Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stefanie - fantastic!

Stefanie and the BAD boyz & girlz - click for detail!

Boy was I wrong!
I've once dubbed her a Bayrischer Rottweiler - but she's really nothing like it!

We've finally met and lemme tell 'ya, I am impressed!
I must say, Stefanie Brendl is one of the most humble, warmhearted and smart Shark people out there, a real Mensch - and boy, talk about somebody who really loves and understands the animals!
And is she determined like a pit bull? Most certainly - but in a nice way! :)

We had some great dives and some even better conversations, and everybody here cannot wait for her come back!

Bis bald Stefanie!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rafting Whitetips?

In the footsteps of his dad: Tumbee in action!

Interesting hypothesis!

But is it plausible?
Having seen scores of Reef Whitetips ride the thermoclines in Cocos, I would not necessarily expect to find them resting in flotsam that is being swept across the Pacific; instead, I would expect them to elegantly ride out those currents to their ultimate destination, like I've seen them do many a time.
And although it is certainly plausible that some may get swept away, I would not at all exclude that they may simply get the urge to relocate once their home reefs gets overpopulated, and therefore catch a passing current on purpose.

But that's just detail.
All-in-all, this is really cool research - kudos!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

And talking about fishing the Commons...

The current solution to avoid a Tragedy of the Commons where both the eco-system and consequently the fishing industry collapses, is a total ban on all fishing of sharks and any sale of shark products regardless of whether they are accidentally fished or not.

Read this!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Paradigm Shift required!

Shark finning bans - not good enough!

And I cite.

The purpose of the post is to educate those individual activists and small organizations who create “awareness” videos that do not have their facts straight. I’ve come across too many of these to count in recent weeks, and “spreading awareness” of the wrong facts doesn’t help.

Finning Bans?

The myth-busting continues - after deconstructing the oxygen myth, David has now finally set his sights onto those frustrating anti-finning petitions and media.
Or maybe I'm too optimistic and he hasn't and just wants to educate everybody about the correct terminology. Be it as it may, this comes on the back of this rather epic quiz by Angelo and needed to be said.
Well done.

And before you get all worked up.
No I'm not pro-finning - on the contrary!
It is an ethical abomination and needs to be banned - but what I'm saying (read it!) is that in itself, it does not save Sharks: instead, it needs to be part of a whole package of Shark conservation measures.
Believe it or not, finning bans are a concept from the 80ies, and they have proven to be largely ineffectual in reducing Shark mortality. And by only asking for finning bans, we are actually detracting from the real issue at hand , i.e. that way too many Sharks are being killed.
Depending on where we choose to position ourselves in the ideological conservation continuum between Shark huggers and Shark fisheries managers, what we got to ask for are either full Shark fishing bans or at least, that Shark fishing quotas be fully sustainable.
The latter mandates that quotas be a fraction (I hear, approx 30%) of recruitment, that finning be prohibited, that bycatch and other impacts like habitat degradation be greatly mitigated, etc etc. - and yes, going back to the comments thread in David's post, I also believe that dumping the carcasses of landed Sharks should be penalized in the same way as illegal finning because in real terms, it is the exact same thing!

Fin Bans?

And what about those fin bans?
I must say, I am quite enjoying the brawl spirited discussion in the comments section of David's post! :)
Personally I believe both sides to be equally right and wrong, and this is why.

There are fin bans and fin bans.

The first one was Stefanie and Senator Hee's historic ban in Hawaii.
The state had already banned all Shark fishing but there was a loophole whereby Hawaii was acting as a turntable for the Shark fin trade, and this measure was meant to close that gap.

So, was that a good thing?
I fully agree with David's listing of the appropriate Shark management tools, and I cite.
  • Special protections for particularly threatened species
  • Species that aren’t particularly threatened fished according to a science-based quota
  • Appropriate bycatch reduction strategies, including gear restrictions or time/area closures
  • Appropriate reporting and enforcement.
But that may not be the full story and when viewed on a global scale and in a real world, it may also be a bit naive.
Hawaii is an important tourism destination and may have decided to ban all Shark fishing in order to fully preserve its marine habitats but possibly also for cultural reasons and in order to market itself as an ocean-loving destination or the like - and whereas that decision may not be fully rational from a scientific perspective, it is certainly legitimate. Same-same for the decision not to facilitate the global fin trade that is presently totally non-transparent and unsustainable.

My only personal caveat, if at all.
I don't like generic food bans whereby some people arrogate themselves the right to tell others what to eat. Assuming that there could once be a certified Shark fin soup, and that it would not constitute a strong public health risk (which in the US would be for the FDA to ascertain), I would have advocated an according exemption for those fins - e.g. fins from these certified Spiny Dogfish where at least Chuck appears to say that the certification is legit.
But I'm clearly splitting hairs here - so yes, I do like the Hawaiian fin ban.

And I do like the fin bans in those Shark Sanctuaries.
There, several states and countries have taken the decision to ban all Shark fishing, this preeminently because of concerns for their marine habitats but once again also for ethical and cultural reasons, and often also because it is good for tourism.
The fin bans there are part of a whole array of measures and have another purpose and that is, to facilitate enforcement. The rationale is that instead of squandering scarce resources in trying to apprehend every illegal vessel and fisherman, one can concentrate efforts on the bottleneck, i.e. the comparatively few traders that process and export the fins - and a possession ban is the cheapest and most effective means of of achieving that aim.

