Saturday, March 31, 2012

California Blues!

Great Video!

This film is a tribute to those times when everything comes together to make a magical moment.
I shot this film on one perfect, cloudless, windless afternoon with clean water off Anacapa Island and at least six blue sharks under our boat. The largest was 8 feet long and the others were between 5-7 feet.

Shark populations have declined worldwide, including blue sharks, and seeing this many blue sharks at once was like a dream come true. I remember frequently seeing blue sharks swimming on the surface of the water during the late 80s while crossing the channel to the northern California Channel Islands. Nowadays, you are not likely to see any.

Indeed, what a serendipitous moment, beautifully captured!

Richard about Marine Taxonomy!

Richard is one of my pals.
And here is why.


WCPFC - great news for OWTs, but...

Looks like I've been too optimistic.
Japan has stalled the decision to ban the appalling practice of abusing Whale Sharks as FADs by setting purse seines around them. What possible argument could they have raised against banning this abomination - Angelo?

But the parties have protected the Oceanic White Tips.
As always, it's a mixed bag but I guess that we must be grateful for any progress. More about the status of Sharks in the Central and Western Pacific here!

Baby step by baby step...

And the Tuna?
Dunno but I'm gonna find out - appeal by Pew here, infographic here!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sharkland - epic!

Absolutely awesome!


Not looking good - click for detail. Animation here.

Poor Fiji!
As per the map, we're currently between tropical depressions, and the effects of the first one have been devastating. And, it ain't over by any stretch of the imagination as the next depression may well develop into a cyclone and undoubtedly once again dump a lot more water on the already waterlogged soil in the West and in the North.
As expected, so far, we're OK - fingers crossed!

But it's bucketing down, I'm bored and cranky, so there.
A friend has sent me the link to this video, and I cite (sic) from the description.

After pouring healing Reiki energy into the appalling "fish tank" the dolphins are in The more lively of the two began to play with me. I did what I would do if I were swimming with them in the wild and played. Low and behold the dolphin who is normally lethagic and depressed suddenly joined us! This tells me she is able to be saved, if we can act now and get these beautiful dolphins better living conditions. Go to and find contacts to write to . For the Dolphins

And here's another one.
The lady is Kerry O'Brien, a Dolphin conservation activist who is part of the Taji Action Group and of Dr. Ingrid N. Visser's Whale Rescue etc.

Did you like that?

Personally, I find it creepy.
Having lived in Vava'u, Tonga, one of the Humpback viewing hotspots, I've witnessed plenty of this unholy alliance of activism and New Age, and the people who shamelessly exploit it to hawk their particular brand of quackery. I'm also appalled by all the vociferating and the energy squandered on "saving" non-endangered Cetaceans in Taji and now, the Faroe Islands whilst at the same time, the endangered Hector's/Maui, Snubfin, Vaquita and several river Dolphins are quietly being exterminated. Is that conservation?
And, maybe Kerry should not travel to Japan but do some positive visualization in her native New Zealand first?

This is why I'm alarmed by this petition by Sea Shepherd.
Irrespective of its content that shall be analyzed in a future post, it features the usual Sea Shepherd sycophants, but it also features organizations for whom I have a lot of respect.
And there's this endorsement.

"You can't save the dolphins without saving their environment, and you can't save that without saving the sharks!" - Ric O'Barry

Scary stuff.
I say, thanks but no thanks.
I for one want nothing to do with the dolphinization of the Shark conservation movement, and the media fog factory of pulled from the arse conservation misquotes of those bullshit machines.

Too late now - but next time, look at who you're associating yourselves before lending your name and support. It elevates them but alas, it ultimately demeans you.
If it's such a worthwhile cause, maybe do your own thing and thus spread the message even further?
You know who you are - think about it, please.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fiji - Weather!

Watch out!
The Frigate Birds have started coming closer to the shore, so we're definitely in for something - certainly a lot! of rain, once again especially in the West, and possibly some nasty wind. So far, it looks like we down here will likely dodge the bullet, but let's not be complacent.

Good weather maps here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Demian - great Interview!

We've been busy with four shoots in ten days, so I'm playing catch-up.

What has caught my attention is this article in Business Insider.
I must say, this is really as good as it gets, and this largely owing to Demian Chapman's excellent explanations about the Shark fin trade and CITES. On top of being a brilliant researcher, Demian is one of the people who have been mentored by Doc, so this comes at no surprise - still, it is always refreshing to find rational and fact-based statements amid all the unhelpful hyperbole and frothy petitioning of the sharktivists!

Required reading!

Sunday, March 25, 2012


What a wonderful victory!

About that Bahamas Video!

