Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shark-resistant Nets!

Predator-X net - source.

This is really pretty cool.
Fish farming, if done correctly, is certainly one of the strategies for assuring global food security whilst hopefully relieving fishing pressure from Fish stocks in the wild. Having just gotten myself a new Stella reel with PowerPro braid, I'm partial to that Dyneema stuff - but there are obviously other, competing products like this rigid net made from PET.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Shark Senses and Shark Repellents!


Great, informative Program!
Ryan Kempster is the founder of Support our Sharks.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Voodoo Gas!

We are pumping Nitrox 32, effective immediately.
This may make us the first dive shop to do this on Viti Levu - but frankly, that's not the point.

I must say, this could not have come soon enough.
Several of us are older than 50 and the weekly regimen of 10 Shark dives, many of which result in decompression, has been increasingly challenging. This will finally result in substantially enhancing our safety margins but also make us much less tired in the afternoon.
Can't wait - first tank tomorrow!

And what about our customers?
They will be able to expand their bottom time during the reef dives but to be crystal clear, this will not change the dive profiles on the Shark dives.
We will continue to dive as one group that will now comprise both Nitrox and air divers but where obviously, bottom times will continue to be geared towards the air divers. Like our senior staff, the Nitrox divers will however enjoy a substantially higher degree of safety and comfort - but that's that.

And, it's not gonna be cheap!
Of the various available options, we've chosen to resort to continuous blending via Stik which means that we'll have to lug heaps of Oxygen from Suva, which is both a royal pain in the butt and very expensive to boot. Consequently, we are pricing Nitrox at FJD 50.00 a pop, non negotiable. We shall only carry a very limited number of filled tanks, meaning that Nitrox will have to be pre-booked. Effective immediately, we shall also be offering PADI Nitrox certification at the usual prices.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Taggings GW Sharks in New Zealand!

This is record deep diver Shack

Now there's more data from his pals.
The NIWA researchers have tagged an additional 23 Great Whites this April and the first results have just come in. confirming that the animals will travel as far as Oz, New Caledonia and Tonga.
And Fiji - fingers crossed that we get lucky, the correct time frame is right now!

Here's a nice video explaining the research.

Worst F@&!g Pain known to Man!

Now you know!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Congratulations Randy!

Randy doing what he does best - inspiring and mentoring young people

Great news!

Fiji TV reports that Randy Thaman is now a honorary member of IUCN.
Honorary Membership of IUCN, which recognizes outstanding services to the conservation of nature and natural resources, is presented by the World Conservation Congress, on the recommendation of the IUCN Council, to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to furthering the goals of the Union.

I've said it before, in my book, Randy is a good man.
A true all-rounder with a keen interest and profound knowledge in a large variety of disciplines, he is truly the embodiment of tireless dedication, as very much witnessed by his rather ridiculous, and undoubtedly much  shortened publication list.
You can find short laudatios here and here, and you can watch him accept the award in this short video clip.

Congratulations Randy - nobody deserves this more than you!

SDM Trip to Fiji!

Looks like Eli has been busy!

First, I discover a completely re-vamped website for SDM.
And whilst rummaging through the pages, I find a new trip report about his recent Fiji caper and then, the announcement for this special trip to come and dive with us next year!

In terms of timing, May/June is the best of the best.
It combines peak numbers of Bull Sharks with excellent diving conditions as in plenty of sunshine and good viz. - at least in theory, although thanks to the vagaries of ENSO and quite possibly also anthropogenic climate change, this year has been rather horrible throughout!
That said, it looks like we may be at the start of a weak El Niño that may well lead to slightly dryer conditions for the first months of 2013 - and after that, I'm rather confident that conditions will at least be "normal", meaning rather stellar!

Anyway, I'm digressing as usual.
Please do consider joining Eli's trip and if so, do book early as space will be limited! Thanks to Eli, you will enjoy true VIP service - but just to avoid any misunderstandings, do take the time to fist familiarize yourself with our Shark diving pages and specifically, with our protocols and the rules for image hunters that will apply regardless of the very special status of your group. 
I'm sure you understand! :)

See you in 2013!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

US Fin Bans - "Creative Solutions"?

Environmental groups have launched a global campaign to stop fishermen from slicing sharks’ fins off at sea before tossing the animals overboard to sink to slow deaths. But the push is ensnaring New England fishermen and processors, who take fins only from dead dogfish already landed for their meat.

“We agree . . . we don’t want sharks being killed only for their fins, but we aren’t doing that,’’ said Walinski, a slim 55-year old who goes out seven mornings a week in his 35-foot boat to catch his daily 3,000-pound quota of spiny dogfish. “Still, if we can’t sell the fins, we’d be done — there is such a fine margin to make money on dogfish.”

Markets have evolved for the fish and virtually every piece of a landed “dog” is used.
Its back meat is used in British fish and chips, its head as bait for lobster and crab, and the belly meat is sent to Germany to become a smoked delicacy known as schillerlocken. The small fins do not fetch a premium compared with other sharks’ fins, but they are the most valuable part of the dogfish.

