Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buli Kula!

Click for detail!

Just wanted to show you the above.

It's a Buli Kula, or Golden Cowry (Lyncina (formely Cypraea) aurantium).
I happened to stumble across this remarkable specimen in only seven meters when off-gassing after yesterday's second Shark Dive. Golden Cowries are generally rare but locally abundant - and the region around Beqa is such a location. Normally only found below 20 meters, they regularly migrate to much shallower depth, this possibly in connection with reproduction.

Much valued by collectors, Golden Cowries from Fiji are particularly expensive.
This is because they play an important role in indigenous Fijian tradition and are thus kept and only rarely sold. But worry not: the cowry is alive and well - and well hidden within a deep cave in a place that only I know!
Incidentally, modern lore has it that finders are particularly blessed with luck, and I consequently fully expect something really positive to happen shortly! :)

Of interest, there is a reason why all cowries are so shiny.
This is because when the animal is active, the shell is fully covered by the living tissue, called mantle. The mantle is generally very complex and may thus not only protect but also conceal the shell when the animal is foraging out in the open at night.
This is a picture of a Golden Cowry crawling along on a reef in Kwajalein - the front end with the feelers is on the right.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Doc and Amr Ali on the Red Sea Shark Attacks!

Check out the videos.

Mr you-know-who: didya hear the part about the likely causes?
Sheep carcasses?
And Doc's explanation of Shark attacks? Brilliant!

As always, stellar messaging by Doc - and I must say, also by Amr Ali, the Managing Director of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), a local (and vocal) environmental NGO!

I cite:
It's not the tree hugger approach that will make the Sharks survive... it's the economics of the whole industry, the diving industry and the tourism industry, that will protect these Sharks.

Incidentally, did you catch on to Doc's little side remark?
Good to see that Sharkproject boss Wegner has finally come to his senses!
Once very much one of the cronies of Herr Doktor Ritter and consequently, an implacable detractor of Doc, he is now obviously um eine teure Erfahrung reicher - like everybody else!

Yes I'm digressing as always!
Bravo Doc and bravo Amr!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reefs at Risk - Fiji?

Click for detail.

It sure aint looking good!
I was alerted by this article stating that 75% of Coral Reefs are at risk and went rummaging for more detailed info about the situation in Fiji.

Turns out that this country is particularly vulnerable.
According to the report, it fatally combines High to Very High Threat Exposure (see picture on top) with High to Very High Reef Dependence with Low to Medium Adaptive Capacity (see below).
Click for detail: Fiji is the cluster of larger islands north of New Zealand.

And what about Shark Reef?
Pretty grim if you ask me! Since the reef is situated within a highly vulnerable coastal belt where the usual global threats like Climate Change and Acidification are compounded by high population pressure, predictions are dire.


Not nice!
Solutions? I haven't got the slightest clue!
Old timers tell me that Shark Reef has always been pretty barren, and this is why the villages were more than happy to agree to its protection and to exchange their fishing rights for monetary compensation. So far, their gamble has more than paid off as on top of jobs and regular income for the villages at the tune of over FJD 40,000 per year, the fish population has miraculously recovered, with many fish spilling over to other reefs were the local fishermen are welcome to harvest them.

The corals however have never quite managed to recover.
Whilst 20% of Shark Reef is heavily frequented by our clients, the remainder is not at all. Especially the fragile shallow coral gardens are very much off limits - and yet , especially for the Acropora, it has been a long and frustrating cycle of growth and demise, the latter owing to several explosions of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish and the occasional cyclone. Although those would appear to be "natural" causes, people in the know tell me that in Fiji, the Starfish invasions appear to be correlated to ENSO events - and these in turn are likely to be (oh, yes, of course it's complicated!) accelerated and exacerbated by anthropogenic Climate Change. With that in mind, the future of Shark Reef does rather look grim indeed, with totally unknown consequences for its Shark population.

But having said this: we'll continue trying never the less!
All I can say is so far so good, as we're seeing ever more Sharks and continue to identify ever more Fishes - with some likely excellent news to be published soon, so keep watching this space! And when it comes to the big picture, Mangroves for Fiji remains our very own contribution to Climate Change mitigation, both locally where there is now a huge belt of restored Mangroves lining the shores of our partner village Galoa and neighboring Culanuku; and Fiji-wide, where a veritable explosion of sites will enable us to become completely carbon neutral very, very soon indeed - again, keep watching this space!

And on this happy note (is it?): have a good weekend everybody!

