Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Take a deep Breath!

From the personal website of a sharktivist.
And I cite.
Global Warming will be nothing compared to what happens if we lose the oceans.
Because, when that happens, the Phytoplankton production will be reduced to a dangerously low level and the production of 50 to 70% of the world's oxygen supply will be interrupted or completely lost.
Well if we lose the oceans, we better find them again!
Just the incoherent ramblings of just another ordinary dimwit? Far from it - absolutely nothing is ordinary in this person! The most extraordinary attribute: Jupp is none other than the current prez of the SRI (yes the R stands for Research!) and in this function, he jet sets the globe representing Shark conservation, and that would be us (!) at the various international conferences. Is it fair to assume that he may be spouting that same nonsense there and if so, does the Jersey Girl concur and approve of that?

And I cite again.
Sharks are "apex predators" and keep our oceans in healthy balance.
They play an important role in the marine ecosystem, controlling populations of small fish and crustaceans that eat phytoplankton and algae, organisms that produce a large volume of oxygen. Some 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean and sharks have been helping to maintain this natural equilibrium for 420 million years or so. Without them, oxygen production would surely be disrupted.
Just another stupidity on some irrelevant website?
Far from it! This is the scientific foundation of the latest, greatest angelic initiative aimed at saving humanity from extinction, or whatever - which incidentally totally confirms my opinion that this is a total bullshit machine and will certainly prevent me from ever signing that petition, lest I become a dimwit and bullshitter by association!

Yes that irritating oygen myth just aint going away!
On the contrary, the meme is evolving and is now morphing into the assertion that on top of leaving us gasping for air, the current demise of Shark stocks will ultimately accelerate global warming, as per Katrien's article cited in this brilliant post by Rick.
Please do read it - and explore the links!

Incidentally, I respect Katrien.
She's done great work with Shark Savers when establishing the Raja Ampat MPA and regularly works with the Shark Alliance - but this is bunk science and having it published in Scribd, apparently the world's largest social reading and publishing site is worrisome.
NOTE - as per her comment below, she has retracted the erroneous statements - kudos!

But I'm digressing as usual.
The myth, as I understand it, goes as follows.
  • Sharks are apex predators and as such, they regulate all life in the oceans
  • Their demise will ripple down through the food chain all the way to its base, i.e. the Phytoplankton that will be obliterated as a consequence.
  • Phytoplankton produces 50-70% of the world's supply of oxygen and its disappearance will lead to the asphyxiation of all life on Earth, including us.
  • Moreover, the oceans absorb 80% of the CO2 and once the Phytoplankton is gone, Global Warming will accelerate, methane gas will be released into the atmosphere, the ozone layer will be stripped and we shall all be toast! And Jupp totally agrees!
No all of this is utter unadulterated moronic bullshit!

1. But how to prove that something is not?

Disprove this!
God is a yellow pig with pink polka dots that resides in the 7th dimension of a parallel universe from where He resonates with our reality.

Utter unadulterated moronic bullshit - and blasphemy & sacrilege to boot?
Yes, maybe - but that's just your opinion. Would you rather believe me if I took up opulent residence in a southern European capital, sported a pointy hat and presided over a cabal of geriatric pedophiles whilst taking from the poor and declaring myself infallible? Would it help my cause if I had the power to declare you an unbeliever and expel you from the community?
Or, how about if I were some old rabid half-dead geezer with a turban and could have you killed for not being faithful, i.e. for being an infidel - would you believe me then?
Yes I may be digressing - but maybe not so much?

But I was not asking you to believe.
I was asking you to prove that I am wrong, as per the frankly dismaying first comment on this post on the Shark Defenders blog. Anonymous, now outed as one Jessica Perry-Targaryen sure got a long, looooong ways to go in her education in the science field, starting from comprehending the difference between a moronic untested hypothesis and verified scientific theory - which incidentally is completely open to falsification!

So let's define the rules of the game here.
In science, law and incidentally, in any rational discourse, he who asserts carries the burden of proof and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!

Not so?
Then, we are in the realm of religion, myth and superstition all the way to quackery, pseudoscience and new age including those conspiracy theories where dissent is forbidden and any proof to the contrary is being dismissed as untrustworthy and fabricated.

Dozens of eye witnesses seeing a commercial passenger plane slam into the Pentagon are obviously part of the conspiracy - but one single drunken dude stumbling out of a pub in Yorkshire and seeing some light in the sky is proof that we're being visited by extra-terrestrials!

It's really a matter of choice.
You may want to believe the charlatan who appears to have originated this stupidity, or one of his devote disciples and continue asserting that the overfishing of Sharks will lead to the depletion of the planet's oxygen etc - and if so, hasta la vista and have a great life!
The bad news: it may be a short one! The good news: time is infinite - granite into which to chisel calendars is not!