The spiny dogfish recently became the first East Coast shark fishery to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, meaning it is well managed and the fish are caught in an environmentally friendly way. The certification is expected to help the dogfish sell better in Europe.

For Walinski and Marder, a solution needs to come soon:
They worry bans will become so common there will be few places from where they will be allowed to export fins.

“I know [environmental groups’] intentions are good,’’ said Marder. “But they are going to hurt hard-working people in Massachusetts.”

“We need a creative solution.”
That just can't be right can it.
Yes I know that the MSC certification is controversial; but the fishery is still light years ahead of what happens elsewhere! And as long as it is reasonably well managed and totally legal, the situation is simply not acceptable - not ethically but also not strategically, the latter because it will simply precipitate more law suits that have every chance of being successful.

So, what could the "creative solution" be?
I reiterate: get those fins certified and then, legalize them!
To cite myself, I see no reason whatsoever why the fins from those legal and sometimes even reputable food fisheries for Dogfish, Thresher, Mako or the Sharks that aliment the appetite for flake should not be used for that soup! 
Have those fins certified, document their provenience, brand them as sustainable and you may even succeed in selling them at a premium, much like, say, pole-caught Skipjack! 

And there is more!
If we're honest, smart and not simply unnecessarily dogmatic, we the conservationists should assist in achieving that goal! That way, we could establish an alternative and maybe start putting some pressure on the fin trade at large to start doing the same! That would be "creative" - no?
Yes there will be shenanigans - but it would certaily be better than the current situation where all fins are suspect.

Or not?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

NSW Grey Nurse Sharks - better than expected!

Well it was about bloody time!

There has been a decision.
Katrina Hodgkinson has announced new protection measures for the critically endangered Grey Nurse Sharks in NSW. What the articles fail to mention is that the GNS were adequately protected before the same Ms. Hodgkinson stripped that protection to please her recreational fishermen friends, and that the new protection measures are weaker than the original ones!
The puppies of the ocean? Boy, talk about total hypocrisy!!

So, it had to come down to a compromise.
Fishermen may not use baited hooks, the principal cause for the incidental mortality of GNS in the key aggregation zones - and that's definitely good news.
In exchange, the total fishing bans have been revoked and the anglers may now encroach in the aggregation sites that are teeming with fish that's why the sharks are there, they're good fishing spots and so that was locking fishermen out of a lot of good fishing habitat.
What a lot of baloney - the sites are teeming with fish precisely because the anglers had been locked out and not overfished them like elsewhere!
No wonder they are so happy!

Anyway, as I said, it's better than I expected.
Also, serendipity has it that I was talking about this to a local insider two days ago, and she informs me that a recent census has revealed approx. 1,500 Sharks - less than the required critical mass of approx. 5,000 but still a notable increase over the past.

Baby step by baby step...

My Friend Ron.

Hayleydiver1 - whoever you are, thank you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kosrae - excellent!

Diving in Kosrae is renown for its pristine coral & huge schools of Barracuda - click for detail. Source.

As the Article by Pew and the video explain, this is the first step in establishing a huge regional Sanctuary all across Micronesia.

And I must say, I really do like the video!
Great interviews - and plenty of footage from the Best Shark Dive in the World! :)
Kudos, again, to the team of Pew for having pulled it off!


And because they certainly deserve the tourism income.
Here is the newest video by the Kosrae Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sharks and Phytoplankton - full Circle!

Well well!
I really had to laugh out loud.

But first things first.
Anthony Marr thinks on a different level.
Having personally miserably failed every single physics exam that was ever thrown at me, I'm of the firm belief that a physicist's brain must be wired differently - and he is one of those. I also know that he must be preternaturally smart because I've consulted his YouTube channel and made an honest attempt at understanding his Omniscientific Cosmology and the like, and have come away with a migraine.
But I kinda get the gist - and guess what: once you strip away the New Age, the idea that we could reach a higher level by becoming a planetary unity kinda makes total sense. Never gonna happen - but it's a nice utopia.
Anyway, apart from being a messianic cosmo-philosopher or whatever, Anthony appears to be many other things, among which a respected and awarded animal activist.

And as such, he has posted a piece about the dreaded Phytoplankton.
It refers to this article in the SA which informs us that the Phytoplankton has declined by approx 40% since the 1950ies, possibly caused by the stratification of the upper ocean layers owing to the rise of sea surface temperatures.

And not only that.
Anthony has also regaled us with not one, but several infographics that he is busy disseminating among the sharktivist social media.
Here's one I like.

See the direction of the arrows?
So there you have it: Phytoplankton is the foundation of the entire marine food pyramid (for which it needs to get consumed!) and the production of Phytoplankton declines, all higher trophic levels all the way to the Sharks will be at risk!
No Phytoplankton = no Sharks - a bottom-up, not a top-down effect!
Talk about a total reversal of direction - and if Anthony says so, it must be true and guess what, I totally agree!

