Thursday, March 31, 2011

With a very heavy Heart!

This is a terribly difficult post to write.

But the story needs to be told.
At stake, my personal friendship with some good people who I until now considered to be highly intelligent, honest and ethically irreproachable, for which they had earned my utmost respect; but equally at stake, the credibility of a prominent Shark diving operator with a substantial involvement in Shark conservation, and of the agencies funding that effort.

But first, let me try and put things into perspective.
Watch this.

Yes, I've posted it before.
This is the message of Dr. Erich Ritter distilled to its bare essentials, a collection of moronic platitudes, idiotic truisms and bunk science: pure snake oil!
Patric hits the nail on the head when he claims that these PSAs are factually incorrect, moronic in their simplistic assumptions, and dangerous in their conclusions.

But I fear that we may again be totally wasting our time.
Sadly and after years of trying to set the record straight, Ritter continues to enjoy a loyal following, principally from German speaking Europe where some circles continues to regard him as a messianic visionary. I call that movement Sharkitarianism and if you want to perceive the extent of blind adulation he commands, look no further than the incoherent ramblings of his devotee Pascal Gospodinov in the comments section of this post.

Not so elsewhere.
Despite having long attained pariah status in the established Shark research community, Ritter did enjoy an equally remarkable popularity in the USA and the UK, this largely due to his legendary eagerness to bloviate and showcase himself on numerous television productions. Incidentally, and yes I'm digressing, that has not changed: from Sharkwater to Shark Con (proof that Darwin's Theory is flawed ??? Gotta love the man!!!) all the way to Red Sea Jaws and the brand new Sharkwise, Ritter and Sharkitarianism continue to spread like cancer.

All that did however come to a screeching halt when his harebrained theories were debunked by a Bull Shark in a predatory attack in 2002 that nearly cost Ritter his life.
This is that attack.

The aftermath counts as one of the saddest chapters in the history of Shark conservation.
It completely discredited the perceived conservationist and scientist Ritter and by association, it did untold damage to Sharks, Shark research, the Shark diving industry and the Shark conservation movement.

The principal perpetrator: Ritter himself.
He rescinded his word never to allow the publication of the footage and partook in what remains to this day one of the most ignominious examples of Shark porn ever produced, a Discovery program called Anatomy of a Shark Bite that was aired during Shark Week 2003. He then repeated his feat in a subsequent equally catastrophic Discovery shoot, Bull Shark: World's Deadliest Shark (=great, visionary conservation messaging!) that gave Discovery yet another excuse for airing the gory scene. The attack sequence remains a staple of the Shark Week page and until this day, it is being used to advance anti industry agendas, and to forever heap scorn on anybody trying to intercede on behalf of Sharks.
After all, if the the only professional applied shark-human interaction specialist could get bitten, what hope was there for the rest of humankind!

The Shark researchers and the Shark conservationists have not forgotten this, nor have they forgotten the vitriolic personal diatribes that ensued after the airing of the Discovery programs.

This is an excerpt from a simply brilliant article that was published after the airing of the second Discovery show.
And I quote.

And what became of the great Yogic Heartbeat Theory? How I miss that!
I also liked how Nigel pointed out that the massive strong powerful shark knocked Erich off balance when it bit. In fact you can see Erich flailing around helplessly as clear as day. But in Anatomy of a Shark Bite Erich tells us what has to be the most idiotic explanation in the history of western thought ever uttered by a supposed scientist. He tells us that when he was bitten he lifted his leg so that he would get the bull shark's head out of the water, its gills would clamp shut and it would have to let go. Of course this baloney is just another attempt by Erich to make him seem like Shark Superhero.

Now we are given two reasons why Ritter got bitten

- "We (note the subtle diffusion of blame...) allowed the shark to come in too close." Excuse me Erich but YOU have been allowing sharks to come in too close over and over again. Not "We". It is what you did whenever you had an audience or film camera pointed at you. And your luck ran out.

- Erich admits that there are food particles in the water wafting around his tasty-looking legs and "sooner or later the shark wants to know what these people are." This is the staggering discovery that Erich presents us with: if you stand among hungry, macro-predatory, chummed-in sharks that are searching for food, sooner or later you will be bitten.

But excuse me Erich: 99.999999999999999% of the planet knew that anyway!

Of interest, Ritter has since once again changed his interpretation of what happened: check out this remarkable interview on Swiss Television - pure genius!

There you have it, this is the context.
Which may help you to better understand what follows.

It has led to this recent post, written by real researchers with no connection to Sharks! Simply hilarious, and didn't I tell you that you were in for a treat - Bangladesh Post Office indeed! :)
It is alas also the context for the following message.

Not All Quiet on the Palauan Front Or; Let Your Principles Be Your Guide

Tonight, 22 March 2011, on the island of Palau, during a presentation at “Shark Week” hosted by Fish N Fins, an unpleasant scene was played out before the participants of the evening lectures.

