Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don't be an IDIOT!


Thank you Patric for having made this public.
I must say, I am speechless.

PS after an international outcry, the video embedding and ratings have been disabled: you can still watch it here.
PS more comments by the Shark Defenders here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

David - great News!

Remember David, the man with a dream?

We've of course very much remained in touch.
Thing is, I don't want to jinx things by talking about stuff that may, or may not eventuate and have thus refrained from blogging about his trials and tribulations but instead waited for events to unfold at their own pace.

Well, I was impressed then and am totally blown away now!
We just had a conversation and he has shared some of his upcoming plans - and things are looking much more than just "good", they are looking stellar! This is happening to a dude who decided to take a massive gamble and relinquish his job in order to follow his childhood dream and devote his life to Sharks, and who kept persevering all the way to the point where he ended up being homeless and borderline destitute!
Talk about walking the talk and being totally fearless and totally committed!

Anyway, it's not for me to break the news.
I know that he is planning to reveal some of it soon, and I can only urge you to keep an eye on his blog and on his Facebook page.

Congrats buddy - nobody deserves it more than you!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Undercurrent on Shark Feeding!

Yes we feed Sharks - Terry-fic pic by Terry Goss!

Gotta hand it to the folks at Undercurrent.
Starting with the idiotic title, they have managed to post the by far most preposterous piece of utterly stupid anti Shark feeding shit published by a dive magazine, ever.

WTF has happened?
What has possessed Ms Richardson to provide a platform for the ramblings of the anti industry zealots instead of trying to remain impartial like in the past? Tell you what happened: she clearly doesn't have the slightest clue about Shark behavior (poor innocent Cristina's Caribbean Reefs are not solitary but gregarious) or the Shark diving industry and its protocols, and is obviously increasingly believing and parroting what the clowns she is interviewing are feeding her.

Case in point, Ralph Collier.
No Vanessa, Ralph is neither a researcher, nor a scientist.
He is the prototype of what the Swiss call a Sesselfurzer, as in "someone who farts from a couch", very much reminding me of the Shark-hating voyeuristic parasite. His claim to fame is to head his Shark Research Committee (are there any other members?) whose only research consists in recording GW attacks on the Pacific coast of the US and publishing the statistics in a series of forgettable amateur publications. Like Ritter with whom he shares an affiliation, or whatever, to the SRI and the GSAF, he is the ultimate Shark pornographer who professes to be furthering Shark conservation but then ultimately reduces Sharks and their life history to one single aspect, that of Shark/human interactions, meaning Shark attacks.
Having been elevated to rank of "Shark expert" by the misguided invitation of the Egyptian authorities, he is now obviously basking in the limelight and being invited to run his mouth on topics about which he obviously doesn't have the slightest shred of knowledge, let alone expert competence.

What Collier spouts is not new.
It's basically a textual rehash of his interview on the atrocious Red Sea Jaws where he asserts that feeding Sharks will lead to attacks on innocent bystanders. The "proof": one single video showing divers hand feeding one single OWT with Fish stored in a fanny pack - which according to Collier has led that Shark to subsequently attack the hands and buttocks of two victims, leading the great researching scientist to derive a general rule pertaining to all Sharks in the Red Sea!
Howz that for taking intellectual and methodical shortcuts!

So we're looking at a shark habituated to human beings for getting food, and humans had taught the shark where the food was. And this occurred frequently in the Red Sea. With overfishing in the area, sharks have to come up to the reef area to feed, and now associate food with the human form. It's very much like training your family dog. When it sees your hand, it sits up to get a bite of that treat.

That's EXACTLY what trained family dogs do: they sit up whenever they see a hand (notabene, a hand that does not hold any food!), meaning all the time, and when hungry, they run out of the house and randomly bite the hands (and very possibly even the ass!) of passers by!
Which obviously begs the question, does Collier own a completely crazy dog - or may he be simply pompously bloviating without the slightest knowledge about the behavior of either dogs or Sharks.
You be the judge of that.

The rule is simple.
To know about the specific behavior of an animal, you need to observe that animal when it is engaging in that specific behavior, and this over an extended period of time. If you unable to do so (and I betcha that Collier's personal experience with Sharks is limited to maybe a few cage dives with GWs at best), you need to talk to the people who do, or read what they publish on the subject.
The people who feed Sharks and who observe Sharks that are being fed are some divers, several Shark diving operators and a handful of Shark researchers - and thousands upon thousands of fishermen and spear fishermen!

Surprised about the latter?
Fishermen do not only feed Sharks by presenting them baited hooks; many of them attract and often end up feeding Sharks when they drag in struggling fish and when they subsequently clean their catch and throw the scraps into the ocean. Spear fishermen are notorious for attracting, and even conditioning Sharks when they shoot fish and often find themselves embroiled in a competitive struggle over their prey. These people number in the hundreds of thousands and if anybody should be examined for possibly causing an increase of Shark attacks on the public, it should be them - not the few dozen operators conducting baited Shark dives!

But I'm not here to deflect and obfuscate.
I'm certainly not about to give you the spiel about how we, the Shark diving operators educate the public and contribute to Shark conservation, as it got nothing to do with the issue at hand. The issue at hand is whether divers feeding Sharks leads to an increase of attacks on people who do not partake in those events, like Collier asserts.
That is a testable hypothesis.

The first of the possible tests is simple.
A. Are there more Shark attacks on the public at or around Shark feeding sites compared to similar control sites.

Let me start with a pathetically trivial statement.
In order for there to be a Shark attack, a person and a Shark will have to be in the same place at the same time. Thus the incidence of attacks will inevitably depend on the following variables: the number of Sharks and the number of people present in a determined location; and also, the activity and behavior those people and the Sharks are engaging in.

