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.


The Sharkman said...

Thanks for shedding more light on this sad event. I guess, just like there will always be Vic Hislop believers, there will also be Erich's clan.

And then, there will always be those like us that keep showing the TRUTH!!

Chanel said...

Is it possible he was somewhat funding Fish N' Fins? He comes as a celebrity so he might have had protection from his money. Or, contracts that wouldn't allow him to answer questions such as those? (which he should have been asked a long time ago?) Agreements before hand? Either way he has to be stopped somehow... Congratulations to Douglas for standing up!
Are these people blind? It is so sad that the cannot see the media circus behind this man. He will be the end of funding credible research for people who actually care and love these creatures.

DaShark said...

Chanel - I would have to agree.

No idea what possessed Fish 'n Fins.

But Ritter's Sharkschool is a purveyor of group bookings, see and thus this may have been a commercial decision.

Who knows and frankly, who cares.