Or, you may want to ask whether there is any proof that the above is true.

So far,
there is not one single shred of evidence, let alone any serious, i.e. peer reviewed scientific paper corroborating the correlation between sharks, oxygen and global warming!
Zilch, Zero, Nada de Nada!
At best, this is a completely unverified hypothesis - and as long as that's the case, there's also nothing for me to falsify!

But is the hypothesis at least plausible? Read this!
I think it's total bollocks, and this is why.

2. Sharks and Phytoplankton?

Let's assume that all Sharks are apex predators and keystone species.
"They" are obviously not (do I need to elaborate?) - but for the time being, let's just assume that.

And how about those trophic cascades.
Some of them are well documented, especially for terrestrial habitats. Some of them, especially those that have been postulated for Sharks, are however highly controversial.

But let's assume that "Sharks" sit at the top of "food chains" and that they regulate all life below them. "They" obviously don't and "food chains" are equally mostly a fallacy - but for the time being, let's just assume that to be the case.
Then, such a Shark-controlled food chain could be as follows.

Sardine Run.
Sharks (Duskies, Blacktips etc) eat Sardines (Southern African Pilchard) that eat (principally) small Zooplankton that feeds on Phytoplankton.
And here comes the assumed cascade: Sharks get killed - Sardine population explodes - Zooplankton gets wiped out - Phytoplankton thrives 

= if we want to preserve the oxygen we need to kill all the Sharks!


But is that really so?
Seen any Fish population explode as of late?
Yes we have: Lionfish in the Caribbean! But those are invasive introduced species that so far lack any predators - betcha that in 10 years, the picture will be vastly different!

Not so with those Sardines!
The fact is that those Sardines are not part of a food chain, but of a food web.
They are not only the prey of Sharks, they are also the prey of Cetaceans, Birds and many teleost Fishes, meaning that their demise is all but assured. And then there is us, hundreds upon hundreds of artisanal fishermen that scoop them up by the bucket-loads!
So, in the end, there will be just enough Sardines left to spawn and trigger a new run etc - as it should be because as archetypical forage Fish, Sardines undergo boom and bust cycles!!

In brief.
Not all Sharks are apex predators; there are really next to no food chains but instead, the reality consists in complex food webs where there are wide-spread prey- and predator substitution and feedback loops, as in what happens to the exploded Sardines once they have annihilated the Zooplankton, and which population is likely to recover faster; but above all, we have taken on the role of marine apex predator and principal regulator, and this down through the entirety of the trophic levels!
Chances for those postulated cascades to ever eventuate in reality are very low indeed!

And the Phytoplankton?
It could not care less but will continue to boom and bust like it has always done, the former principally depending on the availability of nutrients and light!
Check out the map.

Click for detail - see?
The highest concentrations of Phytoplankton are in cold, nutrient-rich upwellings, in those cold currents that sweep along the continents from the poles and at nutrient-rich river mouths.
Want to get more Phytoplankton? Throw in nutrients - although that, too, is far from being unproblematic!

And here's another map for you.

This is the monthly Chlorophyll map of the Med in 1999.
Chlorophyll is obviously an indicator for Phytoplankton abundance and as you can see, it varies wildly over the year based on environmental factors, like temperature, light, currents and stratification of the water.
Phytoplankton is in no way comparable to, say, a tropical jungle that is meant to last for centuries: in its majority, it is composed of extremely small organisms (e.g. the Cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus marinus that makes up the bulk of it) whose life cycles are extremely short, meaning that they die and then regenerate themselves all the time! That bacterial growth is exponential and will only cease once, say, the Benguela peters out, the nutrients are exhausted or sink back to where there is no more sufficient light for photosynthesis - only to start again in the South and eventually trigger yet another Sardine run!

Nothing whatsoever to do with Sharks!

The population of the large Sharks and of the large Fishes in the Med which could qualify as apex predators has all but been wiped out . Has there been any according crash in the Med's primary production?
Take a wild guess - see any reference to trophic cascades?

So if it is not Shark fishing, what is actually threatening the production of Phytoplankton?
Probably Global Warming, by stratifying the water layers and impeding those cold, nutrient-rich upwellings!

The effects of the El Niño along the South American coast: warm water displacing the Humboldt Current, drastic decline in Phytoplankton production, crash of Anchovies and Sardines, starving sea Birds!

Shark-based trophic cascades do of course exist.
But they are not simple and linear and whilst sound in theory, empirical evidence for them is scarce. Predictions like the Shark=Phytoplankton correlation are in no way supported by evidence and actually, just simply stupid in their simplistic and completely implausible assumptions!