And this vital role extends to all the lower trophic levels like e.g. the Forage Fish and the Krill where we are fishing down the food web and further endangering the predators depending on them .
But that's another post for another time!!

PS: still eagerly awaiting Jessica's dissertation!
PS2: Marr vs the Mad Hatter? Now there's a thought...

Tiger vs Tiger!

Pascal Jagut and Denis Lagrange's (staged) pic of a Tiger devouring a Grey Reef in Rangiroa - click for detail!

Story here.
Tigers are known cannibals, I wonder whether the line was in the way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More about Fin & Finning Bans!


David aka WhySharksMatter must be over the moon!
If you thought that Southern Fried Science was the exclusive realm of a cabal of blogging eggheads (and bloody Liberals!), think again!
His latest post about the European Shark finning ban has now clearly gone mainstream, as witnessed by the avalanche of insightful comments that are clearly propelling Shark conservation to the next level. Please do participate in the lively debate and do not forget to add plenty of IMPORTANT statements in CAPS LOCK, true to the cosmic rule of thumb that the more CAPS LOCKs, the more Sharks are being saved!
Love it!

Elsewhere, the disinformation campaign by the fin industry continues.
This time we got ourselves a veritable professor, Dai Xiaojie, from the Shanghai Ocean University no less, and you can read his regurgitations here or in a more translated version here
True to the usual strategy of mixing fact and fiction, the man is once again certainly crafty when he talks about inevitable accidental bycatch (true, but it can be greatly reduced!) and the waste of throwing away food, etc etc. Where he is clearly lying or simply doesn't understand what is talking about (yes such things are known to happen!) is here and I cite.

Despite the overcapacity in fishing, if a shark is still alive when caught, we should set it free. But the reality is, most of the sharks are already dead due to lack of oxygen or entanglement. In this case, the dead sharks should be used, including their fins.
Otherwise, it would be a waste of resources.

(Caps lock!) TOTAL BOLLOCKS!
Especially when longlining for Tuna, soak time is kept at the absolute minimum in order to bring up the Tuna alive where they are much more valuable - and consequently, the vast majority of Sharks are caught alive (we've all seen the videos!) and if released, they have a very high chance of survival!
It is also a well known practice in the global Tuna longline industry to pay minimum wages (if at all) to the crews but to let them keep and sell the (finned) Shark fins. As a consequence, those crews engage in targeted fishing for Sharks by adding wire leaders, changing the bait and also the depth of the lines, etc. The industry has a great vested interest in allowing this as it reduces their overhead and even adds income as traditionally, 20-25% of the proceeds go to the boat owners.

And what about the retention of the dead Sharks (fins and meat)?
Although logical, it opens up a huge loophole requiring 100% coverage by (incorruptible) observers and constitutes the exact mechanism bemoaned by the hypocritical professor whereby law enforcement costs would increase dramatically!
Until better management measures are being put into place, I reiterate that those fin bans remain the best, most practicable and easiest, and thus cheapest to enforce solution - especially in the lesser developed countries where the bulk of the slaughter takes place!

Coming from him, the appeal to reduce overfishing and IUU, whilst true and urgently mandated is just hollow rhetoric aimed at detracting from the problem at hand and prolonging any meaningful Shark conservation measures ad infinitum.

Anyway, just my two cents as usual.

Please keep commenting on David's post.
And don't forget the IMPORTANT CAPS LOCK!
For the Sharks!! Fins Up and all! ~~ ~:) ~ ><> ~ ><))).> ~♥~ ~ >~xo:] ~ >><> x ~~

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roughing it in Moorea!

Moorea - most beautiful island in the world after Bora Bora!

Great stuff!

Love the video.
Love love love the music!

Remember how everyone wanted to be a marine biologist at some point while growing up?
Well, this video pays tribute to the wonderful and REAL world of marine biology. (Also, please keep in mind, we are actually working in these clips!)

Please share this video, especially with people who may consider marine science as a career! Hopefully, this makes their decision a little easier, and we are always recruiting :)

This video would not have been possible were it not for the amazing people (many of whom are featured here) that make working as a field researcher on the island of Moorea, French Polynesia so special an experience.

Featured researchers are studying various aspects of coral reef community ecology, and they are based out of the University of Florida, California State University-Northridge, the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Victoria University of Wellington.

For more information, please visit:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Orange Roughy - Video!

Orange Roughy and bycatch on the deck of a research trawler off the east coast of Tasmania - source and credit.

And talking about vulnerable deep-sea Fishes.

This is the first video ever of Orange Roughy.
Despite of stocks having collapsed, it is still being fished and this via destructive bottom trawling and should not be purchased, also because it contains high levels of mercury.

The growth rate of the Orange Roughy is extremely slow.
They can live up to 150 years and will not reproduce until they are approx 20-30 years old, which makes them exceptionally unsuitable for commercial exploitation.

