Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Great Whites - Great Paper!

GW picture by Chip Scarlett

It should come as no surprise that after the Junior fiasco, I'm certainly not a great admirer of the GW researchers within the TOPP program, at least not when it comes to their ethical attributes.

But I must say, this is as good as it gets.
From the paper.

About what the Sharks may be doing in the White Shark Café.

Despite the likely reduction in foraging opportunities in the Subtropical Gyre, white sharks are offshore during a period of time when prey availability in this region may be relatively high.
It is logical that white sharks would time their offshore migrations to coincide with periods of increased prey availability. The reported spawning area of the neon flying squid (Ommastrephes bartrami) generally overlaps temporally and spatially with white sharks in offshore waters as does that of the purpleback flying squid (Sthenoteuthis oualaniensis), suggesting that spawning aggregations of Ommastrephid squid may be an important prey resource in offshore waters. Similar to the neon flying squid, Pacific pomfret (Brama japonica) also make seasonal migrations, foraging in the transition zone or subarctic waters during the summer then moving south to subtropical waters to spawn during winter and spring. Catches of pelagic fishes and sharks by the Japanese long line fishery can be substantial, though not necessarily at their peak, in this region during the time of year that white sharks are present. It has also been noted that the occurrence of white sharks in Hawaii coincides with birthing of humpback whales.
Therefore, it appears that white sharks may be using these offshore habitats when prey availability, though likely still lower than in coastal habitats, is relatively greater than at other times of the year.

Although these offshore habitats may not provide optimal foraging conditions at present, it is important to remember that historical conditions may have been very different.
It is possible that with the decline of large pelagic fishes, sharks and whales, the historical forage base of white sharks in these habitats has diminished. In addition, the decline of the Hawaiian monk seals, may have also removed an important prey item for white sharks. It seems likely that historically there was a more abundant prey field available for white sharks to exploit in pelagic habitats.
Therefore, to some extent white shark migrations may be vestigial and reflect historical conditions.

About why they may be traveling there

One of the fundamental questions regarding white sharks in the NEP is why they undertake these extensive and regular offshore migrations, leaving the highly productive California Current for oligotrophic waters of the central Pacific.
The two primary hypotheses are that these movements are related to foraging or reproduction. While our data are not able to directly address the reproductive hypothesis, they are useful for evaluating the foraging hypothesis. Our results indicate that 1) white sharks do forage in offshore habitats, though at a lower rate, and 2) white sharks may initiate these offshore migrations around the size of first maturity.
These results, in combination with the observation that white sharks returning to central California aggregation sites often are lean, suggest that although white sharks feed offshore, it appears foraging may not be the primary motivation for offshore migration.

If white sharks are not moving offshore to feed, an alternative explanation is that the offshore migrations have a reproductive purpose, possibly playing a role in gestation, parturition or mating.
The particular reproductive function that offshore habitats may play in white shark life history is unclear, but it is possible that use of these habitats is related to gestation and/or mating as parturition is believed to occur in the southern California Bight. It is possible that females use the warm waters of the Subtropical Gyre to aid in gestation, and indeed there is some evidence that females segregate from males in offshore habitats, especially when in the Hawaiian focal area. If female white sharks have an extended gestation period (12 to 18 months), extended use of warm offshore waters may explain the return of some large females to coastal aggregation sites every other year.

Very interesting!
Needless to say, I very much look forward to finding out how this dovetails with Michael Domeier's multi-year tracking results, and his own interpretation of the data!

But look for yourselves.
Thankfully, the paper is open access and you can read it in its entirety right here.


BAD Stuff!

Sorry no rants this week! :)
We're incredibly busy with a shoot and all the other stuff, so there's simply no time for lengthy opinion pieces and especially, for collating all the required documentation.

Anyway, we're being asked about our achievements.
Having put together a short fact sheet, I thought that I might as well share it with you. This has obviously been a team effort, with Andrew and the staff going out and actually doing the work whilst I continue to hide behind the computer desperately trying to become famous by making others look bad, or whatever.
So there.

Beqa Adventure Divers is a dive operator based in Pacific Harbour that specializes in offering encounters with numerous species of Sharks.
Since their inception in 2004, they have been pursuing an agenda of pairing tourism with research, conservation and cooperation with local communities at the grass roots level.
Their various conservation and eco-tourism initiatives are too numerous to enumerate and can be viewed here.

Achievement highlights are
  • 2004 establishment of Shark Reef Marine Reserve, Fiji’s, and quite possibly the world's first MPA dedicated to Shark conservation and Shark research, this in close co-operation with the then Ministry of Fisheries and the qoliqoli owners.
    A user fee goes to the qoliqoli owners, the village of Galoa, in exchange for not fishing there. Marine park levies since disbursed to the village total over FJD 150,000.00. A youth program provides for education and sustainable income by training unemployed youth to become dive professionals. So far, all successful candidates have been subsequently hired by BAD. Fish wardens trained in cooperation with the Department of Fisheries ensure enforcement of the fishing ban.
    Furthermore, BAD pay voluntary reef fees to Wainiyabia village on Viti Levu, Rukua village on Beqa Island and Yanuca village, this in order to have them partake in the benefits from the dive industry.
    We are also sponsoring numerous research projects that have already resulted in a whole list of scientific publications, many of which can be viewed here.

  • 2006 establishment of the Fiji Shark Corridor, a 30 mile no-fishing zone for Sharks on the southern coast of Viti Levu which comprises the complete qoliqoli of Deuba, Wainiyabia and Galoa villages, for which a further levy is since being disbursed.

  • 2006 AON Excellence in Tourism Award, Diving

  • 2009 development and coordination of Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project, Fiji’s contribution to the International Year of the Shark, the only such national event world wide and Fiji’s first national Shark conservation campaign.This project was supported by the vast majority of Fiji’s dive operators, NGOs but also interested Government Departments.
    BAD also produced Fiji’s first Shark conservation PSA

  • 2009/2010 drive for the Shark Free Marinas Initiative together with Matava, where Fiji remains one of the foremost participating countries with 24 adherents.