During the Question and Answer session after 60 minutes of Erich Ritter giving an entertaining presentation entitled: “Shark-Human Interaction as a Tool for Conservation”, Douglas Seifert, World Editor of DIVE Magazine in the UK and a fellow Guest of Honor/Presenter at “Shark Week”, asked a question of Erich Ritter regarding his denouncement of sensationalist “Shark Attack” titled publications in his power point presentation when “he was responsible for the most inflammatory reaction against sharks since the movie Jaws with his own “Anatomy of a Shark Attack” documentary for Discovery Channel” and further challenged Erich Ritter’s qualifications as a “real scientist” by failure to use the scientific method of replicability in his ‘experiments’ or submit to peer review at scientific conferences or in scientific publications.

After portraying Ritter as “not a real scientist” and as a ......, Mr. Seifert further offered to have a forum the following evening where the science and statements behind Ritter’s presentations could be debated.

The question was not answered, the challenge to a debate was not addressed and Mr. Seifert was rightfully asked to leave the venue out of politeness to the speaker.

Mr. Seifert heartily apologizes to his hosts, Tova Harel and Navot Bornovsky of Fish N Fins, their wonderful family and staff, Francis Toribiong, creator Fish N Fins and the paying participants of “Palau Shark Week” for demonstrating such poor manners as confronting a fellow presenter and challenging him in front of the entire audience at a gathering for the appreciation of sharks.

Mr. Seifert will not apologize to Erich Ritter until there is a fair and open forum where a discussion of Ritter’s pronouncements and theories given during the presentation are addressed and discussed including Ritter’s statements claimed to be scientific put to the methods of science, real science.

Douglas David SEIFERT

I understand that Douglas has been declared persona non grata at Fish 'n Fins.
I post this after hearing that he has left Palau and that he is presently spending quality time with mutual friends in Raja Ampat.

What more can I say about Ritter after this.
Maybe, that he just won't go away and that he remains as toxic as ever!

When it comes to Douglas' intervention, Chapeau!
It takes an extraordinary person to do what he has done: to stand up, all alone and amid a throng of hostile Sharkitarians and at risk of embarrassing the hosts who are long term friends, and this with the sole aim of defending the truth and one's principles. With all of my imposing size and arrogant self assurance, I am not at all sure that I would have had the same courage!
But this is Doug: where so many of his peers will say and write anything in exchange for an invitation to a tropical destination and diving dog&pony show, Douglas is beholden to nobody and nothing but his own beliefs and professional and personal integrity.
Brother, I am deeply impressed - and you know what that takes!

And what about Fish 'n Fins?
I must say, I was speechless. I am also deeply saddened.
To me, Tova and Navot were the epitome of Mensch - highly intelligent, always witty, profoundly human. Their love and knowledge of the Ocean knows no bounds. And let's not forget their legendary hospitality featuring Tovas equally legendary home cooked meals - epic stuff!
And now this colossal error both in judgement and ethics- to just throw a close long term friend under of the bus!

But above all, there's this.
Tova and Navot have founded the Micronesian Shark Foundation Palau that is being funded, among others, by the SOSF , to the point that Tova is being prominently showcased in a PSA about their research projects.

Check it out: Tova at 4:10 - and Alison at 0:31, Lesley at 0:22, Mahmood at 3:12, Andrea at 1:02 and Juerg at 0:51!
Just beautiful!

In Awe of the Shark from Save Our Seas Foundation on Vimeo.
But the question for me now is, does Tova still deserve to be featured in that lineup.
How does the image of Fish 'n Fins, the image of the MSFP and ultimately, the image of the donors dovetail with the fact that Tova and Navot
  • found it fit to grant a public forum and thus promote the highly controversial and utterly absurd propositions of Erich Ritter
  • denied and suppressed the reasonable request for a science-based debate
  • ostracized the critic
I say, you got to walk the talk.
There has to be a moment of accountability after a failure of such proportions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thresher Sharks at Cleaning Station!

Amazing pic by Jean-Mariel Ghislain of Shark Revolution!

Wonderful footage!
It is from the Monad Shoal off Malapascua and depicts Pelagic Threshers being cleaned by two species of Cleaner Wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus and Thalassoma lunare.
This behavior is the topic of the research by the good people of The Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project who have recently published their findings in this open source paper. Good stuff and very nice presentation, too - click on the various figures in light blue, or check out the entire layout here!
Should you not have the time to read it in its entirety, consult the nice recaps by the BBC and by Richard.


The following footage is equally amazing.
It shows Threshers hunting small Fishes and trying to swat and stun them with their tail - e.g. at 1:27!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Stellar pic by Michael Patrick O'Neill - click to read caption.

Those I believe are Jacks - but great video!
Nice post about shoaling and schooling here - hat tip: Blogfish.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Junior - have I been set up?

We got ourselves a debate!