But once again, I do have a caveat here.
These are stop-gap measures aimed at achieving an immediate result in the most effective and efficient way possible. But as I never tire to say, I am firmly in favor of sustainable fishing (and hunting), and this of any animal including Sharks.
There are now more than 7 billion people (and this!) and like it or not, they want to consume protein. Those are the facts on the ground and farming (aqua- and not) is not the only solution as it, too, carries severe ecological consequences. As an example, approx 43% of Earth's land has been converted to urban and especially, agricultural landscapes with much of the remaining landscapes reticulated with roads (Nature, June 2012), exerting incredible pressure on terrestrial biota. We cannot possibly want more of that can we.
Where I come from in this, is that reality on the ground dictates that there be a mix between farming and wildlife extraction, but that the latter must happen sustainably.
With that in mind, I would certainly not oppose a fully certified, fully sustainable food fishery for Sharks - but only once the fishermen have proven that it is sustainable, see the last point in this post!

And those fin bans in the US states?
I've frankly stopped bothering after California - but without knowing the minute details, here's why I don't like them much.
From what I've been told, I understand that the principal aim is to cripple the international Shark fin trade. That in itself is a legitimate cause, the more as the global trade is certainly totally unregulated and unsustainable.
The problem I see, is that the ban impinges on three different sets of fins:
  • those unprocessed fins that transit the US on the way to Asia where they will be processed for consumption.
    Yes there are a valid ethical reservations whereby we can choose not to facilitate an unsustainable animal trade - still, my question is, does closing down the route through the US really save Sharks? Will less Sharks be fished as a consequence, or will the fins be simply re-routed elsewhere?

  • processed fins that are being imported into the US to serve as ingredient in the Shark fin soup.
    Once again, I find banning them OK as long as those processed fins derive from completely unregulated and unsustainable fisheries - but I would have welcomed an exemption for any certified product, something that does not exist now but is at least conceivable in the future.
    And does this save Sharks? Certainly not directly as the Sharks have already been killed somewhere else - and when it comes to the argument that it reduces global demand and thus the pressure on Sharks, I remain highly skeptical.
    What percentage of total demand does the demand from the US represent, and does closing down that specific consumer market have any incidence whatsoever on global catches, especially in a supply limited fishery?

  • fins that come from Sharks that have been legally caught in the US and specifically, in the state that is banning possession. Yes there may be also illegally caught fins and if so, their possession is already banned and not the topic here.
    But how can it be good legislation to continue to allow that Sharks be killed, presumably because in the opinion of the legislator, the fishery is well managed, but to then demand that their fins be thrown away? It leads to the absurd outcome that somebody may legally consume, say, legally caught Thresher Shark steaks but not a soup made with the fins of that same Shark.
    Would an exemption for legally caught local Shark fins not have been a much better solution and avoided the tricky question of whether the bans are racially and culturally discriminatory?

  • And since we're at it: the fines are just ludicrous - at least in some states, like $ 100.00 to 1,000.00 in California! It would have been much better to have much higher base fines plus a mandatory additional fine that is equivalent to the value of the fins in Asia - but I hear that this has been recognized and that later legislation is taking it into account.
All-in-all, this is just poor legislation: poorly thought through, sloppy and rushed, and I can understand why David doesn't like it. But it's at least something which is probably better than nothing at all - though clearly worse than something real good!
And yes I do also understand that this is a political process which consists in pursuing realistic goals and accepting what is possible!

Long story short?
  • On a global scale, Shark continue to be killed at unsustainable rates.
    This is essentially due to poor management, often meaning a lack of management plans but above all, a lack of resources (and often also, determination) for monitoring, enforcement and prosecution. That's just how it is and when it comes to those developing and underdeveloped coastal countries, and the high seas, chances for improvement in the short term are close to nil.
    As long as that is the case, I strongly advocate the creation of large MPAs, Shark Sanctuaries and blanket Shark fishing bans - but this only as stop gap measures, so that Biodiversity and specifically, Shark populations can ark until conditions on the ground hopefully improve. That may take a very long time indeed and until then, those measure must stand.

  • But if so, let's abandon asking for finning bans and let's advocate Shark fishing bans and Shark trading bans instead!
    Let's not forget that the vast majority of countries already have finning bans, and that their practical effect in reducing Shark mortality has been close to zero, this also because of lousy enforcement!

  • When it comes to fin possession bans, they are sometimes an efficient and effective enforcement tool when flanked by fishing and trading bans. I also believe that as long as the Shark fin trade continues to be unregulated and unsustainable, there are valid ethical reasons to try and curtail it via fin bans - tho I remain skeptical about their ultimate effectiveness in reducing the number of Sharks that are being killed.

  • Some Shark populations are however well managed and there I do concur with David that bans are inappropriate.
    When there is good management in place, I am of the firm conviction that sustainable Shark fishing ought to be allowed, and this including the right to consume sustainably caught fins, local as well as imported.
    But for now, that's really the tiny, tiny minority of places - if at all! Most of the world is nowhere near as advanced as the US and possibly Europe, and wanting to apply the same parameters there is just simply hopelessly naive.

  • But maybe I'm wrong.
    Maybe we got to listen to Jimmy and especially, to Katrien who posted a great rant, I really enjoyed it! :)
    Maybe the overall situation is so bad that we got to forget the intellectual debate of what is appropriate and instead, just close our eyes and throw the kitchen sink at the problem, and hope that something will stick. With the other side embroiling us in never ending debates whilst continuing to slaughter the Sharks and running circles around those inept authorities, maybe we gotta start fighting dirty, too.
    Not 100% convinced that this is the right way forward - but I'm sure as frustrated as everybody else!
    But then again, progress has been impressive, too!
    It sure is complicated!
A Change of Paradigms

But whatever the situation, here comes the important part: we need a paradigm shift!