So, is there any correlation between Phytoplankton and Sharks?
Yes of course there is! Phytoplankton is the principal driver of the ocean's primary production and as thus, it forms the base of the marine food pyramid - and guess what, in order to fulfill that role, it needs to, gasp: get eaten!
Yes the Phytoplankton will get eaten by herbivores, those will be eaten by carnivores etc - and somewhere near the top of the pyramid, we will start finding the Sharks who could not exist if the whole thing did not start with the Phytoplankton at the bottom!

You heard it here for the first time: if the Phytoplankton does not get eaten, there will be no Sharks!

Like I said.Bottom-up effects are totally unproblematic.
Top-down - not so much!

Long story short?
The Phytoplankton is the basis for most life in the oceans, for which it NEEDS TO GET CONSUMED - and to make exactly that aspect the centerpiece of apocalyptic doomsday scenarios is utter unadulterated moronic bullshit!

Quod erat demonstrandum!

3. Phytoplankton and Oxygen Production?

So plants produce the atmosphere's oxygen, right?

Not so fast!
Plants do indeed produce oxygen and Phytoplankton indeed produces the bulk of the ocean's oxygen that is a bit less than half of the global production. The process is called Photosynthesis and in very!!! abbreviated terms, it consists in taking in CO2, throwing away the O2 and keeping the C for producing plant matter. Thus plants that are growing produce the most oxygen, after which the output of oxygen decreases and is essentially balanced out by the plant's respiration.

Once a plant dies, the C it is made of is generally converted back into CO2 by re-combining it with the amount of O2 that was originally thrown away - meaning that in general, plants ARE NOT net producers of oxygen! Read this and yes, it is totally counter-intuitive but true never the less!

Eutrophication: first there is an algal bloom, then the Algae die, then breathing and thus oxygen-depleting and CO2-producing Bacteria etc consume them - and finally, everything else dies for lack of oxygen!

So where does the oxygen in the atmosphere come from?
Ever since the first Cyanobacteria started producing oxygen a couple of billion years ago, with possibly a big push half a billion years ago, a tiny fraction of the plants that died (or of the animals that ate them) was not re-converted into CO2 but instead, the organic carbon was buried and preserved (e.g. as coal, oil and shale), leaving the excess oxygen in the atmosphere or dissolved in water. This process is called Biosequestration and results in a net reduction of CO2 and in a net production of breathable O2.
Over this very long time span, it is this tiny excess production of Oxygen that has resulted in the actual atmospheric concentration of 21%, a drop from a high of 35%. And yes, it is plausible to assume that up to 70% of that oxygen came (past tense!) from the oceans as a) terrestrial plants only came into being approx half a billion years ago and b) Plankton is particularly prone to sedimentation.

And right now?
Right now, those 21% of atmospheric Oxygen are being circled around via the Oxygen Cycle.
You can see the absolute amounts of what's being done by whom here (note that Photosynthesis (ocean) accounts for less than half of the gain!) and if you do the math, the complete loss of all oceanic photosynthesis would equate to a reduction of atmospheric oxygen levels of one 10,000th or 0.01% per year
But with only 0.5% of all the Planet's Oxygen contained in the Atmosphere, there's plenty of scope for replenishing the shortfall from the other reservoirs! Also, there is some evidence linking an increased level of CO2 to an increase of photosynthesis, meaning that the Oxygen Cycle may be partly self-regulating.

But actually, this discussion is really irrelevant.
In case you have forgotten, Shark fishing will NOT lead to the disappearance of the Phytoplankton anyway!

4. Phytoplankton and Global Warming?

As seen before, the principal threat to the production of Phytoplankton is probably Global Warming - but what about the opposite? Would a decline in Phytoplankton drive Global Warming?

At present, the oceans act as the planet's largest carbon sink.
Check this out.

This is a representation of the Carbon Cycle.
Of interest, most of the carbon is dissolved in the ocean by physio-chemical processes and not due to the photosynthesis by Phytoplankton. Phytoplankton obtains its CO2 from the ocean, not the atmosphere and thus, its effect on the mitigation of atmospheric CO2 concentrations due to Global Warming, if at all, would only be indirect anyway.

But remember the discussion about the Oxygen?
When a plant dies, it is generally re-converted into CO2!
Thus once again, the net effect of the Phytoplankton on the abundance of atmospheric CO2 (and thus Global Warming) is limited to the rate at which its carbon, or that of the animals that eat it gets sequestered!

Want to combat Global Warming?
Stop faffing around about Sharks and Phytoplankton and work on limiting the anthropogenic emissions that cause it!
Reduce your own emissions! Vote for politicians, parties and government that advocate global reductions! Educate others! Do something to enhance carbon sequestration, like we do!
And guess what: you will not only help save Sharks and possibly even the dreaded Phytoplankton, but you will even directly contribute to limiting the depletion of oxygen in the atmosphere!

In closing.
Like a broken record and Erik the Mad Hatter, let me quote myself.

