Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pew Environment Group - working hard for the good Cause!

Finally - an interview with Matt!

Matt Rand heads the the Shark conservation push of the Pew.
I've been observing the meteoric rise of the Global Shark Conservation project team of the Pew Environment Group ever since their spectacular success in Palau a little more than one year ago.
Ever since, I've been noticing their behind-the scenes influence in Guam, the CNMI, the Maldives and the Bahamas and more recently, the Marshalls, Honduras,Chile, the APIL and the IATTC - and I'm quite sure that I may have missed some locations and that other projects are in the works!
Which of course begs the question, what were those other Shark Institutes etc doing during all those previous years?

Are you surprised by some of the locations on that list?
Chances are that you may have fallen victim to the unabashed self promotion of some B-listers that may, or may not have played a supporting role in getting those legislations enacted. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Palau where with the exception of Dermot who is totally legit and deserves praise for having gotten the ball rolling as early as 2001, there has been a ignominious veritable deluge of self professed visionaries, ghost writers, congratulators, prize awardors and outright moochers trying to claim a piece of the action and of the global accolades.
Unfortunately, much of it is attributable to the notorious modesty of the good people of the Pew project team, and to the fact that they appear to pursue a policy of always consulting the entirety of the local conservation community and of aligning themselves with prominent local players. Case in point: the Bahamas where Cristina started the conservation push and where Matt's team has chosen to work with the BNT and the local dive community, something I cannot but applaud for having created a powerful local lobby that cannot be accused of meddling from the outside – but it of course carries the risk of those orgs creating the impression that all the success is attributable to them alone.

With that in mind, I'm really glad to see this bit of soft self promotion.
I could be mistaken, but this may well the first time that Matt outlines the strategies and the many successes of the group he heads. I’m particularly thankful for their commitment to working globally to establish pragmatic, science-based policies that protect our oceans, something that is imperative when dealing with real problems in a real world.
This puts them in a league of a very few result- (as opposed to agenda-) driven NGOs and hopefully helps counteract the recent worrying upsurge of strident activist Facebook pages where an unholy alliance of truism-spouting desperate housewives and Shark whacks is very much threatening to dolphinize the global Shark conservation movement.
Just FINtastic - and yes, I’ll certainly leave it at that!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you.
With you guys congratulating everybody else, I thought that it was bloody time that somebody returned the favor.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Killing for Conservation?

Excellent stuff from Florida - again!


Top oceanic predators, especially large predatory sharks (TOPS), appear to be experiencing varying degrees of population declines. Life history data (e.g. diet, reproductive status, age and growth, mortality) are critical for developing effective conservation strategies for TOPS. Presently, lethal sampling remains the most effective and accurate means of gathering these data. To meet such challenges, many scientists have utilized specimens obtained from recreational and commercial fisheries, but have needed to supplement those data with fishery-independent sampling.

However, there is growing public and scientific debate as to whether lethal sampling of TOPS is justified for obtaining conservation data.
Here we describe the development and use of non-lethal alternatives for collecting data on (1) trophodynamics; (2) maturity state and fecundity; and (3) growth and mortality rates necessary to enact conservation measures for threatened or even data-deficient TOPS.


In the case of TOPS which are highly protected, lethal sampling is not an option.
As such, scientists have generated innovative non-lethal alternatives for obtaining data on trophodynamics, age-growth, maturity, and reproductive status. This is best exemplified in the white shark Carcharodon carcharias, which is designated as Vulnerable to Extinction by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN; Fergusson et al. 2005), listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and fully protected in South Africa, Namibia, the USA, Australia, Israel, Italy, and Malta (Fergusson et al. 2005).

For example, white shark diet and feeding habits have been determined from gut content analysis of specimens obtained from fisheries (Cliff et al. 1989, Bruce 1992, Cortés 1999, Hussey et al. in press, Smale & Cliff in press). Sulikowski et al. (in press) recently developed non-lethal techniques to assess the reproductive biology of white sharks. Moreover, electronic tagging (Domeier & Nasby-Lucas 2008, Weng et al. 2007, Jorgensen et al. 2010), mark-recapture (Anderson et al. 2011), photo identification (Domeier & Nasby-Lucas 2007, Chapple et al. 2011), and application of molecular genetics (Gubili et al. 2009, Jorgensen et al. 2010) have been used to determine population size and structure of white sharks in a variety of locations.

In his book ‘Why big fierce animals are rare: an ecologist’s perspective,’ Colinvaux (1978) elegantly described how the second law of thermodynamics restricts the abundance and size of apex predators. He wrote: …Great white sharks or killer whales in the sea, and lions and tigers on the land…are very thinly spread. One may swim many lifetimes in the world oceans without encountering a great white shark… (p. 27) Even nearly a century ago, long before overfishing, Elton (1927) pointed out that large carnivores were rare.

Given the threatened status of many TOPS, there is a growing need to develop feasible alternatives to lethal sampling.
We recognize that this will not happen overnight; but as scientists, we need to become creative, collaborate, and challenge ourselves to do so, because this is the direction we need to be moving in, if conservation is our goal.