Contrary to the farmers that farm their own land, the fishermen have been exploiting the commons, meaning that they have been catching and making money off Fish that belong to all of us, often even thanks to subsidies the we all (!) have been paying for.
So far, the standard modus operandi has been that the fishermen have been catching whatever they could, and the track record shows that whenever they have not been curtailed, they have been overfishing recklessly, to the point that some of them have even managed to fish themselves into extinction. The result is that most Fish stocks have been severely depleted and may have even accumulated extinction debt.
Long story short: forget self regulation.

At the same time, the authorities have invested an inordinate amount of resources (for which we all have paid!) trying to manage that activity, by first paying researchers to go and collect all the relevant data and then, often when it was way too late, trying to fix the problem by managing (= reducing) the quotas and then investing more resources into monitoring, enforcement and prosecution etc.
My question is, are those investments adequately balanced by benefits (including revenues!) for all of us and is that the only and the best way to proceed going forward?

As Jimmy's comment in David thread illustrates, many conservationists including me harbor grave reservations against those fisheries researchers and managers.
There is a lingering suspicion that those people are incapable of acknowledging the fact that they are presiding over the abject failure of their own past strategies, and that they will continue to cling on to archaic paradigms and continue wasting time and money on inefficient procrastination in the main intent of preserving their own jobs. Probably not quite accurate but having met many of them, certainly not completely inaccurate, either!
And whilst those folks continue to twiddle their thumbs, Fish stocks continue to be poorly managed and continue to decline!

But we simply cannot afford to waste any more time!I say, the conventional strategies have largely failed and we must find new ways to be more effective!
Let us invoke the precautionary principle and let us reverse the burden of proof. Let those who are making the money invest all those resources that are necessary for establishing adequate management plans, and let THEM prove to US that what they do is sustainable!
And this on all levels: let anybody involved in the fishing industry, from fisherman to trader to in- and exporter prove!!! that what they do is both legal and sustainable - and until they do, let's slash the quotas or ban the activity altogether whenever there is any reasonable doubt!

Yes it is radical - but does it make sense?
I believe it does and if so, let's start talking about it now!
Change will be difficult to come by, and it will take time, especially in the midst of this persistent recession - but if we want it we will eventually be able to achieve it!
The good news being that this will free scarce resources for the authorities to concentrate on monitoring, enforcement and prosecution, and to address the other threats to marine biodiversity, ie Global Warming, Ocean Acidification, Pollution and Habitat Degradation.

Anyway, please do read David's post and the comments thread - great stuff!
Plenty to think about - especially the part about changing paradigms where I passionately believe that it is the right way forward!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Killing Sharks in Fiji!

Dead or dying Tiger Shark, note the everted stomach due to gut hooking - probably Malolo, April 25, 2012

Big Sharks are being killed in Fiji.

It's irrelevant who does it.
Right now, it's perfectly legal and singling out one person will not be helpful. Later on, the Mamanuca Environmental Society may want to go talk to him.

But the Fiji Shark Sanctuary cannot come soon enough.
Fingers crossed!

Tiger + Bull Shark jaws, another Tiger jaw in the background - January 5, 2012

H/T: Lill.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Greenland Shark - slow but effective!

Sorry for the protracted silence.

I'm mulling over a rather tricky post and we're currently hosting Shark conservation royalty - so please bear with me, all shall be revealed in due course! :)
But in the meantime, check this out.

That's one helluva slow Shark!
In fact, according to this article, the Greenland Shark may be one of the slowest Sharks around. Researchers have documented its speed at a paltry 0.7 mph, with tail beats lasting a full seven seconds.
No wonder Doug was not unduly alarmed!

And the notorious diet?
I don't believe for a minute that they actively hunt Polar Bears and Reindeer but rather, that they may have ingested those animals as carrion; but it now appears that they may prey upon arctic Seals that apparently sleep in water to avoid predation by Polar Bears - maybe not such a good idea after all!

Do they then strip the skin in a in a corkscrew pattern ?
As far as I know, the wine has never been claimed.

And what about this abomination?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mimic Shark?

How bloody cool is this!

First record of potential Batesian mimicry in an elasmobranch: do juvenile zebra sharks mimic banded sea snakes?
Christine L. Dudgeon and William T. White


Various forms of mimicry have been recorded in a large number of marine fishes; however, there have been no records of mimicry for any elasmobranch species.

We propose that the distinctly banded neonates of the zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) are Batesian mimics of banded sea snakes (Elapidae).
Observations of banded juveniles of S. fasciatum swimming close to the surface strongly resemble banded sea snakes in colour and body form as well as the undulatory swimming movements. Sea snakes are venomous and are known to defend themselves against predators. Although several shark species prey on them, most species appear to avoid sea snakes as prey items. Juvenile S. fasciatum possess a very long, single-lobed caudal fin that remarkably resembles the broad, paddle-like tail of sea snakes. This may be an adaptation enabling this species to mimic sea snakes, at least in the earliest life stages.
There is a need for empirical testing of the hypothesis that juvenile S. fasciatum is a true example of Batesian mimicry, but here we provide evidence that suggests this may be the first example of mimicry in an elasmobranch species.

Yes so far this is only a hypothesis!
But is it plausible?

The paper offers a variety of good reasons, and here's the picture from the paper that I find totally compelling.

Fig. 1. Colour pattern changes in Stegostoma fasciatum: (a) 40.5 cm total length (TL) newborn from Bahrain (photo: J. Randall); (b) 58 cm TL from Bahrain (photo: J. Randall); (c) ,220 cm TL adult from northern Australia (photo: CSIRO). (d) Newborn Stegostoma fasciatum swimming at the surface in shallow inshore, turbid waters off the Kimberley coastline of north-western Australia (photo: M. Pember); (e) a sea snake on the swimming on the surface in Shark Bay, north-western Australia (photo: W. White).