This juvenile Orange Roughy is just 5 cm long, making it between one and two years old!

Boy oh boy..
Talk about a totally unacceptable fishery - and no amount of greenwashing will ever change that! :(
But, when alive, it's a surprisingly beautiful Fish.
Story here.

Bubbles and Bulls!

Same location!

Shot by  Terri Huber on iPhone in a MOCEAN housing.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Learning in Sharks - new Paper!

 Beautiful pic of juvenile Lemon Shark. Source: Battling for Bimini. Click for detail!

Cool stuff!
From the paper.

Social learning is taxonomically widespread and can provide distinct behavioural advantages, such as in finding food or avoiding predators more efficiently.
Although extensively studied in bony fishes, no such empirical evidence exists for cartilaginous fishes.
Our aim in this study was to experimentally investigate the social learning capabilities of juvenile lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris. We designed a novel food task, where sharks were required to enter a start zone and subsequently make physical contact with a target in order to receive a food reward.

Fig. 1 Set-up of social learning experiment: a positions and measurements of zones, target and reward; b schematic of the target mechanism showing covered and exposed position as well as side and front views; and c steps of the food task or trial - click for detail!
Naive sharks were then able to interact with and observe (a) pre-trained sharks, that is, 'demonstrators', or (b) sharks with no previous experience, that is, 'sham demonstrators'.

On completion, observer sharks were then isolated and tested individually in a similar task.
During the exposure phase observers paired with 'demonstrator' sharks performed a greater number of task-related behaviours and made significantly more transitions from the start zone to the target, than observers paired with 'sham demonstrators'. When tested in isolation, observers previously paired with 'demonstrator' sharks completed a greater number of trials and made contact with the target significantly more often than observers previously paired with 'sham demonstrators'.
Such experience also tended to result in faster overall task performance.

Fig. 5 Testing phase: median (±interquartile range) number of physical contacts made with the target and the target cover by individual observer sharks previously paired with demonstrators (D) or sham demonstrators (SD). P\0.05 in both cases, Wilcoxon signed-ranks test, n = 5 - click for detail!
These results indicate that juvenile lemon sharks, like numerous other animals, are capable of using socially derived information to learn about novel features in their environment.
The results likely have important implications for behavioural processes, ecotourism and fisheries.

From the Discussion

It has previously been hypothesised that sharks can form groups for increased foraging opportunities (Jacoby et al. 2011) and that sharks exhibiting feeding behaviour attract nearby conspecifics or heterospecifics (Myrberg et al. 1969; Bres 1993; Klimley et al. 2001). Although we did not determine specific social learning processes, our findings empirically demonstrate the sensitivity to, and likely importance of, social cues in sharks.

These and other recent findings that stress the importance of social behaviour to the efficacy of shark deterrents (O’Connell et al. 2011; Robbins et al. 2011) emphasise the need for further experimentation on how changes in sharks social environment (presence of competing or informed conspecifics) might affect their foraging strategies or performance and exploitation of a novel food source.
As I said, great job - which is of course no wonder!
After all, Tristan is one of Doc's disciples and the whole thing did happen in Bimini as part of a wider endeavor and very much under the supervision and leadership, but undoubtedly also scathing criticism by the great man himself! This is your classical behavioral experiment aimed as testing a previously formulated hypothesis, and this thankfully (and very much unsurprisingly!) involving a control group - as it should be!

Of course we in the Industry knew that already.
There are plenty of examples of Sharks appearing to learn from their conspecifics (and who knows, maybe other species as well?) during baited dives, this from species as vastly different as the Whale Sharks in Oslob or Cendrawasih Bay to, it appears, the Sicklefin Lemons in Moorea.

Here are some examples by Doc himself.
We know from simple observations that throwing a piece of bait to a naïve lemon shark will take about three pieces for that shark to get the idea that the sound of a splash means that food has landed in the water near it. Then you see other lemon sharks watch the smart one and pick it up right away...splash=food.

This is especially so with the larger reef sharks.
It is easy to tell a new, inexperienced (new comer) reef shark from the experienced group. tThe newcomer has no clue when a piece of food is thrown a foot in front of its nose. It just swims on by. A trained shark however will have already associated food=splash and will immediately turn, orient to the sound and gobble up the piece. When the new comer watches the trained group orienting to the sound of bait hitting the water it picks it up immediately and gets it from there on. Additionally the other trained reef shark appear to the sound of the boat when we anchor up at the feeding site with no bait.
They are smart animals but you already know that.
Indeed we do!
We have observed learning in our social Reef Blacktips but above all, in our Bulls where we are convinced that the fact that the newbies follow the correct feeding protocols from the get-go is due to the fact that they have learned to behave correctly by observing the experienced old-timers!

So, what do the findings of the paper mean?
Do they prove that Sharks are intelligent?