I must commend Michael Domeier.
After those pictures were published, he did not try and dodge the issue but instead, he has vigorously addressed the various controversies on the website of Marine CSI. It is a toothy piece and I like it. As expected, much of what he writes touches on ethical issues and whereas I agree with some and do not at all agree with some other statements, that is not the topic of this post.

The topic is this.

Recently, another research group working at the Farallones has released images of Junior from the fall of 2010.
These images have been posted on the internet to incite negative publicity about our white shark research. The images clearly show a rather nasty wound on the corner of Junior’s mouth, but what is not explained is that when the entire video is viewed it can be determined that this injury was clearly inflicted by another white shark; it is not a result of the capture and release during tagging.

Very interesting!
My first thought is has somebody tried to set me up? - which in view of the legendary internecine fights in the GW research community is certainly a plausible (and in this specific case, eminently testable!) hypothesis!

Over to the injury.
Prima vista, I remain unconvinced. Those bites by other Sharks are generally "clean" and as Domeier confirms, they heal amazingly fast, this very much in line with what we see on our Bulls here in Fiji; the pictures of Junior however appear to depict a festering inflammation that looks very different. But then again, they are rather fuzzy video grabs and it is entirely possible that they are misleading.

How about some verification then.
Domeier asserts rather confidently that if one watches the entire video, it becomes apparent that Junior's injury is due to a Shark bite. With that in mind, I believe that at this stage, it is incumbent upon the other group to produce that video for independent verification. Either the wound has been clearly inflicted by another white shark, or it has not.
Yes or No - easy!
  • will that video be made available?
  • who will analyze it?
  • what will be the results?
Questions, questions...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mega Jaws: it is Pop!

Yap's Dakuwaqa - apparently, a fusion of Bull Shark and Megalodon, with a double lateral line!

Well, what can I say.
After much begging and cajoling, I finally got my Mega Jaws DVD - and somebody has even posted it to YouTube!
I must attest to the good people over at Yap that they have put together a rather entertaining piece without falling into the usual toothy traps like I had feared. I am relieved - but I must also confess that I'm equally speechless!
But as they say, de gustibus!

Should you be equally disoriented: story here!
And: no Gnathodynanometers - especially not from Oklahoma!

Enjoy (?)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GW Biology - totally fascinating!

One of the best GW ever, by Terry Goss (yes this is a link!)

Found the following by pure happenstance.

Very informative and at the same time, very entertaining indeed!
Keeping it Green is a program by Debbie Klughers who just won a scholarship by the Women's Hall of Fame. The lecturer is Dr. Demian Chapman, according to my sources one of the good guys - as evidenced by the fact that he has obviously worked with Doc, Mahmood and Mrs Pikitch. And may G.H. Harvey be the Guy, and may the paper be related to Guy's work in Cayman?

Anyway, enjoy!
AND: check out the third video, 10:15 - that was in November 2010, now we know more!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Grim News from Fiji!

A friend has just sent me a short message Mike, watch out buddy, great whites are out there too! and this link. It is an interesting piece about Grim, a GW that was tagged off Stewart Island last year.

Looks like Grim did pay himself a vacation to Fiji!
As Ozzie Sam did comment about it when I posted about GWs in Fiji last December, Grim went all the way to the Mamanucas and back - and of all places, he obviously decided to take up temporary residence in a lagoon near Plantation Island Resort on Malolo LaiLai! That would be one of the country's most populated family and honeymoon vacation spots!

The channel between the two main islands would be Bligh Water between the islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
It is named after Capt'n Bligh who negotiated it unharmed (and likely, in a great hurry and with bated breath!) on his epic voyage to Timor and is part of the famous Nai'a Triangle!

Enough said! :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thank you Stacy!

I must say, I'm beholden to Stacy Jupiter.
Stacy runs the Fijian chapter of the WCS and has been diving with us last week, together with renown underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen.

People who know me know about my reservations against most NGOs.
I'm a retired people- and project manager and as such, I consider many of them to be too agenda- (as opposed to result-) driven and neither like their pervasive political correctness nor their stifling bureaucracy.
But having said that, WCS Fiji is one of those local NGOs who did support the 2009 Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project, this largely owing to Stacy's personal commitment, and it is thus very much in my good books. On top of that, WCS Fiji remains a key supporter of the Namena Marine Reserve where they have teamed up with with the excellent people of CORAL to preserve some of Fiji's healthiest reefs and best dive sites. Like our SRMR, this project involves the dive industry, foremost the liveaboards like the iconic Nai'a who compensate local communities for not fishing, and is thus yet again a perfect example for long term conservation through sustainable ecotourism.

Keith by the way has been a true pleasure to host.
He is very much a niche player who has done important work for big marine NGOs (click on About me) and matches profound knowledge and skills with refreshing humility - for those in the know, very much Doug Perrine.