Finally, a voice of reason!
The above is from Killing for conservation: the need for alternatives to lethal sampling of apex predatory sharks, by Neil Hammerschlag and James Sulikowski and you can thankfully read the whole (short and clear, so do not worry) paper here.

I remain generally dead set against lethal sampling and must commend the authors for having tackled a subject that is highly controversial and for having unequivocally spoken out in favor of the animals. May I also add that it cannot be a coincidence that the first two people that are being acknowledged are DaMary and Jimmy, a clear tribute to their excellent advocacy for Sharks.
Be it as it may, kudos to everybody involved.

This is clearly the way forward and once again, you have positioned yourself very much at the forefront of Shark research and Shark conservation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From JAWS with Love!

Finally, the pro-Shark version! :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shark Talk 1 - excellent Video by Sharkquest Arabia!

Once again, kudos to Jonathan Ali Khan.

I was critical of his last interview but this time, I am totally impressed.
His Sharkquest Arabia is conducting extremely important, pioneering and smartly inclusive (as opposed to confrontational) work in the Arabian Sea and fully deserves everybody's support.

Much of the underwater footage in this video is apparently from the largely unknown Musandam that juts into the straight of Hormuz separating the Gulf of Oman from the Persian Gulf. It is a current swept, nutrient rich and consequently, highly biodiverse habitat that much reminds me of the area around the Seven Brothers in the Bab-El- Mandeb that equally features enormous schools of Fish and large seasonal aggregations of Whale Sharks.

This is excellent stuff - enjoy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Total Bliss!

These were the crew and passengers of Hunter on June 18.
From left to right - click for detail.
Top row: Silio, Douglas David Seifert, Vili and Arthur.
Middle row: Lui, Cristina Zenato, Rusi, Richard and skipper Netani.
Standing in front: Valerie and Ron Taylor, and Eliki
Crouching: Rick MacPherson and Emily Irwing Seifert.

What can I say.
Except that it has been overwhelming, inspiring, enlightening for all of us. Everybody present, the stellar weather and above all, the lovely Sharks have contributed to what I am sure has been a day nobody will ever forget. Total serendipity, total harmony and total bliss.
This is why we do it.

Thank you.

The Fiji Shark Dive in Spanish!

Blunt - very big and showing her teeth like she always does. Great pic by Sergei Shanin (yes those are links)!

Excellent job!
I've just received a nice mail from the fiery Iñaki Bue of Kapta Producciones. He tells me that he has posted a new video about our dive and concludes
Yesterday I made a presentation at the Getxo Sea Week and after the video I spoke about the shark preservation and everything you told us about Spanish and Bask fishing boats. It was quite good.
This is Getxo- charming! :)

I rarely if ever sit for interviews as I believe that showcasing a Caucasian talking head detracts from the fact that the SRMR is very much a Fijian success story. But in view of the continued involvement of Spain in the Shark fishing (and alas, Shark fin) business, I wanted to send a message to what I knew was going to be a Spanish audience - and thanks to Iñaki, it looks like I did.

So here is that video - enjoy!

Thanks Iñaki, much appreciated!

South Africa - ugly Rumors!

No this is NOT from SA and thus NOT evidence - it's just a grisly picture illustrating the topic of this post.

So far, this is largely unsubstantiated.
Apparently, so the story goes, large protected Tigers and Great Whites are being poached in order to sell the jaws to US trophy hunters. If so, it would be a terrible tragedy for the marine ecosystem and also for South Africa's Shark viewing operators that contribute millions to the country's tourism industry.

Good people are looking into it and my fervent hope is that this will turn out to be nothing more than yet another myth, like the recent unnecessary controversy about the Shark bait.
Fingers crossed and we'll keep you posted as events unfold.

PS more details by DaWolf here.

One Hundred Bull Sharks?

Milky viz, heaps upon heaps of Bulls, frantic action - not conducive for leaning back and counting Sharks! But, one customer commented that everywhere you looked, there were scores of big Sharks and Valerie said that those may well have been the fabled one hundred Bulls. The screen shots don't really do it justice as they only cover a small section of the action - so imagine the same happening all over the place!

So there, I officially declare June 24, 2011 to be the day when the prediction came true!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jackass Guadalupe?

I wish!

I've asked the question and here is the answer.
The good news: it really looks like this got nothing to do with the commercial Shark diving industry in Guadalupe. For once and with the exception of yet more of those pathetic summit expeditions by the indefatigable and totally unrepentant Amos, I haven't heard about any particularly stunning stupidities and on the contrary, one prominent industry member has posted some remarkable pro-Shark footage, see further below.
The bad news: other people dive there, too.

But lemme first tell you a story so you know where I'm coming from.
It very much looks like GWs may well be just another large predatory Shark, meaning that very experienced people who take the time to observe them and to learn are able to interact safely with determined individual animals in determined conditions. This is really nothing new as evidenced by the following epic video of Valerie hand feeding one particular GW that she observed and deemed to be particularly friendly.
What incidentally totally blows me away here is that a Fish is sticking his head out of the water and very much establishing a personal relationship with a person - just amazing!