With that in mind and considering that feeding Sharks will aggregate some species, one would indeed expect an increase in Shark attacks in the vicinity of Shark feeding sites - but when one analyzes the details, it is not quite that unequivocal.
In 12 years of feeding Sharks here in Fiji, we have witnessed
  • a staggering increase in the number of Bull Sharks that roam wide ranges but regularly visit Shark Reef once they have discovered that it's a good place;
  • a negligible increase in the number of the much more resident Greys, Whitetips and Blacktips, a species that does not roam and is thus not likely to be attracted from locations afar;
  • but then, a decrease in the number of intermediate Sharks like the Silvertips, Lemons and Nurses, and possibly even Tigers;
  • and with the exception of one single fly-by by a spooked Great Hammerhead, zero sightings of any other species, this despite of the fact that we regularly introduce 2-300 kilos of yummy bloody bait and despite being situated on the fringes of 300m deep Beqa Channel and of Beqa Lagoon that are all being prowled by a plethora of other Sharks like Zebras and Hammerheads but also pelagics like OWTs, Silkies and Duskies.
And what about Shark attacks?
There are only two Shark feeding operations in the country, Beqa Adventure Divers and the guys down the road, and we both conduct our Shark dives on the southern coast of Viti Levu facing Beqa Lagoon. Documented Shark attacks in the vicinity: a big fat zero, ever.
The few documented Shark attacks have happened in Taveuni where Tigers Sharks prowl the coast of the current-swept Somosomo Straights; in the mouth of the Sigatoka River where surfers insist on frolicking on a break despite of murky water and the occurrence of large Bulls and Tigers; and in various locations where spear fishermen have defended their catch, often at night.

Anybody wanting to venture a guess about the results from elsewhere?
More importantly, would any of the bloviating Shark attack experts please care to comb his collection of data in order to prove or disprove a causal connection? Maybe for once act like what they purport to be, forgo their idiotic ad hoc speculation and engage in the onerous task of following the scientific method instead?

B. What about the risk of Sharks biting people during Shark dives?

Let's go back to the above trivial statement and variables.
When it comes to baited Shark diving, the obvious, and equally pathetically trivial rule is this.
  • the more Sharks are present, the higher the risk of a Shark bite
  • the more divers are present, the higher the risk of a Shark bite
  • the more dives are being conducted, the higher the risk of a Shark bite
  • the closer the divers and the Sharks interact, and the more frequently those interactions occur, the higher the risk of a Shark bite
So, yes, unequivocally, Shark diving increases the risk of a Shark biting a person!
And the question of baiting versus non baiting? Yes, of course baiting increases the risk, as it draws in more Sharks and leads to closer interactions!

The consequences? Please re-read this.
Some divers are happy to experience Sharks when and where they occur naturally. Others wish to predictably experience other species that are highly skittish and/or do not aggregate naturally and thus need to be attracted with bait. Assuming that baiting does not harm the animals, and so far, nothing indicates it does, it's not a matter of prohibiting baited Shark dives, it's a matter of ensuring a maximum of safety by adopting the best possible safety protocols!
Is there a residual risk - yes of course there is, especially for us in the front line!

But what about the motivation for those bites?
Please re-read this. It is, to the best of my knowledge, what we know about why Sharks bite people - and please correct me if you think I'm wrong.

With that in mind, I assert that nearly all of those bites are not predatory in nature.
Contrary to the plethora of bloviating Sesselfurzer, I look back on nearly 40 years of diving and on thousands of Shark dives, most of which in baited conditions. In all those dives with dozens of different species in different situations world wide, I have never been in a situation where I had the impression that a Shark was sizing me up as potential food, not one single time - and incidentally, everybody in the industry I have talked with shares the exact same observations.

I have however been subjected to multiple threat displays, this by Grey Reefs exhibiting agonistic hunch displays, by Silvertips becoming stiff and jerky and more recently, by large dominant Bull Sharks gulping and ramming me with their snout.

I have also witnessed several Shark strikes.
All but two were by Sharks biting the people directly handling the bait. All of them were characterized by one or more of these factors: competitive, frenzy-like situation; bad visibility; lack of concentration/distraction of the feeder; feeder being bitten in his left hand which was holding more bait; non-dominant, sub-adult animal barging in.
The two remaining strikes were retaliatory bites by Silvertips on people denying them access to bait, very much like the famous incident where a Silvertip bit Dinah Halstead in PNG.

Consequently, our procedures include the following
  • all divers wear dark full body wetsuits and especially, dark gloves as pasty white hands sticking out of dark wetsuits may be mistaken for bait, especially in low visibility
  • we maintain a clear separation between the customers and the Sharks
  • the feeders wear chain mail gloves to minimize the effects of accidental bites
  • we hand feed in order to always control the bait and to be able to withhold food once we deem that the animals are starting to behave competitively. In situations that become too tense, we temporarily interrupt our routine, retreat and wait for the animals to calm down again - which incidentally, they always do
  • the feeder is flanked by bodyguards monitoring any dead angles and gets rotated out after ten minutes in order to prevent lapses in concentration
  • there is only one feeder acting as the focal point for the animals, and he only ever holds a single piece of bait
  • we do not feed in bad visibility of less than 10 meters and are particularly alert when the visibility drops, as we have observed that this is when the Sharks (who do not see through murky water any better than we do) tend to be particularly edgy as they have to rely on their other, less precise senses when approaching the feeder
  • nobody but us approaches the bait bin, ever
Which brings me straight back to Richardson's stupidity.
It mentions two Shark attacks, that on Groh and that on Jimmy.

Jimmy was apparently bitten by a Caribbean Reef, a competitive, edgy and strictly piscivorous species, whilst handling bait in murky conditions. These to me are perfect preconditions for a mistake by the animal.