But I'm digressing as usual.
Stacy has posted this very kind report on the New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog. Great wording and great pics - tho I just happen to know that those pics are from the first two days of diving, and that Keith's last day with us has yielded more, and way more spectacular results!
Keep watching this space!

And yes: I am indeed adamant about the need for enforcement and capacity building! :)

Vinaka Stacy, much appreciated!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bruce/Zapata - Evidence please!

Please click for detail.

I've done some digging.
Lawrence's Blog always features stellar pictures of GWs and that's where I found the picture of Zapata I posted yesterday. I also found this about another Shark.

However Jacque apparently had the misfortune of encountering the "Expedition Great White" (EGW) (that would be again Domeier) crew last winter and is now sporting a heavy SPOT tag on his dorsal fin.
Poor Jacque already has had multiple PAT tags over the years and has a great deal of marine growth on the leaders left behind from those tags. I think that is a crime to put these incredible animals through this time and time again in the name of research. How many times do these same animals need to be tagged??? We also noticed that Jacque has suffered an injury to his left eye. I can't help but suspect that it most probably occurred when he was Hooked, towed for miles, and "After His Will was Broken" lifted out of the water by the EGW crew and 4 holes drilled and had the SPOT tag bolted on.
WTF!! Poor Jacque......

So true!
The Gws of Guadalupe are very likely as much under threat as those in California and if this excellent post by Patric is correct, and I very much fear it is, the population is not only not increasing but may even be in decline. This is once again a marine reserve and what has happened there, see above, is equally reprehensible.

Turns out that Zapata is also called Bruce.
This is a page about several of Guadalupe's GWs and if you click on the links for Bruce, you can see the distinctive diagnostic markings he features on his left and right hand sides. Lawrence has posted some great hi-res pictures of this Shark here and I've taken the liberty to crop one and post it on top.

Does that look like a normal first dorsal fin to you?
Compare it to the shocking pictures of Junior: may we be seeing the same pattern of deformation and if so, may this yet again be evidence of the fact that those SPOT tags need fixing? I'm frankly not sure but at least in theory, finding the answer will be easy as all we would have to do is compare it to similar pictures of this Shark before it was tagged, i.e. taken during the 2007, 2008 and/or 2009 seasons.

Here's where you come in!
With Lupe being the global hotspot for GW photography, does anybody have a picture of this specific Shark from those years, ideally showing the shape of its first dorsal fin?
Should you dispose of any such evidence, please e-mail it to the shop, ie Yes I know, finding that picture may be tedious - but it would be for a good cause and if it confirms my suspicions, it will hopefully help prevent more such injuries to these endangered animals. And if does not confirm them, we can all be relieved that this is not a systemic problem.

Thank you!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fix those bloody Tags!

About those SPOT tags.
This is gonna be quick&dirty - but I want to quickly follow up on yesterday's comments.

From Neil's paper about satellite tags.
Read it - it is thankfully open resource for which Neil has to be commended.

SPOT tags are usually mounted to shark fins using biocompatible materials.
The attachment process includes punching or drilling holes through the dorsal fin tissue, where after the tag is affixed using bolts or pins, and finally secured with nuts made of a corrodible material.

This design theoretically allows the tag to shed after battery exhaustion.
However, tissue degradation and infection due to a foreign body response may result. To our knowledge, there are no published reports of this condition on the dorsal fins of satellite tagged sharks, however this pattern of fin damage from tagging has been described in other predatory marine animals such as dolphins (Balmer et al., 2010).

Once deployed, the actual satellite tag becomes an extension to the shark's body.
The most obvious behavioral consequence of tagging is a change in swimming efficiency due to hydrodynamic drag incurred by the tag. Transmitters have been linked with abnormal swimming behavior and increased energetic demands in dolphins (e.g. Irvine et al., 1982) and marine birds (e.g. Wilson et al., 1986; Wilson and McMahon, 2006). Various studies have examined possible effects of electronic tags or data loggers on the swimming efficiency of sharks, but results have been variable (Holland et al., 1993; Heithaus et al., 2007; Gleiss et al., 2009).

Another factor rarely considered is satellite tag color and how this may impact shark behavior (Wilson and McMahon, 2006).
It is well documented that white sharks rely on stealth and ambush to successfully capture and subjugate seal prey (Martin et al., 2005; Hammerschlag et al., 2006). A vigilant seal may be cued into the presence of a white shark prior to an imminent attack by detecting a colored satellite tag, resulting in predator avoidance. We have been able to consistently distinguish colored electronic tags on approaching white sharks below the surface, before visualizing the actual shark (Authors, unpublished data).
Brightly colored tags should be avoided due to their potential to alter predator–prey relationships (Hawkins, 2004).

No I'm not gonna repeat myself.
Long story short: those tags suck! Long story: re-read this - and keep in mind that I wrote it before seeing yesterday's shocking pictures! Now that there ARE published reports of this condition on the dorsal fins of satellite tagged sharks, pretending that there isn't a problem will not fly anymore!