  • 2010/2011 Mangroves for Fiji.
    This is a world first aiming at offsetting one’s carbon footprint by sponsoring the planting of mangroves, a critical and endangered habitat and an excellent carbon sink.
    As of September, 2011, we are the planet’s first completely carbon neutral dive operator, this after sponsoring the planting of 330,000 mangrove trees. Open to anybody, this is also Fiji’s first and only local carbon offsetting program.
    The program also makes us a major contributor to the Fiji Department of Forestry’s 1,000,000 tree initiative. Currently we are planting more mangroves to offset the carbon footprint of our clients traveling to Fiji, again a world premiere. The project has been conducted in cooperation with numerous local Fijian communities and individuals all across the country that have been paid an aggregate sum of approx FJD 30,000.00 and thus earned a sustainable income on top of being educated in ecological awareness. The list of mangrove planters can be viewed here.

  • 2011 Beqa Island Trips.
    Once again, this initiative focuses on creating sustainable income and ecological awareness at the grassroots level. BAD have sponsored the training of snorkeling guides from the two villages of Naceva and Naiseuseu on Beqa Island and are now conducting regular trips to the island where tourists can conduct guided snorkeling tours in a locally managed MPA, enjoy a meke and lovo and buy local handicrafts. This is providing for sustainable income for two villages where previously there has been none.

  • 2012 initiated The Great Fiji Shark Count.
    This is the first national Shark count anywhere in the world and it unites the tourism industry, Government and various NGOs. The purpose is to create a recurring tourism attraction but more importantly, to start long-term monitoring of Fiji’s Shark, Ray and Turtle populations in order to collect long-term data and thus facilitate the optimal management of these precious resources. The first count will happen this April, followed by November and after that, twice yearly in the following years.

  • 2012 Kutoa Community Impact Award for Best in Green Economic Development

  • 2012 AON Excellence in Tourism Award, Sustainable Tourism
BAD only employs Fijian nationals and earns and re-invests all its cash flow in Fiji.
Our contribution to Fiji’s economy in 2010 has been approx FJD 1m in direct and an estimated FJD 3m in indirect revenues from the ancillary tourism businesses like airlines, accommodation, restaurants, tours, souvenirs, etc., and we expect to reach similar results in 2011.

We have been mentioned in countless print and video media by the most prestigious quarters and have helped put Fiji’s eco-tourism and Shark diving, an important niche product, on the global map.
Our shark diving blog enjoys global recognition.

There you have it!


The more I watch it, the more I'm amazed.
Is that Republican freak show seriously the best the USA can come up with?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BBC Brazil - Shark Pics by Klaus!

Klaus is really cranking them out!
Enjoy his Shark portfolio here - with plenty of images from Shark Reef!

Hard Work and Perseverance!

Pics by Nadi Bay Photography - click for detail

Fiji is a small place and the AON awards, a real big deal.
Consequently, the phone hasn't stopped ringing with people congratulating us and also, with requests for interviews by the various media - and with other rather exciting stuff which we will be reporting about at a later stage!

Anyway, the Fiji Sun did run a nice little piece today.
Nothing spectacular, really - but the print version featured this cute picture of the Prime Minister together with Nani, which has instantly catapulted her to the rank of local celebrity.
On-line version here - the picture is this collage by Vitaly Sokol.

And here's another cute one of Nani with Adrian Sofield, the chairman of Investment Fiji!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Just another Discard!

The Great Fiji Shark Count - Nai'a!

Great news!
For those of you who are hooked on no-limit liveaboard diving, it will come as a relief that Nai'a have joined the list of participants in the Great Fiji Shark Count.

As an ex liveaboard aficionado myself, I highly recommend them.
In fact and keeping in mind that I'm now out of the loop and may be doing injustice to some of the newcomers, I personally rank Nai'a as one of the best liveaboards worldwide alongside the awesome Sea Hunter of Cocos and Malpelo fame. Both are simply perfect diving machines and both offer unparalleled hospitality by outstanding native crews, dive masters and cruise directors. And one thing's for sure: nobody else in Fiji will be able to take you to such a diverse array of remote and pristine sites, and this under such expert supervision!
But if you want to experience scores of humongous Sharks... :)

So, what are you waiting for!
Knowing them, April is likely to be already fully booked - but it's always worth asking, and then there's the next count in November!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

AON Award - Awesome!

Coy? Nani in close proximity to the PM!

Did I say that we are proud?

The AON Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards are Fiji's tourism Oscars.
In 1991 with the introduction of the first Tourism Week, the Fiji Visitors Bureau and the Ministry of Tourism introduced the first Excellence in Tourism Awards sponsored by the Fiji Times. Many years passed until 1997 when the Fiji Visitors Bureau under the directorship of Sitiveni Yaqona and Bill Whiting decided the Awards should be re introduced. Since then, the Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards competition is run annually by a voluntary committee of industry members, overseen by the board of trustees to invite nominations, organize judging and hold a gala event for the prize-giving to honor those outstanding members in our industry.
The Mission is to recognize individuals and organization who have gone that extra mile to develop National Tourism and in so doing, have inspired others to share their vision of a buoyant and enduring service industry of supreme national importance.
The process is based on genuine peer review and the awarding ceremony regularly features the crème de la crème of local tourism along with high ranking Government representatives who congregate to celebrate the industry and honor the awardees.

This year was no different.
Having rather surprisingly scooped one of the last Diving awards in 2007 before the category was dumped, we were honored to find our name among the list of finalists but were not really hopeful to win as we were pitched against some rather formidable and highly deserving colleagues.

What can I say, we have won!
This time, the category is Tourism Sustainability and here is our official document!

Click for detail!