And then, there are those free diving dudes.
About ten years ago, GW diving pioneer Andre Hartman whom I totally respect for having spent years learning about GW behavior, and this at great personal risk, allowed a punter named JM Cousteau to hang on to one of his Sharks. This was pure Gallic macho bravado and had nothing to do with trying to demystify anything like it was later portrayed. I know because I got friends who were there.
Ever since, there has been a deluge of copycats abusing Sharks as underwater scooters, first Great Whites and now alas also those poor placid Tigers. There's no denying that all of them are brave (and probably stupid) and that many have an excellent water sense - but still, I find their lack of respect simply appalling and would wish that this idiotic fad would go away, be it owing to the insight that the message, or whatever, actually sucks or far more likely, due to somebody pushing it just a bit to far and finally getting nailed - and take a wild guess as to who would be blamed if that happened! :(
But the fact remains that certain individual GWs appear to be unendingly tolerant of our shenanigans and that so far, everybody has lived to tell the story, sometimes in a disarmingly charming way. Good on them.

Anyway, with that in mind, I had an idea about a possible documentary.
After talking to people in the know, I am intimately convinced that given a suitable site and a lot of time, patience and dedication, one can develop a dive where one can safely interact with GWs outside of the cage, very much along the lines of what we do here in Fiji. If somebody of the caliber of, say, Mike Rutzen of whom I remain a big fan put his mind to it, I see no reason why one would not be able to safely feed a GW underwater.
Our Rusi speaks Shark and I wondered whether one could shoot a documentary about him feeding our Bulls and Tigers and then traveling to Lupe, spending a long time observing the Sharks and then identifying and feeding a suitably mellow individual - not out of bravado but in order to show that given the respect and the empathy, people and Sharks can work together harmoniously, just like what happens here in Fiji.

Having asked two friendly operators in Lupe, their reaction was unequivocal: no way!
Apart from it being illegal, they did not want to take on the responsibility of a possible accident and above all, they were extremely wary of possible copycats, something I had overlooked and where I completely concur.
Consequently, out of respect, the project was shelved.

But the idea remained, and I was thus happy to read this.

A shark is a mindless killer, an eating machine.
They are so dangerous; in fact, that the only way we can observe them safely is through the bars of a steel cage.

But, is it possible that our terror of the animal and perhaps even the cage itself, is warping our perceptions?

Academy Award filmmaker Mike Hoover, believes the answer to that question is, “Yes”.
Having spent much of the last decade filming and interacting with the great white sharks at Guadalupe Island, he has come to believe that the common perception of the mindless killer is not only deeply flawed but incredibly destructive. Hoover believes that the only way to change that perception is to interact with the great white shark in a new way. Essentially, he wants to do for sharks what Jane Goodall and Dian Fosse
(sic) did for the chimpanzee and the Mountain Gorilla.

The goal, is to see the world through their eyes, to interact with them, touch them, maybe even form a relationship with the animal. If we can do all this, we might learn new things about white shark behaviour and, just maybe, change the perception of the demon shark.
And then, I watch the trailer.
And then, I see the token Shark pornographer spout his pseudo-conservation message.
And then, I see a bunch of weapon brandishing yahoos abuse those poor GWs as underwater scooters.
And then, here comes the f@$%ing mermaid.
I mean, you just can't make these things up!

A MERMAID???? Is that the f@$%ing message???
Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey my ass! How dare that guy compare himself to them!
This is nothing but yet another one of those self promoting punters parachuting into somebody else's turf and using bogus conservation messaging to play to the googly-eyed sharkitarians in order to justify the latest stupid and utterly disrespectful circus stunt with Sharks - the sad part being that like all those other self professed visionaries, he's likely to be successful!
Makes me wanna puke!

The correct way to go about it?
Look no further than this stellar video by Lawrence. Those peaceful scenes of mellow GWs minding their own business, the harmony between them and those Sea Lions - that's the message.
No need for arrogant weapon toting simians, let alone brain dead bimbettes, in the same way that nobody would dream of depicting the African wilderness by having people in clown suits go walkabout in the Serengeti.

And that latest trailer about night diving with OWTs?
My call: not everything that can be done needs to be done and not everything that is being done needs to be publicized. Once again, those dudes are seriously brave (and probably stupid) and all the power to them for having pulled it off. But this got NOTHING to do with conservation: it remains extremely dangerous and the bogus conservation messaging will inevitably encourage the punters to try and do the same. The old man with the red hat and incidentally, Ron and Valerie are right when they deem this Shark to be exceptionally dangerous!

Guys, if you really feel that you must showcase it, tell it as it is: a bunch of brave divers did something dangerous. Please, walk away from that touchy-feely conservation spin. Seriously, and I know you know what I'm talking about: if you really care about those Sharks, please, don't go there.

Special thanks to the saffron pimpernel for having donated the cover shot!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This is good stuff.
Factual, for once original, emotional yet without the usual unhelpful pathos and the usual unhelpful statements.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch - Guest Post!