Same-same, possibly on another day. But who knows - the web is full of these images

Back to that attempted bite by that Tiger.
It has led to several blog and Facebook posts but above all, to a spirited debate behind the scenes. Depending on the interlocutors, there were discussions about whether the Shark was in predatory mode and this, an attempted predatory strike; about Shark diving protocols, actually the only topic of my last post; and about whether customers engaging in commercial Shark dives do assume full responsibility for their actions and should thus be allowed to do whatever they please.
Regular readers know what I think about the latter so no need to get into great detail there.

Plus, I frankly abhor these discussions.
Shark strikes are so exceedingly rare that they are statistically insignificant, and despite of the attempts by the various statisticians and Sesselfurzer at finding some common trends, there is way too much variability in terms of situations, locations, species etc but above all, they are neither replicable nor testable and as a consequence, they will be forever inaccessible to any proper scientific analysis.
All those wonderful explanations are at best educated guesses but more often than not, they are hopelessly trivial or simply outright stupid. In fact, they tell us next to nothing about Shark behavior but instead, a lot about human behavior in general (e.g. the strikes are more frequent when and where there are more people in the water - dooh) and even more about the personalities and agendas of the various commentators who range from hostile and outright phobic (actually, make it two!) to the Pavlovian on-camera reflexes of the self professed experts to the moronic and very much self-debunked teachings of the Ueber-Charlatan.
Consequently, Shark strikes are not something we usually cover.

