Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feeding Tiger Sharks!

Very interesting!


"Savage"? I would say, rather the opposite!

Story here.

Shark Diving AND Shark Fishing? Probably not!

Hooked Tiger Shark - from the Sharkbite Charters' Facebook gallery.

This is a difficult one.
~Please help educate these "shark divers." For The Sharks!! >~xo:] x
like a well meaning Shark activist advocates?

The question being, who needs educating.
This is the answer of Karl Callwood to the critics of the Shark fishing video he has posted here. Karl is the Chief of staff, Chief Researcher/Communications Officer/Photographer at Senator Celestino A. White, Sr., from everything I can discern very much the contrary of a brain dead Shark hater.
Please do read it and above all, understand what is being said!

1) The shark swallowed the bait and tackle whole. It could not be humanely released. The LAW actually states that an unreleasable shark MUST BE BOATED. To do otherwise would be inhumane and illegal. Alisa...how do you know that we did not even try? You are looking at edited video from three different cameras. The sequencing in the video is not even the order that actual events took place. The video is even longer than the actual harvesting.

2) Would you all have preferred that the mortally wounded shark be wasted or provide natural, organic food for St. John families?

3) The Tiger Shark is not a protected, endangered or threatened species. The video is NOT about a sport fishing trip. That is a legally operating commercial fisherman with all licenses and permits in place. Just this past week both NOAA and DPNR inspected the operation and passed it with flying colors. The shark in the video was a foot and a half larger than minimum take size. There are also no limits to how many tiger sharks can be boated at one time by a commercial fisherman. Threatened and endangered shark species have such limits.

4) I love sharks as a living animal, I photograph them 5 days a week in the wild, I know more about them than most people, and I WILL eat non-threatened species. Oh, I also photograph and love Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, various snappers, Hinds, cows, chickens, goats, lambs, deer, duck, etc. and eat those as well.

5) We live on a 13 mile long island that is barely two miles at its widest point. Our supply line for commercially processed foods is at a minimum 1270 miles of shipping across the ocean. Do you know how huge the carbon footprint is to ship food to the Virgin Islands? Do you know what freighters leave behind in the water during passage? Do you know how much commercially processed food costs here? (On average three times more than you pay for food on the mainland.) Do you now that imported food comes in packaging, much of it PLASTIC, that then has to be processed as waste on this small island? Do you know that much of the disposed of commercially processed food packaging has to be shipped off island for disposal at a high carbon footprint and national taxpayer cost? Fishing that shark was much more environmentally friendly than going to the grocery store to buy dinner.

6) By varying catches among all permitted species using sustainable fishing methods we engage in a much more environmentally sound practice than grocery shopping. Many species have been over fished in the islands (much of it by outside parties raiding our fisheries to sell elsewhere in the world, some done in the past by local fishermen using practices now properly outlawed), however the Tiger Shark is NOT one of the over fished species. It has long been a part of the indigenous diet and is so common that an extensive federal review of our fisheries a little over two years ago saw no need to add restrictions on local commercial fishing of Tiger Sharks.

The arguments everyone presents above are extremely emotional and not based on fact or scientific evidence. Finning has never been a practice of locals and basically the entirety on any catch, shark or otherwise, is utilized. In the states you cut off fish heads. Here we eat them. We cannot afford to waste food like fat America can. Inedible parts of fished creatures wind up as bait or other needed products. We do not export anything from our fisheries. It is all used locally.

There is no way that a main lander, with an easily accessible nutrition supply line, higher standard of living and greater average income can make a comparison to a tiny island 1200 miles at sea. There is not enough arable land for agricultural production of meat product. We rely on a continuous daily train of large freighters loaded with hundreds of 40 foot containers each or we rely on the sea. Or we starve.

A sanctimonious and condescending lecture from a position of 'food luxury' is going to fall on my deaf ears. You all do not know what you are talking about. You truly are not in a position to judge...only to frustrate yourselves.

I love my sharks. I have rescued trapped and injured sharks. I swim with them. I take tourists every weekday to see them and be photographed with them. I also am the first and loudest (as has been occasioned in the past) to publicly and legally jump all over someone engaging in unsustainable hunting or fishing practices. And, of course, I continue to eat my sustainably caught and harvested species...such as Tiger Shark.

You only have your unfounded assumptions and have no scientific basis upon which to change my mind.

I would have to agree - and yes, I'm not anymore so sure!
Tiger Sharks are not acutely threatened. Being aplacental viviparous and contrary to most placental viviparous Carcharhinids that have a two-year breeding cycle, they can reproduce every year and have relatively large litters of up to 100 pups. In fact, many populations of Tiger Sharks are very much on the rebound.
With that in mind the question is, is it OK for people to harvest and eat a Fish if that Fish happens to be a Shark?

Once again, it is a question of sustainability, not ethics.
This is a central theme of this blog - e.g. here and here and here and here.
If the situation in St. John is how Karl describes it, and I have no reason to believe it is not, and if this is happening only sporadically, then harvesting a few Tiger Sharks for food may indeed be both perfectly sustainable and more ecologically sound than the possible alternatives. Then again, Patric's testimony may signify that the stocks in the USVI are just too small for any sustainable harvesting - we just don't know do we.

Do I like it - Hell, no!
Tigers are one of the coolest Sharks and seeing them being killed is terribly sad, especially when this is being publicized in the crude way Karl has chosen to do. Yes I know it's only a fishing video and nobody would have said anything if the Fish were a mere Mahi Mahi or the like - but of course, I love Sharks and it breaks my heart.