To this day, one of my very favorite depictions of a Bull Shark - Walker's Cay, Bahamas. Click for detail.

What to say about a guy one has never met.
Jeremy and I go way, way back when we miraculously managed to somehow always just miss each other, be it in the Sudan during the glorious times of Jack Jackson and Alex Double with their Stormbringer servicing the spartan diving camp on Sanganeb, in PNG on Bob and Dinah's legendary Telita or much later, on Gary and Brenda's iconic Walker's Cay.
Anyway, I've known of him forever, as a great trailblazing Shark photographer way back then where taking those pics was tough and as one of the good guys who has always combined his love and his respect of Sharks with the unbridled scientifically inspired curiosity of a true naturalist, as it should be. I also associate him with concepts like gentleman adventurer, renaissance man and patron of the Shark Trust, something that is purely intuitive and not substantiated and something I suspect he would deny - but if not strictly correct, it is certainly not far from the truth.
Plus and most importantly, he vocally shares my visceral distaste of the knightly Ueber-Charlatan, and (!) he ranks way low in the infamous CDNN list, and this for being a Shark feeding green-washer, much like my dear friend Douglas with whom he is apparently being confused.

How can I then not like and respect the man!
Anyway, we were talking and he asked whether I might be interested in a short piece about Shark photography.Needless to say that I jumped at the opportunity and that I'm totally honored!
So there, enjoy our first ever guest blog post!

On Photographing Sharks

By Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

I admit that I’m a Luddite.
When I was first pho
tographing sharks everything was manual. There were 4 knobs on my underwater housing – focus, aperture, shutter and trigger – an eccentrically-hued roll of film in my camera and a pair of hefty strobes that occasionally fired in unison when triggered but flashed with absolute reliability when there was a short circuit, gremlin or leak. There was a water-detecting alarm that I soon learnt to ignore. In fact I’m secretly proud of some of the photos I took even as the alarm was sounding and a red light appeared in the viewfinder window. Indeed, it was only when the alarm was sounding and the strobes were discharging in rapid flashes that things were likely to be serious. But it was progress of sorts: prior to those wildly unreliable electronic flash guns there were the flash bulbs of which about 50 per cent worked – though many exploded killing the subject. This accounts for the upside down fish in early underwater photographs. These were the dying days of diving with a watch and decompression tables – and if you were serious that watch was the original, clunkingly functional PloProf that doubled up as a second weight belt. Decompression computers were just around the corner – and when they arrived they were cruel. I remember ignoring the flashing instructions of an early model (↑ASCEND NOW↑) and instantly being sentenced to 135 minutes of decompression at 18 inches.

Grey Reef Shark, Sanganeb, Sudan

It was a time when The Buddy System was open to interpretation.
For underwater photographers, their camera was their buddy. Now please don’t misunderstand me: I think every diver has the right to practice The Buddy System on every single dive (s)he ever does regardless of the conditions or purpose of the dive – ditto, incidentally, anyone who wants to do wreck or night dives. But I don’t want to hear about it. By far the most dangerous thing I’ve ever encountered underwater is a certain overgrown member of the zooplankton community that runs out of air, panics, gets bent, narked, exhausted, lost, has equipment malfunctions and blunders in front of my camera in a chaos of limbs and bubbles.

In the days of underwater film photography you had 36 chances to screw up and usually did.
Then I met an underwater photographer with a digital hous
ing and a self-satisfied smirk who kept muttering that he had embraced the future. This consisted in 28,501,277 shots per dive in superfine poster-size image mode, all automatically and flawlessly exposed and in perfect focus. You’d think I would have jumped ship, but no: it just looked like 28,501,277 chances to screw up. I was deterred by the 6,588 knobs, dials and buttons protruding from this fellow’s snazzy digital housing and the terrifying learning curve that they implied – a learning curve that clashed with my unshakeable belief in the acronym KISS. If I struggled at 150 feet down to remember f11 at 3 feet to calculate exposure, what chance did the digital wizards have of even knowing which buttons to push in those mind-blurring depths?

Caribbean Reef Shark, Walker's Cay, Bahamas

But now the future is here.
The young Turks proudly display their dazzling digital images – images in which each pore in a rampaging shark’s snout is frozen in microscopic detail, images in which the species of shark is identifiable from the razor sharp serrations of the teeth in the gurning mouth – and, like the Ottoman calligraphists of old who refused to embrace the printing press, I sigh at my impending extinction. But I’m not extinct yet. All photographs are photographs but not all photographs are pictures. It is only when the photograph captures the moment that the picture emerges. There are of course many kinds of moment but in the case of sharks in shallow waters – on coral reefs for example – there is the moment where the shark and its setting click. This is the moment when the shark-as-devil-fish-from-hell (to use Sonny Gruber’s expression) changes into something different: something formidable yet beautiful that thoroughly belongs.
It is the tension between Thanatos and Natural History.