But since this thing has become the topic of so many e-mails.
This is where I come from based on my own experience & what I’ve learned from others: divers, operators and researchers.
Not the “truth”, just my personal belief.
  • Like everything else (evolution, taxonomy etc), behavior happens along a continuum where we then want to create order & define categories. When it comes to Shark bites, I've tried to do so in this post. Those categories are pretty much clear at the extremes but extremely fuzzy at the boundaries - and although our definitions may be correct at a general level, interpreting stuff at an individual level is often extremely difficult. Think of the legal process: it consists in looking at complicated events and then analyzing, dissecting and reducing them to their essentials in order to try and to fit them into predetermined slots, i.e. the articles of the law, in a process called subsuming. Behavioral analysis is not much different and obviously fraught with the very same difficulties.
    And let there never be a doubt that whilst we're racking our collective heads trying to find adequate interpretations, the Sharks couldn't care less and will continue to act as they please!
  • After thousands of dives with Sharks, I’ve only witnessed natural predation a couple of dozen times, mostly after it had already started, and this in bait balls. Only twice have I witnessed the start of predation, once by HHs in Cocos and once by Grey Reefs in the GBR, and in both cases I never saw it coming - all appeared normal and peaceful and then, Bang!
    I’ve learned to recognize agonistic behavior (read it!) and I’ve learned to recognize when a Shark is nervous/excited – but I frankly haven’t got a clue what a Shark in predatory mode looks like.
    I would presume that a) as we define Sharks as being opportunistic, predation arises out of opportunity and is not premeditated, meaning that the animals will instantly start hunting/predating once they perceive a chance for a meal and b) that whereas it makes a lot of sense for a Shark to telegraph agonistic behavior, it would make sense for them NOT to telegraph predatory mode, this in order to better surprise/ambush their prey.
    Apart from the obvious examples (=wounded, struggling fish), I got no clue what, exactly, will be seen by them as an opportunity and trigger an attack – and therefore, when it comes to those big guys, I am always wary and always give them my full attention and respect.
  • I equate baited Shark dives with communal scavenging events, like several usually solitary Sharks aggregating around a whale carcass – thus natural behavior in an unnatural setting. Think: notoriously solitary Polar Bears aggregating at the garbage dump in Churchill, Manitoba and you may understand what I'm trying to say.
    I could imagine that during those events, there is some kind of social etiquette among conspecifics (I’ve never seen one of our bulls displaying overt aggression towards other bulls, although I certainly witness rank) whereas I believe that there is competitive aggression vis-à-vis other species because I’ve seen plenty of inter-specific bites, all by the dominant Bulls on other species - and elsewhere, I've also seen Silvertips biting away Nurses, etc.
  • I also haven't got a clue of how Shark perceive us during baited dives.
    At best, they may see us as being friendly (as purveyors of meals) or neutral (as just another big animal that happens to be there); but we can certainly not exclude that they may perceive us as threats, competitors or potential prey. My hunch is that based on individual circumstances, all of the above may well apply, and this once again along a continuum.
    Consequently, I believe that during baited Shark dives, there is a risk of
    a) bites due to mistakes (NOT = mistaken identity)
    b) bites due to inter-specific aggression due to competition, the other species being us
    c) bites due to agonistic behavior/retaliation (as any Lemon Shark handling student of Doc and Doc himself can attest to, this is certainly totally misleading in its generalization)
    d) maybe opportunistic predation.
    That’s a lot of risk and with these big species, the consequences are always devastating. I am of the strong opinion that that risk needs to be managed.
  • Although “common wisdom” has it that Tiger Sharks are placid, they are certainly very successful predators and certainly know how to get the job done.
    Those animals at TB are highly conditioned and display unusual behavior, as in tolerating the presence of divers, as do our Bulls. In many, many un-baited dives, and this in places where they are very much ubiquitous, I’ve only once seen one Tiger and only once Bulls, which I interpret as meaning that they usually want nothing whatsoever to do with us divers.
    The Tigers and Lemons obviously come to TB because of the bait: certainly not because they like or love us! That's just anthropomorphic mumbo jumbo and wishful thinking that we really need to stop propagating. I only know of one example where Sharks appear to approach a diver in search of affection (or is it stimulation?), and that would be Cristina's astonishing Caribbean Reefs - different species, location, circumstances!.
    Far from being the ever placid and friendly puppies some quarters are trying to market them into, I've personally witnessed both Tigers and Bulls actively trying to bite and hurt people after being manhandled, an I know two of our Bulls for being particularly ill tempered, something our handlers need to be acutely aware of. I also differentiate between species, with Silvertips being high on my list of Sharks with “attitude” that need to be treated with a lot of respect and circumspection.
    Consequently, I believe that aggression is situation-, species- and individually specific, and this once again along a continuum
  • I believe that the behavior of that Tiger was either agonistic (feeling hemmed in) or retaliatory - and yes the differentiation is fuzzy and rather irrelevant.
    What IS relevant is that
    a) the diver was either fatally complacent or really had no clue because he should have pushed away the animal instead of allowing it to swim between his legs (WTF?)
    b) irrespective of the ultimate motivation, a bite by a Tiger is a bite by a Tiger, with possibly devastating consequences but above all,
    c) as I said, I really have no clue what induces a Shark to recognize an opportunity - but IF it had managed to nail the diver, I just cannot exclude that that Tiger would not have “switched gears”, perceived the chance and started feeding.
    The only Shark/human predation I’ve ever seen is the Ritter accident (watch it!) and I am convinced that that Bull was not very motivated: but he first nibbled and then ate that leg because it perceived a chance for a meal, possibly attracted by the pasty white skin and possibly because once he tested it, there was no neoprene & it tasted good – but who knows, maybe the Bull just didn’t like the dude, something I can totally emphasize with!
  • The average experience and knowledge of our clients is very low and I believe that this is a global and increasing trend.
    In fact, 70+% of our customers have less than 100 dives. Seeing one of these big Sharks used to be the crowning of one’s diving career, now they are a “product” and a lot of people seem to believe that they are trivial, if not harmless. Others are adrenaline junkies & want to play hero.
    In both cases and if not curtailed, this leads to the same reckless behavior.
  • Long story short: as a commercial shark operator, you got to stack the cards in your favor.
    Protocols are obviously location- and species- specific but there are a couple of simple rules for baited Shark dives: excellent briefing, separation of sharks and people, avoidance of contrasting colors, meaning full body dark wetsuits and gloves, supervision of clients, uniform predictable routine not to confuse the animals (=no multi-user sites or at least, a uniform set of procedures - and yes, bravo Patric!). Here is another great example for good procedures in another place.
    For the life of me, I also don’t see any upside whatsoever in the grabbing and manhandling – yes we feed ours but that’s as far as we go, otherwise we just sit back, enjoy, observe. We want Sharks to be Sharks, meaning that on one side they are badass and require our respect but on the other side, they are obviously tolerant of divers and need not be unduly feared & demonized - but both aspects, not only one, are equally valid!
  • Are you still with me? :)
    So here's how I see it - literally!
    - there are people in close proximity to a bait crate, one of the stupidest things one can possibly do
    - this is absolutely nothing even remotely resembling a structured, let alone supervised dive
    - there is a large (!) Tiger Shark who attempts to bite one person and then takes an active interest in another who instead of confronting the animals tries to hop away.
To me as a commercial Shark dive operator, the obvious lack of protocols is absolutely reckless and unprofessional, and deeply abhorrent.

The customers?
Just your usual pick of dedicated and quite obviously green image hunters.

The operator?
Betcha it is again Dolphin Dream, habitual enabler of bad things with Sharks!
Quousque tandem...

OK that’s it… apologies for the verbal deluge.

Fiji - incoming?

Keep an eye on the weather map!
As always, this is merely a prediction - but start making the usual preparations!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Great Fiji Shark Count - awesome Article!

Kudos and Vinaka to Scott Kukral of Sea Fiji Travel!
His well-researched piece hits the nail squarely on the head: this is exactly what we are trying to achieve and why this initiative is so vital for Shark Conservation in Fiji!