PS should you be intrigued by the Google Earth pictures: download the KML files here (scroll to bottom of page) and have a look for yourself - very interesting and alas, equally disheartening!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Behold: Reinhard!

Click for detail - amazing!

Check this out!
This is, by far, the best pic of hunting Sailfish, ever!!!

The incredibly talented photographer: Reinhard Dirscherl of Ocean-Photo.
Reinhard and his equally talented (and equally super nice) wife Daniela of WaterFrame were on assignment in Fiji and managed to squeeze in a few extra days for some Shark diving last October - and lemme tell 'ya, conditions were far from stellar!
With the La Niña wreaking havoc on water temperatures, the Bulls were already well on their way out and extremely skittish, meaning that the photo ops were highly reduced and confined to the deeper reaches of Shark Reef.

Well,what can I say - the guy is simply amazing!
Below is an awesome flyby by Maite (may you be wondering about the name?), and you can admire many more equally impressive images on his website or on the small photo gallery (scroll down) we have set up on our website.

So here's to Reinhard and Daniela's return to Fiji - at the right time, when conditions look like this! :)

Guam: it's Unanimous!

Stellar pic by Timbo!

From Timbo's Guam & Micronesia Dive Travel blog.

After a lot of emotional testimony from fishermen, school students, shark lovers and an amazing show of support from an international community of ocean loving concerned citizens from well over 100 countries, Guam’s legislators passed Bill 44-31 (scroll down) unanimously today.
The bill is intended to curb the trade of shark fins in the US Territory of Guam.

The bill was sponsored by Senator B.J. Cruz and co-sponsored by Senator Rory Respecio.

But more importantly, Guam becomes the third place in the world to officially ban possession and trade of the fins and also ray parts. A similar bill passed in January in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

With Palau declaring its waters a shark sanctuary in 2009, Yap having its water a manta ray sanctuary since 2008, Guam and the Nothern Mariana Islands banning fin trade, this creates a huge corridor in the western Pacific stretching 1300+ miles from north to south from Helen Reef in far southern Palau to Farralon de Medina in the northern CNMI and across four countries that now prosecute those involved in the non-sustainable shark fin trade. Hawaii in the east central Pacific, a US state, has the first such law on its books passed last year.

Thus, this is a real regional victory for the western Pacific nations and their marine resources.

Many, many people have contributed to this success but bear with me if I single out Stefanie who once again has invested all her time and energy and spent countless hours in difficult negotiations to ensure the best possible result for the Sharks. And lemme tell 'ya, looks are deceiving: never underestimate the ferocity and sheer determination of a Bavarian pit bull! :)
Girl, you rock!

Full story here, good recap here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Amazing Shark Behavior!

Involuntary stomach eversion - frequently performed by Shark researchers.

Remember Juerg's paper about intra-gastric tags?
Here it is again, in full length. You may notice that the retention time of the transmitters varied considerably, from less than 24h to 34 days.

The shortest retention times are likely the result of voluntary gastric eversion.
That is the faculty of many (if not all - does anybody know?) Sharks to eliminate indigestible or unwanted items by voluntary turning their stomach inside out through their mouth. The process is very short and consists in relaxing their stomach muscles and using abdominal pressure to prolapse and speedy retraction of the stomach to empty indigestible particles, parasites, or mucus, researchers speculate. This may also aid them in keeping a healthy alimentary tract. This can be accompanied by head shaking and I must confess, always fatally reminds me of that old condom recycling joke - yes you can Google it!

Where was I?

Oh, yes.
It just so happens that Juerg is da man when it comes to gastric eversion in Sharks.
His 2005 paper is a classic and analyzes the voluntary eversion by a Caribbean Reef in, I believe, Walker's Cay, one of the first Shark destinations to seamlessly integrate adventure and Shark conservation. Juerg was extremely fortunate in being able to record the behavior, and this is what he filmed.

Is this totally amazing, or what!
And before the usual Shark slanderer and defamer starts snickering and pointing at Starfish and the like: dude, not that you would ever understand, but I'm talking cool animals, the pinnacle of evolution - not such lowly, utterly useless and creepy stuff!

Now, Juerg has published a new paper about the gastric eversion by a hooked Longfin Mako, likely in an attempt to rid itself of the hook, and proposes a mechanism by which Sharks can perform this amazing (!) feat. It, too, is based on a video that was recorded in 2004 by Frank Nielsen aka MalibuFrank of Sharkfootage.

Here it is - enjoy!

Elasmobranch fishing in Baja!

Tacos with Manta Ray - apparently still popular.