Groh was apparently positioned right next to the bait cage, meaning that the Bull Shark that bit him may have been engaging in behavior aimed at deterring a perceived competitor.
Furthermore, once the Shark destroyed the bait container and a lot of sand was kicked up in the process, it was trying to navigate in very reduced visibility and water saturated with fish juices, thus losing its sense of orientation and possibly mistakenly biting the first solid object it came across, i.e. Groh's leg. Was it really exactly so - dunno but it is certainly plausible.

And the Ritter attack?
The interpretation of what triggered it (= a stupid guy doing stupid things with macro predatory Sharks) keeps changing but to me, it's rather irrelevant anyway: this is clearly a predatory attack where the animal first tested and then devoured Ritter's calf.
Accident my ass!

C. Last query: are Sharks that are being fed by divers (and what about those that are being fed by fishermen and spearos?) more prone to bite people than unfed Sharks.

This is what Collier is asserting and Richardson is parroting - and of course what is being really asserted, is that fed Sharks will not engage in just any attack, but that they will be conditioned to perpetrate predatory attacks on humans.
This is of course a tricky one to document - notabene one way or the other!

There is of course no such thing as a generic "Shark" engaging in generic "Shark behavior".
Instead, Sharks are very different behaviorally both when it comes to species but to complicate matters, even when it comes to sex and age within the same species, all the way to pronounced individual character traits that can be shaped by individual experiences.
Also, the behavior of a species can be very different in different locations or at different times of the day, etc.

But having said that, I can share the following.
Our flagship species, i.e. the Bull Sharks that frequent Shark Reef have been fed for the past 12 years and are undoubtedly one of the most conditioned population of predatory Sharks on the planet.

Bull Sharks are very timid and hardly ever approach divers.
But we want our customers to experience them, and this is the reason why we resort to luring them in with bait, and to reward them whenever they approach one of our feeders in the way we like, i.e. from the left and slowly.
This is called training by positive reinforcement and I can assure you that contrary to all the pledges to the contrary that are meant to appease the tree huggers, all Shark diving operators feed the Sharks when trying to attract species that are shy and in locations where those species do not aggregate naturally. Teasing only just does not work long-term as the animals are not being rewarded and will simply stop coming.

It is thus fair to state that by feeding our Bull Sharks, we are conditioning them to approach people and thus engage in behavior they would not normally display.
But here's the catch: we observe that unlike Collier's demented family dog, our Bull Sharks will not simply approach just anybody: instead, they will only approach determined people, and this mainly only when those people are proffering food!

Look no further than when we are training a new feeder. For weeks on end, he will be standing next to the bin brandishing his treats - and the Sharks will look him up but never take a single bite! Talk about an exercise in total and utter frustration!
Eventually, a single animal who is very likely not one of the old-timers but instead a newbie who doesn't yet know anybody else will take a first offering and be forever linked to this one particular feeder. Only over time, some of the other Sharks will deign to come in for a snack, however really only when they have no other choice because their favorite human happens to have a day off.
Incredible - and yet, it's totally true!

Or here's another example.
I've been diving the Fiji Shark Dive since 2003, first twice and now, up to five times weekly.
I never feed the Sharks. What I do, is to observe and film them as part of our ongoing long-term monitoring. Over a very long period of time and by proceeding in very small increments, I have been able to attain a status whereby the Sharks appear to tolerate and at times largely ignore my presence, allowing me to roam freely among them without any discernible effects on their behavior.
But when people other than me or Rusi venture in front, the Sharks will inevitably retreat - unless we accompany them, and even then, their behavior will be decidedly more diffident!

And lastly, we observe this.
We frequently dive Shark Reef for other reasons, be it in order to service our moorings or because we are monitoring its health and changes in the composition of its population of Fishes.
The Bulls live deeper in the channel and when we don't carry any bait, chances of seeing them are extremely slim and limited to occasional fly-bys by single individuals. We have even mimicked the exact dive profiles of our Shark dives, as a control, and thus without any bait - again with the exact same result that the Bulls were simply not interested.

So much for the assertion that fed Sharks will approach and attack people - and this after 12 years of conditioning them to the presence of divers!

Granted, this only applies to the specific Bull Sharks that frequent the SRMR.
But until somebody comes and proves that a specific individual Shark that has been fed has increasingly attacked people in un-baited conditions, nothing will ever convince me that what I'm experiencing in Fiji does not apply to all Sharks that are being fed by divers anywhere!

There you have it, that's my take - thanks for your patience in trying to follow my rant.
Still think that Collier is an expert on Shark attacks in the Red Sea?

And what about Undercurrent?
Looking forward to reading Part number two - and very much hoping that Ms Richardson will start talking about the real problem that is besieging Sharks, i.e the global fishery targeting their fins! Not that I believe she will after this total fiasco.
But then, as they say, hope springs eternal!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sasha: heroic as always!

One more of Sasha's toothy shots!

Dunno how I managed to miss this!

Yes it's rather an oldie but still a goodie.
This is a collection of stellar pictures by Sasha, garnished with some interesting words by Ben Cooper, probably of Sasha's agent Barcroft Media. But fear not: our adrenaline seeking extreme diving Russian hero did manage to survive the Shark-infested patch of water with hundreds of aggressive testosterone-laden (not!) deadly predators - but only just and with a new hair cut! :)

And anyway: what's a couple of hundred bloodthirsty Bull Sharks compared to SA's killer Gannets and man-eating Sardines!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

FijiLive on Sharks!

Fiji's Shark population - still in good shape but increasingly threatened.
Another stellar wallpaper pic by Tatiana!

Fiji is talking Shark Conservation, and that's a good thing.

Quite a bit has happened recently.
There is now a dedicated Facebook page, Fiji Shark Defenders that mirrors the highly popular Shark Defenders, the Econesian Society has launched a pro-Shark petition and even the venerable Islands Business has posted an article about how the Pacific island Countries are leading the way in Shark conservation.