Wouldn't testing that hypothesis be the coolest Masters thesis, ever?
Here's a possible recipe, right from the paper.

Initially, it is necessary to isolate which of the banded sea snakes is/are the model species as well as which of the potential predators the deception is aimed towards.
It will then be possible to design experiments that test the behavioural and physiological responses of the predators to the model and mimic species as well as to target ecological and evolutionary data collection.
Whether juvenile zebra sharks are truly Batesian mimics of sea snakes and present the first example of mimicry in an elasmobranch remains to be proven; however, we believe that there is good evidence, as presented here, to support such a conclusion.

Any takers?
Fiji: we got the Shark and at least one Banded Sea Krait right here - and by the way, check out its tail: does it mimic the head?

Questions questions! :)

Pew: Australian Marine Reserves!

Love not Loss - remember?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Deciphering Philopatry - good or bad Science?

Great HH with one of Neil's new tags.

Want to go and catch yourself some Salmon Sharks?
Nothing could be easier: go fishing in the Northern Gulf of Alaska in November - and bingo! And if you believe that the fishermen have not long discovered the TOPP tracks - think again!

As Juerg writes in his correspondence to Nature.

Two faces of marine ecology research

The ecology of animal movement is one field that would benefit from sound evaluation of the risks, benefits and ethics of its important research findings (Nature 484, 415 and Nature 484, 432–434; 2012 read it!).

Scientists can now track the complex horizontal and vertical movements of a wide range of marine species, including tuna, sharks and turtles. These results reveal biodiversity hotspots and inform conservation policies by providing insight into animal behaviour and ecology. However, they also guide fishing operations towards resource-rich locations — putting further strain on both target and by-catch species.

Too many species face severe stock depletion because of intense fishing, pollution and other anthropogenic pressures. The detrimental implications of marine ecological research results must be acknowledged.

Juerg Brunnschweiler
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), Zurich, Switzerland.

But there is of course also this.

It is possible, by marrying electronic tag data with oceanography, to gain a sufficient understanding of ecosystem function to enable more effective management of ocean resources.
Specifically, this study shows that when bluefin tuna enter the Gulf of Mexico, they are going to specific locations, where cool, productive water in “cyclonic eddies” makes its way along the continental slope. So during April and May, when they are spawning, bluefin tuna are relatively concentrated – whereas yellowfin tuna remain disbursed broadly throughout the Gulf.

This suggests that it would be possible to protect the bluefin, which are accidentally caught on longlines intended for yellowfin, by restricting fishing in those specific areas where the bluefin are spawning; but that such restrictions need not reduce yellowfin catch rates since they are more uniformly distributed.

Or this.

Great white sharks are found in waters all around New Zealand. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and Department of Conservation (DOC) scientists are investigating the long distance movements of great white sharks inside and outside New Zealand’s territorial waters to improve our understanding of their species’s migratory patterns.
It will assist with designing management measures to reduce shark bycatch in fisheries.

Niwa principal scientist Malcolm Francis said despite the process sounding rough, the safety of the sharks was at the heart of the project.
As part of a wider study which began in 2005, it is hoped the research would return population figures and migratory behaviour of the protected species to assess how many sharks were being killed in fishing nets and lines.

Yes it looks like we got ourselves an ethical debate!
But maybe not so much - and whilst you're pondering, here's a rather epic video about that GW tagging in New Zealand.

So what about those tracks.
As Bob Hueter already stated in 1998,

I consider the issue of philopatry and natal homing in sharks to be the most important issue in shark biology today, and I challenge all shark researchers to test this hypothesis rigorously in their respective research areas.

Nearly every type of shark research can play a role in this, for the ramifications of philopatry, if true for most shark species, would be profound. It certainly would affect our views of shark evolution and genetics, and it would shape new perspectives on the physiology and ecology of shark species. It would fundamentally affect studies of shark population dynamics, and perhaps most importantly, it would drastically change conventional views of shark fisheries science for the management and conservation of shark populations.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of tags later, we now know this.
Sharks and Fishes are not randomly distributed throughout the oceans. Instead, they frequent well determined seasonal, behavior-, gender- and age-related hotspots and travel between these focal points on well determined marine highways.
Or as Hueter and Heupel write in 2004 (read it, this is seminal stuff!)

Many shark species are highly migratory, some covering thousands of miles of ocean in a single year.
However, with the emerging evidence of philopatry in various shark species, it would be wise from a conservation and management perspective to not view this group of marine fishes as oceanic nomads, but rather as more sophisticated, long-distance travelers with a number of discrete homes in the sea. How precise those homes are will need to be established with further research and analysis.

For us Shark conservationists, those data about philopatry are absolutely vital.
As I've tried to show here, many Sharks continue to fall victim to incidental catches despite of being protected, something that can be countered by establishing seasonal localized fishing bans; and like in the case of Playa or, say Vietnam, those localized and seasonal measures may be easier to achieve than trying to enact blanket protection of a species year-round and country wide.

This I believe is also the next step after having established those Shark sanctuaries.
With the big announcement hopefully looming, we're consequently already mulling the next big project that is hopefully going to lead to the full protection of the Shark nurseries, and thus of the valuable big pregnant females during the birthing period.
Keep watching this space!