Upon reading this paper, I was reminded of my first trips to Baja.
That was in the early 80ies aboard Tim Means' venerable Don Jose, and the Baja Explorador. Everybody was there to see the Hammerheads, huge schools of pelagics, Marlin and tame Mantas. We were young, reckless and stupid, the tequila never stopped flowing and life in general was good.
Except for the fact that every restaurant in La Paz had Manta on the menu.

Looks like nothing has changed.
From the paper

The artisanal elasmobranch fishery of the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico

Daniel Cartamila, Omar Santana-Morales, Miguel Escobedo-Olvera, Dovi Kacev, Leonardo Castillo-Geniz, Jeffrey B. Graham, Robert D. Rubin and Oscar Sosa-Nishizaki

Artisanal fisheries account for up to 80% of elasmobranch fishing activity in Mexican waters, yet details associated with fishing effort and species composition are generally unavailable.

This paper describes a survey of the artisanal elasmobranch fishery of the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico from 2006 to 2008.
The objectives were to determine the geographic extent, size, and targets of the artisanal fishery, and to describe the catch characteristics at Laguna Manuela, an artisanal camp where elasmobranchs are the primary target. For the latter, we used a combination of beach surveys and a novel survey method involving the identification of discarded carcasses. Forty-four artisanal fishing camps were identified, of which 29 (66%) targeted elasmobranchs at least seasonally, using primarily bottom-set gillnets and longlines.

At Laguna Manuela 25 species of elasmobranchs were documented.
Gillnetting accounted for 60% of fishing effort, and the most commonly captured species were Rhinobatos productus, Zapteryx exasperata, and Myliobatis californica. Longline fishing accounted for 31% of fishing effort, and the most commonly captured species were Prionace glauca and Isurus oxyrhinchus.

Catch was composed of mainly juveniles for many species, indicating that the immediately surrounding area (Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino) may be an important elasmobranch nursery habitat. The results of this study will serve as a baseline for determining future changes in the artisanal fishery, as well as changes in species demography and abundance.


4.3. Management implications

Although no base-line data comparable to the present study exist in western BC, interviews with older fishermen suggest that both the abundance and average size of elasmobranchs have declined significantly in recent decades off the western coast of BC.
Many of these declines have been exacerbated by a historic lack of governmental regulation. However, several steps have recently been taken to manage elasmobranch fisheries in Mexican waters. For example, the Mexican National Institute of Fisheries recommended a moratorium on the issuance of new elasmobranch fishing permits in 1993 (Castillo-Geniz et al., 1998), which was implemented in 1998 (Sosa-Nishizaki et al., 2008). This was followed in 2007 by NOM-029-PESCA-2006 (DOF, 2007), a major piece of legislation that includes regulations specific to artisanal fisheries.

Some general predictions as to how NOM-029 will affect artisanal Pacific BC fishers can be made based upon the present study.
Artisanal longline fishers in BC typically deploy up to 500 hooks, while elasmobranch gillnet fishers use multiple gillnets per vessel with mesh sizes of 6–12 cm. NOM-029 guidelines limit artisanal longline fishers to a maximum of 350 hooks, and limit gillnet fishers to the use of one gillnet per vessel with a minimum mesh size of 15 cm. Most longline fishers will not have to dramatically modify fishing practices to conform to NOM-029. Indeed, NOM-029 may be beneficial to artisanal longliners in that it restricts larger commercial longline vessels to waters 20 nautical miles (nm) or more from shore, thus reducing competition with artisanal vessels, which are restricted to only 10nm from shore.

However, gillnet fishers will not only have to greatly reduce the number of gillnets deployed, but the larger mesh size required will result in reduced catch rates of smaller fish.
Although NOM-029 may have a negative economic impact on artisanal gillnetters, it represents an important step towards the conservation of elasmobranchs in Mexico. However, very few fishers interviewed in the survey fully understood the NOM-029 guidelines, and less were in compliance with them (e.g., the mandatory completion of logbooks).

The declines in elasmobranch abundance noted in many parts of Mexico (Bonfil, 1997; Castillo-Geniz et al., 1998; Perez-Jimenez et al., 2005) perhaps justify a decrease in elasmobranch-directed fishing effort by artisanal fisheries.
Given the higher ex-vessel prices for most teleost and invertebrate species harvested by BC artisanal fishers, a shift in effort to these more sustainable resources may be warranted. Vieira and Tull (2008) determined that the cessation of elasmobranch fishing by artisanal fishers in Indonesia did not result in substantial economic hardship, as fishing could be directed towards alternative species. For example, the Humboldt squid is a major longline bycatch that was viewed as a plague by fishers because it would become hooked before sharks but had no ex-vessel value. This species potentially represents a major alternative target for artisanal fishers (Ehrhardt et al., 1983), and an export market is currently in development (Jara, personal communication).