No they do not!
They show that juvenile (= an adjective) Lemon Sharks (= a species) are able to learn a task by observing other juvenile Lemons and, as Doc tells me, that they could learn faster than rabbits or cats (= other species) on a conditioned response and could recall the response up to a year.

And what about the other Sharks? No idea!
Hell we don't even know whether those findings extend to adult Lemon Sharks, see the various hypotheses about slower and/or different learning that are being put forth for humans! Maybe Sharks, too, get more set in their ways and are less prone to experimenting as they grow up? I'm asking this as some of our old ladies do things in always the exact same way, likely because they have learned that it works!

My hunch is that if tested, different species will show different results.
And I'm also quite confident that there will be differences at an individual level - and possibly even at the level of gender or life stages, who knows!
I'm also expecting that the results will correlate with the extent to which those species are social (remember this is about social learning - which of course begs the question whether our Bulls are social!), but possibly, also with the extent to which learning is a useful strategy considering the specific Shark's life history - and yes I'm still of the opinion that Whale Sharks come across as being particularly thick!

But one thing is clear, at least to me.
Despite of all those caveats, I too am convinced that far from being the ever lurking instinctive killing machines some quarters would have them be, Sharks are way smarter, and their life history and behavior, way more nuanced and sophisticated - and this paper is yet another step in revealing that fascinating and beautiful tapestry.

Thank you Tristan and thank you Doc!

The Last Ocean - the Fishing continues!

Bad news.
But first, check this out

It is part of the movie about the Ross Sea by John Weller.
Marine image hunter Weller is one of the founders of The Last Ocean, an initiative to completely protect (interesting debate here!) what has been dubbed one of the last pristine marine ecosystems.
This is the trailer to John's movie..

But it looks like it ain't gonna be happening anytime soon.
New Zealand (once again!) wants to continue fishing and exporting the Chilean Seabass (read this) - and as long as they do, I fear that the campaign will continue to hit a brick wall. Like everywhere else where fishing interests appear to have woken up and are mounting a vigorous defense against the conservationists, it's a matter of realpolitik amid widespread financial woes and ever increasing human populations and individual ecological footprints.
That's just not a good backdrop for conservation advocacy, even when in reality, conservation (= good fisheries management plus closures) is the only rational strategy for safeguarding the long-term survival of the fishing industry, and even when it is being proven to be great business, too!

And since we're at it, check this out about the FAD-free tuna
This is just great news that will hopefully be a catalyst for addressing that ecological disaster that is the dolphin safe certification!

But I'm digressing as usual.
In fact, the prospects may be even grimmer.
If this guy gets it, and he may well, the USA is likely to stop or even reverse whatever conservation gains have been achieved so far, undoubtedly with far reaching consequences on a global scale.

Indeed, F*@! the Planet!


Friday, September 14, 2012

Great Fiji Shark Count - November!

It's that time of the year!

We're gearing up for the second GFSC in November.
You can find all the relevant information in this post and on the website so I need not repeat myself.
Just a reminder, and I cite
The aim is not to find out how many Sharks there are in Fiji!
For that, one would have to try and mobilize everybody everywhere, something that is impossible and would be fraught with immense costs, immense logistical problems and a staggering margin of error!
The aim here is to do a first random sampling and to then regularly repeat the exercise in the same locations. This way, we would be able to establish a first baseline and the starting point of long term monitoring via so-called transects (i.e. your dives, snorkeling excursions and even game fishing trips) which is an excellent scientific tool that will enable us to eventually detect a trend.
And what about the exercise in April?
Christine is currently very very busy, but she has found the time to look at some generic stuff and kindly provided us with the following info

  • Number of dives recorded: 855. 
  • Number of records (ie of divers in water): 3693. 
Dive Effort - black: # of dives; grey: # of replicates
  • Average diver experience: 890 dives. 
  • Average diver experience in Fiji: 458 (that's a lot!). 
  • 18 species reported including 10 sharks, 6 rays and 2 turtles 
  • List of relative commonness of shark species seen: 1. Whitetip reef 2. Grey 3. Tawny Nurse 4. Blacktip reef 5. Bull 6. Silvertip 7. Indo-Pac Lemon 8. Scalloped Hammerhead 9. Leopard 10.Tiger
 Shark Observations - purple: # observed; blue: # of species

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised!
As you may remember, April was absolutely dreadful, with lousy weather, depressed tourist numbers and much of the nation including the most populated tourism hubs in the West reeling from the aftermath of the floods, so I'm fully expecting November's numbers to be way higher.
Having said that, there will be less Bulls as that's smack in the middle of the birthing and later, mating season. There will also be less Participants as we've decided to reduce the numbers to those who really did make the effort to contribute to the above statistics in April as after all, this is primarily about collecting reliable long-term data, and this ideally from always the same locations!

But I'm digressing as always.
Please do consider coming to Fiji to count Sharks, Rays and Turtles!
It's a great vacation and you would be making a contribution to an important endeavor, the first of its kind in the world. Should you decide to participate, consult the list of Participants on the website and make your booking with any of them.