To Neil's credit, he is trying his best.
This post documents the extreme care he applies when mounting the tags, clearly in the attempt to minimize those negative effects. Plus, his Hammerhead paper elaborates as follows

To limit bio-fouling of the tag, the transmitter was coated with Propspeed, a non-toxic, nonmetallic, anti-fouling agent comprised of several different types of silicone resins that inhibit attachment of marine growth (Hammerschlag et al. 2010).

The coated SPOT tag was attached to the first dorsal fin of the shark (following Weng et al. 2005) using titanium bolts, neoprene washers, steel washers, and high carbon steel nuts following Hanson (2001).
The attachment metals were selected to ensure that the steel nuts would corrode, resulting not only in tag detachment (Hanson 2001), but also to prevent any metallic corrosion from touching the shark fin (Hammerschlag et al. 2010).

I say bravo, but this may not be good enough anymore!
Now there is new and plausible evidence that those tags may lead to deformities and until this is being dispelled, any further deployment ought to be halted. There are now plenty of Sharks out there lugging around SPOT tags and it is now incumbent on the researchers to make the effort to go and see how those Sharks are faring.
And if they are not faring well - suspend the research and FIX THE GIZMO!

Incidentally, how about this Shark from Lupe.
Apparently, he was equally tagged by Domeier. I already posted the picture here but did not catch on to it til now: does that first dorsal fin look normal to you?

Like lethal sampling, this has now become an ethical, not a technical debate.
David: hint hint!

And yes as announced: this sure aint a contender for a Pulitzer - apologies!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is this Domeier's Great White?

Like obviously Patric, I got these pics in an e-mail message.
The message purports that it is this Shark.

From the message
The shark is emaciated, with a brutally damaged jaw that will no longer close.
The shark has a tumor-like lesion where it had been man-handled by the team and it appears as if the shark can no longer feed as it is only a fraction of its original size. The shark’s dorsal fin still has the researcher’s tag in place, but unlike the original description, which claimed that the tags would last for 6 years, the ta
g is fully overgrown with algae and the fin has already begun to deform.

Since the latest information suggests that there are less than 300 individuals in this area, I am very upset over the lack of oversight these researchers have when working with these magnificent creatures. If we can’t protect these sharks inside of a sanctuary, then we are no better than the commercial interests that we routinely blame for the shark decline.

The message continues, I was made aware that Maria Brown the Superintendent of the Farallones (a minor dental procedure - right?) saw these same images months ago and has been sitting on them.

I have no way of verifying any of this - but somebody got some xplaining to do!
How about comparing the sightings to Domeier's tracks. If they don't match, then a grave suspicion can be assuaged - if they do, this has to be stopped at once.

To be continued!

PS: Answers here!

PPS - as of December, 2013, it has been revealed that the trolling Sean van Sommeran is one of the perpetrators of this scam. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Epic Scoop!

From Eli's blog, March 9!

I am pretty excited about a last minute story I was able to include in this issue, which is a story about a longfin mako encounter!
Yes thats right, you heard me, the elusive and hard to find dream shark has finally been photographed. And the crazy thing is that this was a natural encounter, not a chummed experience, which makes the encounter ever sweeter. My excitement is being able to publish these images which are the first ever of a free swimming longfin in the world. It just does not get any better than that, except a free swimming megamouth shark coming in to say hello???

"Pretty" excited???
Hombre, u just got yer hands on the holy grail of all Sharky holy grails, the mysterious, never photographed and never filmed cousin of the Great White Shark - and totally unexpected and in totally un-baited conditions!
How cool is that!

I've seen one picture and it is just AMAZING!
So, if you are a Shark aficionado, you just MUST get yerself a copy of the new Shark Diver Magazine - seriously, politics or no politics!
Just do it, OK?

Our Website

Somebody likes our website!

Having been hacked several times now, we're going to take it down and re-post it to a different server. This may take some time and we apologize for any inconvenience.
The URL will remain unchanged.


Monday, March 14, 2011

More Shenanigans by the GTs!

We got ourselves a thief!

As you know we collect discarded Bull Shark teeth.
We had high hopes that they would shed light on the Sharks' exposure to fresh water but the results have been inconclusive and we've abandoned collecting them for science, the more as we continue to collect proper tissue samples for Mahmood's DNA forensics. Still, the Shark teeth remain a very hot commodity among our staff who hand them to selected customers, a rather clever strategy that may possibly translate into better tips but above all, into radiant smiles from the grateful pretty tahines.

Thing is, as of recent, the teeth supply has been disappointing.
Having suspected some kind of thievery, we've decided to install video surveillance - and BINGO : we've been finally able to capture the perpetrator in flagrante - yes it's none other than the murderer of those poor Sharksuckers, or possibly one of his equally sleazy cousins!
Check it out - click for detail.