But what about those published tracks?
Are those publications, maps, interactive websites and apps not simply showing the way for anybody wanting to go and kill the animals? And there is of course also the Anthropogenic Allele Effect, specifically the possible impact of poorly regulated tourism on the animals once newly discovered hotspots are being publicized - like e.g. here!
Like Juerg appears to assert, I fear that this is very much the risk!

Like I said, maybe it's not that difficult.
  • Research and data per se are neither bad nor good; and if the track record is any indication, nobody is going to ever be able to stop scientific progress whatever the associated risks. That's just how things roll in science.

  • But the risks are real - re-read the examples in Nature.

  • Hence the inevitable conclusion, that whoever conducts the research cannot just disassociate himself from the possible consequences. Instead, it behooves the researchers to be fully accountable for their actions, and to be instrumental in mitigating the potentially negative implications of their queries. Obviously, this is easier said then done - but shying away from one's ultimate responsibility won't do, either!
But to come back to the topic of this post.
The data derived from telemetry studies (nice synopsis here!) are vital - but posting those tracks can only happen, if at all, with the utmost of circumspection.
It's exactly like in the case of Fish spawning aggregations where the ichthyologists have learned the hard way that it is better not to publish the exact locations: I say, unless there is unequivocal, robust and above all, fully enforced local management and/or protection, those data should be withheld and only shared with the relevant authorities and like-minded researchers, and this only in the aim of enacting adequate conservation and management measures.
And even once those measures have been enacted, it should be amply sufficient to publish large scale maps and keep the fine scale and exact GPS coordinates a secret.

Or am I missing something here?

A Ray of Light: brilliant Video by David!

David's new production company, Scarlet View Media.

I'm in love with Brad.

No not in that way! :)
But David's masterful portrait is so full of tenderness and empathy that one is instantly mesmerized by the guy's humanity and compassion, and by his selfless commitment to try and better protect the Sting Rays of Mallorca.

This is David Diley's coming out as a filmmaker.
Like Brad, he is achieving the seemingly impossible with zero back-up and minimal resources, simply driven by his passion for marine conservation and the need to make a difference by telling a story. I say, if this is a taste of things to come, the man is in for a stellar career!
Love the storyline, the filming, the editing, the style, the music!

A short film about Brad Robertson, a passionate conservationist tirelessly working to maintain and grow a grassroots, community based project to help protect the Stingrays of Mallorca.

This is the reality behind "spit and sawdust" conservation, there are no glossy marketing campaigns, no sexy photo-shoots and most critically of all, no financial support, just Brad and his wife Bea, struggling against bureaucracy, apathy, crippling financial pressure and a lack of support from the people who could actually help.

The economic crisis has had a devastating effect on Spain, a country which has cut funding to support the policing of its Marine Reserves by up to 80% and as a result, we see that without vigilant protection, a "Marine Reserve" is no more a haven for marine wildlife than any other stretch of unprotected coastline.

So why does he bother? Because he's a diver, a diver who wants future generations to experience the kind of things he has in his twenty years underwater, the kind of incredible experience we see at the climax of the film an experience which illustrates just how important Brad's work in Mallorca is.

Enjoy David's video.

Story here and here.

PS Richard Theiss' take here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Australia: excellent News!

Fantastic: Australia's proposed networks of MPAs. Click for detail - detailed maps here.

And talking about leadership.
Check this out.

Bravo Tony Burke - this is really bold and visionary!
As one of my smart Ozzie friends explains

The decision is fantastic for a couple of reasons:
  • A vast area of the ocean has been afforded protection at various levels – I don’t know the exact pre-Aussie announcement numbers but I think as of 2011, about 7.5M km2 were protected globally so this adds another 40% ish
  • It includes a significant backbone of highly protected sanctuary zones in which no extractive activities are allowed (fishing, mining, oil and gas) of some 800,000 km2. This is the largest network of SANCTUARIES in the world.
  • Australia is the first country to demonstrate its commitment to marine sanctuaries throughout its EEZ. This sends a clear message globally that highly protected marine “national parks” are recognized as an important strategy in ensuring healthy oceans. Our challenge to date has not been that sanctuaries don’t work, but that we have too few of them globally.
Story here, here and here, official details here.
Like in any good compromise, both the more radical environmentalists and the fishermen are unhappy, and the opposition is trying to use this for political gain. I say, screw them all, this is just simply brilliant!
Kudos to Burke and everybody else involved, especially once again Pew under the leadership of Barry Traill, Michelle Grady who lobbied for the South-West Network and Imogen Zethoven of the Coral Sea campaign!

What about the Grey Nurse in NSW, the Shark fishing within the GBR and the abominable slaughter in Queensland!
Leadership please!

Cristina: non c'è due senza tre!

Cristina doing her thing in the SRMR - stellar pic by Ozzie Sam. Click for detail!

La Zenato has done it again!

Check out her brilliant newest blog post.
Like her previous posts here and here, it ultimately amounts to nothing more than common sense.

In this context, a simplistic approach that calls for stopping fishing all together is not going to work, is not realistic, and is set up for failure.
At some point the need to sustain food sources for a community clashes with the need for ‘ecological sustainability.’

And thus, this is the lesson I learned in Fiji:
Viable protection needs to come from within the place where sharks are located, it needs to be understood and promoted by the local people, and it needs to be presented in a spirit of cooperation and understanding. My personal opinion is that we need to support education and engage in an open conversation with all parties involved, including ourselves, the visitors.

Could not agree more - with one caveat.
With human development having run roughshod over marine resources, there are now too many people wanting to eat too little fish - and if that is true, both sides of that conflicting dichotomy need to be addressed.