To be perfectly frank, we here are all rather overwhelmed.
It is really a great honor, and it is also deeply gratifying to see that all the hard work of the last years has not gone unnoticed - and on a personal note, it has been particularly satisfying to have the Prime Minister witness the honoring of the very same company he pretty much single-handedly saved two years ago.

Thank you thank you thank you!
This is really an awesome day! :)

H/T: our good friends from the Uprising for bringing back a second award to Pacific Harbour!

Trackback: Alex the Sharkman here. Vinaka!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sharks and Phytoplankton - again?

What what what?

Talk about serendipity!
We've just finished sinking the oxygen myth and here comes Neil's paper titled Cyanobacterial Neurotoxin β-N-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) in Shark Fins!
So there you have it black-on-white and peer reviewed: bioaccumulation, i.e. a typical bottom-up effect! And I also read that
Cyanobacteria are found in lakes, rivers, estuaries, and marine waters with bloom growth increased due to nutrient loading from agricultural and industrial runoff, farm animal wastes, sewage, groundwater inflow and atmospheric deposition!
Well well!

So it turns out that eating Shark (and I would surmise, probably other large marine predators and quite possibly, also filter-feeders like Shellfish) is not only gonna load you with mercury but also screw with your brain!
Press release here!

Spread the news!

Yes we're busy!

Click for detail!

For those of you who have been asking.
This is what I meant! :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Great Fiji Shark Count - Posters!

This is our selection of Fiji's most common inshore Sharks, Rays and Turtles - click for detail!

Alex the Sharkman is really cranking them out!

Case in point, this post about the GFSC!
Helen and the team has been incredibly busy and the two posters are but a fraction of what has been accomplished since the launch less than a month ago!
They will come in two versions, a large paper one for decoration and distribution throughout Fiji, and a large waterproof slate that can be kept aboard and will help participants come up with the correct identifications after the dives.

Talking of which, here they are.
Everybody has been duly notified and barring the advent of a couple of Johnny-come-latelies, these are the operations who care and thus, the places where you should book your April vacation in Fiji. They are all excellent outfits and I highly recommend every single one of them!
And should this be too short term, don't despair as we're likely to repeat the exercise in November!

See you in April!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BAD Viking - Interview!

Yes we got pretty corals and fishes, too!


The only BAD Viking has been interviewed by Alex the Sharkman.
Lill has announced her visit for May so it is only natural that she is trying to ingratiate herself by saying nice things about BAD - but where she's right is that we have indeed adopted her and actually very much look forward to her return!
It'll be the start of Winter and I fully expect to see her turning up with the dreaded semi-dry - and guess what Lill, after having frozen my poor ass during the last cold season, I may be sporting one myself!
Because I can & because I'm not a Viking!:)

Anyway, enjoy Lill's interview!

Richard - bloody excellent!

Crazy stuff - Richard Pyle exploring the twilight zone. Pic by Howard Hall.

From the post.

Biodiversity is earth’s greatest library, and we have not matured enough as a species, as a civilization, to realize it yet.
Someday soon we will understand how to read the secrets contained within the Biodiversity Library. Unfortunately, we are on the brink of this planet’s sixth great extinction event, and each time a species goes extinct, it is like burning the last copy of a book. Once it is gone, the information it contained is lost forever.
Earth’s greatest library is burning.

And not only that: the librarians are going extinct!
Richard is one of them and of course none other than he of the squeaky voice - and if there was ever any doubt that he is utterly nuts, read his account of how he and Howard have ridden a submarine (notabene on the outside!) to quickly get to one of Cocos' submerged sea mounts! And in case you cannot discern it - he is STILL only wearing swim trunks!
Was it really me that was recently bemoaning the demise of the intrepid, and crazy explorers and adventurers? :)

Richards series of posts in the NYT is part of One World One Ocean.
As I said here, I'm very impressed by the project and I simply cannot wait to see Howard's cinematography that will undoubtedly eclipse everything else - as it always does!

Anyway, great job buddy!

Tip o'hat: MPO

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Behold SeeFood!
I say, anything with an Oceanic Whitetip as the hero is Great by definition!


BBC Video!

U gotta watch this in full screen mode.
Great stuff !

And, and we got ourselves a genuine Ritter moment!
I mean, seriously, how could anybody, ever think that this would not end in tears!

Enjoy - and take a moment to marvel at human stupidity!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meet Granma!

Granma by Klaus!

More great Shark media from Oz!

Klaus our alte Schule gentleman has done it again!
Granma is indeed one of our oldest, biggest, fiercest looking and at the same time, sweetest Shark ladies.

Enjoy Klaus' article and stunning pictures here!

Shark Harbour!

Remember this post?

This is now the finished product.
I must say, I am rather impressed by how they have managed to successfully negotiate the pitfalls of reporting about the controversial subject of Shark attacks by analyzing them from a principally scientific viewpoint. The researchers come across as totally knowledgeable and objective and also, respectful of the animals and emphatic with the victims.
I commend Michael Lynch and his team for a job well done - especially when juxtaposed to those horrible comparable productions by Discovery!

This is a full-length feature so relax, lean back and enjoy!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Singapore - the Shark Fin industry strikes back!

Infographic by the SOSF - read this!

Gotta hand it to the man.
Dr Choo-hoo Giam (BVSc, MRCVS (England), Member, Animals committee, UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is crafty.
From the document.