Bull Sharks, Walker's Cay, Bahamas

The pictures presented here are mostly from just two places.
One is a specific soft-coral-festooned coral head on Sanganeb Atoll in the Red Sea. The other is Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas. If Beqa Lagoon has the world’s best bull shark dive then Walker’s Cay once had the world’s best bull shark snorkel – even if it gained an unjustified infamy thanks to a certain self-proclaimed ‘shark behaviour expert’ who sacrificed his calf muscle in the name of shark porn and pseudoscience.

deserve better than this: they deserve to be filmed and photographed – whatever the medium or mechanism – not as a means to an end but as an end in their own right. Indeed, I think the photos presented here are struggling to be pictures though where they fall short is apparent enough. But this is their strength compared to a photograph where the issue doesn’t even arise. Perhaps this is an area where the young Turks with their digital cameras loaded with 28,501,277 shots, nitrox, rebreathers and sane dive computers, can take underwater photography further down the road from craft to art.

Grey Reef Sharks, Sanganeb, Sudan. Of interest, this white-tipped Indian Ocean color variation was once thought to be an own species, C. wheeleri but later lumped back under C. amblyrhinchos.

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch has, over the
years, combined a love of writing with photography: when writing about a subject illustrated with his own photographs, this allows him to bring an individual perspective to the topic. His photography started when he was a scuba diver bewitched by the underwater world. Intrigued by the challenges of photographing sharks and coral reefs, these were the subjects of his earliest books before he branched out into other marine subjects including mangrove forests. Equally fascinated by ancient history and recording the spellbinding remains of past peoples, he has since moved into archaeology and large format photography. This, to date, has resulted in richly illustrated books on ancient Egypt and the endless ruins of Anatolia, Turkey.

Bull Sharks, Walker's Cay, Bahamas

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Another worthy Fight!

Whilst the contest is progressing.
I've stumbled upon this by pure happenstance. When I started diving the Caribbean a long time ago, the beautiful Nassau Groupers were everywhere, only to be progressively obliterated by overfishing. I understand that they're thankfully staging a tenuous comeback but that they are still locally threatened, as witnessed by the situation in the Cayman Islands.

Check out the video documenting their amazing spawning aggregations - epic stuff!

I notice that once again, Pew is in the thick of it - kudos!

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Who are the iconic ladies that make the BAD boys smile? Click for detail!

Wow what a day!
We had the great honor and immense pleasure of hosting a gaggle of intelligent, passionate and just simply genuinely lovely Shark conservation people for a day of Shark diving, bonding and epic conversations. Among them were two ladies who are truly the crème de la crème of the Shark diving community and who both happen to be Women Divers Hall of Famers.
Lemme tell 'ya, it doesn't get much more iconic than that!

So there, here's your chance to partake in this momentous event.
If you manage to correctly identify both ladies, you can win one full week of diving with Beqa Adventure Divers, meaning several outings to Shark Reef Marine Reserve for the Fiji Shark Dive but also several reef and wreck dives in the famous Beqa Lagoon.

  • First one to answer correctly on this blog (NOT on Facebook) wins
  • Personal friends of those ladies do not qualify
  • People who already know that those ladies are here do not qualify
  • Please only answer if you truly intend to accept the price - if not, leave that opportunity to others
  • Ditto if you already dive with us FOC
  • The initial prize consists in seven full days of diving. After one day, I will post a clue and the prize drops to six days; after another day, I will post another clue and the prize drops to five days, etc.
May the fun begin! :)

First Clue - 6 days of diving: Jeremiah Sullivan.

Congratulations to Mark Gray for having submitted the correct answer!
Here are the ladies!

Cristina and Valerie - true diving icons (yes those are links -read them!) - and by the way - I was right! :)

'Nuff said!


Thanks Rick - and I must say, the soundtrack is way, way better than last time! :)
Video here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Shades of Grey - awesome!!!

Shades of Grey - you must click on this and then view it in full screen!

Mark Montocchio has done it again!
This is simply breathtaking photography and once again, he has posted an equally stellar Getting the Shot video.

What can I say, the man is amazing!
Enjoy - and you will!

And here's the Marlin shot, One Second!

Australia's GNS - thank you Shark Savers and Underwater Thrills!

Hopefully, this is going to create some traction.
Shark Savers have very graciously posted this action alert about the situation of the Grey Nurse Sharks in New South Wales. Theirs is a seriously popular blog linking into a seriously popular Facebook page, very much like the always enormously helpful Underwater Thrills who have re-posted my piece pretty much straight away.

Hopefully, this combined fire power will translate into many comments!
This is a political, not a scientific debate (the science is rock solid and demands fishing bans) and many comments advocating a fishing ban at all GNS aggregation sites are likely to really make a difference!

Vinaka vakalevu, much appreciated!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Excellent News from Florida!

Smooth Hammerhead - one of the more uncommonly encountered species

Please check out this excellent post.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering protecting Tiger Sharks and three species of Hammerheads, Great, Scalloped and Smooth.