Thank you and c'ya in November!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jimmy Nelson - total Jackass!

Check this out.
Yanking up (no this got nothing to do with game fishing!) a tagged Bull right from the dock of a Shark Free Marina!
The disrespectful idiot is this dude.

He should definitely be banned from the marina, if not from the Bahamas .
The latter maybe best via the BNT?

H/T: J

Cristina and the Soup!

 Bella foto! :)

It really looks like Cristina can do no wrong.
Whenever I go snooping on one of her two Facebook pages, I'm continuously amazed at the seemingly unconditional love of her fans who will applaud whatever she does or says, and this apparently regardless of the content or context.
Good on her, she has certainly earned it.

So here's to Cristina and her fans.
But above all, here's to her fans taking the time to really understand, and then heed the lessons of her latest post on the website of Shark Savers. Indeed, unless properly educated, most people will never understand why Sharks are different from other Fish - and yes, in order to be accepted and thus lead to positive results, that education needs to come from people who understand and respect the specific circumstances and cultural framework they are operating in.
Well said as always, brava!

And you certainly don't have to look as far as Asia.
I'm quite sure that this article will ignite the usual firestorm, the more as the author appears to be fully aware of the conservation status of Tigers, which is Near Threatened.
But repugnant as killing and eating Tiger Sharks may be to me and hopefully most of the readers of this post, let's also be clear about the fact that with the exception of Florida, catching and killing Tiger Sharks in the USA is perfectly legal, likely because the authorities tasked with managing the fishery deem that it is sustainable. After all, Near Threatened means Not Threatened and from what I hear, Tigers are among those Sharks whose US populations are apparently very much recovering (but beware of shifting baselines!) after much better Shark management measures have been put into place.

But the conservation status is obviously not the whole story.
As Neil writes, the meat is full of urea and also, like the meat of many large predatory Fishes, it contains methylmercury, making it only partly suitable for human consumption - but that's not a conservation issue, that's a matter of public health and as such, it falls within the authority of the FDA that so far is however limiting its advisory to pregnant women and children only.

Long story short?
I love Sharks and would personally never, ever kill one - but once again, that's merely a personal stance that got nothing to do with conservation.
Like it or not, the fact is that in the real world, the vast majority of people do want to consume protein including seafood - even, at least in my experience, the vast majority of divers who will vehemently campaign for marine conservation but then order Fish and Lobster for dinner!
And as long as that's the case, I remain of the firm conviction that sustainable wildlife extraction has to be part of the mix - and this very much including the sustainable fishing for Sharks!
This at least in theory: when it comes to the practice, it remains highly questionable whether achieving true sustainability is even possible - certification or no certification!

Talking of which - whatever happened to this stupidity?
And does anybody know whether the vociferous Ms Reed has ever come true on her proud announcement that she would be saving sharks in the USVI? No Fin no Sharks no Future, or whatever - right?
Just asking! :)

But I'm clearly digressing as usual.
Enjoy Cristina's post!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Herald Tribune: a Tribute to Ron Taylor.

Thank you!

There is a short article.
But what really amazed me are the pictures - both in the article but above all, in the amazing picture gallery: never seen before, these are images from an era long bygone (check it out!) where life was simple and the oceans were teeming with life.


Ron Taylor - Shifting Baselines!

Source: Wetpixel.
I just found this remarkable video.
The person who posted it here appears to know Ron Taylor well.
Indeed, Ron was quiet to the point of being positively self effacing, and I remember many precious hours spent in his company, silently, taking in the spectacular oceanic seascape of some remote destination.
Obviously quite recent, the post is a beautiful and fitting portrait of this gentle man, and I'm taking the liberty of re-posting it in its entirety.
Ron Taylor has not been well recently and is now very ill.
The short movie 'Shifting Baselines' that I just received this week shows how Ron visits the marine national park in Indonesia with some of the most famous "Diving Hall of Fame golden oldies" and some younger professionals. This may have been the last expedition they undertook together as group of underwater filmers, photographers and passionate ocean activists. They have seen with their own eyes how the world's reefs have been destroyed, oceans are being polluted and shark and fish populations have gone down since they became pioneer divers and photographers.

Ron, throughout his career, has worked hard to show to the world the beauty of the underwater world, the interesting behaviors and individual personalities of reef fish and other marine wildlife.
In this movie however, we see a different part of Ron. Here he sits in front of the camera, next to his Valerie, the famous and beautiful lady who always speaks so clearly about her great concern for the ocean and its marine life. Now it is Ron, who in his typical quiet way, tells us how he is so worried that people today cannot experience anymore what was there before in the ocean. We may think all is pretty and peaceful if we jump in the water today, but he has seen it all change so drastically. The youngest generation of divers may be fooled to think that what they see is pristine, whereas it is only a fraction of what it should be.