By repetition and media advertorials, the world is misled into believing that
  • 73 million sharks are killed specifically for their fins
  • Most of the fins are cruelly taken from live sharks.
The world is repeatedly told that sharks are endangered, and in a dire strait. The shark status is posited as equivalent to that of the orang utan, panda, gorilla, elephants, and caviar. An examination of the facts, and practices of countries, shows otherwise.
  • 1. There are more than 400 shark species.
    It is wrong to say that sharks are endangered. It is akin to saying birds are endangered. Some cockatoos are, but not crows and house sparrows.
  • 4. It would seem that no country considers sharks to be globally endangered.
    No country has proposed to list sharks in CITES Appendix I after the listing of the sawfish in 2007. This is not the case with other wildlife. At the last CITES Conference of the Parties (COP), Qatar, 2010, Monaco proposed that the Atlantic blue fin tuna be in Appendix I. This proposal was supported by many countries. Only a few sharks were proposed to be listed in Appendix II. They were all rejected by the meeting.
Of course he is right.
The only verified number we currently dispose of is 38 million (plus or minus) for the number of Sharks whose fins were being traded more than ten years ago. Now, that trade is probably larger and there are obviously also Sharks that are being killed but whose fins are not being traded - but at this point in time, that's all we can really say.
It is also true that not all Sharks are threatened with extinction etc.

The lesson?
We need to stop bullshitting because we will get caught out!

But the man is of course a total moron and hypocrite.
What he says sounds right but is of course bullshit - at best disingenuous and actually nothing more than (crafty) denialism and classical disinformation, and very likely paid for by the Shark fin industry.
A friend informs me that

Despite the "CITES" credentials, Giam and Jenkins are shark fin trade lobbyists with a major conflict of interest. They claim that CITES listing determines whether or not a species is threatened, yet have used their positions within CITES to actively lobby against listing for every shark species (and other marine species) ever proposed for CITES listing.
Not because the species don't meet the criteria --- but because they say that CITES should not regulate ANY marine species.

I actually happen to concur with the latter part as I also think that the best forum for managing, and thus regulating fisheries are local governments and RFMOs - but that's certainly debatable and another story altogether.

The story here is this panel discussion in Singapore.
I've done some digging and found this transcript that depicts a narrative which is, very much unsurprisingly, completely different from the sloppy (or maybe biased?) reporting by the journalists. Much of what has been actually said has merit and that, not the article will be the basis of the following.
And check out this remarkable video.

Prof. Steve Oakley's presentation here!
Now, compare that to the article!

There have also been some reactions.
I must confess that despite of several valid points he raises, I did not like the undertone of David's post - alas!
Sorry buddy, you know that I really do like you - but in the softest possible way, framing the debate in terms of class warfare does not address the problems and just adds another layer of unproductive acrimony. Do we really want to establish fair trade practices that will make it more appealing for those poor people to target Sharks? And what's wrong with managing stocks and advocating sustainability?
But such is the nature of rants - sometimes one (not me!) gets a bit carried away ! :)

Conversely, I am totally impressed by this post by Shark Savers!
Awesome! This is a must read, and the different fact sheets are as good as it gets - do keep them handy as they provide for excellent arguments for any such debates!
Anyway, the post completely dismantles Giam's propaganda and pseudo-arguments and for once, there is really nothing I could possibly add to the debate about this particular event!
Huge kudos!

There's one lesson to be learned however.
Media control is incredibly important! When getting the message out always submit written materials etc - especially when confronting crafty opponents!
The good news: in all the brouhaha, this has ended up by generating excellent pro-Shark media and Giam is now definitely outed as the shit he is! :)

But what about the big picture?
I very much concur with Oakley and Louis: long term, the solution can only consist in strict sustainability and proper management!

Please, do re-read this post - seriously, please do!
So there.
  • Like those of most big predatory Fishes, the stocks of most of those Sharks that are being targeted commercially have crashed.
    That's a well documented fact and no amount of rhetoric will ever detract from it. Other Shark populations are equally greatly diminished by wasteful fishing practices like bottom trawling that is ravaging the demersal Sharks, and others have been practically wiped out by too much pressure by too many artisanal fishermen. In that respect, I do not at all subscribe to so-called "indigenous rights" or whatever if it means that those fisheries are not to be managed.
    The above effects are often local/regional rather than global and thus each local/regional fishery must be examined separately.

  • Those depleted stocks must be allowed to recover before we can even begin to start talking about sustainability.
    That recovery will take many years and until that happens (which is unlikely as fishing is certainly not the only threat Sharks face), we the conservationists must continue to push for Shark conservation by every strategy we can possibly think of - including Giam's hypocritical if campaigners want to protect sharks, they should get their governments to ban shark catching!
    We may sometimes differ about what are the best strategies, but certainly not about the ultimate goal!

  • We must also invoke the precautionary principle and turn around the burden of proof.
    Instead of us having to do all the heavy lifting, let the fishermen prove unequivocally and attain independent certification that a particular stock has recovered (not so easy: read this!!!) and that it can be fished sustainably. Doing so is in their very own interest as only sustainable fishing will ensure that the industry (and the jobs and the income) can survive in the long term.

  • Sustainability has to be defined in the broadest possible sense, meaning that the definition has to encompass all aspects of the fishery like population & management parameters but also e.g. fishing techniques (no finning!), bycatch mitigation and collateral effects on the habitat etc - and yes, why not also David's fair trade!

  • But once the criteria have been met, there is no objective reason to prohibit Shark fishing and if by then, people in Asia still want to eat the fins, they can certainly do so.
    Right now, the BC Spiny Dogfish fishery is certified and despite of the widespread reservations against the MSC, at least one researcher deems that the certification is OK. If so, I really see no reason why the fins cannot be consumed - but let the fin traders, not the authorities, prove whether the fins they are selling are legit!

  • Some countries may still opt not to fish for Sharks even if it could be done in sustainable numbers. I'm thinking about those highly tourism dependent island countries where other considerations may prevail, like in this case study from Kiribas. But of course, I'm principally thinking of those countries that have already established sanctuaries and are already reaping the benefits of having done so.
    If so, kudos to them for looking beyond the strict short term!
As always, just my two cents!

David's riposte here - now I'm embarrassed! :)
Patric on developing new talking points whilst ditching the old ones here.

Alex - back on Air!

Busy: Shark Reef in 2009!

Whilst I'm ruminating on one of those posts.

This one is easy.
Alex the Sharkman has not only revamped his website and started publishing his epic interviews, he has finally started blogging again.