I am sure that many good people will get involved.
Personally, I will continue following the advice of DaMary. She is not only a dear personal friend but she has a stellar track record of getting things done. It is very much her enthusiasm and level handed guidance that have been instrumental in co-ordinating the activist effort last time when Florida ended up protecting the Lemons. Since that time, Mary has graciously integrated her Shark Safe Network into the bigger umbrella of Shark Savers of which she is now a Director.

I shall continue reporting about events as they unfold.
Should you wish to get personally involved, please consult the SS Blog where Mary, a Florida resident, will undoubtedly continue to post the latest news, timely and pertinent information, recommendations and action alerts, as she always does.

Let's get this thing sorted!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Behold - the Bible!

This is what every Shark aficionado has been waiting for - for a very very long time indeed!
The Sharks of North America continues the tradition of the iconic The Sharks of North American Waters of which I own, and still consult an original 1983 copy.
Dr. José I. Castro is a fisheries biologist with NOAA and a senior scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory and this book is truly Castro's labor of love. Having heard of his meticulous attention to even the smallest detail, I particularly look forward to admiring the book's artwork. From what I hear, the drawings are simply stunning and constitute the first ever collection of one hundred percent accurate depictions of those Sharks.

Required purchasing!

PS and here's David's Angular Roughshark in action!

Two views of Cocos!

Check out this epic video, as always from the BBC.

Alas, this is not the whole story.
Once again, kudos to CNN for continuing to embrace the cause of Sharks.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Excellent Info for Shark Conservationists!

Heartbreaking - click for detail!

  • Commercial fisheries targeting sharks exist throughout the world. Sharks are sought primarily for their fins (for shark fin soup) and their meat but also for their cartilage,liver and skin.

  • 73 million sharks are killed every year, according to a 2000 analysis of the Hong Kong shark fin trade. Many scientists estimate that at least 100 million sharks are killed annually, including sharks caught for other products, such as meat.

  • Shark populations have declined by as much as 70 to 80 percent, according to global reports. Some populations, such as the porbeagle shark in the northwestern Atlantic and spiny dogfish in the northeastern Atlantic, have been reduced by up to 90 percent.

  • Thirty percent of all shark and ray species are now Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction, and accurate scientific assessments cannot be done on an additional 47percent of the species because of a lack of data.

  • The highest numbers of reported shark landings are from: Indonesia; India; Taiwan, Province of China; Spain; and Mexico.

  • The catching of sharks in fisheries that target other species (bycatch)is frequently reported in open-sea longline fisheries targeting tuna and swordfish and can represent asmuch as 25 percent of the total catch. This bycatch is considered to be a major source of mortality for many shark species worldwide.

  • Blue sharks make up a particularly large proportion of shark bycatch in open-sea fisheries (47 to92 percent).

  • The value of shark fins has increased with economic growth in Asia (particularly China), and this increased value is a major factor in the commercial exploitation of sharks worldwide. One bowl of shark fin soup can cost US$100.

  • Sharks play an important role in maintaining the structure and function of the ecosystem. They regulate the variety and abundance of the species below them in the food chain. Impacts from the loss of sharks can be felt throughout the entire marine environment.

  • Live sharks have a significant value for marine ecotourism (such as recreational diving, snorkelling, and shark watching) that is more sustainable and often far more valuable than their worth to fisheries. Whale shark tourism, for example, is estimated to be worth $47.5 million annually worldwide, and shark tourism activities in the Bahamas generate $78 million annually for the Bahamian economy.

  • To reverse declines in shark populations, shark sanctuaries should be established, and strong, science-based management should be put in place by all fishing countries and international bodies that regulate shark fishing and trade
Once again, I must commend the Pew.
They have just published Sharks in Trouble: Hunters Become the Hunted and I must say, this is now the Bible for Shark conservationists.
Required reading!

Kudos also to Bush Warriors for this piece.
It's an excellent overview and contains very useful tips for anybody wanting to get active. But before you embark on your crusade: do your homework first!

Fiji underwater - nice!

Kudos to Andrey.
In only a few days, he has managed to collect a very nice portfolio of images of the Fiji Shark Dive and of the awesome coral gardens of Beqa Lagoon.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Thank you Shark Girl - again!

Proudly BAD: Lui, Fabi, Silio, Netani and Vili!

I'm once again beholden to Jillian aka the Shark Girl for a very honorable mention of BAD on her blog.

I'm sure that I am also speaking for Stuart of Matava when I say that we are proud of the role Fiji has played in promoting the idea of the Shark Free Marina Initiative. The success in Fiji was certainly instrumental in proving that the then completely novel concept was very much a viable one.

Very much looking forward to the Fiji PSA!

PS This all thanks to Patric who got the ball rolling - his take here.

NSW Grey Nurse Sharks - Recommendations!

Hooked and permanently disfigured GNS

Sorry for the protracted silence.
We're currently extraordinarily busy, all good but very time consuming, and for the next couple of weeks, feeding the blog will unfortunately have to remain a low priority.