In general terms, it is to advocate Shark protection all the way to Shark fishing bans as Shark Defenders suggest. Once again, this cannot happen in a vacuum but must be flanked by all other necessary measures, especially when it comes to emerging economies.

And in this specific case?
From what I can discern, Captain Andy Greaux, a commercial fisherman, is aiming at expanding his Sharkbite Charters into a Shark diving outfit. Shark diving tourism is one of the few proven alternatives to fishing for Sharks and with that in mind, I wish him the very best of success.
But for Working on the scuba gear now. Getting the tanks hydro'd, visualized and filled, having the B.C.'s and regulators and dive computers inspected. Welder still working on the shark cages. to ever become a successful investment, Andy will very likely have to make a choice about what is more important and economically viable for him.

This is the choice.
He can either continue killing those Tigers, or he can showcase them to his clients. Not both.
Doing both will simply not work as apart from the fact that one of his businesses would be depriving the other of its principal attraction and thus assets, the overwhelming majority of divers will simply not book with a dive operator who engages in fishing. No it's absolutely not logical as the same divers will then insist on ordering fresh Fish for dinner - but it is a fact and thus an important economical consideration when setting up his business.
But it's a classical chicken-and-egg conundrum: will Andy have to stop killing Sharks in order to attract Shark divers, or will the Shark divers convince him to stop killing Sharks.

My gut?
This is going to be an economical decision.
The guy is merely trying to make a living and has obviously zero time or patience for "ethical" and as the thread progresses, increasingly strident and moronic lecturing - nor would I in his place!
This is not the proper way to effect change and to save Sharks!

We, too, have a choice.
We can either continue to berate him in public and continue to trigger the reactions we have triggered. Or, we may consider giving him our business and hope that the income and also, some private conversations once we are there and can talk face-to-face may help sway his mind in favor of keeping those Sharks alive.
That is exactly how we were able to reform (as opposed to browbeat) our local fishermen here in Fiji, by providing for sources of alternative income!

Or as Karl says
Boycott tourism thus leaving fishing as the only means by which natives can afford to feed themselves. Boycott Sharkbite Charters forcing Andy to fish even more for a living. Ya gotta love the logic. :)

Think about it.

PS All videos and threads have been removed.
The question being, did this exercise in outrage and abuse (interesting thread here) save one single Shark in the USVI.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Julie Andersen on French TV

Wolfgang is correct.
One can always differ about people, styles, statements and strategies and still recognize that Julie Andersen cares deeply about Sharks and that Vu du Ciel - Les héros de la nature - Julie Andersen (check for typos!) on France3 is excellent pro-Shark media.

The embedding feature is disabled (?) but you can watch it here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Atlantic Fisheries - mixed News!

The good news first.
I remain a huge fan of ex freedom fighter Maria Damanaki and her unshakeable commitment to tackle the various afflictions of the European fishing industry.
She has declared war on overfishing, the completely ineffective and economically nonviable subsidies, poaching and discards. What I also totally like is her idea of automatically reducing the fishing quotas of those members who fail to report their catches, very much along the lines of the precautionary principle.
Her proposals are now going to enter a consultation process and undoubtedly get watered down - but something will survive even the fiercest lobbying and thus, there will be progress.
I say, well done - as so often!

Now, once again, about those poor Tuna.
NOAA in its wisdom has decided not to accord the Northern Bluefin Tuna protection under the Endangered Species Act. Not good, tho I can somehow sympathize, as the Western stocks are certainly more robust and way better managed (read it, it's a great resource!) than the eastern stocks, especially in the Med.
The Tuna however remain a "species of concern" and a new assessment will be made by early 2013.

NOAA is also imposing new weak hooks.
It's about trying to reduce the Bluefin mortality in the Gulf where spawning Bluefins are protected but where they are never the less killed as bycatch of the important commercial Yellowfin and Swordfish longline fisheries.
But as always, things are complicated and reviews have been mixed, especially by the Pew who proposes to ban surface longlining instead.

Here is what the Pew folks have to say.

Long story short?
I do see progress, albeit frustratingly slow, and remain hopeful.
And Patric - do not forget my fine bottle!

Oceanic Whitetips in Focus!

Great pic by Neal!

Good news for OWTs.
This is one of the most depleted Sharks and in dire need of protection - and it very much looks like that is happening as we speak!

First, there was the ICCAT decision at their Paris meeting.
Now, NOAA is following up with rules for the implementation of that decision in the Atlantic and probably not coincidentally, the good Shark folks at the Pew are obviously trying to capture that momentum by launching this petition aimed at extending that protection to all US waters including those of the US territories.

At the same time, I notice more activity on the research front.
Underwater Thrills alerts me to OWT tagging in the Bahamas (more info here) and I also found this video.

It depicts this effort in the Caymans under the auspices of the SOSF.
Is it me, or does that old model SPOT tag look kinda big?

Anyway, all are very good developments that need to be applauded.
Well done everybody!

A Tribute to Jacques Cousteau!

333 Productions: Joe and Bill (with Jean-Michel Cousteau)

Nice hommage to JacquesCousteau by 333 Productions.

Friday, May 27, 2011

SPOT Tags - Good News!