Further studies are necessary to assist management of artisanal elasmobranch fisheries along the Pacific coast of BC.
A continuous monitoring program that provides location-specific catch data is needed to provide realistic estimates of total elasmobranch landings. Biological studies detailing aspects of age and growth, diet, reproduction, and spatial dynamics are required to conduct stock assessments and evaluate sustainability of the most heavily exploited shark and ray species (Gallucci et al., 1996).

Socioeconomic surveys would be useful to identify social and cultural drivers of fishing pressure, and monitor changes in the economic conditions of fishers over time (Bunce et al., 2000; Cinner and McClanahan, 2006; Battaglia et al., 2010).
In addition, alternative avenues of management should be explored, such as the expansion of a limited-access fishing cooperative system, which has been shown to encourage sustainable stewardship of coastal resources (Young, 2001; Basurto, 2005).

The status of elasmobranchs in Mexico is also of concern to U.S. fisheries management, as elasmobranchs are a shared resource of ecological and economic importance to both countries.
Many commercially valuable pelagic shark species, such as the blue, the common thresher, and the mako, have geographical ranges that expose them to fisheries in both the U.S. and Mexico (Hanan et al., 1993; Obrien and Sunada, 1994; Gonzalez, 2008; Escobedo-Olvera, personal communication). Though less understood, the movement patterns of many coastal sharks and batoids likely span the international border as well (Ebert, 2003).

Ultimately, binational management strategies will be required that take into account mortality introduced through the activities of fisheries in both countries to calculate acceptable harvest levels.

As always, it is multifaceted and complicated.
And this without counting the additional threats posed by poachers to Sharks, Turtles and Sea Lions alike - remember this witness account?

I've recently been spending some quality time with fellow marine conservationists and we were commenting about the sheer size of the problem and about how difficult it is to find equitable solutions that whilst protecting vulnerable stocks, also take into account the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all stakeholders.
So true!

The solution?
Sustainability - what else?

Not easy - but slowly slowly, we're getting there!

PS of interest, the bigger Sharks being caught comprise Shortfin Mako, Blue, Smooth HH and Common Thresher and alas, very small GW - but neither Scalloped HH nor Bull.
Go wonder.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I've changed my mind.
After consideration, I shall not be blogging about the California Shark Fin Bill.

Just this: there is a compromise on the table and the bill's proponents would be well advised to consider it.

Marine Extinction - three

Remember this post?
In it, I postulated that we haven't managed to cause the global extinction of a single marine Fish - yet!

Well, I might have been wrong.
Enter the 2003 paper Extinction vulnerability in marine populations in general and Azurina eupalama, pictured above, the Galapagos Damsel or Blackspot Chromis in particular. A small, drab planktivorous Fish, it apparently went extinct when the 82/83 El Niño eliminated the local plankton production for a year.

But then again, as usual, things may be way more complicated.
I am truly blessed in being able to access a network of unbelievably knowledgeable and smart people, and having asked the question, one of my Fish gurus commented as follows.

This little known species was the subject of much discussion between Dr. Ross Robertson of STRI, myself and others on our ichthyological expeditions in the Tropical Eastern Pacific, or TEP.

Our consensus was that it would be premature to pronounce Azurina eupalama extinct for several reasons:
It may be a “boom or bust” species existing in very low numbers until conditions are propitious for a population explosion. Being drab, small and unexceptional-looking it would pass unnoticed by all but a few knowledgeable scientist divers, who might never encounter remnant, small, scattered populations.
The ocean is a big place!

Luzonichthys earlei is a species in Hawaii with extreme population fluctuations and there are others like that here.
Like its sibling species north of the equator in the TEP, A. hirundo, it is a cold water species.
In places like the Galapagos it may usually live at great depths, or retreat to cool depths in warm or even normal temperature regimes. Richard and I recently published a paper describing 5 new damselfish species we found with rebreathers, all from below 80 meters. The family does go deep.

Finally, and to me most importantly, the center or core of the population of this species could very well be elsewhere, likely in the relatively faunally unknown areas of the TEP along the coast of Equator and northern Peru, spreading to marginal habitat areas like the Galapagos or Cocos Island under certain transient conditions, only to disappear when conditions revert to the norm.