Please enjoy Scott's article right here!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tanya: one very cool Lady!

Intrepid - Tanya and the BAD Boyz!

And very pretty, too!

She's in Fiji shooting for Plastic Oceans, and the whole team did pop by for some well-deserved R&R and a bit of very sharky footage - and before you ask, no she did not free dive!
And I take it that she liked the experience (and here), as did we! :)

Tanya about Plastic Oceans of which she is a Patron.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Punter without Pokey Stick!

Sustainable Shark Diving = throwing punters into the water and hoping that they will make it back alive?

When will somebody finally start using his brain - maybe after the next accident?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Great White and Abalone Diver!

Definitely not a job for the fainthearted!

Story here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sharks and MPAs!

Our Whitetip Reef Sharks - clearly resident and doing great. Stellar pic by Lill.

Nice to see our intuition confirmed!
It may sound trivial, but recent research finally confirms that Sharks thrive within Marine Protected Areas. There may be more, but these are the two new papers I know about.

Evaluating marine protected areas for the conservation of tropical coastal sharks.
Danielle M. Knipa, Michelle R. Heupel, Colin A. Simpfendorfer


Global declines in shark populations have created uncertainty in the future status of many species and conservation efforts are urgently needed.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are used increasingly as conservation tools around the world, but how they benefit mobile and wide ranging species like sharks remains unclear. To evaluate the degree of protection MPAs may provide for sharks, we used an array of acoustic receivers to examine the movements and spatial use of two tropical coastal species within two MPAs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia. Juvenile pigeye (Carcharhinus amboinensis) and adult spottail (Carcharhinus sorrah) sharks were fitted with acoustic transmitters from 2009 to 2010. Both species displayed long-term use of MPAs, with some individuals detected for longer than 600 days. The mean percentage of time C. amboinensis and C. sorrah spent inside MPAs was 22% and 32%, respectively. MPA use varied seasonally, with C. amboinensis spending a higher percentage of time inside MPAs in summer (mean = 28%) and C. sorrah spending a higher percentage of time inside MPAs in winter (mean = 40%). Although sharks used large areas inside MPAs, most individuals tended to use only half of the available protected space. In addition, all sharks made excursions from MPAs and individuals exited and re-entered at consistent locations along the MPA boundaries.
These results demonstrate that MPAs have conservation benefits for shark populations by providing protection across different species and life stages, and tracking studies can be used to help tailor MPA design to maximize effectiveness.


Reef Sharks Exhibit Site-Fidelity and Higher Relative Abundance in Marine Reserves on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
Mark E. Bond, Elizabeth A. Babcock, Ellen K. Pikitch, Debra L. Abercrombie, Norlan F. Lamb, Demian D. Chapman


Carcharhinid sharks can make up a large fraction of the top predators inhabiting tropical marine ecosystems and have declined in many regions due to intense fishing pressure.
There is some support for the hypothesis that carcharhinid species that complete their life-cycle within coral reef ecosystems, hereafter referred to as “reef sharks”, are more abundant inside no-take marine reserves due to a reduction in fishing pressure (i.e., they benefit from marine reserves). Key predictions of this hypothesis are that (a) individual reef sharks exhibit high site-fidelity to these protected areas and (b) their relative abundance will generally be higher in these areas compared to fished reefs. To test this hypothesis for the first time in Caribbean coral reef ecosystems we combined acoustic monitoring and baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys to measure reef shark site-fidelity and relative abundance, respectively. We focused on the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), the most common reef shark in the Western Atlantic, at Glover's Reef Marine Reserve (GRMR), Belize. Acoustically tagged sharks (N = 34) were detected throughout the year at this location and exhibited strong site-fidelity. Shark presence or absence on 200 BRUVs deployed at GRMR and three other sites (another reserve site and two fished reefs) showed that the factor “marine reserve” had a significant positive effect on reef shark presence. We rejected environmental factors or site-environment interactions as predominant drivers of this pattern.
These results are consistent with the hypothesis that marine reserves can benefit reef shark populations and we suggest new hypotheses to determine the underlying mechanism(s) involved: reduced fishing mortality or enhanced prey availability.

Very cool!
The latter paper is thankfully open access so you can read it in its entirety. There are also excellent synopses, one by Juliet right here and others here, here, here and here. What is particularly interesting here is the deployment of totally non-invasive bait cams and the correlation to the lack of fishing pressure (and thus, increased fish density) within the MPA.
Helen tells me that she has observed that Fish appear to know and take refuge within the confines of her Waitabu MPA, and from my days as roving underwater image hunter, I've learned to recognize whether a particular reef is being visited by spear fishermen by observing the behavior of the Fishes, particularly the Groupers - so it comes as no surprise that the Sharks who would be following their prey would also aggregate within the protected areas where they would be equally sheltered against any fishing pressure, find plenty of prey and thus thrive.