From the SeaTurtle (?) website - click for detail

Looks like whilst I rant, others do.
I did propose a tethered SPOT tag and it turns out that Neil has been already deploying them for several months! To my defense, I must say that the guy is amazingly prolific and hard to keep track of!
Anyway, he has very graciously sent me the link to the following video where you can see the towed tag already in the preview image. From what I can discern, it looks like the ungainly tow arrays that were originally being deployed on Whale Sharks and the like have been miniaturized, see the picture on top, and that they can thus be deployed on those smaller species like Tigers and hopefully, GWs - and, I see no bolts!

RJD & Summit Series in the Bahamas from R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation on Vimeo.

The video covers this event.
A lot of very prominent and very smart people have congregated and brainstormed about solutions to the many problems affecting the health of marine ecosystems. I don't know the ins and outs of it but it appears that one of the activities was Shark Tag You're it! where participants were asked to submit ideas in order to qualify for joining Neil on a Shark tagging expedition for the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program - or something like that, as I said the guy is just too prolific!
And very possibly, too avant-garde-ish as well! :)

The Shark's name is Dominic.
Looks like he is happily pinging away whilst playing the usual hit-and-run games, as witnessed by this interactive track that is part of the Program's virtual expedition.

Anyway, stellar out-of-the box stuff!

PS nice overview of electronic tags here. - inclusive of the model that talks to other Sharks but exclusive of the ubiquitous humble acoustic tag!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Welcome Back?

Calvin Requin?
Check out the header of Shark Links - click for detail.

And then, I find this
I myself am an asshole. I will probably slander a few people now and then, but it is for their own good. If I can alert you to an environmental issue, article, YouTube video, petition, or other form of media about sharks with poopy pants humor and dick jokes, fine. Whether it is true or not, it is all propaganda--all of it

Could it be him?
Having counted the expletives in a couple of random posts, I am quite certain that we may be witnessing the timely reincarnation of the iconic and always toothy Sharky!

If so - welcome back buddy, you have been sorely missed!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Florida - Sharks, Fishermen & Researchers!

Dead Bulls or Java Sharks in Dibba Harbour

Whilst we focus on individual Sharks, the killing continues.
No, I'm not saying that individual animals are not important. Emma is a fantastic ambassador for the cause, and the slaughter of this pregnant Tiger Shark has spawned a world-class Shark conservation initiative.

What I'm saying is, let's not forget the big picture.
Check out this video.

Shark World XXX from Miami New Times on Vimeo.

Totally shocking - and yet, totally legal!
One could argue that this is a humane (well, sort of) and efficient way of dispatching the animals, especially when compared to the grisly images of live finning.
Be it as it may, the owner of the vessel is totally unrepentant. He has apparently fired the guy in the video, probably less for being a total dick and more for having attracted unwanted attention, but he continues to operate undeterred as a commercial Shark fisherman - and nobody is about to stop him from continuing to do so in total impunity.

The above and other details in this brilliant article.
I must commend Michael E. Miller for having written a compelling story that describes the whole extent of the complexity of the challenge at hand.
On one side, you have the noble aspirations of Shark conservationists and Shark research; on the other, the legitimate aspirations of the fishermen who want to pursue their trade, or those of the spearos and probably other aquatic recreationists who are rightly or wrongly afraid of getting attacked.
Talk about a political minefield in which to try and enact any marine policies!

Anyway, Kudos!
This is a must read for anybody interested in Shark conservation.

BTW the cited commercial fisherman Mike Newman is not anymore killing Sharks but helping researchers tag and track Lemons instead.
That's the sort of evolution one would hope to see all across that industy!

David - not a Dream anymore!

David Diley. Gotta work on that look - and on the tan!

Remember David?
Well, I was expecting a formal-formal announcement, but no such luck - he keeps talking about it in a rather oblique way and anybody who is not an insider will not quite catch on to the news.

So there.
David is coming to dive with us in July!
Right now, he is hopelessly mired in the post production of his first Shark-centric documentary, Behind Blue Glass which he has shot in Mallorca in April, and I cannot wait to see the trailer which is being announced for soon - which of course begs the question, is Manchester time any different from Fiji time!
We shall see won't we! :)

And in the meantime, check out this interview!
Aptly placed in the section about Challenges, it tells the story of one seriously committed, stubborn and outright crazy dude who just refuses to take no as an answer!
Yes, I'm rather impressed!

Anyway, about the Fiji gig.
David will be producing Shark.My God, the first instalment in his planned world wide doco series about people and Sharks. I know very little about the specific storyline and look forward to hearing more as time goes by - and to dashing the inevitable romantic illusions about what it takes to live, work and advocate Shark conservation in a tropical island paradise! I'm already driving him completely crazy as I simply refuse to micro-plan his visit but keep telling him that things will simply happen in their own time!
Not to worry Dave, Fiji is great and I may add, WAY better than other SOPAC countries (trust me I know!) - and bloody complicated at the same time! :)

And talking of last minute complications.
David needs some gear and is looking for sponsorship.
Like I said the first time, this is a realistic chance of achieving great exposure and very possibly, of even earning a buck in return for a modest investment into a worthwhile cause.

Please, think about it.
Vinaka vakalevu!

Jillian, Thank You!

Jillian and Duncan - lovely people!

Wow what can I say.

I'm quite frankly a little embarrassed.
Jillian has posted her impressions of the Fiji Shark Dive, and it's a great piece, written straight from the heart.