But this is important and urgent, so there.
Mark Gray has graciously posted some highly useful comments on my last post about the GNS. Mark is of course none other than the award winning dive pro of Sundive in Byron Bay and as such, he very much represents the POV of the Australian GNS dive community - and very likely, that of the scientific community with whom they collaborate as well. These are the people who dive with and photograph those GNS and who regularly try and rescue them when they fall victim to the local fishermen.
Here's another one of those stories, and the according video.

Anyway, here's the situation in a nutshell - please consult the links.
Following the election of a new pro-fishing Minister, the fishing ban around Fish Rock and Green Island has been revoked pending the result of a public consultation. The NSW Department of Primary Industries has published a discussion paper and there are an online page and a submission form where one can post comments.

This is principally about Fish Rock and Green Island.
Here's an older video by Mark showing the aggregation of Fish Rock which is very much one of the most important such sites needing urgent comprehensive protection!

Other sites are rather well protected, but in South West Rocks, the closest community on the coast, there is a strong fishing lobby that has convinced the Minister to repeal the recent protection at those iconic dive sites. At the same time, the Department is looking at unifying and streamlining the rules governing all the known aggregation sites of the GNS, namely

• Julian Rocks (Byron Bay),
• Fish Rock (South West Rocks),
• Green Island (South West Rocks),
• The Pinnacle (Forster),
• Big and Little Seal Rocks (South of Forster),
• Little Broughton Island (North of Port Stephens),
• Magic Point (Maroubra – Sydney),
• Bass Point (Shellharbour),
• Tollgate Islands (Batemans Bay),
• Montague Island (Narooma)

some of which are Commonwealth Marine Reserves and some of which, like Fish Rock and Green Island, are merely declared to be Critical Habitats, see the map in the discussion paper. The paper lists further major aggregation sites that are currently not being protected.

Please, help those Sharks by submitting your comments.
From my discussion with Mark and others, the following may be a good way to go about it. Keep in mind that the GNS are already protected in NSW. This is about protecting them against accidental injury when they take the hooks of fishermen who target other Fishes. I am being told that it would be useful if your submission would include the following requests - ask for the maximum keeping in mind that the political process will likely result in some sort of weaker compromise.
  • That Fish Rock and Green Island be declared a Commonwealth Marine Reserve (CMR).
  • That Mermaid Reef and South Solitary Islands be recognized as Critical Habitats (CH).
  • Citing the unequivocal scientific data that reveal the extraordinarily vulnerability of GNS to injury by fishing gear, that all recreational fishing (there are other rules governing commercial fishing) be banned from all known GNS aggregation sites (list them as per above) regardless of whether they are CMR, CH or not yet protected.
The online submission form does not have provision for opinions from overseas.
This is obviously biased as a lot of overseas visitors come and visit Fish Rock and Green Island as it has been commented that its one of the top Australian Dive Sites.
The following suggestions have been made for submission from overseas
  • The zip code of 2431 is the post code for South West Rocks which is the nearest town and port for those visiting Fish Rock and also the home of the biased fishermen also. Maybe as part of the counting of submission those from the “local” communities may have more weight.
  • Another option is to put down care of South West Rocks Dive Centre, Gregory St, South West Rocks, NSW 2431.
OK this is basically it.
It reflects what I understand will be most useful and most effective - but if anybody in the know wants to propose another modus operandi, please do not hesitate to correct me!I have to rely in what I am being told, am not a party and have no hidden agendas, and merely want to assist in the best possible way.

Vinaka vakalevu!

PS: thank you Brendan for providing for this link to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

PS2: Petition here. My intuition tells me that having many people write unique personal comments directly to the Department of Primary Industries as per the above is likely to be more effective than having one single org, however reputable, forwarding the opinions of many people. But to each his own.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Saving the Planet?

I of course totally disagree with the bit about saving endangered species.
Yes the vast majority of species (if you got time: important discussion here) that have ever lived on Earth have gone extinct - but not only because they have been wiped out, many have disappeared because they have evolved into new species. The present Biodiversity crisis is however human induced and for this fact alone, it behooves us to at least try to stem the present decline.

But what about the Planet?
Food for thought - and very funny, too!

Sushi: The Global Catch

Whilst I'm waiting for some more GNS info from Oz, check this out.
It's an upcoming movie about the depletion of marine apex predators, foremost of which the Bluefin.

How did sushi become a global cuisine? What began as a simple but elegant food sold by Tokyo street vendors has become a worldwide phenomenon in the past 30 years.

Sushi: The Global Catch is a feature-length documentary shot in five nations that explores the tradition, growth and future of this popular cuisine. Beautiful raw pieces of fish and rice now appear from Warsaw and New York to football games in Texas towns.

Sushi, a cuisine formerly found only in Japan, has grown exponentially in other nations, and an industry has been created to support it. In a rush to please a hungry public, the expensive delicacy has become common and affordable, appearing in restaurants, supermarkets and even fast food trailers. The traditions requiring 7 years of apprenticeship in Japan have given way to quick training and mass-manufactured solutions elsewhere.

This hunger for sushi has led to the depletion of apex predators in the ocean, including bluefin tuna, to such a degree that it has the potential to upset the ecological balance of the world’s oceans, leading to a collapse of all fish species.