There are also analogs for this pattern in Hawaiian fauna.
Species of fish and mollusks present in the cooler waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have historically appeared in the main Hawaiian Islands for awhile and then vanished utterly. If we only had collecting experience from Kauai to the Island of Hawaii it would certainly look like several species of endemic Hawaiian cowries such as Cypraea rashleighana or C. burgessi have become extinct within the last 30 years.

This idea of a core population existing outside its historically recorded range is a testable hypothesis, of course.
Ross and I tried to get permission to take the STRI RV Urraca to Isla de la Plata off Equator, a likely core area well-situated to seed areas down current like the Galapagos.
Alas we were unsuccessful.

Life is resilient and adapted by evolution to the conditions and even the extremes of conditions in its habitat.
The thought that a marine species existing through long eons of geological time would crash utterly during one single recent weather event is hard for me to swallow.
I shave with Occam’s Razor.

Methinks the question of marine fish extinctions in recent times remains open…….though I will admit that I am losing hope regarding the Placoderms!

Me too!
But there's still hope for Megalodon! :)

Back to the marine extinctions, please read this.
Amid a sad list of local, regional and alas, global extinctions of various marine organisms, I find Anampses viridis, the Mauritius Green Wrasse, possibly a victim of sedimentation and nutrient pollution . It is once again an endemic which makes it particularly vulnerable and according to this equally sad list of most recent extinctions, it has not been reported since 1839. But then again, as witnessed by several spectacular range extensions that we have documented on Shark Reef, the published geographical distribution of Fishes remains always in flux, and there's a slim chance that it may suddenly turn up elsewhere.
If the Bull Sharks of Tonga have managed to remain hidden until 2006 despite probably being a breeding population, so can a small green Wrasse!

Not hopeful - but fingers crossed!

PS when I sent him this post, my guru commented

Anampses viridis, the Mauritius Green Wrasse, is a mystery fish, known only from a few dried specimens and last collected before 1840 when described by Valenciennes.

One wonders if it is a valid species, where and from what depth it was actually collected (collecting data can be unreliable from that era…note the range of Amblyglyphidodon curacao), and, if a valid species presently extinct, what factors contributed to its extinction.
Not much human marine impact in that area in the early 19th century.

Extinction is a natural process and the fate of all species.
Man may not necessarily be implicated in all recent extinctions………one hopes.

So there!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rick - not with bated Breath!

Click for detail!

Still super busy - but this has to be shared!

Listen to the soundtrack of the video! :)
We had the pleasure of hosting the formidable Rick MacPherson on a Shark dive yesterday. Rick is not only a fellow blue blogger, but a very experienced diver and more importantly, a super nice guy on top of that, and we thus decided that he might appreciate a somewhat closer look at the action in 30 meters - and it certainly looks like the combo of suspect viz, current and high number of animals combined to produce a memorable experience!
Here he is happily filming away, with Arthur covering his back!

Actually, the current proved to be a blessing.
As per the screenshot on top, it brought in some crystal clear water during the surface interval, and conditions on the second dive at 15m were simply stellar, see the pic on top.
Rick's account here - and yes, in case you ever wondered, we got Shark!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

California Shark Fin Ban - Oh Boy!

Iacta alea est indeed!

Please read this post by Patric.
Too busy now but I shall most certainly post about it later!

Oh boy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Fiji Shark Dive - Tough!

Just thought I'd share some of today's hardship.
Bloody tough - but somebody's gotta do it! :)
Click for detail!

Jon - one helluva Birthday Cake!

Just got this from Jon McKenzie.

Hey Mike!
Hope all is well in Fiji! Thought I'd share a picture of the birthday cake my mom had made for me this year. She usually makes them and would have had more fun with the design but shes a thousand miles away so she outsourced it to Haydel's Bakery.
It was fantastic!!

So here's to Jon's birthday!
And to the excellent taste of his mum - and that of the cake!

John is one of the up- and coming lemon Shark guys.
His work on the Lemons in the Chandeleur Islands is extremely important. As far as I know, the islands are the only known nursery of this species apart from Doc's Bimini and some locations in Brazil, and may thus be the Lemon Shark hot spot for the whole of the Gulf of Mexico. Incidentally, having asked about the effects of the spill, I was very relieved to hear that everything there seemed to be OK and that the animals were plentiful and looked healthy.

Talking of Lemons, remember that paper?
Jon and Juerg have recently teamed up to write a critique, and the original authors have published a riposte - yes that would be a fencing term and it is exactly what has happened, not so much in the abstracts but in the full comments!
Very funny when done by researchers and thus wrapped in erudition and technical lingo!

More about it shortly!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Conservation - Asia Bashing?