It's always a difficult one when one is being praised.
But where I totally agree is with her description of Rusi. He really does have some sort of magic connection to the animals - with the possible exception of Cristina who I have talked to but never dived with, probably uniquely so.
Other people in that category who don't regularly interact with Sharks but who have a connection and above all, understand: of course Valerie who will become personal friends with anybody down there, then the incomparable Mario Arroyo of Cocos fame, possibly Yves.
Period - at least when it comes to who I know.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you, I am quite touched.

Monday, May 23, 2011

About those Tags!

Junior on the boat after capture - see any evidence whatsoever of a broken jaw?

Looks like Michael Domeier has run into a brick wall.
ABC News 7's Chief Investigative Reporter Dan Noyes has authored an atrocious piece where far from doing his job and investigating, he has instead decided to spearhead a witch hunt aimed at blocking the renewal of Domeier's research permit at the Farallones; and some dude has started a petition with the same aim.

No I'm not gonna post the links.
Noyes has seen it fit to provide a forum to the usual strident suspects all the way to the token Sesselfurzer who is once again invited to bloviate about Shark behavior about which he has no clue whatsoever. This is nothing but a prime example of the usual sensationalist one-sided mainstream rubbish, only this time about a Shark-centric subject.
The petition, although well intentioned, is marred by the ramblings of yet another self appointed expert who continues to harp on about the non existent tumor and the jaw that was broken during capture - the latter against unequivocal photographic evidence to the contrary, see on top.

BUT - whereas I totally despise the means, I do concur with the aim.
Domeier's research goals are highly interesting and would provide for vital data that PAT tags are simply not designed to collect. But as outlined in his draft application, the procedures (and the SPOT tags, see below) remain highly invasive and it is my belief that both the protocols and the hardware need to be reformed and re-engineered before being allowed to be deployed in a Marine Sanctuary featuring some of the planet's most restrictive Shark interaction protocols.
But more of that below.

As to Domeier. what can I say.
Did he bring this upon himself? Yes he did, nobody dragged him, kicking and screaming, in front of the cameras. Does he deserve what is happening to him now? Certainly not!
My prediction is that the continued shit storm will lead the GFNMS honchos to refuse the permit.
My advice to Domeier would be to take his losses, leave behind this unholy alliance of hostile media, back-stabbing researchers, inept authorities, moronic experts and screeching activists and look for new worthwhile projects elsewhere.
Some wars are just not worth fighting.

At the same time, however, other questions need to be asked.
Firstly, what has been Maria Brown's role in this fiasco, starting from her original approval of invasive and highly experimental research all the way to her obvious inability to properly deal with the situation once things started to turn for the worse, to her continued lack of leadership now. I say, she should take her hat and leave, or be asked to do so.
That's what accountability is all about.

Secondly, what about the "long term resident researchers".
I'm confident that they are positively gloating. I'm however equally convinced that their status needs to be re-examined, both in terms of their research which makes them equally interact with the animals but which is increasingly becoming irrelevant, outdated and redundant - but also, in terms of whether one should confer exclusive territorial rights to people who have displayed such an extraordinary lack of ethics.
Personally, I would tell them to own up and reform or get lost - but that's me; as a minimum, one should ask them to wait till the PAT tags have popped up and relayed all the data before allowing them to stick any further Sharks.

Anyway, check out this further piece by Noyes.
Yes it's the same rubbish, but it features an interesting picture, see below and the equally interesting statements by another researcher.

Would that by any chance be the same guy who publicly condemned Domeier's research protocols one year earlier?

“There is an emphasis on sensation,” he said. “I think of it like ‘King Kong,’ the movie — going out and getting Kong, getting the white shark, in bondage."

Would he now be doing the exact same thing, i.e. hauling large and I would say, terminally pregnant Tiger Sharks out of the water, for TV, maybe even onto the very same wooden platform, and this under the auspices of the very same Chris Fisher who turned Domeier's research project into a joke by boasting (and here!) that he had caught the largest ever Shark blahblahrahrah - and continues to do so now?

Don't remember Fischer?
Here he is, proudly posing with one of his gigantic made-for-TV prop barbed hooks!

Which begs the question, who, exactly is the avid billfish angler and TV outdoor fishing adventurer ( and next Jacque (sic) Cousteau no less!), a self-professed fishing expert, who completely stuffed it up and left the Shark with 3/4 of the prop lodged in his throat?
Yes, you probably guessed who!

But contrary to Domeier who has valiantly played the fall guy by assuming full responsibility, Fisher is of course a media pro, knows how to play the game and has come out of this fiasco completely unscathed. Does this disqualify all hybrid productions as Patric asserts? No, it does only disqualify Fisher - there are heaps of other examples of productions featuring the work of researchers that are simply stellar!
But I'm digressing as usual.

Back to Fisher's new sidekick, did I hear animal care protocol?
Really? As in this stuff that is addressing the well being of lab rats and the like? Gotta see it to believe it! And on top of spouting this obvious baloney, was there really a need for him to mention that Domeier did not have any such protocols and thus infer that Domeier did not care about the health of the Sharks?
Talk about a shining example of gravitas and collegiate solidarity! Which begs the question, did the 187k (yes this is again about pecunia non olet!) come with the requirement to play attack dog for his master?

