talking about - and that he shares my passionate aversion for bullshit!
I re-print his critique verbatim, albeit slightly abridged to preserve his anonymity as this was never meant for public consumption. But I do find it highly instructive - and personally, rather humbling! My self esteem is rather, for lack of a better term: robust (did anybody say pompous ass?) and this has definitely pricked that cozy bubble! Somewhat!

Anyway, I wanted to share it with you, if only to show how easily the discourse can slip into utter irrelevance, scientific and otherwise – and this even when the interviewee is a pro who certainly knows better!

So, here's how a brilliant analytical mind has dissected that little interview.
The critic’s comments are in blue.



This interview is not the words of a scientist trying to place sharks in proper perspective. It reminds me of those people that think sharks are nice and need to be invited to tea. Sharks are not nice or mean—as Da Shark said—they are sharks.

In an interview with Haaretz, he sought to make clear that "sharks are actually quite nice." Avi Baranes
Dec. 7, 2010 (Nir Keidar)

Dr. Baranes, the shark attacks we've seen in Sinai recently are considered rare, but three such attacks have been reported in rapid succession. Why is this happening?

It's true that a violent confrontation between swimmers and sharks is an exceptional event. I think there have only been two cases in all our history: with a British English soldier in 1946 and an attack in Eilat in 1974. Unfortunately the film "Jaws" gave sharks a bad name, and unjustifiably so. Many more people are eaten by dogs than by sharks, and this is because sharks are uniquely attached to their own particular food.

More people are eaten by dogs than are eaten by sharks because sharks are UNIQUELY attached to their food????
This assumes that feeding ecology is the sole motivation of why all sharks attack people. I would argue that the evidence does not bear this out. So it can not be that dogs eat more people than sharks because sharks are attached to their food.

So, when there are incidents like this, we have to look for a cause. Sharks attack people when they invade their territory, and then their reaction is aggressive, as it is when they are unable to obtain their natural food.

Territory and aggression are very loaded words.
When a great white bites, kills and consumes at fur seal is the shark being aggressive (one of the “big five” drives) or is it motivated by feeding? Sharks are actually rather unaggressive animals tolerating one and other very well. Even intraspecific aggression is rare in sharks—think feeding in a bait ball.

Most rapacious sharks do not appear to hold territories although they carry a personal space around with them.
Dr. Baranes is mixing up his terms and strongly confusing the issue as well as being just plain wrong considering what we know of social behavior of sharks. Then he finishes this tour de force by stating that they become aggressive when they can’t get their food!
Oh Pleeeeeze!!

Essentially Avi is stating unequivocally why sharks attack and gives the reasons---territoriality and aggression!! Hi suggestions are not even that reasonable even in the light of our poor knowledge of shark behavior. Just think of all the divers who would die with such a behavioral repertoire—aggression and territoriality---when humans enter the water.

In 1974 in Eilat, a Mako shark attacked a German tourist. The shark was caught the next day and it turned out that it had a problem with its spine and could not swim fast.

Now here we see a forensic determination of why this mako fed on the person.
It may or may not be true. However we have seen all sorts of deformities in sharks including blind ones and plastic-ensnared ones that are doing just fine. So while it might be true that the shark could not feed properly it is just a theory not a fact.

This was a shark that usually fed on tuna, and it simply could not obtain its regular food.

What is the regular food of mako sharks?
In fact they have a relatively wide feeding ecology with prey spanning the gamut from marine mammals to cephalopods. I am sure that even a damaged mako can find food or else it world die rather quickly being warm bodied. I can accept the explanation that Dr. Baranes gave but it sounds to me like the experts simply wanted to come up with a reason for the attack that made sense. I would love to read the report to see just how they determined that the shark could not find and catch its “regular food”. Remember: scientists should be skeptical by nature just like attorneys—show me the evidence!!

In Sinai I know of cases where sharks simply bit the legs of Bedouin fishermen who were standing on reefs. This is the response to an invasion by humans into the shark's living space, and this can also happen when divers enter their territory.

What? No!! This is yet another unsupported conclusion.
What if the shark happened to bump into the fisher? I have seen small sharks on the flats swim right through the legs of waders and they might have been bitten if they had frightened them at that moment. So anything from fear to aggression---rare in sharks---could be operating in this example.

Shark territory reaches right up to the beaches in Sinai? Sharks do not apparently hold or defend territories like damsel fishes. Perhaps Dr. Baranes means shark habitat. Territory is a very loaded term.