That's the backdrop for the call from Tevita Vuibau of FijiLive.
The immediate aim was to get an opinion about the petition. As always, it's a difficult one when one has to comment on the efforts of good people trying to do good things by pursuing the wrong aims.
The MoU on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks is just that, a non legally binding Memorandum of Understanding that is not even flanked by any proper management plan. You can read its wording here. To me, it's not much more than a lot of blahblahrahrah and if its ontogeny (as in years of preparation including delegate meetings in Mahe' and Rome, no less) is any indication, it will be yet another one of those useless documents that will save no Sharks but provide for welcome committees (Intersessional Steering Group on Migratory Sharks - wow!), experts and global meetings where scarce resources are squandered on flights, posh hotel rooms and meals, and a never ending deluge of bureaucratic paperwork.

Case in point, Mrs. Maruma Mrema's brazen quote that Although not legally binding, this Memorandum of Understanding actually has a better chance of helping to save the species than a legally binding document … this is because action will happen now when it is most needed: sorry what????

But I'm digressing as always.
Tevita's story got longer and longer, to the point where he tells me that the editors have decided to have it posted in several installments. So there, here is part number one, albeit with one caveat: of course, I'm not at all (only) advocating a Shark finning ban.
What I am advocating is a complete ban of all commercial fishing and trading of Sharks, this at least for as long as it is being conducted at present completely unsustainable levels - but I shall be happy to reverse my stance once Shark stocks have recovered, i.e. in several hundred years! :)

But other than that, great job.
Vinaka Tevita!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oceanicallstars in Fiji!

This has been a real nice experience.
Being a specialized Shark diving operator, we sure get to meet a lot of different Shark people, most of which are a pleasure to host - but Jillian Morris and Duncan Brake of Oceanicallstars have been real standouts, and not only because they're as nice and personable as it gets. Where so many in the industry and in the movement appear to be way too agenda- and ego-driven, they come across as being the exact opposite. We only had time for a few conversations but I must say, I'm rather impressed by their rock solid scientific knowledge (thank you Doc!) and technical skills but above all, by their vision for good and effective Shark conservation.

And to give you an idea of what they do: here's Jillian's promo reel - stellar stuff!

This has been way too short.
Having come to Fiji for a proper private vacation (nice travelogue here!), they just hopped over in order to shoot some interviews for an upcoming Fiji-centric PSA for the Shark Free Marina Initiative - and believe it or not, they barely managed to squeeze in a single Shark dive, and this sans underwater camera (!), before dashing off to further adventures!

Anyway, here's to the Oceanicallstars!
Moce mada - and come back soon!

Yucatan - more dead Bull Sharks

Heartbreaking. More grisly pictures in Rick's post.

Rick has just posted some very sad news.
After two Shark attacks in Cancun, the authorities have gone on a rampage and 70 Bull Sharks, some of which pregnant females, have apparently been killed in one night.
Full story in Spanish here.

Very sad and very stupid, too.
As amply demonstrated by Hawaii's Tiger Shark culls in the 60ies and 70ies, killing large coastal Sharks that roam large ranges does not work. Also, much like their unfortunate brethren in Playa, these Sharks apparently only congregate along the Yucatan peninsula to reproduce in Winter, meaning that they are not even resident. I understand that this may have looked like a political necessity in view of the overriding importance of tourism - but in practical terms, the "problem" has neither been "fixed", nor have the beaches become safer.
All this has achieved is to further imperil local biodiversity.
Oh well.

Great to see that Rick is increasingly focusing on Sharks.
Very much not a tree hugger, he's quite a formidable campaigner and has a reputation for getting things done effectively and efficiently. Having him join "our" camp is very good news indeed.

Big man: looking forward to more sharky posts! :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Whale Shark In Vava'u!

This is why every game fisherman should always be taking along a Go Pro - and have you seen this?

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sharks and Oxygen - again?