TOTALLY busted!

A friend, incidentally one of the above mentioned tooth-owning tahines writes Why they would eat a shark tooth? Can they digest the tooth? The tooth is really sharp as well, I was playing with one and I still have the cut on my finger. Does it not cut the trevally's intestines?
Yes it probably will, especially one of those upper serrated teeth as the one depicted!
Talk about instant retribution!

Serves them right for f... with the BAD boys!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wallpaper Bulls - more and more!

Sharky last week!
Sasha in January!
Yesterday's dive!

The challenge is still on!

Our newest (and so far unwitting) contender: Tatiana aka Sharky!
A formidable lady in more than one way, she was here last week and has already posted some remarkable images, along with a very flattering review. Thank you!

And, it will get better!
We're currently averaging (meaning that we're sometimes seeing more!) 40+ big Bulls and the good news is that we don't know half of them - meaning that on top of the current 111 named Bulls, there's a continued influx of new ones.
I stand by one hundred in June!

So, what are you waiting for!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Howly Shit!

And I mean it!

Is this really how they do it?
Looks painful!

Hat tip: Underwater Thrills.

Weekend Rant!

Time for a rant!

From a message by a friend

Agree that there is much breathy hyperbole and blatant nonsense written about sharks and conservation, but I suppose that this is inevitable when concern is high but facts are few, with the most solid data residing in relatively inaccessible scientific papers.

Generally I take a sanguine or even charitable view toward the popular Jeremiads you have castigated since the goals of the authors are generally in concordance with mine, and these often painfully well-intentioned folks are far more able to communicate values effectively and educate a large audience than someone who uses words like sanguine or Jeremiad, no?
And education does seem to work in the long run.

Totally agree – BUT!
I’m getting terminally irritated that people who purport to be Shark conservationists and are perceived to represent the whole movement continue to make public statements containing ludicrous assertions and statistics.
This is not only not helpful - it directly undermines our efforts by allowing the other side to assert that we’re nothing but a bunch of lunatics who operate with false claims.
Is that what we want?

Yes it’s an old grievance of mine – but enough is enough.
So there.

But first, check out this piece of equine manure!
Very timely indeed – thank you!

Pure sharkitarian snake oil!

There are no Shark attacks?
Please re-read this!

When talking conservation, talking about “Sharks” is utterly useless!
The fact is that “Sharks” are neither threatened with extinction, nor are "they" apex predators – only a small minority of species are apex predators, let alone keystone species, and the species that are particularly at risk of extinction are several large predatory Sharks, many of which are pelagic; possibly some deep water Sharks; and maybe Whale Sharks – full stop!
Other species are doing no better and no worse that any other Fish that is not subjected to exceptional fishing pressure – meaning not particularly great but not particularly catastrophically, either.
List here (search for "Sharks"), criteria here.

The numbers?
The numbers are just that, numbers.
If one does not put them into context by comparing them to what we know about individual species in specific locations, they say nothing about sustainability which is the only thing that counts.
Yes we all know without having to resort to peer reviewed science that many local, and possibly even some global populations of some Sharks have been severely depleted, and that their disappearance is of concern – but for the time being, that’s basically all we can assert.

So far, there has been one single paper trying to shed a light on the actual numbers being caught, and this only based on data from the Shark fin trade. Read it!
The paper is based on a series of (probably plausible) assumptions that are heaped upon more assumptions, and consequently, the results are merely expressed in orders of magnitude. Specifically, the authors come to the conclusion that the fins traded annually came from between 26 and 73 million Sharks, with a median number of 38 million.
Does that really allow us to honestly state that up to 73 million Sharks are being killed each year, as everybody and his dog has started to assert?
Kudos to Seafood Watch for doing it right: It's estimated that tens of millions of sharks are killed around the world each year for their fins is much better - but then again, have they been killed for their fins?

As I said, the above numbers are only about the global Shark fin trade alone.
They do not cover many other Shark fatalities due to bycatch or targeted food fisheries where the fins are not being introduced into the fin trade. Also, that was then and the trade has very likely increased since. It is thus entirely plausible to assume that the “real” number is higher, and it is perfectly OK to say so.
It is however totally unacceptable to make up numbers on the fly, be it as many as 100 million, let alone over 200,000 million (!!!) which is just plain ludicrous and quite frankly, a total disgrace! Yes, I'm being frank! :)
The good news is that I know that somebody is working on a peer reviewed paper about the global number of Shark being killed – but once again, unless put into context, those numbers will mean absolutely nothing!

And what about the Rate of Depletion?
Is it really true that 90% (or 99, or 70 – whatever!) of global Shark stocks have already been wiped out? Compared to which original baseline count, done when, where and by whom?
Where are the data?