Click for detail.

Think the badge will really impact the international Shark fin trade?
The bad news: think again! The good news: at least it was produced by PangeaSeed, a Japanese (as opposed to Western) Shark conservation org!

Which brings me straight over to this most excellent post by Patric.
Indeed, who are we to tell the Asians what to eat, or how to manage their very own resources - the more as we have, and continue to amply prove how bad we are at doing the same in our own back yard! Baltic Sea anybody? Mediterranean? Bears, Wolves, Otters, Lynxes, let alone Wisent in Western Europe? Virgin forests in the US and Europe? And the list goes on and on and on and on!
Here's a small reminder of what we have done to our oceans!

But I'm digressing as usual.
The fact is that in all those conservation initiatives, terrestrial and marine, it always boils down to the same basic points:
  • Sustainability not Prohibition
  • Legislation but also Enforcement - flanked by Mitigation and Education
  • our absolute willingness not to demonize the "other" side, but to engage in Dialogue and to accept pragmatic Compromises instead
Is that so difficult to comprehend?

When it comes to Asia in particular.
Yes, the bulk of the demand for many endangered species originates there - but the perpetrators are others and the ecological damage happens elsewhere!
Please re-read this with respect to the Northern Bluefin! And when it comes to Sharks, if you haven't already, check out this report by TRAFFIC and Pew about who are the biggest killers of Sharks!

And then, there's this - and yes I will never stop repeating myself!
You gotta differentiate between markets that are demand limited and those that are supply limited.

The poster child for the former is whaling.
The demand for Whale meat by the Japanese and Korean consumers is already low, and dwindling. With that in mind, there really is no commercial justification for sending those expensive fleets to Antarctica, nor is there really any remaining strong commercial incentive for killing those Dolphins in Taji. Instead of the strident and uncompromising activism that many, even within the most passionate conservation circles define as unacceptable eco-terrorism and that has led to a nationalistic counter push by the Japanese authorities, the most promising strategy is to target the last remaining demand - whilst at the same time, appeasing the Japanese by granting them a face saving official quota of non-endangered Whales like Minkes and yes, Dolphins.
In that regard, I was totally impressed when I read this statement by Ady Gil of ex Sea Shepherd affiliation

Ecorazzi: Can you tell us a bit more about what you’re doing in Taiji?
The reports I’ve read is that your intent on “building bridges”. Many have asked how that might be different as opposed to what SS has done there over the last several months.

Ady Gil: The only way to make a change in Japan is to have the Japanese people want a change. We can not come here to their country and TELL them what to do. As horrible as the dolphin hunt is, and I have seen it with my own eyes, it is what they do. No different than factory farming in the US. If there was a culture of “Cow Loving”, if we thought that cows are “cute”, if cows played with balls and hoops, we would feel the same about cow slaughter.

The fact is that the majority of the people in Japan love dolphins. Tangalooma in Australia offers its guests a better way to interact with dolphins, other people only get to see them in aquariums. Japan has 100 of the 500 aquariums world wide, (data that I got from an official person in Japan).

We have posted statistics about Taiji. Fisheries are a declining business here.
It just went down from about 12% to about 8%, in 5 short years, of total business revenue in the city. Building the bridges will possibly open their eyes to use the treasure that they have, hundreds of dolphins in the oceans, to bring people here, to watch and swim with dolphins, and revive the economy in Taiji.

Amazing - and totally agree that this is the way forward!

Not so when it comes to supply limited markets!
Examples? Shark fins, Tuna but also, Tigers, Bear gall bladders and especially, Elephant Ivory!
I've added the latter three as perfect examples of how useless it is to try and address the problem by trying to curb the demand by re-educating the consumers. The fight for Tigers and Elephants is among the oldest of conservation initiatives, with all species listed under CITES I - and yet and despite a plethora of initiatives, celebrity endorsements and petitions, and even public condemnation by China itself, Asian demand continues to drive the species to the brink of extinction.

Because to be successful, one would have to re-educate hundreds of millions (!!!!) of consumers!
Please re-visit this and watch the following video posted by Patric: THIS is the scope of what we're up against when it comes to Sharks - do you really think that a few hundred posters, those celebrity endorsements and those "stop finning" initiatives will make a difference?
Why do some continue to insist on those very same failed strategies?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

The solution, as practiced today in terrestrial conservation?
Protect the animals where they are being hunted - along with, yes you guessed it, mitigation (like that of compensating would be poachers, establishing tourism ventures that provide for jobs, etc) and education!
Sound familiar?