Check this out, it's great.  
Kudos to filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan
His Sharkquest Arabia is a highly important project that focuses on an important, difficult to access and thus largely overlooked region where millions of Sharks are being killed for the Asian Shark fin market. I've dived the Red Sea extensively in the late seventies and early eighties and have been fortunate to witness it in all it splendor, and have had a profusion of Shark encounters with the ubiquitous Whitetips, Grey Reefs, Silvertips and Scalloped Hammerheads all the way the more unusual Silkies and Threshers. Especially the Sudan with iconic sites like Sanganeb and Sha'ab Rumi but also Angarosh and Dungonab Bay was once one of the global hot spots of Shark diving. Yes even then the local fishermen were already targeting Sharks, mainly further south in Yemen where we came across several boats with dead Hammerheads - but seeing the obvious dramatic depletion is never the less simply heartbreaking. 
This project is really a great undertaking! 
But then, I stumble onto this interview
Among many good statements, I unfortunately find this. 
With 92% of our living biosphere being aquatic, almost 80% of our planet’s air is generated by the algae and microscopic phytoplankton that are found in the sea. Many thousands of fish species and other marine organisms feed on phytoplankton and algae. Sharks on the other hand prey on the fish that feed on plankton; right up through to the top of the food chain. So if we remove the sharks, as we are systematically doing at an unsustainable rate of over 70 million sharks a year, then it leaves the plankton feeders free of predation and free to gobble up the main source of our planet’s main oxygen supply! Therefore, it is in our interest to maintain a healthy source of oxygen and air, if we want to keep on breathing!Some seas, such as around Japan, are already struggling with harmful algae blooms, forming red tides and anaerobic conditions that are causing explosions of super-jellyfish populations that are creating havoc with marine diversity, dominating and taking over what were once rich fishing grounds. Those same areas were once managed by a wide range of shark species that controlled the ecosystem effectively by feeding largely on the fish that preyed on the plankton feeders. Ever since those sharks were fished out from around the coast of Japan, the resulting imbalance has proven catastrophic. To a lesser degree, we have already seen similar results in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf with red tides and toxic algae blooms. 
 This is just total bullshit. 
There are so many wrong assertions here that I'm quite at a loss at where to begin. 
Maybe re-read this as a first fact check.  
Algal Blooms, harmful and not? Apart from the fact that red tides consist of oxygen-producing phytoplanktonic algae (!), the causes for their occurrence are varied, ranging from anthropogenic water eutrophication (the likely cause in Japan) to Climate Change to totally natural occurrences like iron dust influx from large desertic areas, the likely cause in the Arabian Seas. Nothing whatsoever to do with Sharks! 
Causes? Probably primarily Climate Change and pollution, to a lesser extent overfishing of their natural predators. Nothing to do with Shark fishing!  
Food webs are exceedingly complex, and pseudo-scientific intellectual shortcuts attributing causal top down-effects from the apex predators all the way down to the lowest trophic levels are inevitably destined to be fallacious, the more as in food webs as opposed to proper food chains that are rare, there's ample scope for substitution both of prey and of predators. Plus, we don't target only the predators but also their prey and we fish down the food web once we have dispatched the higher trophic levels, and are thus unwittingly assuming the regulatory role of apex predators as a consequence. 
Yes it's complicated! 
Anyway, the principal predator of Phytoplankton is Zooplankton, an incredible array of animal organisms spanning the whole gamut of taxonomic groups, from the unicellular all the way to complex Fish larvae. But whereas Zooplankton can certainly quickly respond to increases in Phytoplankton abundance, it is equally certainly NOT the principal determining factor for that abundance! The abundance of Phytoplankton is principally correlated to physical factors like ambient nutrient concentrations, temperature and light - not predator abundance and even less so abundance of Sharks! Yes the theory of correlations between trophic levels is sound - but much more when viewed bottom up. Top down - not so much! 
Long story short? 
Like many other Shark activists, Mr. Khan is a seriously good bloke doing seriously good, important stuff. But like all of us, if he wants to be taken seriously, he's got to get his facts right and not make up things on the fly - especially when addressing himself to the media! 
Simple - right? 
 End of rant! 

Discovery - still clowning around!

This is funny.

This I believe is just plain ridiculous.
Reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago.
Oh well, I've basically given up on Discovery's Shark Week. As the piece aptly mentions, it has become a pop culture phenomenon and the rubbish they air is obviously what people want to see. 31 million viewers is impressive and drives income from advertisers, and that's the only aspect those folks will ever focus on.

My only remaining topic of interest?
Who in our industry will be this year's inevitable enabler of Shark porn.
Any bets?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scarface from Malaysia!

Stellar portrait by Lill - notice the spiracle?

Despite of my usual reservations: cute PSA from Malaysia!

It features footage of Scarface along with the smaller Adi and our oldest (but not anymore biggest) Bull lady Granma, all from the Fiji Shark Dive on Shark Reef!


The bad news: we haven't seen Scarface since November!
No I'm not hinting that something has happened. She was heavily pregnant and may have just gone walkabout to give birth - and judging from what we know from research in the Atlantic and Hawaii, that may have been a long long way away!

But there's also this.
There may just be too many Bulls!
The population of Bulls keeps increasing and we have certainly noticed a corresponding decrease in the number of the other deeper water species like the Nurses, Silvertips and Lemons. My personal explanation for it is that
  • Bulls prey on Sharks and those impressive numbers may just be to high for comfort,
  • as the Bull Shark numbers are ever increasing, I'm observing (and recording) clear signs of inter-specific aggression whereby the Bulls ram and sometimes bite other species of Shark (but not other Bulls!) that compete for the bait, and finally
  • those other Sharks have a much decreased chance of ever approaching the feeder and that they are consequently not being adequately rewarded for the risks they incur
Yes I'm speculating and yes, Juerg is looking into it!

The same is apparently happening to our Tigers.
In the past, the dozen or so Bulls would slink away whenever one of them would turn up - but not anymore! Even Scarface with her impressive 4.5+ meters appears increasingly hesitant whereas the Bulls are becoming positively cocky, to the point where I've recorded them simply shouldering her away!
Yes size matters - but numbers apparently matter more!

And the good news?
There is no such thing as too many Bull Sharks!
After the usual slight dip at the beginning of April, we're back to 50+ individuals on each dive and well on track for my predicted one hundred in June! The last couple of Shark dives have been, hmmm, hectic and as a consequence, we are now strictly enforcing the pit ban, and this also for long term good friends! So if you are eager to take up the wallpaper challenge, make sure to read our protocols as right now, there will be no exceptions - seriously!

And on this happy note: what are you waiting for!

When's the last Time you went to the Ocean?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Killed for being a Predator!

The head of the turtle. More grisly pictures here.

A Tiger Shark has been killed in retaliation in St. Croix, USVI.
Its crime: to have done what Tiger Sharks have done for millions of years, to prey on a Leatherback Turtle. Yes that's an endangered species - but not because of the Sharks but because of us!
If this is marine conservation, I want nothing to do with it.

Kudos to Shark Defenders for having broken the story.
Kudos also to V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources Chief of Environmental Education William Coles for having kept a cool head and put things into perspective.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Circle of Life!

Kudos to Simon Spear.
His Circle of Life spans the whole gamut of marine life, from the tiniest to the largest, from South Africa to the Golden Triangle. This is a multi awarded production, and rightly so.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Royal Wedding: sneak Preview!

If only it was anything like this!
Anyway, we are involved. In a very convoluted way that would fill many tomes of biography, all three owners of BAD have ended up in possession of a British passport.

So there, enjoy!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Getting the Shot!

Jon at work - and yes, that would be a gaggle of 3m Bulls, in highly questionable visibility! Click for detail!