But back to that protocol.
The fact is that nowadays, everybody, his dog and the dog of his dog is tagging Tiger Sharks without hauling them out of the water, and I spare you the dozens upon dozens of links.
Using a sling to hoist the sharks and a live well on the ship, in which to place them is once again made-for-TV showbiz bullshit which has nothing whatsoever to do with caring for the Shark!
And the purpose of this exercise in animal welfare, or whatever? May it be, to reel in and subdue a (pregnant) Shark in order to drill and bolt some SPOT tag to its dorsal fin?
Honi soit qui mal y pense
- but we shall all see, shall we not!
Totally underhanded and hypocritical? You betcha!

But this is not about those researchers, or Fisher.
It is about those satellite tags (please read this paper!) and about the protocols that are required in order to deploy them.
In essence, the researchers have to face several challenges.
  • Developing a tag (a transmitter) that collects (and sometimes stores) data and then relays those data to a receiver from where the researchers can download them.
  • Attaching the tags to the Sharks.
  • Approaching/attracting/catching and/or possibly immobilizing the Sharks in order to attach the tags.
and the short- and long term implications this has on the animals' well being.

The tags

Those satellite tags are essentially produced by only a few companies, among which Wildlife Computers and Microwave Telemetry. Whereas the overall technology for the acoustic tags is well developed and highly reliable, this is not yet the case for the sat tags.

PAT tags try to calculate the position of the animal by using mathematical models that however feature a margin of error that can be very large indeed.
Also, to-date, the requirement that the tag be small coupled with the need to archive the collected data means that the life span of PAT tags is limited to little over one year, something that will conceivably change with the advent of longer lasting power sources etc. Finally, the PAT tags merely reveal a picture of the past as the data are only accessible once the tag pops up and uploads them to the satellite.

The manufacturers have tried to address these issues by developing SPOT tags that last multiples longer and that are able to provide for accurate real-time positions.
Whereas in theory this is clearly the way forward for some species of surface-oriented Sharks, there still remain notorious connectivity issues whereby the tags are not able to adequately uplink to the satellite during the short time frames when the antenna breaches the surface, etc. Plus, there are many Sharks that are not surface oriented and where deploying those SPOT tags will never make any sense at all.

Tag attachment

The above companies are essentially operated by electronic engineers whose principal concern is to develop electronic components that are able to communicate with receivers.
Consequently, both the shape of the tag and the way it is being attached to the Sharks appears very much to be little more than an afterthought. From my observation, the tags are produced in some shape with some attachment and the researchers are then being asked to somehow deploy (= experimentally field test) them and to come back with suggestions for improvement. In essence, electronic engineers are asking biologists for input about a mechanical engineering issue.
Sound like the best way to proceed to you?

All attachments are invasive, albeit to a different degree.
We have once tried to circumnavigate this issue by feeding acoustic tags to the bulls but were penalized by only being able to collect short data sets. The attachments I know of (there may be more) are positioning of the (so far: acoustic) tags inside the body via small incisions that get sewn shut, a procedure that apparently does not unduly cause long term damage to the animal; tag attachment via a ring around the caudal peduncle, so far for acoustic tags only, again something that appears to be non-debilitating as long as those rings don't chafe and are attached for rather short periods of time.

Tethers and anchors for acoustic and PAT tags?
Now, this is more problematic. Depending on the situation but also, the species, there are different anchors that are inserted (i.e. sewn, punched, slammed or shot) into the Sharks' muscle tissue. Bull Shark skin is particularly tough and covered with large dense denticles and we had to deploy the probably most invasive model that consists in a razor-blade-like implement that needs to be slammed in with force. That anchor will remain lodged in the animal forever and even if it does not cause infections, it will continue to be an irritant that will cut into the muscle at every contraction. Other anchors appear less problematic.
Case in point, our Bull Shark Hook - click for detail.

The depicted tether was fouled and finally fell off after two years - but to this day, the Shark still features a discoloration where the anchor continues to irritate the surrounding tissue.
Needless to say that we've stopped all tagging pending the development of a better attachment.

And what about the current SPOT Tags?
In the present configuration: absolutely shocking!
The tag needs to be bolted on, requiring that one catches and immobilizes the Shark, see below. Once secured with multiple bolts, that tag will interfere with the Sharks' growth and lead to permanently warped first dorsal fins especially in juveniles and subadults featuring high growth rates.

Plus, the bolts are supposed to somehow corrode and fall off after a period of 4-6 years.
Chances that anybody has tested that assertion? My gut feeling: those bolts will completely foul and never fall off at all!
But assuming that the bolts will corrode: chances that multiple bolts will corrode and fall off simultaneously? Yes, that would be a big fat Zero, and if so we'll end up with one last bolt holding a flapping tag, with the consequence that the bolt will likely completely shred or even amputate the dorsal fin.
What's Neil gonna say when his Hammerheads will turn up with their spectacular dorsal fin warped, shredded and/or possibly amputated.

One of Neil's Hammerheads carrying a SPOT tag with four bolts - article here.

What is Jimmy gonna tell his clients when Tiger Beach will start to feature maimed Tiger Sharks.
And before anybody starts screeching and launching yet another petition or the like: this is not about individual people and projects - the list obviously goes on and on and on and on!

And then, there is the issue of fouling, one of the major problems plaguing vessel owners around the globe. It's a big issue that is costing billions in incremental expenses for fuel etc - and anybody developing a remedy would likely make billions as a result!
We operate vessels and lemme tell 'ya, anti-fouling that lasts for 4-6 years does not exist - let alone a concoction that would not poison and kill the surrounding living tissue! Chances that after a few years, those tags and the antenna will not be completely overgrown with barnacles and algae, totally interfering with the transmission in the process?