The facts and numbers?
Science is in continuous flux and the data do indeed change – but until they do, the latest peer reviewed science remains the best approximation of the truth.
Thankfully, there are now plenty of resources where anybody can consult the latest insights and data, meaning that those who continue to operate with inflated statistics and outlandish assertions lack any excuses and credibility whatsoever. The facts are plenty horrible as it is – so let’s please stick to those and refrain from the usual stupid inflated hyperbole!

Conservation is never happening in a vacuum - it is being used to advocate legislation that in its marine context will deprive fishermen of income and quite possibly, of their livelihoods. With that in mind, we owe it to them, but also, to ourselves not to cheat and to use misleading perceived "marketing", or whatever, but to be truthful and fact based instead.

The situation for many, if not most species of Shark is really, really dire and there's absolutely no need whatsoever to inflate numbers and to come up with ludicrous propositions like the moronic correlation to the ocean's production of oxygen.

And then there's this.
Assume we succeed in having laws enacted based on misleading data - what would prevent the legislators from repealing them once we got caught out?
Think we would ever get a second chance after such a fiasco?

End of rant!

PS: David here and Patric here!
And Richard's take is here. Colorful and blunt huh? So there: in wise man's politically correct lingo, pushes the envelope of rational, science-based discourse beyond the boundaries of common sense = utter unadulterated moronic bullshit! :)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sneak Preview!

Bravo Joe - great logo!

The old team are at it again!
And, many old and new friends are joining in!

More when things have progressed further.
But nobody is preventing you from searching on the web! :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fiji - Cyclone?

Have you been following the weather charts?

I have and am increasingly concerned.
The Nadi weather office has just announced that tomorrow, they will determine whether we are going to be hit a cyclone. Personally I got no doubt that it is coming as I went fishing yesterday and saw the Frigate Birds close to the coast, something that only happens before a severe storm.

It's likely only gonna be a Cat 1.
It will however linger and dump heaps of rain, once again starting from the West, then in the North and then finally in the Lau Group. Expect widespread flooding as the soil is still saturated from last week and drainage systems have been destroyed. We down here should be only moderately affected as the mountains should be cutting down the northerlies.

Please keep watching the charts and batten down the hatches!

Friday, January 27, 2012


I'm frankly baffled.

So, some dude had his camera mouthed.
I suspect that he didn't use his pokey stick because he wanted that shot. I also suspect that he was way out of his league as he let the Tiger Shark have his camera instead of pushing back. Apparently, he then stole somebody else's pics of the event and gave them to an agent who then made up a stupid story and sold it to a tabloid.
Big fucking drama.

Who gives a shit - right?
Tigers will sometimes mouth cameras, punters will try and sell their pics, agents will make up idiotic stories - seen it a million times before. Frankly, the only part that disturbs me is that the punter is portraying himself as a conservationist, of all things, and is trying to get some idiot to pay for his next vacation in Cat Island - but then again, seen that a million times, too!

What baffles me is this.
Can anybody tell me what's in it for the operator?
Giving pokey sticks to punters and allowing them to push the envelope when interacting with large predatory Sharks, and this obviously unsupervised is just simply bad business - or am I missing something here?

Yes it's always gonna be a judgement call.
But the way I see it and like in the case of Guadalupe, catering to the pushy image hunters really generates no incremental income but carries unlimited downside risk as the Sharks but above all, the punters will eventually make a mistake - and we all know how that one ends!

Sloppy procedures for zero gain - not impressed!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fishing for Sharks - Lecture!

Warning - tedious!
But I'm sure that Professor Choat is trying his very best - not everybody is as talented as Demian!

Anyway, got some time to spare?
This is about counting Sharks, about their different reproductive strategies and about whether Sharks can be managed, which is a euphemism for fished sustainably without pushing stocks into extinction. You may want to re-read those posts before watching the video. You may also want to prepare a strong mug of coffee!

Choat and his cohorts have amassed an impressive array of data from the four corners of the globe, along with some surprising factoids, like the fact that the Seychellois have long fished intensively for Sharks and exported the meat (!) to Zanzibar. Did you know that?
For the ever too busy, here are the conclusions.
  • Strong evidence that Reef Shark populations are impacted by even moderate levels of fishing. Long-term visual transects are an appropriate tool for monitoring Reef Shark abundances for this purpose
  • Inferred decline in Shark abundances are manifested at a variety of spatial scales from among reef clusters to between ocean basins
  • However evaluation of fishing effects may be confounded by difference in reef structure, size and habitat configuration
  • All shark species appear to be vulnerable to fishing impacts; reef sharks with intermediate size renges, biannual reproduction and low fecundities are especially problematical
  • No refuge in depth!

Sharks and Oxygen - Strike two!