Can this growth continue without consequence?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Friday, June 03, 2011

John H. Harding - Wow!

Original hand colored advertising glass slide - story here.

I must confess, I did not know who John H. Harding is.
I've just stumbled upon him by pure happenstance and it has taken me quite a while to find a short bio and a recent picture on his Taiwan blog.

But what totally blows me away are his other blogs!
I cannot thank John enough for having taken the time to publish his priceless collection of memorabilia.
There are TheJohnHarding and SeaUW that showcase people and scenes from the heroic old times of Australian spearfishing, diving and marine cinematography featuring legendary icons like Ron and Valerie, Rodney Fox and Stan Waterman but also a plethora of other folks I've never heard about, likely equally very much owing to my own ignorance. Keep in mind that in the 60ies and 70ies, I was a little kid collecting butterflies in the mountains of land locked Switzerland!

Click for detail!

And then, there are the simply stunning pictures of early encounters with charismatic animals. Those were completely different times and those encounters often resulted in death, especially in the case of Sharks that were regarded as the ultimate cowardly villains and executed.

Yes, totally incomprehensible by today's standards!
But, all those surviving early pioneers have now reverted to Shark conservation - with one exception. I cannot begin to tell you how much I despise that creature and was actually hoping that he had finally disappeared - but fear not, the clock is ticking!

And then, there's FathomOz.
It features Underwater photographs by John Harding from his time as Editor of Australia's best marine magazine and once again, all I can say is WOW! I've obviously searched for Sharks and cannot believe my eyes!
My very favorite picture of all times - this one, for obvious reasons!

Anyway, I am clearly getting sentimental.
Please, do take the time to explore this totally amazing treasure trove of Ozzie diving history.
Totally and utterly amazing!


Australian Snubfin Dolphins - appalling!

The decomposed bodies of the two discarded Snubfin Dolphins.

More bad news from Oz.
The Australian Snubfin Dolphin has only been described since 2005 and is considered near threatened, this however with the caveat that there is data deficiency and that the population may well qualify for endangered status. It is primarily threatened by encroachment and anthropogenic habitat degradation and like its unfortunate and nearly extinct cousin the Vaquita, by accidental drowning in gill nets and Shark nets. These are apparently small isolated populations and the loss of even a few individuals may result in the demise of those local populations.
With that in mind, this story is particularly appalling.

Kudos to the WWF for looking into this.

Full story here.

NSW Grey Nurse Sharks - Leadership please!

Permanently disfigured GNS, Fish Rock - just one of many injured Sharks.

Ms Hodgkinson will obviously not be swayed.
Her appalling decision to repeal the fishing ban around Fish Rock and Green Island stands and it is time to move on and to focus on the future.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has started its public consultation.
I have read the discussion paper and must commend whoever has authored it for having produced a comprehensive and equitable representation of the issue at hand. As always, it is rather complicated and in essence pits Shark conservation against the interests of the aquatic user groups.

Now, before anybody starts being active.
This is not about screaming, wait for it: No Sharks, No Oxygen, No Future! in order to educate the NSW government and convince them to enact protection for the GNS. Very much thanks to the advocacy by Valerie, GNS are already a protected species in NSW and in several other Australian states.
From what I understand, and please do correct me if I'm wrong, this is about balancing the high vulnerability of GNS to harassment and accidental hooking against the totally legitimate aspirations of the fishermen but also other aquatic recreationists, see the example of the underwater scooters, to have access to the ocean. It is also about identifying and protecting the most critical GNS habitats and about eliminating inconsistencies in the rules governing the utilization of those areas. In essence, this is a question of zoning and resource management.
As I said, this is complicated and finding solutions will inevitably imply a high degree of knowledge about specific local circumstances.

From what I can sense, the cards are not stacked in our favor.
The track record clearly shows that the "other" side is well organized and politically well connected, and I fully expect their submissions to be well coordinated, well presented and smart. As a minimum, the submissions by the Shark protection advocates need to be equally impressive and not just a motley collection of ideas and opinions, however brilliant - and right now, this is where it appears to be heading, with different advocates urging the public to please write something.
That is just not quite good enough.

With that in mind, there is an urgent need for leadership.
Could somebody in the know please step up and co-ordinate the conservation effort.
Maybe draft several well supported templates for submissions by the different stated Australian interest groups (but also including one for Shark diving tourists!) and post them online. Or maybe, draft a new specific campaign letter (this one is probably too general) to which Shark advocates can adhere.
I'm just suggesting, maybe there are other more effective strategies.

Possible candidates?
Maybe the Nature Conservation Council of NSW? Maybe the concerned dive operators? Maybe the good folks of Spot a Shark? Maybe (probably not!) a political party? Maybe one of the Australian Shark research institutions? Maybe one of the global Shark conservation NGOs, maybe via a local proxy? Maybe a coalition of some of the above?

Consultations end on August 26.
That's not a lot of time for coordinating a unified and effective campaign and for then collecting a multitude of pro-Shark comments by the public.

Can somebody please step up to the plate.