Approaching and immobilizing the Sharks

Acoustic and PAT tags can be applied on the fly and thus, one can use bows or pole spears when approaching some surface oriented species like Whale Sharks, and other Sharks like GWS' that can be lured to the boats.
But this does not work with the vast majority of species that never come to the surface. Some species can be tagged underwater by using pole spears and spear guns, like we have done with our Bulls. But this is difficult to impossible with shy, fast swimming or deep water species, and it does not work at all with the present generation of SPOT tags that require bolting on.

In all of those cases, the Sharks need to be caught and/or immobilized.
Capture involves setting nets and long lines that however carry the risk of the Sharks asphyxiating if they are not regularly inspected; and using rod and reel, or hand lines like e.g. Guy has chosen to do.
Check out this picture of our Mrs. Jaws.

The Ocean is full of baited hooks and this is but one particularly brutal example of many, many Sharks we encounter that have contracted permanent disfigurement when escaping death by fishermen. Here are two more such examples and yes, Junior who obviously takes baited hooks may have experienced the same fate - but clearly not when he was hooked by Fisher's men!
Where I'm going with this is that hooking Sharks inherently carries the risk of permanent injury.

And what about immobilizing the Shark?
It appears that small species can indeed be hauled aboard without any permanent injury. Bigger animals cannot and/or should not, and the widely adapted procedure is to secure them alongside preferably a small skiff with catch poles, ropes, slings or cradles, and to then perform whatever needs performing whilst the Sharks are partially submerged and whilst the skiff is motoring ahead very gently in order to aerate their gills.
Apparently, this has also been done with GWs.

Of countless examples - Mahmood SPOT-tagging a Tiger, article here.

But although this is certainly much less invasive than trying to haul them aboard, trying to restrain large and immensely powerful struggling Sharks remains dangerous both for the animals but also for the researchers.

Still think that these issues are confined to Domeier alone?
Well, if so, think again - those tags are currently being deployed by everybody everywhere!
Hypocritical animal care protocol anybody, see above?

Long story short?
SPOT tagging is brutally invasive and needs to be halted pending the development of better attachments and procedures.
PAT tags are much less invasive but plagued by technical limitations restricting the scope of their deployment.


Let's look at the ideal specs for a data collecting implement.
  • The tags should be as small as possible; collect a maximum of data (position, temperature, depth, possibly data about neighboring equally tagged animals, etc), ideally at short time intervals; have a maximum operating longevity; be able to reliably transmit (ideally, in real time) the data to a receiver; possibly feature a data storage capacity for periods when the connection is being interrupted. Clearly, this is an issue for the electronics engineers and the solutions will improve with improvements in communications technology, battery longevity, miniaturization of components, etc.

  • They should be constructed of ideal materials (e.g. to minimize fouling through novel surface coatings and shapes; to withstand crushing when at depth, etc) and be ideally shaped (e.g. to minimize drag, to best conform to the shape of the animal, etc). This is a mechanical engineering issue.

  • The attachments should be non invasive and the tags should detach without any residue. Could the bulk of the tag (and thus, the bulk of the fouling) be detached from the animal and held by a tether, like in the case of the PAT tags? Could the tether be attached by a completely non invasive method like a dab of fast setting adhesive that would degrade within a determined period of time? Or what about a non chafing (!), elastic sleeve around the caudal peduncle? A small clamp around the posterior edge of the first dorsal fin that is secured by small barbs but also adhesive? Once again, this is an issue for mechanical engineers, and a matter of developing the adequate materials that would degrade and detach in time.
Or, how about a radical re-think?
What if the receiver would be following the transmitter? As in a autonomous self-propelling robot that would stay at the surface (or at times, even operate underwater) and pick up the transmissions of what would essentially be an improved acoustic tag, and relay them to a satellite? With the advantage that the tag could even be positioned inside the Shark and that the bulk of the electronics would be on the ROV that could also be located, serviced, even re-deployed from a vessel, including the possibility of downloading large data sets that would exceed the bandwidth of satellite transmissions?

Am I completely out of my mind?
Maybe not so much, check out this article about research on Penguins! Yes the hardware looks shocking (let's start a petition!) - but could it be improved and adapted to Sharks?

Prohibitively expensive? How about pooling the resources (yes I know I know...)?

But of course those are just a few suggestions by a non-engineer.
How about spending some real time and money on R&D. How about a contest among, say, MIT students with a grand prize of 10,000 bucks - think that you would not be literally inundated with possible solutions?
I've said it before: I simply refuse to believe that given the necessary attention including adequate funding but also adequate testing (!), the technical issues cannot be addressed - but until then, tagging needs to be halted, especially when it comes to those SPOT tags!

Leaves the issue of approaching the Shark.
Some Sharks can be tagged on the fly either from the surface or by divers and free divers, and the hardware should reflect that application.
Others however will always require some form of catching and immobilizing and no, I don't have a completely satisfactory answer to the issue that any such procedure will carry the inherent risk of injury. My gut is that I would not do it myself but instead rely on experienced fishermen whilst always striving to develop better and less invasive protocols.
But from what I know, that's precisely what all respectable researchers do already - including Domeier who however had the misfortune of stumbling across Fisher and his inept crew.