And is it really true that Some marine biologist have suggested as soon as 2020 these magnificent creatures may be extinct – and if so, who is claiming such utter baloney?
Those endangered species of Sharks will become commercially extinct long, long before they will become biologically extinct! But there's a caveat: it is however probable that some local populations may have shrunk to the extent that they may have accumulated extinction debt and that they may be too small to be able to withstand the pressure of a large environmental shock, like the current anthropogenic Climate Change – re-read this post!

Shark Finning?
Shark finning does not equal catching Sharks. It is a specific, particularly wasteful and particularly cruel harvesting technique and for these reasons alone, it certainly needs to be stopped.
But is everybody aware that stopping the finning does not necessarily stop the fishing? The most widespread remedy against Shark finning is to legislate that the Sharks must be landed with their fins attached. This reduces the number of Sharks that are being killed as the carcasses take up a lot of space in the hold of the vessels – but as many examples show, Sharks are still being landed with their fins attached in what clearly appear to be unsustainable numbers.
Also, in many third world countries, local fishermen (and poachers!) have already wiped out many of the traditional food fisheries and as a consequence, many people have added Sharks to their menu, meaning that there is a substantial and increasing Shark food- , as opposed to Shark fin fisheries.
Thus, if we want to save Sharks stocks from overfishing, Stop Shark Finning! petitions alone are simply not adequate – we must also campaign for their protection!

Also, not every fin that is being sold has been finned!
Statements like over one hundred million sharks are caught and finned alive are thus doubly misleading!

Cascading Effects?
Yes there is a seminal paper by Myers et al. that essentially shows how the removal of large predatory coastal Sharks in the Northwest Atlantic led to the explosion of the population of Cownose Rays who in turn wiped out the Scallops, and the industry depending on them, in Chesapeake Bay. More details here.
Great paper – but it has one weakness: nobody was harvesting those Cownose Rays!

But in the real world, coastal Sharks are not being selectively removed alone.
Instead, fishermen target both the apex- and the mesopredators (and the prey), meaning that asserting that removing the big Sharks will inevitably lead to a population explosion of mesopredators (many of which are incidentally Sharks!) who in turn will wipe out the grazers which in turn will lead to an explosion of algae who in turn will smother the reefs can be totally wrong.
In a way, it is now us who have unwittingly assumed the role of apex predators and are keeping the lower trophic levels in check – see many terrestrial habitats where most apex predators have all but disappeared but where there has not at all been a total collapse of the system!
I’m not saying it is not so: I’m just saying that the empirical evidence is scarce and that once again, those effects will vary according to habitat and species composition.
See Ferretti et al. for more details!

As to the role of Sharks in their habitat and the widespread explanation that they weed out the sick and dying and thus keep the gene pool of their prey healthy, etc?
Certainly intuitively plausible: but to my knowledge, whereas there is plenty of research about the role of terrestrial predators, such effects have not been conclusively documented for Sharks – yet!

Which brings me straight over to Climate Change and Oxygen Production!
Check this out.

Did you hear that?
Who has come up with the glorious idea of linking Shark conservation to the Oceans’ production of oxygen?
Yes the Oceans provide for about half of the planet’s oxygen production through the photosynthesis by phytoplanktonic Algae and Cyanobacteria (but then again, probably not!). This (incidentally, to a very small extent), and the sea water’s capacity to dissolve CO2 make it that the Oceans are also Earth’s largest active carbon sink.
It is also certainly true that the Oceans have a great influence on the weather, and that millions of people depend on them for food.

But this got nothing to do with Sharks!
The principal threats to oceanic ecosystems are probably Climate Change, Acidification, Overfishing, Pollution and Habitat Degradation – not the fisheries for Sharks!
It is just not plausible and there is certainly no scientific evidence indicating that if one selectively removed all Sharks
- the oxygen production would cease due to the disappearance of phytoplankton
- the oceans would cease to be a carbon sink
- the weather would change
- fisheries would collapse and humankind would starve
or any other similar stupidities that happen to be en vogue among some Shark activists!

Shark Intelligence?
This very much smells like the newest up-and-coming Shark conservation fad.
Does the fact that some Sharks migrate and that they are capable of memorizing locations automatically mean that they are particularly intelligent? Why are some quarters asserting that it is so, when this is in no way being claimed by the authors of those migration papers?
Sorry Richard – I still think you rock! ;)

Are Monarchs particularly intelligent? Wildebeest?
What about Bees who are not only capable of finding and memorizing the location of a food source, but then also fly back to the hive and convey that information to the other bees – so effectively. that those other bees can find the food without being guided there by the finder?
Hell, that’s even smarter than what we know about the so much hyped Dolphins!

Frankly, I dunno.
My gut tells me that migration and spatial orientation are not good indicators for intelligence. Yes it is amazing behavior – but animals doing amazing things are more often than not simply well adapted to their ecological niche, and behavior that comes across as being remarkably clever is often hard wired and the result of evolutionary selection as opposed to volition.
Example? The amazing Anglerfish!
Perfectly camouflaged and provided with an ingenious lure, they are highly successful at ambushing their unsuspecting prey. Totally clever – and yet one of my ichthyological gurus assures me that they dispose of the lowest brain-to-body mass ratio of all Fishes!