There is only one solution, and that is, to achieve real sustainability.
And if so, it means that we must find ways to allow for those depleted fish stocks to recover; but at the same time, we must finally have the courage to speak out about the ultimate cause of the current problem, i.e. human population growth and the growth of the individual ecological footprints.

That is of course an eminently political challenge.
The clash Cristina mentions is real, especially in those developing countries where eating fish is a necessity and not merely a luxury - and I doubt that any amount of education alone will ever be sufficient to achieve the necessary consensus.

Long story short?
What I'm trying to say is that democracy is great - but when times are tough, democratic processes do not always lead to the best solutions.
Right now, what we need is leadership, and consensus will hopefully come at a later stage when the benefits of those bold measures will become apparent to everybody.
Thankfully for Fiji, it appears that we have just that.

Enjoy Cristina's post.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Welcome to the Anthropocene!

Click, and then click again for (grim) detail! Source.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


So CITES doesn't give a damn about Sharks.
Yes, maybe - and now what?

What about removing the infamous Dr. Giam?
Let me be crystal clear about this: he's an asshole and getting rid of him would certainly be a good thing. The Sea Shepherd petition focuses on Giam's conflict of interest and the org has accumulated a body of evidence that you can review here.
But just to play the devil's advocate: is being biased reason enough for dismissal - and if so, what about the pro-Shark NGOs like Pew or the WWF that are admitted to the sessions of the animals committee and that are clearly equally biased, only this time in favor of the good cause?
And provided one had the better arguments: wouldn't debating Giam be more credible?

And anyway, will Giam's dismissal save Sharks?
Frankly, I am not at all convinced it would, and this is why.

CITES is not primarily about conservation.
The T stands for Trade, and the treaty is about how to trade wildlife once it has been deemed sufficiently endangered to warrant its listing onto one of its appendices. The decision for that listing is not within the authority of any committee, let alone a person like Giam: instead, all such decisions are being taken by the parties, ie the countries that have signed the treaty. Furthermore, only a party can propose that such a listing be considered and a vote be taken, this at a formal so-called meeting of the Conference of the Parties, or CoP, the paramount decision-making body of CITES.
So far, zero Sharks have ever been proposed for a full trading ban under Appendix I.
The Only Elasmobranchs listed there are the Sawfishes, whereas only three Sharks are listed for regulated trade under Appendix II. Other Sharks have been proposed for listing under Appendix II but have failed (and in 2007) to reach the required 2/3 majority of votes in favor.

And the infamous animals committee?
It travels, meets, deliberates and pontificates and is supposed to advise the parties - and contrary to what is being asserted, it very much "cares" about Sharks, only not in the way we would like it to!
The transcripts appear to show that whereas there have been a lot of discussions, there is certainly no consensus, and that some of the Asian countries are clearly opposing having any further Shark species listed, to the point that China even appears to favor a review (= de-listing?) of the Basking Shark, Whale Shark and Great White!
And you may also want to read this that makes a lot of sense!

And now what?

The next meeting of the CoP is less than one year away.
So far, only two proposals for listing Sharks have been submitted:
Better than nothing - but is that good enough?
I fear that as long as Pretoma continues to report a glaring disregard of the laws by Costa Rica's fisheries agency, I remain rather skeptical about the Costarican proposal - and then there's of course this.
And Europe? I'm frankly not much impressed, Appendix III just means a lot of paper pushing and no real protection.
And then there's the USA that is still pondering whether to even do anything; and after all the frothy activism and resounding defeat last time, it very much appears that this time around, nobody will even bother to propose to list the Northern Bluefin, let alone its critically endangered Southern cousin!

Yes the global economy continues to suck and it really looks like it's gonna be Realpolitik all over again!
Hardly the right backdrop for attaining the enthusiastic support of 67% of the votes - and if I had to venture a prediction, the final result will be even worse than last time!

Which brings me straight back to this post!
Remember the outrage and remember the ensuing discussions?
To paraphrase Alex the Sharkman
But... Will the lesson be learned or will this disaster just be "forgotten", only to be repeated again when the time comes?

Indeed, that is precisely the question!
  • Have the Shark conservationists met, are they coordinating their efforts and pooling their resources, and are they going to be sending their best, most seasoned negotiators to represent the whole Shark conservation movement - or are we going to see yet again the same convention tourism by yet again the same motley uncoordinated naïve and clueless group of amateurs who will pay themselves a trip to Pattaya in order to protest, pontificate and vociferate?

  • Do we a have a champion, ie a country in favor of Shark conservation that is already vigorously, and ruthlessly lobbying in favor of Shark conservation in order to counteract what Japan, Inc. and possibly others are undoubtedly already perpetrating once again - or will the pro-ban countries and conservationists once again be ambushed by a fait accompli that has been orchestrated long before the meeting?
Anybody taking bets?
And if the answer to the above is negative: is this even a cause worth spending so much time, energy and money on, or should those resources not rather be prioritized in favor of more successful strategies?
Yes it always boils down to the same old questions!

And the good news?
I just happen to believe that CITES is the wrong body to deal with fisheries issues.
Like possibly Alex, I believe that in reality, it is the countries and the RFMOs that dispose of the relevant local know-how, and that it is them who ultimately carry the responsibility of protecting their fish stocks.
And there, things look much better: since the ignominious Doha conference, several countries and states have enacted Shark fishing and trading bans, and some RFMOs have also protected some species of Shark.

Think global, act local
Nowhere is this more true than in Shark conservation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Commander Naqali - well said!

Read this.

Great to see that Government cares about all the stakeholders - including the fishermen!

PS: & here's a very nicely worded letter by David!
Thanks buddy! :)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A whole lotta Bull - Video!