The Red Sea is one of a kind. It is narrow and deep and that means that whereas in the Mediterranean, sharks are found only in the middle of the sea,

I do not believe this at all.
Avi is apparently mistaking all sharks for pelagic sharks. There are plenty of littoral sharks in the Med. Here is a nice discussion of chodricthyan zoogeography in the Med.

in the Red Sea they can arrive close to the shore. If you go out 50 meters in Eilat, you are already at a depth of 100 meters, so big sharks can get pretty close to the shore. They also approach areas where food is accessible, and by this I mean port areas.

So is Avi saying that shark attacks can be expected to occur more frequently at Port locations?
Is Sharm a port where garbage is thrown? If so wouldn’t sharks be attacking all the time? Actually there are plenty of big sharks like grey reefs that can and do stay close to shore whether there is a drop-off nearby or not. So having the pelagic zone is not a prerequisite for big sharks like great whites or tiger sharks to come close to bathers.

Unfortunately, we use the sea as a big garbage dump.
Three years ago we caught a tiger shark on the northern shore of Eilat and in the laboratory, I found a smaller shark, about 1.8 meters in length, in its stomach, as well as a sheep's head, two chickens, a nylon bag and two unopened jars of mayonnaise.

But why does this not surprise me?
Tiger sharks have perhaps the widest feeding ecology (broadest trophic niche width) of any large rapacious shark and are notorious for feeding on offal. Check the stomach of a copper shark or grey reef and tell me about garbage. By the way you do not have to kill a shark to find out what is on its stomach!

What about Mediterranean sharks?

The Mediterranean is very shallow and so when sharks approach the beach, they are usually females in spawning season who have entered shallow waters to spawn their young. Shallow water is not amenable for large male sharks to swim in.

OK Mike you tell me about whether Avi is blowing smoke here—shallow water not amenable to males? What?

Can you compare the different species of sharks in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea?

In the Red Sea, the temperature does not go below a certain point, so that the corals produce reefs, a kind of refuge for all kinds of marine life. I would say that 80 percent of the fish in the Red Sea live on reefs - a kind of highly accessible food pantry - and so the sharks patrol along reefs. We have 26 species of shark in the Red Sea, include thing Leviathan shark, the largest of all, which pays visits in April and May. It is 12 meters long, but not dangerous. Of the 26 species, there are maybe two that are capable of attacking people. There's no need to make a big deal about this.

Pardonnez moi!
Any shark over 1.5 m is capable of attacking a human. Whether they bite depends on the situation! Even a little 2 kg carcharhinid sharks can bite the sh-t out of you if you grab their tail!!

OK—gotta go. I have highlighted the egregious parts. Happy Holidays

The Mediterranean has more species than the Red Sea, and that's where the great white shark [the star of "Jaws"] can be found, rather than in the Red Sea. To date, there has been no damage to the shark population in our areas, but those in the Mediterranean are under threat because of a reduction in the number of fish. If something is not done to give the fish a chance to recover their numbers, the big predators will be in danger.

Today we have, in partnership with the UN, established an organization to protect sharks from extinction. All Asians love [to eat] shark's fin. They make soup with it, which the Chinese claim strengthens virility. It's true there are lots of Chinese, but that doesn't necessarily make this claim true. Thousands of tuna are used to catch sharks each year; the hunters take the fins and throw the rest back into the sea, and the damage is enormous. Luckily in Israel the shark is a protected animal.

What do you recommend to reduce and prevent shark attacks like the ones we've been witness to recently?

Protect the sea.
Don't turn it into a garbage dump, and prevent pollution. A lot of sewage flows into the sea, and the minute you damage a system, a lot of species are hurt and disappear. It's like a Russian nesting doll: The big swallow the small. If you damage a coral that serves as a refuge for small fish, not only will they disappear, but and whoever feeds upon them will also disappear, and so on down the line,
until the big sharks can't find food.

I suggest we not be afraid of sharks.
We must respect them, and we can look at them in the water. I also suggest that we
refrain from trying to attack them because they will respond and they have the strength and the means to defend themselves. Just enjoy the view. There is nothing more beautiful than a shark swimming in the sea.


Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

Waddya, hang out with the folks from MENSA or something?

Who was the bright North Star of sharkdom?

Do tell, and don't beat yourself up too much Da Shark, that post was so 300 posts ago.

DaShark said...

More of a Southern Cross, actually! :)

Dontya worry buddy, I'll get over it!
I just posted it as a fine example of the need to be rigorous, and of idle chitchat being nothing more than - idle chitchat!
Whatever the laudable intentions!