Thank you Patric! 
He is absolutely correct. 
The correlation between Sharks and the oceans' production of oxygen is indeed completely devoid of any facts, empirical data, or even common sense! Now that most of us have finally done away with that nonsense about the numbers, it is high time that we once and forever get rid of this latest stupid meme that is already evolving towards the assertion that Sharks are humankind's last line of defense against Global Warming and Ocean Acidification, or whatever! 
As I said, we shall come back to that! 
In the meantime, enjoy Patric's rant

Small Shark in Nadi!

It is wet wet wet!
We down here are OK but the West and North have experienced some severe flooding, and although the situation is improving in the short term, the weather charts look grim, see at the bottom.

Anyway, this lil fella was picked up in Nadi town today.
It's a juvenile Blacktip Reef Shark who was apparently released unharmed.
H/T: Tafa!

Yes in this would be a cyclone approaching - keep consulting the charts!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

San Francisco - Shark Movie!

What what what - notorious????

Yes I totally like that movie!
John Weller's and Shawn Heinrich's Sanctuary, The Last Stand for Sharks is a beautifully filmed and edited, strictly science-based look at the dire situation of global Shark stocks and at the efforts of some countries to establish Sanctuaries for their protection.

You can watch it this Monday in San Francisco and really, this is an opportunity you should not miss.
Details here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

RickMac - stellar Post!

Yes you guessed it correctly: sea surface chlorophyll = density of the infamous phytoplankton!

Finally, somebody is noticing!

And not just anybody!
In my book, Rick MacPherson, very much of (not!) bated breath fame is without a doubt one of the nicest and wittiest but above all, most erudite, eloquent and brilliantly intelligent people out there and I have learned to listen carefully when he speaks.

Case in point, this latest post about Shark conservation.
My only grievance: being a true San Franciscan, Rick is way too polite!
So there, equally translated imperfectly from your average Californian politically correct lingo: Ultimate spurious causal relationship claim means utter unadulterated bullshit - and yes, I'm being polite, too! :)

Required reading - several times!
And: we shall come back to all of that shortly!

Monday, January 23, 2012

#7 on the List - nice!

Yes these would be 3m Bull Sharks - click for detail!

Thank you Angelo Taotao Tasi!
Taotao Tasi is Chamorro and means People of the Sea - and he is, both.

He is also the Senior Editor of Shark Defenders.
They have just posted Conservation's Top 10 Shark Dives and the Fiji Shark Dive in the SRMR is one of them.

Check this out - plus, Fiji is currently on the list of potential future Shark Sanctuaries, courtesy of the Fiji Government, Pew and CORAL. And the tag line that regularly has people up in arms? Scroll down all the way to the bottom here!

So, what are you waiting for!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Punter with Pokey Stick!

Story here.

“It had its mouth wide open and was about to bite me, but bit the camera ­instead.
That gave me a few vital seconds to swim away.”

And how about using that pokey stick?
Very much q.e.d.!

Shark Finning Bans - good enough?

Stuff is happening in South & Central America.
Chile has banned Shark finning in 2011; Costa Rica and Colombia are establishing a task force to combat Shark poaching; as of January, shark finning is illegal in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic and the Shark fin trade is being monitored.

Yes this is progress - but is it good enough?
According to this interview with Rándall Aráuz of PRETOMA, the principal shark fishing vessels operating in Costa Rican waters hail from Taiwan, Korea, China and Japan. With the at least tacit complicity of the Institudo Costarricense de Pesca INCOPESCA, they have been exploiting loopholes and flaunting the Costa Rican finning bans for years by first landing the fins at private docks and then re-routing the trade through Nicaragua when that became illegal.
This is big business, smells of corruption and organized crime and is thus difficult to combat.

And then, there's this.
As those big foreign fleets are depleting what used to be their traditional fishing grounds, the small artisanal fishermen are increasingly becoming desperate. As anybody who has ever dived there knows, the Pacific coast of South and Central America has been the scene of widespread poaching for Sharks for years. The principal targets are the protected Shark hotspots, i.e. the Galapagos, Gorgona, Malpelo, Coiba, Cocos and the very remote Clipperton, and the principal perpetrators are small long lining and drift netting vessels from Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico, often once again at the expense of the local fishermen as per this interview from the Galapagos.

It really is a vicious circle.
The poaching triggers more poaching and whenever the perpetrators are being caught but then released as in this ignominious case in the Galapagos, it only reinforces the perception that all of this can be done in total impunity. And as the prices for the fins increase and markets for Shark meat and Shark products expand, it becomes increasingly economical to land the animals with the fins attached - and this even when the meat is being sold for a mere pittance or dumped in land fills as is apparently already happening in the US.
The result: the Sharks continue to be killed in record numbers - meaning that those finning bans are (valid) ethical causes but do not anymore save Sharks, at least not in sufficient numbers to really make a difference.