Ethical considerations?

Remains the issue of why the fuss.
Does it really matter whether we brutally manhandle, maim and even kill a couple of Sharks whilst engaging in research aimed at collecting data about their life history that could lead to better management and conservation measures?
After all, we would only be affecting a few individual animals that are irrelevant to the survival of the whole of the population and of the species, both of which are in continuous flux anyway - the more as the real damage to stocks is being perpetrated by the fishermen and indirectly, by the many other issues affecting the well being of oceanic habitats!

This is not about conservation - this is about who we are.
Do I really need to elaborate on the point that we who strive to protect Sharks must always respect the animals and always be on the lookout for the best possible alternatives - and this inclusive of any researcher who wants to maintain his credibility?

Does that mean that I'm anti-science and anti progress?
No, far from it, how could I. Just two months ago, I have personally lethally sampled a small Filefish because it is probably a new species. So far, Taxonomy requires the collecting (= killing and pickling) of at least one holotype (and ideally, several more paratypes) and lacking any alternatives, that's what I've decided to do.

Equally, I do not all all suggest that Sharks are special and that they should be treated differently than any other Fishes or animals in general, whether they be higher or lower as pointed out somewhere in this fascinating thread. Ethically speaking, a life is a life.
Invasive research is being conducted everywhere on a multitude of animals - but Sharks is what I'm interested in, and that's why I'm addressing Shark research in particular.

Let there be no doubt that tagging has been one of the major recent positive developments in Shark research.
The results are simply stellar (with the caveat that I remain concerned about publishing tracks that could lead the fishermen to the hot spots) and have given us fascinating and highly important insights into the life history of Sharks that other techniques could simply not have provided. Let there also be no doubt that I am intimately convinced that the vast majority of Shark researchers (yes including Domeier!) care deeply about the animals and are always trying to improve on their protocols in order to minimize any negative side effects.

But having said this, I equally advocate a temporary halt.
The technology has obvious flaws that can, and should be fixed before proceeding further.
Also and contrary to Heupel and Simpfendorfer who seem to advocate that research should remain in the ivory tower and disregard public opinion, there is an urgent need for outreach. The good news is that Shark research and conservation are thankfully becoming increasingly popular, with the positive result that this has certainly led to better pro-Shark policies and to a wider base for funding. But, this has also led to the necessity of open (and robust!) public debate, especially in view of the ever increasing number of strident, and often totally ignorant Shark activists - see the onslaught that has befallen Domeier.
One cannot profit from the benefits of the former without addressing the inconvenience of the latter!

Anyway, just my two cents - as always highly subjective!
Sorry for the lengthy rant - but as so often, the post has taken on a life of its own, and I just had to get it off my chest!

Comments policy.
Please, do not attempt to post comments that further defame Michael Domeier and his research. This has already been done ad nauseam (meaning that I am totally nauseated) on other posts on this blog and on this and this post on SFS, and anything even remotely parroting those allegations will be deleted.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Playa Bulls - challenging!


Who would have thought!
Conservation is always complicated - but Shark conservation being linked to the willingness to learn to speak English?

Check out this video about the Bull Sharks of Playa del Carmen!
Dunno what has really happened since that post in January - only that more Bulls have been killed just around the corner.

And incidentally, here's another example of how frustratingly complicated and in this example, totally counter intuitive (!) conservation can be!

The fight goes on!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rather awesome!

There really are some crazy dudes out there!
Story here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shark Free Marinas PSAs!

Excellent stuff!
We've obviously been big fans of the SFMI since day one, and Fiji continues to be one of the initiative's principal supporters.

Ever since Guy Harvey and the Humane Society have decided to support the concept, Luke has been assisted by a growing number of Board members, Celebrities and yes, certainly not leastly, by the influx of much needed funds that are being spent on promotional and support materials but also, on excellent PSAs.

Here are two of the most recent ones.
The first contains the endorsements by actor Kelly Perine, singer/songwriter Aria Johnson , celebrity photographer Nigel Barker, actress Lisa Edelstein, guitar legend Slash, the Dr Guy Harvey, American football legend Steve Bartkowski and the SFMI's Director Luke Tipple.
The second features the unequaled Guy and specifically targets the marinas in Florida - and I sure hope that there will be more targeting the other coastal states where pro-Shark activities have so far been dismal!
And, let's not forget this one! :)


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Only Bycatch?

New South Wales - Action, please!

Upset about the pic?
Here are several more!

From the website of the Game Fishing Association Australia, no less!

All line fishing methods that use hooks have the potential to harm grey nurse sharks.
Grey nurse sharks will take baited hooks and can also become hooked if they take a fish being played on line fishing gear regardless of whether bait or artificial lures have been used. However, the use of wire trace for bottom fishing and setlines has been identified as the most harmful fishing method to grey nurse sharks. Many sharks can be seen with fishing gear, such as hooks, caught in their jaws and line trailing from their mouth and gills. Autopsies of grey nurse sharks have found that hooks can become embedded in the throat and stomach, and can puncture the shark’s large liver. This can lead to bacterial infection, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and ultimately death.

From the paper.

Grey nurse sharks clearly interact with static baits deployed close to their aggregations.
All bait types were taken at all times of day, and grey nurse sharks were the only bait-takers after dusk. Even the least taken bait types resulted in frequent (10%) shark interactions, demonstrating that bottom-set baits pose a high interaction risk when deployed around grey nurse shark aggregations.