It's a wrap!
We've been extremely busy hosting a small and hectic three-day shoot for an upcoming rather epic Ozzie production about Bull Sharks.

No, it's not about us at all.
We're just a tiny part of the whole enchilada and Fiji was merely the location for capturing some very specific difficult but necessary cutaways. Right now, I'm not at liberty to tell you more but I will certainly do so once the production airs. From what I can discern, it's very much the contrary of Shark porn and a prime example of the kind of programming we all in the industry should promote.
As I said: epic!

On location our friend Malcolm for stills, plus cameraman Jonathan Shaw of Ginclearfilms, a boutique production outfit based in Sydney.
Here's a Sharky example of what they do.

Fish Rock Cave- South West Rocks from ginclearfilm on Vimeo.

I must say, this has been fun.
Both gents are as nice as it gets and I must attest to Jonathan that he's got some big brass cojones! The nature of the shoot required him to get up close and personal and he did, in this particular case with the ever feisty Maite, one of our biggest! In viz that was all but gin clear - which incidentally was a good thing!
And I must also add: the Best Shark Dive in the World always delivers! :)
Check it out!

Anyway, that was today.
Tomorrow we'll be back to business as usual, meaning that I'll hopefully find the time and energy, and above all, the mojo to address the topic of Shark bling. There's hundreds if not thousands of Sharks of dozens of species swimming around carrying some permanent man-made decoration courtesy of an ever increasing host of telemetry-enamored researchers.
Much to debate there!

And Volker: hope that answers you concern! :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Junior - final Chirp!

Junior with the tag, as posted on Domeier's website. See any damage to the jaw?

Did you understand this comment?
I'm not a native English speaker and did not. Apparently, it means no one is listening and by implication no one wants to hear it. It’s a sound gag used when a comedian tells a joke that falls flat and not a sound is to be heard from the audience.
Fair enough.

So there, let's put this baby to rest.
Three independent sources have told me the following.
  • The video(s) were shot by two researchers sometime between September and the end of November, 2010. I know their names but have no proof that they are the authors of the smear campaign, so the names will remain unmentioned.
  • They work for TOPP under the formidable Barbara Block. This has happened on her watch and it is her job to get to the bottom of what really went down within the organization she heads.
  • There was a GFNMS observer
  • The research has been paid for by, and the video(s) are the property of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford.
  • A copy of the video(s) was given to the GFNMS.
What then obviously happened is this.
Somebody grabbed some stills off those videos. That person was then able to peruse archives with older images of Junior and produced the before-and-after pictures that were then leaked. That is not the spontaneous action of a Shark activist who stumbled upon the information - that takes a lot of time and effort and is something only an insider could have achieved.

And who is it that leaked the pictures?
From the e-mail I received.
I’m a shark enthusiast...
After inquiring with some students that study white sharks, I became aware that this same shark was re-sighted and identified with video almost a year after it was tagged. According to my friend some of the images were submitted to the sanctuary during the public comment period for the tagging permit renewal...

My concern is that other scientists or media hounds will try to do this again, heck, who knows how many of these sharks have already been severely impaired as a result of this same researcher’s made for TV science. 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.
I’ve included the images that I was sent, showing the shark before and after the horrible incident.
Genuine? My intuition tells me, it is.

Big picture?
This is a smear campaign against Michael Domeier.

Forget the opinion of the inevitable expert bloviators.
Half of what they assert is just speculative BS that has been completely debunked by several pictures that show that Junior had no abrasions, nor dislocated jaws whatsoever after having been hauled aboard. And what about the general bad condition of the animal: do you really believe that it is the consequence of the brutal treatment it suffered one year earlier (!), due to some obscure reduced caloric equation and the like? C’mon…
How about invoking the much abused Occam. Is it not much more plausible that a Shark with two big bites on his back and a further nasty bite on his mouth (just to keep with Domeier's explanation - there could be heaps of others) would be in bad shape, at least temporarily? Plus, keep in mind that the tracks indicate that Junior is still migrating normally, and this 18 months after the accident!

Also, Domeier’s research is by no means redundant as some are asserting.
Yes in their present configuration, those SPOT tags are way too invasive and I also think that the procedures are way too brutal. I commend Domeier for having exhaustively documented what led him to choose those specific protocols here, but I still strongly differ with his conclusions that the research ought to continue basically unchanged. I say, the gizmos need total re-engineering and the procedures need to drastically change before any further deployment.
Still, this does not disqualify the study per se, only the methods. It would be great if the researchers would dispose of precise multi-year tracks enabling them to shed light on the life history of those GWs, especially when it comes to their breeding cycle and mating and pupping grounds. Telemetry will obviously not answer all questions, but it would give valuable pointers about where to start investigating with other means.

I say, with the exception of the damage caused by the tag, there is not one single shred of proof here.
The only possible evidence is the video – and is it not revealing how it never surfaced, and how none of Domeier’s detractors are asking that it be produced?
Anyway, my call is that Domeier has nothing whatsoever to do with those injuries and that this is a well orchestrated ignominious campaign aimed at rubbishing him. I’ve said it before, despite of the techniques he has employed where I continue to be highly critical, he is a brilliant researcher and does not deserve this.

Which brings me straight back to the TOPP labs and the role they have played in this latest fiasco. All the leads converge there.
The videos were shot by them, in fact, those two guys saw the Shark and know whether it had other shark bites - which means that if Domeier's explanation is correct, the "evidence" is fabricated! Somebody was then given access to that video and even more telling, to archives of further images of GWs from the Farallones. The person who leaked the pictures speaks of students that study white sharks and of images that I was sent. What I find particularly disturbing is that those researchers have not only possibly fabricated the evidence and not posted the video that could exonerate Domeier, but that they continue to snipe from the safety of anonymity on top of it – or how are we to interpret A source close to the photographers who saw Junior last October!
I say, this is underhanded, unprofessional and cowardly, and in total breach of basic ethical tenets and collegiality. Disgusting.
Barbara Block as the person in charge sure has a lot to answer for.