Sharks BTW have a relatively high brain-to-body mass ratio, somewhere between Teleost Fishes and Mammals..
But although we all intuitively know what intelligence means conceptually, it is nevertheless difficult to define, especially in animals - and even more difficult to compare, see the Bees and the Dolphins!

When it comes to Sharks, the one person who knows most about the topic is probably Doc who has demonstrated remarkable learning and problem solving capacity in Lemons, very much in line with what we experience daily with our Bulls.
My gut feeling is that as always, different species will display different abilities, and that those predatory species with the widest trophic niches requiring the widest range of predatory strategies and thus the highest adaptive capabilities will be perceived as the most intelligent - but then again, a friend may be on to something when he remarks
Incidentally, since humans filled a generalist predator niche at one time before we graduated to planetary predator class, would we not inevitably tend to think that other generalist predators like sharks are particularly intelligent?
Yes, it's complicated!

Still, I fully agree with Wolfgang that Tiger Sharks come across as being way smarter than, say, Whale Sharks that I incidentally perceive as being particularly dumb - and who incidentally migrate like crazy!

But those are clearly personal perceptions, not objective data.
Whereas I’m convinced that all of our Bull Sharks have distinct personalities and that they develop affinities to specific persons, I also know that we humans have a fatal propensity for anthropomorphism, i.e. for attributing human faculties to animals.
So, yes, let’s love them like crazy – but let us not assert that our feelings are being equally reciprocated, or the like!
Yes Emma very much appears to love Jim (and there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Jim loves Emma!) – but she is very likely being bribed with massive amounts of juicy handouts and is just being the opportunistic feeder Tiger Sharks are!

Having said that, there appears to be clear evidence that the behavior of some Sharks goes well beyond that of mere automatons that are solely driven by genetic programming.
In fact and going back to, say, Tigers and Bulls, aren’t high flexibility and adaptive capability precisely what we would expect evolution to select for in a generalist predator – meaning that some of what we perceive as being intelligent behavior may be genetically encoded, but that there must also be scope for individual decision making, individual learning, individual preferences, individual personality, etc. which may indeed be good indicators for intelligence.
Again, I don’t know - but precisely because of that, I would never proffer any strong statements one way or the other!

Long story short?
If we want to be credible Shark advocates, we got to do our homework and first of all, be informed about the animals we love!
Science is always in flux and today’s insights may quickly become tomorrow’s fallacies, meaning that we must keep abreast of the latest research results and not base our knowledge on old publications and approximate hearsay.
Most importantly, we the amateur naturalists should never make up things on the fly, nor should we idly re-interpret what is considered to be the accepted consensus.

This does not mean that we should not challenge the current status quo, as that is precisely the process by which knowledge is being advanced!
BUT: the only accepted technique for doing so is the Scientific Method and as always, let me warn against the siren calls and intellectual shortcuts of the self promoters, quacks and charlatans - see on top!

All researchers I’ve ever met have always been eager to engage in informed discussions and to entertain different hypotheses, if adequately supported by according observations.
Those researchers are neither omniscient nor omnipresent and often, observations by common mortals like us have greatly contributed to the advancement of scientific insights - so even if you have no academic background, don’t be shy and speak up!
But do your home work first!

Or, as I said before .

Can we maybe just be a little more humble and less righteous, the more since Conservation is so complicated?
Maybe progress towards more facts and less truthiness (read this!)?
Can we maybe just open our eyes and wonder at the magnificence of what IS instead of trying to make things up?

We are the amateurs.
Can we please listen to what the professionals are telling us – the principal message being that extreme positions (on both sides!) are inhibiting Conservation and appropriate Management measures?
Recent example? Right here – like it or not, the man has a point!

If we want to educate others – let’s educate ourselves first!

And here endeth the weekend rant!

PS Patric's take: WOW!!!

Pacific Tsunami

Click on picture - you can note the yellow shading in the SE of Fiji

Thank you for your messages.
Government has issued a tsunami warning for other parts of Fiji, but not for us here in Pacific Harbour which is in the South-East of the main island.
The waves have passed and we are doing well.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Guam - done!

The Governor of Guam has signed the legislation into law!

Thank you Timbo for the heads up!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


From today's Shark diving footage.
In case you didn't know it: Giant Trevally are very much awesome predators in their own right that will jump at any opportunity - which is why all of our clients have to wear dark gloves lest the ever greedy Fish will nail their hands!
As Wikipedia tells us, the species has some quite novel hunting strategies including following monk seals and stealing prey that is stirred up, as well as using sharks to ambush prey - q.e.d.!!!
Is this cool, or what!!!

Click for detail.