As I wrote here, the finning bans are archaic and ineffective, the latter because they require a huge amount of monitoring, enforcement and prosecution that often simply do not exist - and of course, the fishermen know that all too well and will cleverly exploit any weaknesses in the system. It's a matter of resources but also, of the necessary political will.

Hence my advocacy of Sanctuaries.
These must encompass the fishing per se but also address the enormous issue of Shark bycatch by prohibiting determined particularly harmful techniques - and within the country and its EEZ, the legislation must also prohibit the possession and trade of Sharks and Shark part all the way to import and export bans. Plus as I never cease to repeat, anybody engaging in advocacy in lesser developed countries has also a moral obligation to contribute to capacity building in monitoring, enforcement and prosecution.

This I believe is the best strategy.
Compared to the partial solution of finning bans, it is also BY FAR the easiest and cheapest to monitor and enforce as it is comparatively simple insofar as any commercial activity involving Sharks becomes illegal by definition.

Or as Matt Rand says

“Enforcement at port does not require additional -infrastructure, and additional training costs for customs and port officials can be minimal,” he says. “For this reason, Pew advocates for measures that prohibit the possession, trade, or sale of sharks or shark products as part of a nation’s shark sanctuary regulation or legislation. With no way to legally land or export sharks or shark fins at domestic ports, the incentive to target sharks is reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Boats catching sharks are forced to go farther and use more fuel to get to ports where they can offload their catch.”

Finning bans, although certainly better than no legislation at all, are often little more than band-aid solutions aimed at appeasing the environmentalists whilst not tackling the politically difficult issue of reducing Shark mortality, something that would pin the authorities against the lobby of the fishermen. Thus, finning bans often come at the direct expense of further-reaching legislation that would effectively save Sharks - and isn't that what we should be aiming for?
In brief, they are poor Shark conservation.

You may want to think about it next time you see one of those petitions.
For the Sharks, we can and must do better.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nat Geo - racing for the Bottom?

How cool is that - grinning fishermen dispatching endangered Bluefin Tuna.

Good to see that others are noticing.
This time it's not a nobody like me - this time it's Carl Safina, and if that link should not be sufficient, check him out here.

Yes Nat Geo is going down the drain.
To be fair, that would be Nat Geo WILD, the pathetic sister channel of the venerable National Geographic Channel. From what I understand, it is manned by ex Discovery Channel dudes and is now obviously frantically trying to one-up (actually: one-down!) Discovery.

The usual MO?
Stupid programs featuring stupid anchors showcasing stupid people doing stupid things, as last seen in this appalling stupidity that easily made it onto my infamous worst-of list for 2011 - or in this specific case Wicked Tuna, a show about killing endangered Atlantic Bluefins.
Ethical imperatives anybody?

Incidentally and now that it has aired - does any of the then commentators still assert that Nat Geo Shark Attack Experiment LIVE had anything to do with science and Shark conservation?
And, has it done anything to help conservation efforts on the ground?

Anyway, I'm digressing as usual.
Please read this stellar piece by Carl Safina.

PNA - free School Skipjack Fishery certified!

Totally unsustainable - purse seining around FADs.

Bravo PNA - again!
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement are the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu, and this confederation of Tuna fishing countries have long been trailblazers in trying to manage their fishery sustainably.
The MSC certification is a well deserved recognition of those efforts - and what is even more important, it looks like the market loves it!

Free school means FAD-free.
As last posted here, FADs and the so-called Dolphin safe Tuna fishery are an ecological catastrophe and this fishery is finally completely doing away with it - incidentally, very much in spite of the strong objections of ISSF and others that I would generally file under the usual shenanigans, as recently confirmed by the arbitrator.
Coupled with their advocacy against abusing Whale Sharks as FADs, the PNA are truly showing the way forward to many other much bigger and one would think, much more progressive and enlightened countries - much like the small Pacific countries that have enacted the Shark Sanctuaries.

And what about the certification of Fiji's Albacore fishery?
We shall see. I read

Principle 2: Measures are in place to limit bycatch (living creatures caught unintentionally, including other fish species and marine animals such as turtles and dolphins). This could mean changing how fish trimmings are discarded so that seabirds are not drawn towards hazardous fishing gear.

Sharks are certainly other fish species.
As I said, we shall see.

No more Shark Fin Soup at the Fijian!

From the press release.

Shangri-La Announces Sustainable Seafood Policy And Discontinuing Use Of All Shark Fin Products in 72 hotels and resorts
17 Jan 2012

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts today announced its ‘Sustainable Seafood Policy’ including the commitment to cease serving shark fin in all of its operated restaurants as well as accepting new orders for shark fin products in banqueting with immediate effect.
Future banquet bookings made prior to this date will be honoured as per the signed contractual agreement. At the same time, Shangri-La announced that it will phase out Bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass in all its operated restaurants within the year.
In December 2010 the company initiated the process with the removal of shark fin products from its restaurant menus. The new policy is a continuation of Shangri-La’s journey towards environmental support.