And what about the Shark Reef Marine Reserve?
Well we did set it up in the belief that in order to conserve a species one needs to preserve its habitat - but as always, it's complicated.
The Blacktip Reefs and Whitetips live, mate and give birth to plenty of babies right there so the conclusions of the papers are being fully confirmed.
Maybe even when it comes to the Grey Reefs but even there I'm less confident. From all I know, your typical resident aggregation of Greys consists of mature females plus juveniles and sub-adults of both sexes, whereas I thought that the adult males were non-resident and always roving, thus assuring gene flow - but on Shark Reef, most of the adults are males and then, like right now, we see a lot of juveniles. And in May/June, everybody leaves for a month or so, something we believe is correlated to mating opportunities somewhere else. But in reality, we don't quite know what's really going on there, so the whole scenario certainly warrants more investigation.
But when they are here they sure look perfectly happy!

The Silvertips, Nurses and Lemons?
As I stated somewhere else, they are increasingly being displaced by the assertive and ever more numerous Bulls, likely due to competitive exclusion - so although I'm sure that much like they've done in the past, they would love to turn up much more frequently, I equally fear that the deterrent is currently much too big for us to ever witness an improvement in numbers, MPA or no MPA.

And the Bulls and Tigers?
Mike's hypothesis stipulates much larger home ranges that have been confirmed by Juerg's telemetric studies - but they sure love to come visit for a juicy snack and maybe, even for some good company! :)

Anyway, all very interesting!

H/T: Demian and Rick!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Great Fiji Shark Count - on Target!

All the stunning materials are ready for mailing - click 4 detail.

Very cool.
Everybody in the team has worked like crazy and all materials have been printed, and this well before the deadline and well below budget - not bad for a bunch of Shark geeks in a developing country huh!
Mailing is tomorrow.

All participants will receive, and this for free:
  • Special logbooks to document their observations
  • Extremely cool posters
  • ID slates for quick identification
  • Field Guides with plenty of additional up-to-date information about the Sharks, Rays and Turtles
And for those of you who may have missed this - it is not too late for signing up!
Chop chop!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Great Fiji Shark Count - Apparel!

Still incredibly busy, so this'll have to be short.

Just got the mock-up for the t-shirts.
The shirts are Gildan and the color we've chosen is navy blue on sport grey.

For GFSC participants only!
Should you want to produce your own shirts, you can order them at Unitex in Suva, Mr. Bipin, They have the artwork for the back and you will need to provide them with your logo for the front - and you can of course choose whatever color combination you please. Unitex are the importers of Gildan so they should have plenty of choices and plenty of stock - and prices are real good!

Monday, March 12, 2012


They got every reason to smile - well done Alibaba!

And I cite.

The incident has shown why communication is so important.
I hope that Oceana sends its apologies to Mr. Jack Ma personally after deliberately connecting him with the manta ray profiteering. Jack Ma and people like him, who consistently make the moral choice, should be acknowledged and thanked, particularly in such a sensitive context as the Asian market and shark finning. Alibaba has become a beacon of hope to us who have had faith all along that if the Chinese people only learned the truth about shark finning, they would change the recipe for their special soup.

Bravo Ila, spot on - it's high time for some accountability here!
It really looks like Oceana has committed a major gaffe by launching a petition without ever bothering to first do their due diligence, let alone get in contact with the petitionee.

Wolfgang has then resolved the whole issue with one single e-mail message.
I must say that I concur with his assessment: at least prima vista, this very much looks like an exercise in self serving hot air that has now sorely backfired. Having checked, Oceana is not a partner in the iconic Manta Ray of Hope project and having missed that train, there may have been pressure to be seen as doing something - very much like in the case of Shark conservation which is the current big thing and where everybody and his dog, and the dog of his dog are jumping on the bandwagon. Having noticed the last minute vociferating by Oceana in Florida, this after others had done all the ground work, I would not be surprised at all - and to think that like Mark, I used to be a fan! :(
But I don't know the facts and will defer my final judgment until I see what happens next. For now, the petition is still online which may be an indication of the fact that somebody there is either deaf, stubborn or stupid, or all of the above.

Talking of which, it may be even simpler.
I had to laugh out loud when I saw the name Elisabeth Griffin.
Remember her, the blissfully unrepentant Ms sippy champagny of African Elephant and US geography fame? May this be nothing more than yet another one of her blunders?

But I'm clearly speculating.
As always we shall see won't we!