Yes, that too is gonna be bloody hard!
The trade in endangered species, whether legal or not, is highly lucrative and there will always be obstacles, push backs and setbacks.
But that's precisely why I so strongly believe that we need to pool and prioritize ALL of our resources and focus ALL of our energies on those local initiatives - and that at the same time, we need to stop squandering them elsewhere!

Please, give it some serious thought - it really is the only way forward.

PS Richard's take here: always the elder statesman!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mako Pics - sweet indeed!

Kudos to Patric for the scoop.
Having Sharks (and totally exotic stuff like Giant Squid!) take your catch is actually quite common. What however is not common, is to have somebody jump in the water and document it all! Al McGlashan sure is a brave man!

Story here, more pics here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Vitaly - absolutely amazing!

Click on pics for detail - notice the faint Bull in the center?

Remember the Russian heroes?

Just got some pics from Vitaly and all I can say is WOW!
Now before you get all excited, YES they have obviously been changed in post production - but still, talk about absolute mastery of that art! More split images by Vitaly aka Willyam here - and below, there's one more where the tweaking is less obvious - being on the menue, the Grey's rarely if ever venture into Bull Shark territory!

As to why his website is now carrying a mature content warning - go explore for yerself!

And there's more.
Having rummaged some more, I also found more wallpaper Bulls, along with this description - yes you guessed it, it's once again totally heroic!
Translation by Babelfish - very funny and I'm sure you get the gist! :)

Of beqa Of adventure Of divers” [Dayving] is passed without the cell.
Instead of that old checked, wiser by life of one of the [fidzhiyskikh] leaders to me during that day as the defender was reached young young fellow (name, unfortunately he forgot). I do not know, first sharks were on the platoon, then whether my [bodigard] yawned and looked not to that side, but Sharkey, after ceasing to obtain into the snout iron stick they suddenly became to actively manifest to me interest. Them it became all around more and it is more. Especially they actively to move began precisely when to the back of the head it approached panic “oh, [mlya], [nakhren] I here climbed up”… As they felt. Although why “as”? Word “as” it is here better to use in the bond [s] “even as”. Certainly they feel fear. And climb-climb- climb. But in spite of entire ambiguity of situation I then tried to be abstracted and as the protection from the sticky horror he tried to think about the construction of sequence, periodically hiding camera from the sharks for the pebble - already painfully it them interested. Largest plus certainly in the fact that into the sequence of shark they jumped in groups from all sides with such venemous [ulybochkami], pier “remove me! Remove!!!” How I used with the variable success - after the fact and arrived indeed. Such here, merry [tusovochka] came out.
PS: personnel are lined as are - framing did not adapt.

Objective 20 mm fixed price.
Canon 400d in the underwater boxing.

Which begs the question, what about Sasha's crop?
Having asked, his response is Soon :) Photos are like wine, need to keep them locked for some time – they get better.

Well, then, I expect unbelievable stuff!
No pressure!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Great White doing WHAT???

I actually wanted to say that this is totally crazy.
No this is not about the GW interaction! Howard is one of the original pioneers and certainly knows what he's doing, as are his team!

But the camera!
Schlepping around that monster is absolute insanity - in his words
To say that the underwater IMAX 3D system is cumbersome is a laughable understatement. But I love working in this format precisely because it is so challenging.
Typical Howard!

But then, upon closer inspection, I noticed something.
What, exactly, is that startled second Great White doing at 2:54...???

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Catch&Release fishing for Sharks?

Sorry for the prolonged silence.
Much to do, all of it real good, and not much Sharky happening out there.

Except for this timely post by David.
I'm not, and never will be a member, or whatever, of any of those Shark lists and once again, David's post amply illustrates why.
Really, what is there to discuss and get so incensed about?

Fishing for Sharks sucks, period.
As a Shark lover, I fervently wish that nobody would do that.
I also fervently wish that everybody could live in harmony and that there were no wars.
Did anybody say tough luck ?

And what about a global fishing ban for Sharks?
Read my lips: it ain't gonna happen - incidentally, as with all global fishing bans!
This is the real world where every day, millions of hooks are baited for Sharks in order to aliment the global Shark fin trade. As conservationists, we can continue to totally waste our energies trying to enact a total global ban - or we can pursue smarter strategies and advocate sustainability that will preserve those fishing jobs and revenues forever, or in the case of Shark fishing, fight for finning bans that eliminate a profoundly unethical harvesting technique and ensure that at least all the protein of those Sharks is being utilized.
And yes, as David correctly points out, Shark researchers can, and should take advantage of the existing commercial Shark fisheries to gather valuable data. Case in point, these fantastic insights into the life cycle of Porbeagles garnered by Steven Campana, for which he cooperated closely with the Canadian Shark fishermen - but I stand by this comment: like in the case of lethal sampling, actively advocating commercial fishing just for the sake of research, let alone publicly bemoan conservation successes is totally unacceptable!
Remember Mark Harding?