As I said, big but not that big!
Great job by Dan Crowell and great to see Joe - and may we be witnessing the birth of yet another Shark Man here?
Oh and note Neil's Bistro Mario Batali Edition Crocs - always the fashionista! :)

Cloudbreak, Fiji - right here, right now!

Details here.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Is Fiji's Tuna Industry facing Extinction?

Canned Tuna. There's heaps upon heaps of it - but is it possibly too cheap?

I was frankly dismayed by this article.
No not about the fact that the Tuna Industry wants to keep exploiting Sharks - that I knew already.
I was dismayed because apparently, Fiji's Tuna Industry is facing total collapse.

If so, fishing for Sharks will not save it.
It would merely establish a second unsustainable fishery on top of an apparently nonviable one. The result would be that Shark stocks would be quickly exhausted with devastating effects for marine ecosystems including the Tuna, meaning that in only a few years we would end up with no Sharks, no Tuna and even less Fish.
That surely cannot be the solution!

But that's not really the topic here.
I've said it before, everybody here wants the Tuna Industry to survive.
This is a vital component of Fiji's economy and everybody, and this very much including government, should lend a helping hand in assuring that both the local Tuna fishing and Tuna processing sectors can survive in the long term and continue providing for employment and opportunities for many generations to come.
This obviously mandates that the Industry be sustainable but also profitable.

For that to happen, it appears that the fishery needs to be reformed.
I really ignore the details - but if it is really true that Fiji's Tuna Industry is in such dire straights like its spokesman asserts, then the likely reasons could be.
  • That Tuna stocks are depleted.
    That is highly likely.
    You may want to re-read this post about the appalling shenanigans that happen within the WCPFC where outsiders like specifically Japan are stalling any efforts to curb quotas in line with the best scientific advice. This year specifically has been particularly depressing as previously reserved regions have been opened to allow the Philippines to further exploit the already ravaged stocks of Bigeyes,
    If those foreign powers continue to interfere and sabotage the attempts to safeguard those precious stocks, Fiji should do what is best for Fiji and set its own targets and rules, very much like the PNA have already done.
    In the end, there is only one long term solution, and that is to fish sustainably, and this very much also by defining the quotas in line with the precautionary principle.
    Interestingly, this is what Mr. Southwick himself appears to be advocating here!
  • That there is Overcapacity.
    There are probably already too many boats fishing for too few Fish and if so, Fiji should reduce the number of fishing licenses that are being awarded and thus increase the profit margin for individual vessels.
    There, I'm principally thinking of the licenses awarded to foreign vessels.
    Their track record is unequivocal: they have already overfished their own stocks, have zero regard for our well being but will instead catch whatever they can get their hands on, and then sail on once our stocks are equally depleted, leaving Fiji to contend with the long-term consequences - or am I to believe that the price of the licenses contains a component for mitigation? I wish!
    I say, Fiji first! If the Asians want to eat Tuna caught in Fiji, let them buy Fijian Tuna caught by Fijian fishermen and exported by Fijian processing plants!
    Did I hear, and what happens to the development aid by those countries, namely Europe, Taiwan and the US to name but a few?
    If they want to assist us by paying for poverty alleviation and development, we are certainly grateful. But to link it to an unsustainable fishery that depletes our national resources and ultimately impoverishes the nation and its population cannot possibly be acceptable, not economically and not ethically - or am I missing something here?
  • That the fishery is not profitable.
    If so and if all costs have already been slashed, then the price of Tuna must increase. Canned Tuna is probably too cheap and the time where it was viewed as some kind of junk food must come to an end.
    One smart strategy for convincing customers to pay more, is to have the fishery certified like once again the PNA have already achieved. That of course implies that the fishery is truly sustainable, meaning that bycatch and other ecological impacts will need to be reduced, as already required by, the current MSC environmental standard. Another group, the ISSF is asking its members not to work with vessels that fin Sharks
    In fact, the Fijian Albacore longline fishery is currently being assessed and my hope is that the Industry as a whole will decide to follow that route.
    I say, let's brand our Tuna.
    With Fiji Water having already paved the way and Government facilitating the process, let's establish Fiji Tuna as being Tuna that has been caught sustainably in pristine waters by happy, friendly and fairly compensated fishermen!
But the current unsustainable fishing for Sharks must stop.
At best, it is a short term stop-gap measure that is merely detracting from the need to urgently tackle the real issues at hand. But it is of course much more than that: if it continues unchecked, it will lead to the collapse of all fisheries - and this very much including the local fishery for Tuna!

And that's not something anybody can possibly want.

Head-butting Bumphead Parrots!

What an awesome Fish! Source.

I always thought they looked like Buffalo, and now I know why.
Check this out.

From the paper.

Though rumored to use their forehead to ram corals prior to ingestion, the enlarged cephalic hump of Bolbometopon may be a classic example of a secondary sexual characteristic resulting from sexual selection, such as the massive horns in male bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). In addition, Bolbometopon males exhibit what appears to be an “ossified ridge” on the forehead that may serve a similar function as the cranial appendages of artiodactyls.

How could this dramatic aspect of its social and reproductive behavior have gone unnoticed?
We propose two reasons:
1) Low population densities resulting from overfishing dampen competition for resources (females or spawning territories) and/or disrupt the social system so that headbutting contests are uncommon and no longer advantageous.
2) Headbutting contests are common, but negative responses to humans in exploited populations preclude observations of natural behavior. Quantitative estimates of historical abundance are not readily available for Bolbometopon, but numerous sources employing indigenous ecological knowledge indicate that precipitous declines in giant bumphead parrotfish populations and decreases in catches correspond with increases in fishing pressure via the advent of spear guns and underwater flashlights

Story here.