This is happening on the money of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford and I must also say that I’m starting to be concerned about their oh so politically correct silence. Like it or not, they are parties to this - how long can this continue without an unmistakable statement from their side before they do become accomplices!

Sean Van Sommeran?
In a twisted way, I must say that I’m rather impressed by his passionate stance and his total lack of political correctness. Normally, donors don't like controversy and having been intrigued by how he could afford to speak up like he does, I went snooping for his sponsors: talk about an eclectic and anarchic combo with among others, Sea Shepherd - and a gun training outfit! If that doesn’t say it all - and being a combat shooter myself, I can confirm that we always shoot to kill! :)
Anyway, yes the ramblings, self promotion, innuendos and outright insults are at times terribly irritating - but he's sure got chops and his latest exchanges with Greg Barron on SFS (bottom of thread) and on Alastair Bland’s second article reveal the whole extent of the shenanigans, from heaps of history, infighting, food fights, territoriality and xenophobia to his utter frustration with the authorities who are seemingly totally failing to do their job.
Very interesting and very revealing indeed!

Indeed, the GFNMS role in this has been highly questionable to say the least.
Read the Barron/Sommeran exchanges and you can clearly discern the extent of the rot, from the anti-public and anti-industry agendas to the favoring of certain groups at the expense of others, and how in this specific case, they spectacularly failed to discern the basic fact that a fishing show and experimental and highly invasive research had simply no place in a marine sanctuary. Plus, what’s that about the excuse that images and video footage of the injured shark were received too late - what was the purpose of the observer if not observe and report?
This has happened on the watch of the current boss, Maria Brown. It is she who ultimately bears the responsibility for it.

There you have it.
I’m done with this, the more as I’ve noticed that Greg Barron, a local with plenty of insight who is obviously both principled and objective has decided to look into it – bottom of this thread. Much much better this way.
I sure wish him not to get some nasty infection by wading into this toxic quagmire!

Long story short?
I have been asked to post "evidence" that Domeier has caused permanent damage to Junior - meaning that the emaciated status and injury on the mouth were alleged to be the direct consequence of the brutal treatment the Shark had been subjected to one year earlier.
Having looked, I now believe that the evidence is fabricated, and that this is a smear campaign against Michael Domeier that has been orchestrated by circles associated with the TOPP labs - but as always, I shall be happy to be proven (!) wrong!

Over & out!

PS - excellent article here - kudos!

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

This is your Ocean: Sharks!

Is this Emma? Fantastic pic by Jim Abernethy!

Great trailer!

Like the last time, no comments.
If you're interested to know more, go and explore the website and George's blog - it is obviously connected to this.


This is Your Ocean: Sharks - Official Trailer from George Schellenger on Vimeo.


Got this from Sharky.

I'm on the fence on it, as I LOVE cats and HATE the deceiving (!) perma-smile of Dolphins.
Anyway, it's cute. Maybe - but then again, maybe each of them is merely pondering how to make a meal of the other!


Friday, April 08, 2011

Polar Bear in Oslo?


A Polar Bear in Holmenkollen - that would be just outside Oslo, the capital of Norway.
Chances of that being genuine?


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Junior - the Narrative is changing!

Another pic of Junior on the boat - see any evidence of a permanently dislocated jaw?

Well well.

I've given an interview and here is the article.
Once I told them about the interview, some people have warned me not to trust Alastair Bland and predicted that he might make me look like a crazy person. Well, he has not - or has he? :)
Just two minor corrections: we do not employ cages, and I said the specific procedures were brutal, not SPOT tagging in general. The tags are invasive and I shall post about that at a later stage.

This is a follow up to his first article in the Bohemian and I must commend Alastair for not having blindly accepted the prima facie evidence but continued to investigate instead.
This, I think, is much more balanced.

So, where is that video.
Anonymous posting to Vimeo (better quality than YouTube) with a few comments will suffice. Again, this is not gonna just simply go away - I still intend to post a final wrap-up and post mortem. What I will say then will largely depend on developments in the next couple of days.

PS you may also want to go and read Andrew the Southern Fried Scientist's comment on the spectacular thread there. It's towards the bottom, with a yellow background. Although I don't agree with all he says (yes individuals may not count for much, but how we treat them does), this is as good as it gets.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Sharks eating Lionfish!

Cool story, cool pics.
Caribbean Reef Sharks are being taught to eat invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish (more details here).

Story and slide show here.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Junior - follow up!

The silence after my last post about Junior has been deafening.

But fear not.
I've been around for a long time and know alot of people.
I've started to do some digging and lemme tell you, the terrain has quickly become treacherous! I never intended to ever wade back into the arcane politics of GW research and conservation in California, the more as I don't understand (does anybody?) half of what's going on there - but I am persevering because I'm starting to get pissed off and am thus highly motivated.

Did I hear, what's the agenda?
To shed light on what increasingly appears to be a smear campaign against Michael Domeier.
Period. I don't personally know any of the actors and have no vested interests there whatsoever. But having been dragged into it and having publicly asked questions, I now want to get answers.

So there.
What I'm starting to discern, is a faint buzz of vague innuendos and speculation: but if one weeds out the most preposterous allegations (= this is viral marketing for Sharkmen2 instigated by MD and Nat Geo) and aggregates the most plausible bits and pieces, the picture that is starting to emerge is this.