His first proper post is about us.
To me, it is particularly interesting because so much has changed since, e.g. the fact that we don't anymore feed the Trevally at the surface and that the pit is now really out of bounds. It also reminds me painfully that none of the Tigers turned up for him, something that we interpret as competitive exclusion.

Anyway, it's a great read and a trip down memory lane.
What can I say but that we are really honored.
A big Vinaka Vakalevu my friend!

Enjoy Alex' post.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Punters and OWT!

Tricky - open-water diving with OWTs. Click for detail

Yes those Sharks are dangerous!

Swimming away whilst splashing at the surface?
Not a good idea, you got to confront them!

Anyway - see for yourselves.

This is it!

Epic GW pic taken from footage by Ron Taylor approx 1965

No, no red meat today! :)

Thank you Alex!
The Sharkman has uploaded the epic OWT scene from Blue Water White Death.

Shot in the late 60ies, it remains to this day my favorite Shark footage, ever.
This is at the very beginning of Shark diving when a very few, very brave and also, very crazy adventurers went exploring and started experimenting with the different species. BWWD is the first ever documentary featuring GWs after Ron Taylor took the very first footage from a boat in the mid 60ies - but it is this scene where Ron, Val, Stan and Peter ventured out amid hundreds of Oceanic Whitetips and even approached them whilst they were feeding on the whale that will forever be imprinted in my memory.

Alas, I fear that I'm probably wasting my breath here.
The old-timers remember but I'm not hopeful that the younger generation will ever comprehend the scope of what those guys dared and what they did achieve by pure will power and guts.

It will never be repeated as there will never be as many OWTs in one place again.
Valerie and even normally totally unfazed Ron who was nearly knocked unconscious remember this as their scariest dive and consider OWTs to be the most dangerous Shark, as do many other experienced pros.
Yes they did kill a Shark - not nice, but those were completely different times.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Florida Hammerhead - two!

Just a really short one.
Please do read David's post and especially, the epic comments thread where anglers, conservationists and researchers are engaged in a constructive debate about how to best handle those cases where prohibited Sharks are being caught and need to be released immediately, alive and unharmed.

Great stuff!
I must really applaud everybody who has remained polite despite of the emotions this has undoubtedly stirred up among the various factions represented.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Out of the Cage!

Ron and Val, Stan, Peter Gimbel.

Blue Water White Death.
And yes,that would be in 1971, forty-one years ago!
You can read Valerie's diary here, starting approx half-way down the page.

Meet Wilson - nice!

David's take here.


Marine Conservation - the principal Issues!

Just in case we lose sight of the context here.
Barring cataclysmic cosmic or geological events, these are the biggest threats to marine biodiversity - once again, very simplified.

First and foremost: there are too many people!
We are seven billion now and probably we will get as high as 9 billion, both of which is just not sustainable.
Moreover, billions of people are attempting to attain what they consider to be better life conditions, meaning that their ecological footprints are increasing as they progressively consume more resources and produce more waste. Even if we managed to stabilize or even turn around population growth, this will continue to exert tremendous pressure on biodiversity.
Those are monumental challenges indeed - solutions???
These are the root causes of all that follows.

The biggest anthropogenic threats to marine biodiversity are.
  • Global Warming
  • Ocean Acidification
  • Pollution
  • Habitat Degradation
  • Overfishing including Bycatch & Discards
When it comes to Overfishing.
As far as can be ascertained, anthropogenic extinction rates so far have been substantially lower in the oceans than in terrestrial ecosystems. In fact and despite of our best efforts, there is probably not a single documented case of us having fished a marine Fish to extinction - and should there be one, it would be the exception and not the rule.
This is cause for hope.

But that's of course not the whole story.
Several Fishes have become locally extinct and the populations of many marine Fishes that have been targeted commercially are severely depleted and but a shadow of what they used to be.
There is a line of thought stipulating that those populations have accumulated extinction debt and that they could be driven into extinction by an environmental catastrophe.
That environmental catastrophe could be Global Warming.

They are obviously subjected to the same pressures.
In particular, several larger species are being severely overfished and although to my knowledge this has not been specifically documented, it also stands to reason that Shark populations will be affected by the overfishing of their direct prey or of even lower trophic levels like forage Fishes.
Some of those larger Sharks are also apex predators and keystone species and there is research documenting that their removal can ripple down through the trophic levels via cascading effects, hence exacerbating the ecological consequences of their demise.

This as far as I can see are the principal issues.
The problems are enormous and eminently intractable as documented by the frustratingly slow progress of conservation and above all, by the many conservation setbacks and defeats. Yes there have been many successes - but alas, everything points to the fact that in the big scheme of things, those successes are simply too small and the pace, simply too slow. Especially if we don't get a handle on Global Warming, the future for marine biodiversity looks very bleak indeed.

If we so wish, there is a role for each of us to play - the most basic one being that it behooves all of us who live in relative opulence to reduce our ecological footprint, including limiting our carbon emissions! And those of us who want to do more and get involved in advocacy will find unlimited opportunities to make a difference as e.g. discussed here in the case of Shark conservation.

Orgs I personally like: Shark Foundation and Save our Seas Foundation for sponsoring research; Shark Trust, Shark Savers and Shark Defenders for advocacy; Pew Environment for all of the above.

But please, let us be rational and credible.
Let's please stop the esoteric balderdash and the pseudoscience.

The sooner we do that, the sooner we will be able to effect real, positive change.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Interview with Gary!

Shark men: Rusi, Alex and Gary at Shark Reef

How can I possibly do the man justice.
We will always differ on the finer points of culture vs abject savagery - but peanut butter or no peanut butter, Gary Adkison will always remain one of my heroes for whom I have nothing but the biggest respect and admiration.
Plus a whole lotta Love, with a capital L!