After last year's decision by the Peninsula Hotels, his would be the second big Chinese-owned hotel chain to take this step - and I very much like the phasing out of the Bluefin and the Chilean Bass as well!
Shangri-La owns the venerable Fijian Resort, so this will have immediate consequences here - dunno if they ever did purchase local fins but if so, this would be the end of it.

As they say: step by step...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saving Fiji's Sharks!

At risk: Fiji's Reef Sharks - click for detail

Please read this article by Helen.
Helen is not only a good friend and one of Fiji's most intelligent and most efficient marine conservationists, she is also currently managing the Fiji Shark Sanctuary campaign for CORAL and Pew.

What she highlights is a rather recent and deeply disturbing development.
Owing to its airline connections to Asia and a thriving Tuna processing industry, Fiji has long been one of the principal Shark fin hubs in the SoPac. In the past, the traded annual volume of more than 100 metric tons consisted principally of fins that were being offloaded from the longliners, most of which are foreign distant water vessels that hail from Taiwan. The commercial benefit to the country is practically zero as the crews simply take the money and then sail away, leaving Fiji and its neighbors to deal with the ecological consequences.

This was filmed at a prominent Tuna processing plant in Lami.

This is however not the fishery Helen is talking about.
We are increasingly witnessing incidences where local fishermen are targeting Fiji's coastal Sharks. The driver for this fishery is the demand for the fins by Asian middlemen that have traditionally been associated with the bêche-de-mer trade. Fiji's sea cucumbers are heavily over-exploited, to the point where volumes and thus revenues are plummeting, and this has led the traders who already dispose of a network of excellent connections to coastal communities all across the country to diversify into Shark fins, with devastating consequences for local Shark stocks. The trade extends to most of the remote islands where aggregator vessels are known to sail from village to village and barter for the fins. Prices mentioned are as ridiculously low as one bag of sugar against three bags of fins.

As always, the ultimate losers will be the fishermen themselves.
Each qoliqoli only harbors a very limited amount of Sharks that will be quickly wiped out, meaning that the local fishing grounds will be deprived of their most important keystone species, with catastrophic and practically irreversible consequences for the reef fish communities. In brief, the fishermen are trading tiny short-term profits for very severe long-term effects that could well impact the livelihoods of generations to come.

Possibly education - but with so many people trying to make ends meet, money will always prevail. Ultimately, only a full Sanctuary with draconian laws will save Fiji's local fisheries and preserve the long-term sustainability, and thus the way of life of our coastal communities.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Valerie, love you always!

Thank you Valerie.
I just met an ozzie diver from Sydney who didn't know who she is, so there.

This is once again about the Coral Sea.
Australia has the opportunity to create the world's largest MPA, but many environmentalists are deeply dissatisfied with the detail planning.
Valerie is one of them and after having given a stellar interview on Radio Australia, she has graciously agreed to narrate the following video.

Shark App!

Michael Domeier's MCSI has launched the world's first ever app allowing people to track GWs in real time and to learn about GW biology. For now it's only available for the iPhone and the iPad but they are working on an Android version.
The whole thing costs a paltry 4 bucks and will fund the lab's research.

Me endorsing something by Domeier?
I've always said that although I continue to oppose some of the invasive tagging procedures he (and many others!) employs, he is without a doubt a brilliant researcher doing excellent and important work. As an example, the Hawaii GW Symposium he organized was groundbreaking and simply stellar, and so will be his book (cheaper here) that will once again incorporate all of the most recent GW research findings.

More details here and in this post by David!
Highly recommended!

Manta Ray of Hope - Publication!

This is as good as it gets!
I've been a big fan of Manta Ray of Hope since its inception and this brilliant document only reinforces my initial enthusiasm. It addresses exhaustively all my questions and shows a clear way forward, i.e. science-based legislative measures, tourism and most importantly, enforcement - and yes, education, too!
Required reading for anybody wanting to talk about the subject!

Big Kudos!
This is how you do it, including having succeeded in uniting the world's most prominent mobulid researchers and conservation advocates behind this brilliant initiative - and wouldn't this also be the perfect template for Shark conservation!
Yes I know, and pigs will fly! :)

For once, I really got nothing to add.
Synopsis here.

Not a Great White!

Shortfin Mako by Ozzie Sam and GW by Chip - notice the underside of the pecs!

I'm gonna go out on a limb here.
I'm gonna do my own bit of sesselfurzing and state that Kim Holland is wrong and Helmut Nickel is right. Yes this is certainly neither a Tiger, Hammerhead, OWT or Blacktip - dooh!

But: this is not a GW either, it is a big Mako!
Check it out.

Now look again at 2:12 - see the underside of the pec?
There's definitely no black rim and no black tip like one would expect to see on a GW.