The Bumphead Parrots are rare in Fiji.
Locally hunted to extinction by spearos who shoot them at night when they sleep among the corals, they can still be seen in Namena and above all, in the north at the Great Sea Reef.

Anyway, awesome stuff!

Friday, June 08, 2012

A whole lotta Bull!

Wow - that's one mighty big Bull Shark!

But ours are bigger! :)
With the exception of the enormous Nyami Nyami (but how, exactly was she measured - length-over-all by bending down the tail?), people in the know tell me that Fiji's Bulls are substantially bigger than anything they've seen anywhere else, especially in the Caribbean. Which of course begs the question, what will Mahmood reveal once he publishes his findings about the Bull Shark genome and the possibility, or not, of distinct populations?
Keep watching this space as I hear that the roll-out may be imminent!

As always, kudos to Neil for the brilliant outreach!
And, you may want to amuse yourself and read the comments, among which
Wow, trolling the internet must be a great way to spend your time in between, Matsurbating to naked pics of your mom while covering yourself in spray cheese.
Wow indeed! :)

But have you seen this?
Bull sharks "have the most testosterone of any animal on the planet, so that should tell you a little something," Hammerschlag said.

Indeed it does!
It tells us that even the most prominent researchers are not immune to parroting urban legends! :)
Regular readers may remember that this particular piece of pseudoscience has been thoroughly debunked by Christie Wilcox of then Observations of a Nerd (and now Science Sushi) - but if not, here is that post in all of its glorious analytical deconstruction!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Lucia, muito obrigado!

Collision! Another brilliant one from Lill's newest crop!

Very nice!
Lucia Malla is a Brazilian blogger and marine biologist came for a visit last October together with husband, fellow biologist and underwater photographer Andre Seale. Regular reader may remember Andre's name from the post about the extinction of the Galapagos Sharks at St. Paul's Rocks.

One day is of course not enough and October, the worst possible time.
But we did rustle up a few Bull Shark but above all, we found the time for some really interesting conversations about the challenges of Shark conservation.

Now Lucia has written a post about her experience in Fiji.
Looks like she did like it - and if you follow the numerous links she has posted, you will find a lot of research but also several blog posts by various blue bloggers dealing with the deluge of nonsense that is being spouted by the sharktivists, or as Lucia puts it,
I also tried to link to important discussions, so people THINK a little bit more about the whole shark issue.

So here's to more THINKING and less frothy activism!
Thank you Lucia!

PS: o melhor mergulho com tubarões do mundo = The Best Shark Dive in the World! :)

Blue Shark and Giant Squid!

How cool is that!
Story here.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Posters for Baja!

Good stuff!

From an e-mail by Dr. José Leonardo Castillo-Geniz
Investigador Titular "C", Programa Tiburón, Centro Regional de Investigación Pesquera de Ensenada, B.C., Instituto Nacional de la Pesca (INAPESCA), carr. Tijuana-Ensenada km 97.5, El Sauzal de Rodríguez, C.P. 22760, Ensenada, B.C., México

Just to inform us about the informative campaign (posters) of the legal protection status of the white shark in Mexican Waters that is going without problems, with the support of the technical staff of the National Fisheries Institute of Mexico (INAPESCA).
I share sore photographs of it from the fishery camps of the west coast of BC.
I express my sincere thanks for the invaluable s
upport of Pam Baker EDF, Fernando Aguilar Club Cantamar, Juan Carlos Cantu of Defenders of Wildlife Mexico and my good friend Mauricio Hoyos-Padilla.

Well, better late than never!
What I suggested, rather facetiously in 2010 has now eventuated.
GW researcher Mauricio Hoyos and others are distributing posters throughout Baja in order to educate the local fishermen that Great Whites are protected and should not be targeted.

Love love love this pic! :)

All awareness is good - but will it help in this specific case?
Baja is the scene of a daily carnage of Elasmobranchs, among which GWs - but contrary to recent alarmist reports, this is not a targeted fishery for GWs, not for the fins nor for the jaws. Those GWs are mostly sub-adults, juveniles and YOYs that are being caught incidentally when generally fishing for Sharks, and even the adult GWs that have recently been reported from the Sea of Cortez have not been caught intentionally but were found drowned in nets.

If you think about it, this is only logical.
Whereas I now think that this number is suspect, Great Whites do sit very much at the top of the food pyramid and are thus rare by definition, with the global population probably only numbering somewhere in the tens of thousands - and thus, trying to establish a targeted fishery that would be trying to find them in the vastness of their global range would be commercially suicidal.
Of course this is not the whole story as recent tracking studies has revealed migratory highways and hotspots - but under the caveat that the most prominent hotspots like e.g. Guadalupe need to be strictly protected, it is never the less true that a targeted fishery makes no commercial sense whatsoever.

But if most catches are only incidental, will educating the fishermen help?
Domeier mentions a 3-month general shark fishing ban which is actually the correct measure when trying to limit incidental catches. It is likely the result of this fiasco and although it is far from being the announced moratorium, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

That is, if only it were respected and enforced!
Apparently neither is the case - and with that in mind, the poster initiative may indeed be of help insofar as it might prompt some fishermen to release at least those GWs that would be still alive.

The good news?
More and more young GWs being caught are probably an indication that the measures protecting the Sharks but also their mammalian prey are slowly having a positive effect - this not only the in the Eastern Pacific and in the Western Atlantic where sightings are on the increase, but also in Australia and South Africa.

Yes as always it is complicated! :)