We first met in 2001 when he was running the legendary Shark dives at Walker's Cay and the rest as they say is history.
When first developing the Fiji Shark Project, I reached out to Gary who graciously and enthusiastically agreed to give us a hand in turning a lot of lofty ideas into something tangible. It is he who first introduced us to Juerg with whom he has developed and still manages the Bull Shark Tagging Programme; it is he who has also made the introductions to his former dive shop manager and now BAD shareholder Andrew; and it is he who has been invaluable in helping us define our initial Shark diving procedures and in coaching us through the thousand vagaries of managing a Shark diving operation. They will undoubtedly disagree - but Gary and his wife Brenda have been absolutely crucial in every single step of BADs history and for that, we shall always be indebted to them.
But mon, before you ask: not to the point of sharing my cheese!

Gary met Alex the Sharkman here in Fiji in 2009.
That was the International Year of the Shark and we had invited Alex to witness what we were doing in Fiji, namely organizing Fiji's first national Shark conservation campaign. Shark Reef was really starting to blossom, with healthy corals, scores of Fishes but above all, ever growing numbers of Sharks and I remember those weeks as a time of great conversations, great dives and mutual bonding.

They have been friends ever since.
Alex has finally found the time to re-vamp his website and Gary is the first to sit through one of his legendary interviews - and I must say, fantastic job! This is my Gary: one of the original salt dogs, a pioneer of Shark diving and Shark conservation (!) and above all, just a really nice guy!
Chapeau my friends!

Enjoy Gary's interview!
And if you are as fascinated as I am: start reading Gary's autobiography A Life Underwater here!

PS - Nice comments by David here!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


No that was not a typo!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sharks and Chupacabras - DaShiffmann on the Oxy Myth!

Thank you David! I must say, I am impressed. No not because he has totally debunked the oxygen myth by illustrating why the hypothesis is utterly implausible to the point of being ridiculous, something that by now, anybody with a brain should be amply aware of. No, I am impressed because David has deigned to tackle the subject despite of its silliness whilst remaining his usual compelling, polite and above all, eminently factual and informative self in the process! Well done! But, has he disproven the myth? No obviously not as that's not the way this works! Remember the yellow pig? He who asserts carries the burden of proof! Eagerly awaiting Jessica's dissertation proving her silly-gism that, and I obviously cite, All Sharks supply Oxygen to Earth! Maybe start with, say, Cookiecutter Sharks and exploding populations of large pelagic Fishes, Mammals and submarines? But more to the point as I'm clearly being silly myself. There needs to be a moment of accountability after a fiasco of these dimensions - and yes Erik the Mad Hatter: we're looking at you - and at Rob, Julie, Jupp et al! No not because you're bad people with bad intentions; but because despite of your bombastic self promotion, you are actually nothing more than sheeple that have uncritically inhaled, parroted and propagated the pseudoscience of your friend the Great Guru of Sharkitarianism - and above all, because despite of multiple attempts at educating you that this is nothing more than utter unadulterated moronic bullshit, you have stubbornly clung on to this stupidity like a truther to building #7! And the deluge of your disciples starting from the credulous echo chambers all the way to the naïve Hollywood stars and the rabid zealots like Jessica? This is now your very own legacy - and rest assured that no amount of self serving amnesia and pudic deleting will ever succeed in completely erasing that public record: scripta manent! Leaves Erich Ritter. Gotta hand it to the man, he really is the ultimate trailblazer. Neff's attempts to re-define Shark attacks as mere accidents; the moronic to totally demented self-immolation by the bimbettes in order to prove, or whatever, that Sharks don't attack humans; and now the moronic oxy myth - all are phylogenetically linked to Erich and his visions. And so it goes. I say, enough of that shit. So far, everybody has been polite - but from now on

Thursday, February 09, 2012

About that Hammerhead in Florida!

Is this illegal?

From the testimony.

...from there it was 100 yards away, I still thought it was a bull shark but then it surfaced and all I saw was a yellowish color so I thought it was a lemon... it surfaced once more and I thought it was a bull. It wasn't until it was 50 yards in the giant sickle fin verified what it was... (note: it was a Great Hammerhead)
We had it beached within an hour of hooking it.
The fish weighed too much her girth was huge. Just the 2 of us wasn't enough to get it out of the water.
...spent the next hour walking back and forth with HER reviving her did about 10 laps along the beach, we ran into 3 or 4 rays in the process and it came close to biting me when it swung around a few times. But it swam off slow and steady and I was satisfied with the release.

From Florida's Rule Chapter: 68B-44

68B-44.008 Prohibited Species; Prohibition of Harvest, Landing, and Sale (excerpt)
  • (1) No person shall harvest, possess, land, purchase, sell, or exchange any or any part of these species
    (k) Great hammerhead – Sphyrna mokarran.
68B-44.002 Definitions (excerpt).
  • (3) “Harvest” means the catching or taking of a marine organism by any means whatsoever, followed by a reduction of such organism to possession. Marine organisms that are caught but immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed are not harvested.
  • (5) “Land,” when used in connection with the harvest of marine organisms, means the physical act of bringing the harvested organism ashore.
Now slasherx4 has a problem.
Two months ago, what he did would have been called best practice catch and release, this after taking a set of measurements which the land-based Shark anglers have introduced in lieu of weight records - not nice but certainly better than killing the Shark.

But now, things have obviously changed - or maybe not?
As of this year, Great Hammerheads are protected, may not be landed and must be released immediately. But what does that mean in this, and in many similar cases that will present themselves especially to the shore fishermen?
  • slasherx4 did manage to beach the Hammerhead but was unable to get it out of the water which would have undoubtedly qualified as landing. So where is the legal distinction here: must the Shark be sitting on the dry for it to be landed, or is it to be considered landed once it cannot anymore float vertically but is laying on the substrate as in the picture at the top, or what?