I hear about nasty politics. I hear that the research community was once highly fractured and the scene of fierce internecine warfare. I hear that a big 500lb gorilla wielding a big schtick in the form of lavish research grants and with a determined (some say nasty) disposition managed to browbeat everybody into submission, pacified the various factions and created an uneasy alliance of researchers. I hear that for quite a while, there has been a small group of researchers, advisers and bureaucrats overseeing that place and making a living of it. A little incestuous it seems. A bit of conflict of interest too perhaps? I hear that for years, that group has been trying to get everyone else, and I do mean everyone including the general public, excluded from the islands, see the above link. I sense that as a consequence, everybody with any connection to that place is highly concerned about possible retribution and accordingly paranoiac about not wanting to get involved.
I hear that Domeier is an outsider who had the audacity to intrude. I hear that he was told to back off, or else. I hear that there is history, including anecdotes about tagged Guadalupe GWs traveling on the coastal highway all the way to Sta Cruz – hilarious, you really can’t make these things up. I get messages predicting that they will cannibalize him in an orgy of scientific frothiness that would put even the best 1930's piranha movie to shame. It's how academia rolls. If you thought internecine fighting between operators was bad, you ain't seen nuthin' until you have seen a knife fight between two scientists. Nice.
Get the gist?

Is this PROOF?
Hell, no! Much is anecdotal and circumstantial - it is merely a plausible backdrop that may however help frame the issue at hand.

Not quite yet - but I know about that research and having Googled Great White Sharks Philopatry, I've come up with a possible lineup of characters.

Open questions.
  • There is a video: who has taken it, who owns it, who has copies
  • Does the video clearly prove that the wound on Junior's head is a Shark bite. Release the video - regardless of whether it’s a yes or a no.
  • Who did grab those stills and leak them, and why
  • Did anybody sanction the leak
This ain't going away - and that's a promise.
At stake, the reputation of Michael Domeier.
But equally at stake, the reputation of some researchers, that of the people and institutions they work for and who fund their research, that of the GFNMS.

Whoever is behind this - it's time for some reflection and soul searching.

I shall be writing one more post in this matter after this.
After that, we can then hopefully concentrate on the real issue at hand, i.e. the tagging of Sharks.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A 50 Foot GW in Ireland?

I say, NO WAY!
A 50 foot Male?
Not in Ireland, not 50 feet, not a legit picture!
Story here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Junior - smell Test!

For those who are still engaging in idle speculation - this is Junior after hooking. No lesions whatsoever.

Talking about accountability.
I was about to write an elaborate post but this will suffice.
From my correspondence with a friend who asked why I had "changed my mind" about Michael Domeier's research, marginally abridged.

No my views on invasive research have not changed and I shall be posting about them soon.
The SPOT tags are an abomination, permanent bling that cripples the animals and they need to be totally re-engineered. The argument of individuals vs population etc are rather disgusting as well. And I’m totally against invasive research and ad hoc experimenting on endangered species in a marine reserve, and condemn the authorities for having enabled it.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I fully believe MD's well supported arguments that the video, if watched in its entirety, will prove that the wound on the head is a shark bite. And yet, somebody sent the video grabs purporting those were tumors/lesions attributable to MD's research. The people who shot the video are competing researchers who also sent the full video to the park authorities, where MD was able to review it.

What are the chances that those competing researchers did not know it was a shark bite.
Why did they then make those allegations, why did they not mention that the shark had further shark bites aft of the head.

Lemme tell u why: Domeier has had the audacity to intrude on s’body else’s turf, an this with NAT GEO (!) - and this is the backlash.
Timing is interesting. They sat on it for 4 months but now that Sharkmen2 is imminent and the research permits are being evaluated, here comes the “public outcry”.

Domeier is being framed and I shall not be an accessory to that.
Despite of all my reservations against the techniques he employs and the ethical framework justifying that, he is a brilliant researcher doing important stuff where I say ”yes great - but you must radically fix the gizmos and change your protocols before proceeding further”. Nothing less, nothing more.
He does not deserve this, the more as I’m convinced that he got nothing whatsoever to do with the injuries.

The emaciated state of Junior: no idea.
There are plausible hypotheses out there but they are untestable – and as a lawyer and also as a scientific mind, I cannot engage in gratuitous speculation at the expense of somebody’s excellent scientific credentials and track record.

Does it explain my stance?

To put things into perspective for first-time readers.
I received an e-mail about the terrible state of a GW that had been tagged by Michael Domeier and wrote this post. I then followed up on the particular thread about the injuries to Junior's head (there are other threads but they have no bearing on this specific topic) with this.
In it, I stated that it was incumbent upon the people who unleashed the controversy by leaking the pictures to make the video available for verification. To date, this has not happened, at least not publicly.

David aka WhySharksMatter has since weighed in here.
This has generated a fabulous thread (61 comments, and counting!) where many passionate and intelligent people have contributed to the debate. One of them is thankfully Michael Domeier himself who has inter alia posted this (the comment has a yellow background and you need to scroll way down).

If I could post the video I would, but I don’t have a copy.
When/if it become public everyone will see two huge shark bites dorsal of the gill region. Furthermore, the corner of the mouth has been peeled back like the lid of a can; the “tumor” is a bulge of tissue that has been peeled off the corner of the mouth. The portion of the hook we left in the fish was posterior to the gills…literally feet aft of the new wound. The wound is probably only 1-2 weeks old.

This is unequivocal and highly plausible.

So lemme tell you this.
I have a big nose and after years of survival in the investment banking jungle, it has become very finely attuned to smelling out shenanigans - and right now, my nose is telling me, something stinks.

I repeat: where is the video from which the pictures were taken and circulated.
As I commented on David's post,
I remain highly concerned about the lack of response by the GFNMS. I remain equally concerned by the lack of response by the people who have started this debate by sending the original e-mail and pictures. Laying low and hoping that this matter will go away will not work – for both parties!

Whoever started this controversy: time to come out, own up and face the music!

Needless to say that despite of those grave reservations, I will always remain open for evidence (!) that my suspicions are unfounded!