Ron was never the outspoken person, he was always behind the camera focusing his lens on all the underwater beauty and mystery.
His work shows his love for the ocean and respect for everything in it. But with this film he also shares with us the important message that we should not forget what it really once was and how much work there is to be done to get it back - if we still can. The only alternative will otherwise be to watch stock footage of the people who were there in time to record it.
I also don't know who shot the video.
The Seven Seas is the legendary Komodo liveaboard  of Ron and Val's nephew Mark, so it may have been Mark or his brother Jono who are both accomplished underwater cinematographers in their own right. It obviously features the better days of the Komodo National Park that has alas been going to shit ever since Mark stopped working for TNC and the permit was yanked away from its management team by the Indonesian government.

But I'm digressing as usual.
The video features Ron and Val, and many common friends, truly the crème de la crème of what Douglas so fittingly calls the last generation of the original divers. Please do spend a moment to understand its incredibly important message about shifting baselines.


Ron Taylor - a Tribute.

Happier times; Ron (standing, left) with Valerie, Douglas David Siefert in yum-yum-yellow and friends, PNG 2003 - please click for detail

As we mourn his passing, we must celebrate Ron's amazing life.

Douglas David Seifert has written this tribute.
Over the past decade or so, Doug has been one of Ron and Valerie's closest friend with whom he has undertaken countless dive expeditions to the four corners of the Oceans. As Ron became severely ill two years ago, Doug and Emily have resolved to make Australia the principal turntable for their travels, in order to find time to go and visit, extend  counsel and comfort, and simply be there, as only true friends will do. As we speak, they are with Valerie in Sydney.
For that, they have my ever lasting gratitude and respect - thank you so much!

Ronald Josiah Taylor (1934 – 2012)
A Tribute
© 2012 by Douglas David Seifert World Editor, DIVE Magazine

Ron Taylor, Australian icon of ocean exploration, scuba diving pioneer and innovator, visionary underwater filmmaker and marine conservationist, left this world behind early Sunday morning as he made the ultimate plunge into the eternal sea of night.

In 2003, the Order of Australia was awarded to Ron Taylor “For service to conservation and the environment through marine cinematography and photography, by raising awareness of endangered and potentially extinct marine species, and by contributing to the declaration of species and habitat protection.”
Born in 1934, appropriately under the star sign of Pisces the fish, Ron first submerged into the seas off Botany Bay, Sydney in 1951, when he found a mask someone had lost at the Brighton Le Sands meshed baths. “The underwater world became clear and I was hooked,” as he confided.

At first, he was a breath-hold skin diver, eventually becoming proficient as an underwater hunter with a speargun from 1953 forward.
At this time, he was employed as a photo engraver in Castlereagh Street, Sydney.In 1955, Ron built his first underwater breathing apparatus from parts purchased from a World War Two surplus shop, based upon an oxygen demand regulator used in high flying aircraft, along with flexible gas mask twin hoses; a fire extinguisher bottle was used for the air supply tank and compressed air obtained from a local engineering firm. The creation worked but was limited due to the small volume of air it could carry for the very short duration scuba dives. Eventually, manufactured scuba equipment made its way to Australian shores and Ron was able to spend greater amounts of time exploring the underwater world.

 In 1956, he became a member of the St. George Sea Dragons Spearfishing Club in Sydney and ultimately won four consecutive Australian National spearfishing championships between 1962 and 1965. He reached the apex of the sport in 1965 when he represented Australia at the World Spearfishing Competition held in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and took the top honor as the World Spearfishing Champion.

Over time, competitive spearfishing began to lose its appeal to Ron, because in addition to joining the St. George Spearfishing Club in 1956, he had also discovered the satisfactions of hunting sea life for the camera.
He was lent a 16mm Bell and Howell movie camera and built his own underwater housing for it from Perspex, a harbinger of the dozens of Taylor-made, custom-built underwater housings he would construct for all of his cameras over the next fifty years. The film length for that original camera was 50 feet, which would run for 80 seconds in total, but due to limitations of the spring winding mechanism, the maximum the camera would run was 25 seconds before shutting down. Ron learned early on to be very selective in his choice of subject and in camera technique. It was at this time, Ron also became aware that non-divers – also known as the rest of the world – were keenly interested in sharks and he began to specialize in photographing sharks for the camera.

In 1960, Ron bought his own Bolex camera, built another housing and began making films for theatrical release.
He also attended the Heron Island Dive Festival where a beautiful blonde skin diver named Valerie Heighes caught his eye. She had won the Miss Heron Island competition and he convinced her to model underwater for his camera, the beginning of a collaboration of filmmaker Ron and on-camera personality Valerie that would endure as a tried and true formula for the next fifty-two years.

By 1962, Ron’s first film, Playing With Sharks was released in cinemas by Movietone News.
The film was followed by Shark Hunters, shot in black and white, and sold to Australian and American television, cementing his reputation as a top-notch underwater filmmaker with a penchant for capturing sharks on film. In December of 1963, he and Valerie married and the following month, Ron won his third Australian National Spearfishing Championship at Kangaroo Island, South Australia. His film Skindiving Paradise was commissioned and released by the Queensland Government Tourist Board.