  • and what does immediately mean: immediately when hooked; immediately once identified as a prohibited species; or maybe otherwise?
    Certainly not the former as bait is not selective and there remain quite a few Sharks that are still legal to catch, thus mandating a positive ID; probably the latter - but then again, is that really always the best interpretation?
    Would it not be a better interpretation of the law that aims at protecting those species and requires them to be released unharmed if the Sharks were released without hooks or at least, with a minimum of line attached? If fishing from a boat, that would be relatively easy as one could stop fighting and drive to the animal in order to cut it loose.
    In the case of land based Shark fishing which I like even less because the animals must be completely subdued and dragged in, cutting the line as soon as the Shark is being identified is probably the least invasive procedure. With that in mind, slasherx4 should have cut the line when the Shark was still 50 yards from shore, thus probably giving it a better chance of survival despite of condemning it to drag along 50 or more yards of line.
Detail detail!
Looks like the authorities would be well advised to issue some clarifications here - and depending on the results, I fear that the shore based anglers may have to completely abandon their record-keeping as any beaching and immobilizing of those prohibited species will hopefully be declared to be illegal.
Which begs the question, how have the Lemons etc that have been prohibited for longer been handled so far.

But until then, I would have to totally concur with Chuck's view.

So a surf fisherman caught a large, endangered, legally protected shark but also followed the best release practices he was aware of and showed some respect for the animal.
This isn't Mark the Shark we're dealing with, it's someone who seems to rather like the fish he's angling, and therefore not a big part of the problem with hammerhead conservation. This particular fisherman likely made an honest mistake and, while the violation of the law certainly needs to be addressed, I hope they don't come down too hard on someone who could be helpful to the cause of shark conservation if approached neutrally.

PS once again, excellent post by David with many more details and an interesting comments thread here.

The Oxygen Myth - the Empire strikes back!

No no no no! 
From an e-mail by a friend  
Cherry-picked, selectively quoted, full-tilt, bat-shit insane...
Another favorite rhetorical trick the ignoranti use is that ANYTHING can be said as we can't disprove something... the point i believe you tried to make about the "god is a yellow pig..." But the BURDEN of fucking proof rests on those making bat-shit crazy statements... not the other way around... 
Leave the lady alone! 
We got ourselves a veritable argumentum ad verecundiam which as everybody knows is the closest any common mortal like us will ever get to being infallible! Unless, that is, one took up opulent residence in a southern European capital, sported a pointy hat and presided over a cabal of geriatric pedophiles etc - but I'm digressing as usual. 
And, it of course goes both ways: 
don't you dare criticizing Obama unless you've been a US president as you would simply (caps lock) LACK THE KNOWLEDGE TO EVEN WEIGH IN ON THE SUBJECT!! Yes that would be not one but TWO exclamation marks! 
So there! 
Jessica is not just any dumb blonde bimbette! 
Far from it, she has majored in biology, making her an instant expert of not only cat poo and composting, but Shark biology to boot! And, she's a Biologist, shark lover, microscopy lover, honor society member, award-winning published writer, Nobel level thinker... Plus, after informing me that You and Jessica aren't friends (never have truer words been uttered!), Facebook also warns me that Jessica Works at Back Off, Man. I'm a Scientist
So being undoubtedly Man, I'm gonna certainly back off! 
And not only that: in order to preserve this pearl of wisdom and education for posterity lest it gets accidentally deleted, I'm gonna re-post Jessica's comments in their entirety! The links are mine not hers.
Enjoy and be amazed!
I'm not even going to read this drivel because I've seen this website already and the guy who runs it has about as much education as one of my cats. It seems there are A LOT of people out there (with zero education) who spend a lot of money on shark diving and then start a blog and call themselves experts.
The lack of education is spreading a very dangerous message. 
You CANNOT understand this stuff, post a bunch of thoughts and ideas and throw in some pictures found on google in an effort to prove or disprove a scientific theory. THEY LACK THE SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE TO EVEN WEIGH IN ON THE SUBJECT!! I recently remained anonymous and broke this down for the folks over at Shark Defenders and I would be happy to do the same for these guys as well.  
Without further ado, here are copies of what I wrote, which pretty much shut them up btw. 
Feel free to copy and paste my messages and let people know the facts: "In university right now, ecology professors are teaching this very idea. You need to understand that much of science deals in theories... I am sure you have heard of "Newtons Theory of Gravitation?" Basically theorizing that gravity exists; it's still just a theory...and "The Theory of Relativity?" 
Many of these ideas are based on hypothesis as opposed to using empirical discovery, however they are all considered acceptable and people agree that they are as close to the truth as we will ever get. While I am unaware of one particular study that tests the marine food web collapse theory in terms of proving that the loss of phytoplankton would significantly reduce the world's oxygen (it would make for a great thesis or dissertation for those of us continuing our education in the science field), in theory, it would make sense that if sharks were to disappear, forage fish would proliferate. 
If there is an overabundance of plankton feeders, the phytoplankton could disappear and the question is, how would it affect the Earth's oxygen supply? The other question is would the marine food web evolve to make up for the disturbance? It could go either way. Notice I use words like "can" and "could." While we can't say, that something is for sure without proving it, on the other hand, we also cannot say that it is emphatically incorrect, again, without testing it. So, just as there may not be a study to prove the theory correct, there also isn't one to prove it wrong. So, to answer your question, it cannot be answered by a simple yes or no, but we can theorize what will happen one way or another. " Their response was: "We haven't been able to pinpoint the earliest mention of the sharks-oxygen link, but here is a story from 2004 in National Geographic that links sharks to oxygen, not the other way. The myth may have started with Erich Ritter, who was in Sharkwater, and has posted on his website: "The protection of sharks is crucial for the balance of the oceans, earth’s main producer of oxygen." 
" Then Shark Diver wrote the following: "It was Rob Stewart who spent far too much time in the media fog of Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson a man known, even praised, for his magical ability to pull made up and factually incorrect quotes out of his hindquarters at will. Rob Stewart used that quote in his film and in most of his media appearances after the fact to sell Sharkwater to the public. I am sure Rob and Paul never imagined the public would adopt this strange narrative as readily as they did without any question of it's validity."  
And finally, I ended it with this:
"Again, in Universities all around the world, including the U.S., it is being taught that 70% of Earth's oxygen is derived from cyanobacteria (phytoplankton) in the ocean. Will disrupting the marine food web cause an issue for us in terms of obtaining oxygen? Until a model is formed and tested, there is no answer to that question. So, we are left to theorize and unfortunately, the information that is available shows that there likely would be some negative side effect (small or large scale) regarding our oxygen supply. All scientists agree that cyanobacteria (phytoplankton) were not only responsible for initially supplying the Earth with oxygen, but that they continue to do so. This is not a debate and there is plenty of proof. Here is a wonderful article, one of many, to prove to you that EVERYONE KNOWS that our oxygen comes from the ocean; in this, experts pin pointed when the oxygen was first created, no one is arguing about WHERE it came from. 
Erich Ritter was not lying or being hyperbolic."
Forget science (did I just say that?) 
Even in a basic COLLEGE LEVEL PHILOSOPHY CLASS, which would go right over these guys' heads, it is taught that you cannot dismiss something by saying it isn't true just because you don't believe it. You need to either prove, or disprove something. Just because there hasn't been an actual study (that we know of) that proves removing sharks would cause a marine food web collapse, thus causing a side effect to phytoplankton, does not mean it cannot happen. 
One need merely apply syllogism to solve this argument: 
Major premise: Phytoplankton supply Oxygen to Earth. Minor premise: Sharks keep Phytoplankton in check. Conclusion: All Sharks supply Oxygen to Earth. The model: Major premise: All P affect O. Minor premise: All S affect P. Conclusion: All S affect O. ------------- The best way to approach people who are trying to "debunk" this theory with their google searches and blogs is to use the link to the study above and point out that WITHOUT PHYTOPLANKTON, THE EARTH NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN OXYGENATED, lol. So, if we remove the top predators and allow the little guys WHO EAT PHYTOPLANKTON to explode, what is the best educated guess or theory as to what would happen? LESS PHYTOPLANKTON, maybe none at all. So, in dealing with cause and effect, what would happen next? Umm...oxygen depletion? Likely scenario. Can we say it's definite? No. Can we say it's impossible? Absolutely not!! That leaves us to wonder why they are trying so hard to disprove something that is impossible to prove or disprove without a proper study and model... 
Maybe these divers/bloggers secretly hate sharks and oxygen. 
Well, then they can get on their rocket ships that they built at the "University of Googling Information and Placing it on a Free Blog" and head to another planet. :)