From the website of the NSW Government (!).

Areas that are known to be used for feeding and breeding are considered important for the survival of a threatened species. Some of these areas may be declared as critical habitat, such as the grey nurse shark areas along the NSW coast.

Hook and line fishing in areas important for survival has negative impacts on many threatened native species including Grey nurse shark (endangered).

Hook and line fishing can impact upon threatened species by causing damage to the mouth of fishes, which may impact on feeding behaviour and feeding success. The effects of fish hooks can be more serious over a longer time if retained in the mouth, throat and stomach of fishes and sharks, and ultimately can lead to death. Even though it is illegal to take a threatened species, these species are still being harmed by hook and line fishing, as evidenced by grey nurse sharks and black cod seen with hooks in their mouths.

While listing all hook and line fishing throughout NSW waters as a KTP is impractical and unwarranted, particular sites, such as known aggregation sites, spawning areas, important juvenile habitats and feeding areas, are of critical importance for the survival of threatened species. Some of these areas, but not all, are listed as critical habitat areas under NSW Fisheries legislation.
Any activity that could kill or adversely affect threatened fish species in these critical areas should be considered a threatening process and managed accordingly.

The new Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson could not care less.
In clear contravention of the precautionary principle and pending some re-assessment, or whatever, she is revoking the new fishing ban around Fish Rock and Green Island. I've blogged about it here, and here are more details on the Grey Nurse Blog.

Here is Ms Hodgkinson's e-mail along with that of her boss the PM.
If you live in NSW and are thus a member of their constituency, you may want to write and tell them what you think about this utter fiasco, or you can also sign up to this campaign by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

I know too little about Ozzie politics to give any advice to people from outside of NSW or Australia.
Best drop a line to Peter Hitchins and staff of the Southwest Rock Dive Center, or contact the FishRock Dive Center and ask them about the best way to proceed.

Vinaka Vakalevu!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Still on Target!

Yes these are all Bull Sharks - click for detail!

Quick-quick: rather ridiculous dive today!
Stellar viz, ripping current on the first dive, at least 60 Bulls, probably more.
Which of course bodes well for June!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Glimmer of Hope?

Another fantastic collage by Vitaly - using a pic of Predator by Lill!

Found this message in my in-box this morning.

My marine conservation sensei is of course absolutely correct.
Although some highly depleted but thankfully, largely local as opposed to global Fish populations may have accumulated extinction debt and may be pushed over the brink by the double whammy of Global Warming and Ocean Acidification, we are still to unequivocally document the extinction of a single marine Fish - meaning that there is hope that most of the Fishes could indeed survive in some MPAs (Assumption 3, Solution A).
But my sensei is heavily invested genetically and has no choice but to be optimistic about the future prospects of his grandchildren. And, the next 100 years is a mighty long time - just think of all that has happened, and of the havoc we have wreaked since 1911!

Anyway, here is the message, unabridged.
Wise words indeed - but that's why he is my sensei!

Your blog of 2011/05 was a bit of a wail of despair and your facts per se are hard to refute, but one might paint many different pictures from the same pigments of fact.

Yes, consumerism is the dirty secret of modern social, economic and political stability.
Like our relatives the chimpanzee, we humans are driven to compete for the biologically important things in life, like breeding rights with Alphas of the opposite gender, by amassing resources. Glittering status things, Ferraris, and Rolex watches do work. Societies with strong economies that foster consumerism out-compete other societies, and governments that allow people the freedom to compete for and amass resources can even get away with political repression, as in China. However consumerism that draws lightly upon the accumulated resources of Earth or does not overtax the compensatory mechanisms that maintain the equilibrium of the biosphere may be compatible with maintaining a healthy natural world.
Clean energy technology may be the sort of straw that an optimist might grasp here.

The big problem, as you pointed out, is population.
Yes there are presently too many people worldwide and the inexorable spread of consumerism will only increase the strain on natural systems. However, the demographic transition, which affects all modern first world societies, is an unexpected miracle with long term effects impossible to ignore. More and more countries are moving from zero population growth to negative growth, as in Japan and southern European countries. Even many third world countries are experiencing a dramatic reduction in the number of children per family, and education and empowerment of females in patriarchal societies promises continuing demographic changes. The inertia of population growth will certainly cause grave strain on natural systems throughout this century, but the Long Run may not be bleak if we can get through this bottleneck. Nature has its own ways of controlling overpopulation as well, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse could saddle up yet again for another winnowing. Perhaps they have even started their ride in Africa now.

It is probably an unrealistic goal to protect all habitats or to maintain large populations of species like sharks everywhere.
The future of, say, Triaenodon populations in places like Cocos Island may be bleak. It may be more effective to allocate resources to protect species and key habitats, with the hope that species that can “ark” through the next 100 years and then repopulate the spaces a more enlightened humanity sets aside for them. Education does change attitudes in the long run. I am encouraged that large areas of marine environment have recently been protected. Enforcement is always a problem, but some vast areas like the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are effectively protected by the might of the US government, others like the southern Line Islands by remoteness. Species is such areas, including Triaenodon, should get through the bottleneck OK.

The SRMR is the sort of project that can play a vital role in protecting species and habitats.
Even though you seem to despair for the future, interpretation is everything and according to the guardedly optimistic picture I have painted from facts and trends, the work you and others are doing may yet provide our descendents the resources necessary to help restore balance in the natural world.