PS Oceana have decided to spin this & are screaming Victory!
And now, thanks to your efforts...?
Where have I seen that MO before... and like there, I am very much not impressed!

PS2 Ila's take right here!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fiji - Presentation about Shark Feeding!

Hand-fed Bull Shark - great pic by Sasha!

I shall be giving a presentation as follows
  • Shark Reef Marine Reserve: Conservation, Research and Shark Provisioning
  • Venue: IUCN office, Veitiri Conference Room
    5 Ma'afu Street, Suva
  • Date: 15.03.2012
  • Time: 4:30 pm
The topic is just that.
I shall be shortly touching upon our conservation and research initiatives but above all, I really would like to generate a spirited debate about the controversial topic of feeding Sharks.
Especially within the NGO community, there is still widespread aversion against feeding the wildlife & I really look forward to being challenged and to explaining why we have decided to engage in it, and why so far, we feel perfectly OK with what we do.

Please, do attend and tell your friends.
The event is open to anybody so if you care about the topic, this is your one and only chance to hear it from the horse's mouth - and to finally give me a real hard time in public! :)

See you on Thursday!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fantastic new paper by Neil!

Neil & Tiger, by Jim.

What can I say, I am deeply impressed!
This is what we in the industry have been waiting for, irrefutable proof that at least when it comes to one species in one location, i.e. the Tiger Sharks that frequent Tiger Beach, the feeding has zero incidence on their overall long term mobility and very likely, none on their life history in general!
Bravo Neil, and thank you!

  • 1. There has been considerable debate over the past decade with respect to wildlife provisioning, especially resultant behavioural changes that may impact the ecological function of an apex predator. The controversy is exemplified by the shark diving industry, where major criticisms based on inference, anecdote and opinion stem from concerns of potential behaviourally mediated ecosystem effects because of ecotourism provisioning (aka‘chumming’ or feeding).
  • 2. There is a general lack of empirical evidence to refute or support associated claims. The few studies that have investigated the behavioural impacts of shark provisioning ecotourism have generated conflicting conclusions, where the confidence in such results may suffer from a narrow spatial and temporal focus given the highly mobile nature of these predators. There is need for studies that examine the potential behavioural consequences of provisioning over ecologically relevant spatial and temporal scales.
  • 3. To advance this debate, we conducted the first satellite telemetry study and movement analysis to explicitly examine the long-range migrations and habitat utilization of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) originating in the Bahamas and Florida, two areas that differ significantly with regards to the presence/absence of provisioning ecotourism.
  • 4. Satellite telemetry data rejected the behaviourally mediated effects of provisioning ecotourism at large spatial and temporal scales. In contrast, to the restricted activity space and movement that were hypothesized, geolocation data evidenced previously unknown long-distance migrations and habitat use for both tiger shark populations closely associated with areas of high biological productivity in the Gulf Stream and subtropical western Atlantic Ocean. We speculate that these areas are likely critically important for G. cuvier feeding forays and parturition.
  • 5. We concluded that, in the light of potential conservation and public awareness benefits of ecotourism provisioning, this practice should not be dismissed out of hand by managers. Given the pressing need for improved understanding of the functional ecology of apex predators relative to human disturbance, empirical studies of different species sensitivities to disturbance should be used to guide best-practice ecotourism policies that maximize conservation goals.
Here is a great synopsis and in line with his usual stellar outreach, Neil has even posted this brilliant video recap.

Kudos once again!

Any parallels to what we see here in Fiji?
Enter Mike's totally speculative hypothesis that goes thusly.
Contrary to the open ocean where food comes in large packages, e.g. schools of Tuna, Billfishes etc, the potential prey for Sharks on a coral reef consists of squillions of small Fishes interspersed with the occasional large prey like Stingrays, Turtles, Dugongs, even other Sharks.
The big Sharks like Tigers and Bulls require quite a lot of food (Neil's paper mentions a daily requirement of approx 4%, this of 400+ lbs in large animals) and it would make no sense for them to engage in catching small prey as they would be likely spending more energy on the hunt than would be coming back through those small meals.
Thus, postulates Mike's hypothesis, evolution would select for those Sharks not to be fussy but to be highly opportunistic when it comes to prey choice, and to be continuously roaming a large home range in search of those elusive more substantial meals - and this individually and not as a group as under that scenario, co-operative hunting and sharing would really make no sense.

Remember the paper by Meyer about the Hawaiian Tigers?
Apart from what I quote in that post, I also remember reading that individual animals would chance upon particularly attractive feeding opportunities (like the fledgling Albatrosses in Midway, or Turtle nesting and mating beaches), remember that experience and return there at the same time in the following years - whereas other Tigers that have not discovered those sites would not, meaning that this behavior is the result of individual learning and not somehow genetically encoded.