Touché - yes I confess, I secretly hate oxygen! 
As I said, I am fatally intimidated by this deluge of erudition and will not even dare commenting on the fact that the COLLEGE LEVEL PHILOSOPHY CLASS syllogism is formally faulty (see it?) as that would just be petty nitpicking! 
But you may be braver. 
You may dare and go and re-read the drivel
If so inclined, chances are that you would discover that the hypothesis that the overfishing of Sharks will lead to the depletion of the planet's oxygen etc is so totally implausible (= utter unadulterated moronic bullshit) and the postulated causal relationship, to cite Rick, so spurious that nobody in his right mind would think of elevating this to the rank of a legitimate scientific query, ever! But then again, maybe Jessica will do the honors? And concerning the syllogism, you may discover this.
  • Major premise: not so fast!
  • Minor premise: utter unadulterated moronic bullshit!
  • Ergo?
Or as they say. Errare humanum est - perserverare, diabolicum! 
But blessed are the poor of mind - and I suspect that on this, even the man with the pointy hat would agree! 
Patric on Jessica Perry-Targaryen here
Question: can Majors in Biology be un-bestowed? 
PS - Rejoice it gets even better!  
Here's one more impressive bonbon by the diabolically clever Jessica the Biologist and I discover, soon-to-be PsScD from the same insanely educative thread, in answer to comments by that extra-creeper and TROLL, poor David from SFS
"No scientific papers, no technical reports, no presentations at conferences, nothing." 
So, according to your logic, because no one has broached the issue utilizing a scientific model, then it can't possibly be so. I suspect you come from the same school of thought where "the Earth MUST be flat because no one has proven it otherwise." And I guess you don't believe in global warming since that too is a theory and has yet to be emphatically proven. And while we're at it, where do you stand on evolution? And the list goes on... Who makes you the end all authority on it? Oh, because YOU say so it must be true. I think those blogs of yours have fed your ego so much that it has consumed your brain. If you truly knew anything about biology, then you would know that in order for something to be considered untrue, there must be a study to discount the theory and since YOU say that no such study exists, then it could still be possible. 
Go take a philosophy class and then come back and talk to me because although you may know a lot about sea sponges, you don't know a damn thing about logic. And for the record, yes, there are studies being done and I actually plan to incorporate this subject into my dissertation when the time comes. I guess I'll put this baby to bed one way or another and whether I am wrong or right is not what this is about... It's about the fact that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN and if you say it can't, without proof, then you're no better than the people who say that it can, without proof. I only said that it "COULD" happen. So, your point is moot and illogical. I have a deal to make with you, instead of you just saying "I'm right and you're wrong" and then accusing me of spreading pseudoscience, lol. Why don't you put your money where your mouth is? Since you feel so passionate about the subject, why don't you give me the results to your hypothetico-deductive model and prove the theory wrong? (You've already made your prediction so, get going) If your results prove that a marine food web collapse would not have a small or large scale effect to oxygen supply on Earth (taking into account that cyanobacteria "phyotplankton" were the cause of oxygenation 2.4 billion years ago and continue to supply us with 70% of O2) and publish it in a peer-reviewed journal, then I will take your findings as facts and let the world know. See, it works both can't say something isn't so without proof, just like you can't saying something is so without prove, but we can always hypothesize. 
And I must say, I'm rather impressed by Julie!