...the fact that a scientist supposedly promoting their conservation is damning that decision is somewhat concerning. Science provides valuable tools with which to carve out a conservation arguement, but, in some cases, science can go too far. Tag the last remaining specimen, harry it, disturb it, infiltrate its life so that it will not breed, so that it does become the last one on earth?
If there were ten dodos left alive, would we be better off studying them, watching them die, or putting a fence 30 miles around them and letting them get on with it, in the hope that they would breed?

And then, there's the game fishermen.
They number tens, if not hundreds of thousands and they are passionate, often financially well endowed and extremely well organized - trust me, not people we want to pick a fight with! I happen to be one of them but I just happen to believe that in terms of sportsmanship, fishing for Sharks sucks.

But others beg to differ as they want to catch large trophy fishes.
In the past, they would land the Shark, get the obligated trophy pictures and either cut out the jaws and throw away the carcass, or donate the contaminated meat to some food bank or the like, or have the Shark mounted. Now, they are being offered the alternative of catch & release and in a few particularly forward looking excellent tournaments, they are being invited to co-operate closely with reputable Shark researchers. That's exactly in line with what has previously happened with Billfishes where practically all game fishing is now catch, tag& release, and I cannot but strongly applaud and fully support these recent developments.

As to whether this harms the Sharks?
No, one does NOT need peer reviewed science to answer this: catch & release is certainly inferior to not fishing - or is anybody seriously disputing this? Many of our Bulls feature fishing hooks and a few now feature permanent disfigurements, like that Tiger in the above picture by Wolfgang, or even our iconic Scarface. Those disfigured Sharks will be at a disadvantage when catching prey - I know because those individuals are regularly incapable of properly grabbing the bait. Not nice by any stretch of the imagination and as a minimum, the fight those Sharks had to endure has unnecessarily expended energy, which is certainly reducing their fitness, at least temporarily - and as a maximum and depending on species, a few to many of the hooked Sharks will eventually die.

But again, this is about finding solutions in the real world, not about pursuing utopian visions.
I will never cease to repeat this: we must be ready to compromise. Catch & release is the pragmatic compromise between no fishing, and fishing to kill. As in every good compromise, both sides will not be perfectly happy - but like in all conservation initiatives, it is the only realistic way forward.

So, again, David thank you for your timely post.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

BAD Videos - a Stroll down Memory Lane!

Great pic by Michael - click for detail.

Thank you Schoener Tauchen!

Should you be living in German speaking Europe, this is your dive travel operator of choice.
Big boss Uwe belongs to the who's who of the German dive community and their Swiss outlet is where I booked my one year diving sabbatical in 2001 - and I can attest to the utmost professionalism of the team under boss Robi Frommenwiler and charming office boss Marta. Incidentally, Robi happens to be the brother of Edi, together with Max Ammer the undisputed pioneer of diving in Raja Ampat and Misool, and owner (and builder!) of the legendary Pindito that spawned a whole generation of penisi liveaboards.
Still going strong and still unmatched!

Anyway, they obviously feature BAD in their repertoire.
And more than that, they have recently posted a whole array of videos about The Fiji Shark Dive. To anybody knowing us, it's a whole trip down memory lane, with images of much younger Rusi and Papa, and even of David and Mini! And of course a much smaller and less shredded Scarface - compare the mouth and first dorsal fin!
Glorious times!

Here they are - enjoy!

Our first professional marketing video approx 2005 with voice over and editing by Imraz of Niuwave Media.

Typical unprofessionally filmed and edited customer videos by our staff, approx 2007

Edit for DEMA 2010, again by Imraz and featuring the ravishing Mindy

Is this cool or what!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mangroves for Fiji - One Hundred Thousand!

Mangroves for Fiji continues to grow - literally!

We've just inspected and paid for the carbon credits of another three hectares, bringing the total up to 10, or 100,000 Mangrove trees.

Our Sivo handing over the first installment of FJD 500 - another 500 will be paid in six months

And we hear about more sites that have been completed plus several others that are being worked on!

Anania Waqalevu will use the money to pay the school fees for his children

Still a ways to go before we're completely carbon neutral - but getting there!

Older Mangroves from the first pilot project in Galoa