Nine years of collecting data about our Bulls shows this.
  • Individual animals (we now have identified approx. 130, with at least the same number that have no distinguishing features and can thus not be named) will come and partake in the feed for 4-5 days, after which they leave again, sometimes for weeks or even months.

  • There are individuals that turn up more regularly whereas other individuals are more sporadic - but we don't have a single resident Bull Shark and we also cannot observe that the frequency of visits by individual Sharks that have been coming for many years has increased, something that one would expect if there were any dependency on our hand-outs.

  • With the exception of a few sub-adults, all the Bulls leave (i.e. don't turn up for feeding) from approx. mid-October to mid-December when the pregnant females leave to give birth in the nurseries and the other Bulls engage in mating, likely in the deeper reaches of Beqa Channel as when they come back, the mating scars are totally fresh and heal within days.

  • Over the years, the number of Bulls has kept increasing, to a temporary maximum of approx 100 individuals on one dive last year - and I say, this year we will count more!
The analogy I use is that of a popular restaurant.
  • people discover it and come back regularly because they like the food
  • because a lot of people like it, the restaurant is increasingly fully booked - but the composition of the patrons changes all the time
  • none of the patrons takes up regular residency there but instead, they continue to come and go as they please, turn up at meal times and obviously eat in other places as well
  • and they certainly don't attack the waiters - well, at least most of them don't! :)
In brief, I strongly believe that we're witnessing the same exact phenomenon here.
But at least for the time being, that's all we can say and barring any telemetric data, much of it will always remain somewhat speculative, the more as we share the Bulls with the guys down the road. From what we hear, Bull Shark numbers on Lake Reef are way lower - but still, we cannot fully exclude that some of the Sharks that leave Shark Reef do not simply go and dine there and then come back to the SRMR.

And what about bolting on a couple of SPOT tags and finding out?
Much to the chagrin of some of my very best friends, I won't have any of that. I absolutely love those tracks but I hate the invasive technology and just cannot bring myself to accept that those tags be deployed on our animals. Hopefully one day, somebody will finally develop a sat tag that is less invasive and can be reliably attached on the fly underwater - but until then, there will be no tagging and we will thus have to continue relaying on visual observations.
So fingers crossed for a technological break-through!

Anyway, I'm digressing as usual.
What I really wanted to do is congratulate Neil for yet another excellent paper and commend him for getting the science out to the public in his usual brilliant way.

As I said, I am impressed - bravo and thank you again! :)

PS compare to Aleks' paper here: there definitely appears to be a pattern!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Tracking Oceanic Whitetips!

Sorry for the silence.
We're currently incredibly busy, not least with getting the Great Fiji Shark Count under way, and time is just simply slipping away. Talking of which, please do check out the list of participants: if you haven't already done so, book with one of them.
Those are the businesses who truly care about Sharks in Fiji.

Anyway, Mahmood is tracking OWTs from Cayman.
You can read about the details here and here but above all, you can peruse this stellar interactive tracking tool.
This is as good as it gets - kudos!

Incidentally, Mahmood is about to start publishing his first findings about the global Bull Shark genome research to which we have been contributing samples for several years - keep watching this space!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Numbers - could they be lower?

Read the article - they are finning even the pups!

Back to those 38 million.
I really did like this article about how Shelley Clarke had to beg and cajole in order to get access to the data of the Shark fin traders, and about how difficult it is to get to those numbers and make the proper estimates when working in the real word and away from the desks and couches of the armchair statisticians.

But now comes this.
Listen carefully at 02:25 - the demand has likely gone up but due to the fact that too many Sharks are being caught and are thus becoming more scarce, it may well be that the number of Sharks that are being killed has gone down! And may there already be an effect from having established those sanctuaries and fin trading bans? I wish!
But worry not - in isolation, the numbers mean nothing anyway!

Anyway, check it out!

And if this is true?
Then the trade may have become even more supply limited, with the consequences I continue to talk about, i.e. here, here and here!

Seriously, do read the links and think about it!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Rusi removes a Hook!

This is Doris - the Tiger in the video is Scarface, the small one with the hook Adi.

Interesting video!
The painless intervention is at 0:12 - and there are some shenanigans at 3:00, never to be repeated again! :)


Sunday, March 04, 2012

BBC - Atlantic Sailfish!

Fantastic pic by Reinhard!

As always, totally amazing!
Plus, I just learned that there are indeed two species - was I sleeping or is that something new?
Or maybe it's just one species, with two geographically separated morphs?

Anyway, enjoy.
Brilliant stuff!

H/T: Blogfish

Friday, March 02, 2012

Whale Shark Whisperers?

Intrigued about the title?