Friday, January 13, 2012

A Shiver of Fish&Chips?

I sure hope not!
These are Spurdogs, or Spiny Dogfish, a species that is much prized for its meat, to the point that some are considering the North Atlantic populations to be severely threatened with extinction. The fisheries agencies don't appear to concur as they are still being fished in the US, Canada and Europe, albeit under strict quota regimens.

Be it as it may, it's certainly way nicer to see them alive like here in Norway!
Very cute and I may add, surprisingly cocky, too!


H/T: Lill!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

No Way!

Story here!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

GBR Sharks - going going...

White Tip Reef Shark - common in the SRMR, ever rarer in the GBR

The Far North's reef shark populations are dropping at an alarming rate and a marine biologist says the decline of the apex predators could pose a serious risk to the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef.
Research has found that reef shark populations are decreasing by up to 17 per cent each year, Dr Ashley Frisch, of James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says.

This is really nothing new.
Literally everybody I know who has been diving the GBR tells me that the Reef Sharks are all but gone. As a reminder, here's a recent open source paper I mentioned last October stating basically the same.
One very knowledgeable researcher tells me that the decline is not so much the result of any targeted fishing for Sharks but apparently, the consequence of fishermen first killing the Sharks in order not to lose their catch when they subsequently fish for teleost Fishes.
That is certainly plausible - I've seen it with my own eyes off the Big Island where the game fishermen would throw in baited drums to get rid of the OWTs before targeting the FADs.

Anyway, are there gonna be any repercussions?
If the deafening silence in NSW after the completion of the public consultation is any indication, the answer is probably not. Looks like the politicians and park authorities will need alot more prodding before we will see any improvements.

To those of you who care, may I once again recommend the blog of Madi Pip.

Ozzie Sam - fabulous!

Check out the pic!
Yes that would be a Shortfin Mako and a Great White in the same frame - possibly a world first?

Sam is one of the good ones and I'm happy he got the shot.
He is extremely dedicated, to the point that he must have amassed hundreds of dives between us and the guys down the road - and obviously, the quality of the pics has improved accordingly, especially those from Shark Reef were he has been gradually allowed to get ever closer to the action.

This pic is from Oz with the incomparable Andrew Fox.
We regularly talk and I understand that it is the result of the same dedication - and like always, of a huge helping of luck!

And because it's so nice, here's another stellar shot of that Mako.
Both are highly compressed as the hope is that he'll be able to translate the originals into some well deserved income - fingers crossed!
Well done Sam!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Preaching to the Choir?

Love + Action= Public Change
Need + Action= Policy Change 
Interesting! But first, watch this. 
Are you impressed? 
Probably you are - but then again, you are reading a Shark diving and Shark conservation blog, meaning that you probably already love nature and the ocean (read it!) and need no convincing anyway! As Kevin points out in this brilliant post, this kind of negative messaging equates preaching to the choir and does not really advance the narrative beyond our circles. Now please watch the following, already mentioned here.
Indeed, that's how you do it - Love not Loss
The image at the top is from an interesting document by Futerra, the smart hip sustainability communications agency from the UK. It of course ties in beautifully with Angelo's comment about E.O. Wilson's Biophilia and is inherently absolutely true. 
The problem?
The track record sucks! 
Ever since Homo sapiens (and probably its ancestors) graced to walk the planet, his most pervasive legacy has been one of scorched earth and extinction, very much along the lines of Diamond's Third Chimpanzee. Are we now more evolved and smarter, to the point where we will recognize the error of our ways? 
Maybe - at least that's the hope! 
But the conundrum lays in trying to match conservation with the needs and aspirations of 7 billion people - and there, I'm not terribly hopeful as the so-called leaders appear fatally mired in the present and lacking any credible vision for the future. 
Like in conservation, the message needs to be Positive - and yet, all I'm really seeing are flawed strategies about how best to manage a process which is being labeled as some kind of gradual retreat. That's certainly not motivating and not the way to ensure that the populace will ever embrace sustainability - and in fact, when asked, they generally do not! 
Luckily for us in Shark conservation, thus far, nobody is asking. 
Most of the recent advances have not been democratic processes but instead, the result of the right people talking to the authorities at the right time, sometimes with a bit of outreach/petitions thrown in for good measure. 
So far so good - but only time will tell if those achievements will endure. 
If we ever want to be successful in building a widespread consensus for sustainability, we indeed need to focus on positive messaging, both in conservation and in politics. But at the same time, we need to stop playing little Dutch boy whilst ignoring the root cause, population growth and the growth of individual ecological footprints.  
That's the Big Gorilla
Ultimately, if we cannot tackle that, this cause is lost - and since we really cannot possibly ask anybody to forgo his aspirations for a better life, the ONLY possible solution is to advocate a substantial (!) reduction in birth rates
And on this happy note, back to the Sharks!