There just is no substitute for good old fashion brain power and common sense.
Case in point, this excellent post by Mark which also contains the reference to the title.
And I cite - emphasis is mine.

The real answer to the overall problem lies in community derived sustainability through fisheries management where the community is the stakeholder, and where eco-tourism forms a part (small or large, depending on the circumstances) of that plan.

To cut to the chase, far too many people have been catching far too many fish for far too long; and for far too long, we have abused the oceans as garbage dumps and destroyed the coastal habitats. And now we've reached the point where is has become so bad that everybody is realizing that this cannot continue.
Old fishermen remember the good old days and wonder where all the big fish have gone; old divers like me remember the times where you would lose your buddy amid the fishes whereas now, even the most remote locations are but a shadow of what they used to be; and the fishing industry and government officials despair over ever decreasing catches and the hardship this generates.

We actually spend an inordinate amount of time talking to the various stakeholders from the authorities, NGOs and various industry representatives all the way to the simple artisanal fishermen - and all equally bemoan the rapid and accelerating decline.

The good news is that at least here in Fiji, I am detecting signs of progress.
When it comes to the big commercial fishing interests, there is certainly dialogue and it would be nice if this would finally result in everybody working hand in hand. Ultimately, fishing sustainably is the only viable strategy if the industry wants to survive in the long term, meaning that the classical cat-and-mouse games whereby the fleets over-fish until the authorities curtail them need be replaced by genuine cooperation in the best long term interest of all the stakeholders. Obviously easier said than done but I'm certainly seeing steps in the right direction, this owing to good leadership on all sides but also, to the stomping out of corruption, something this particular government has really excelled in.
Going forward, I would like to see a stronger application of the precautionary principle, meaning that the industry itself would be invited to seek independent certification and that it would thus be them, not the cash- and resource-strapped authorities that would have to invest the necessary resources in order to make the case of why a particular fishery is sustainable.
Again, easier said than done - but certainly feasible assuming that everybody wants to preserve the sector for the future.

It is obviously much more difficult when it comes to the subsistence sector.
If 100 years ago, one village may have numbered 50 people, now that same village may number 400 - but of course, the qoliqoli is still of the same size and may even have been degraded by pollution and ever more frequent bleaching events etc., something that is particularly prevalent in Viti Levu.
Yes once again it is about too many people and about the need to manage limited, and in this particular case, dwindling resources.

Everywhere in developing countries, this is a monumental challenge and so far, the track record everywhere has been equally dismal.
These are not your archetypical greedy bad guys (again, bravo Rick!), these are scores upon scores of perfectly ordinary and often desperately poor people that are trying to eke out a meager living by mining the oceans for protein, with devastating consequences for biodiversity and ultimately, for themselves. Effecting change here is incredibly difficult, the more as often, poor education and archaic and rigid social structures and beliefs are greatly compounding the problem.

As I said, it's exactly the same as with the other marine life, with the one difference that several of them are particularly important for preserving the ecological integrity of their habitats, and that their demise will amplify the negative consequences. Once again, the good news is that Mark's pro shark Zeitgeist (nice formulation!) is certainly a fact, and that there is much we the shark conservationists can do, at every level - including shark tourism where i however fully agree with Mark.

But please, sans the hyperbole and the nonsense.
This also includes abandoning the continued Asia bashing and condemning the racist undertones, and I must commend Patric on this courageous post. Yes shark fishing is still principally driven by the Asian demand for shark fins - but the killing and selling is perpetrated by others very much including us, and when I check out the recipe, I also see no requirement whatsoever that the Sharks must be finned! And let us not forget the thriving shark meat markets in places like the UK, Germany and Australia!
The anti-Asian racism must stop - and leaders, show leadership!

Anyway, as always, just a couple of thoughts.
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

It's a Wrap!

You must click to fully enjoy!

I must say, that's the most fun we've had in a long time! :)

Bad News from Oz!

Not a good day for Madi Pip. :(

And I cite.

On the 28th February 2012, the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke re-approved the East Coast Inshore Fin Fish Fishery (ECIFFF) as a Wildlife Trade Operation (WTO). The granting of the WTO allows the fishery to export its produce, which in this case includes shark meat and shark fins.

The fishery, which operates in and around World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef marine park, has an annual quota for 600t of shark, which amounts to around 100,000 individual sharks. In 2010 alone, the fishery caught 66 tonnes of hammerhead sharks, including scalloped and great hammerheads, listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List .
The fishery also catches turtles, dugongs, sawfish and snubfin dolphins.

What can I say that I haven't already.
It sucks, with no happy end in sight.


How beautiful is that!
In a distant life, I used be interested (don't ask...) in butterflies - so to me, this is absolutely fascinating!