 In 1965, Ron Taylor filmed the underwater sequences for Revenge of a Shark Victim, a 16mm documentary for TCN9 television.
In the process of filming, Ron became the first man in the world to film a great white shark underwater and the first man to photograph a great white shark underwater without the use of an anti-shark cage. The resulting image, taken from a single still frame of that film, has been seen the world over for nearly forty years as the embodiment of the fearsome great white shark, a triangle of pointed snout, vast, open, outstretched jaws framed with triangular pointed teeth and featureless, jet black eyes. This iconic image was captured a decade before the movie Jaws gave movie-goers and swimmers a second thought.

 The year also saw the release of Surf Scene a diving and surfing documentary that played on a festival circuit as the newlywed Taylors barnstormed around coastal Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, four walling a town with posters promoting the film’s showings where the collected admissions paid for gasoline and food and film stock as the Taylors tried to make a career out of filmmaking and following their passion for the sea.

At the same time, Australia’s premiere underwater hunter became completely and irrevocably disenchanted with competitive spearfishing and gave up the sport completely, though he remained a highly skilled spearfisherman the rest of his days but took only enough to put upon the table fish enough to feed himself and his wife, with no waste.

In 1969, American department-store heir and filmmaker Peter Gimbel hired the Taylors take part in the production of Blue Water, White Death, a milestone cinema verite documentary that lived up to its subtitle: “The Hunt for the Great White Shark”. 
Valerie was employed as a safety diver and on-camera talent; Ron as cameraman. On this six month odyssey, the Taylors, working with Gimbel and cinematographer Stanton Waterman travelled around the Indian Ocean on a chartered whale catcher, from Durban, South Africa, and encountered vast schools of oceanic whitetip sharks feeding upon the carcasses of sperm whales killed by the then-active South African whaling industry. They filmed the shark aggregation at night and they filmed it most memorably by leaving the safety of anti-shark cages. The footage remains, to this day, the most dramatic underwater shark footage ever seen. The producer’s hope was a great white shark would appear at the whale carcass but the virually mythological shark remained elusive, so the production moved up the east coast to Mozambique, to the Comoros and to Sri Lanka, having great adventures along the way, providing a lively travelogue, but not meeting their objective. Eventually, after a hiatus, and at Ron Taylor’s suggestion, the production moved to South Australia where they finally found the great white shark. The film broke all box office records for a documentary film and was second grossing film of the year after only Love Story. The film was a lost classic for decades following Gimbel’s death until the original print was found and re-mastered and re-released in theatres and on DVD in 2007.

Following the worldwide success of Blue Water, White Death, in 1970 and 1971, the Taylors embarked upon filming the 39 episode television series Barrier Reef and the following year, their own television documentary series, Taylor’s Inner Space, which consisted of 13 half hour episodes filmed around Australia.

Their work in Blue Water, White Death attracted the attention of Hollywood and in 1974, Ron and Valerie were promptly hired to shoot the live action great white shark sequences for Jaws.

Other film work for Hollywood features followed, with Ron in great demand for original shark footage for Orca, Gallipoli, The Last Wave and all the underwater photographic work for The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields and Chris Atkins, as well as numerous television works such as pieces for National Geographic, Wild, Wild World of Animals TV series, resulting in specials and features such as Sharks, Silent Hunters of the Deep and Operation Shark Bite.

 During this time, Ron’s innovations into the world of experimentation with sharks included the development of a revolutionary, stainless steel, chain-mail inspired, anti-shark suit, as featured in the May, 1981 cover story of National Geographic Magazine.
 In the 1980’s, Ron Taylor’s productions of The Wreck of the Yongala and The Great Barrier Reef, both educated viewers about Australia’s irreplaceable underwater heritage concerning the Yongala, Australia’s most dynamic wreck dive and the Cod Hole, a sanctuary for the large and charismatic giant grouper called Potato Cod that could (and thanks to the Taylor’s efforts still can be) found only at one specific location on the Great Barrier Reef. These films, in addition to intense lobbying at great personal cost (threats and denouncement by fishermen and politicians) by Ron and Valerie Taylor, led public opinion towards the then-new concept of marine conservation and forced reluctant Queensland politicians to protect Australia’s unique marine heritage.

 Ron Taylor’s footage and presentation of marine life in Australian waters has been instrumental in allowing the Australian public to see and appreciate and ultimately to protect their rare and precious marine legacy and to demonstrate why animals such as the grey nurse shark and the Australian sea lion need be legally and morally protected against imminent extinction.

 Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ron Taylor worked on both Hollywood feature films, such as The Year of Living Dangerously, Honeymoon in Las Vegas, Return to the Blue Lagoon and The Island of Dr Moreau while continuing to make conservation-conscious, educational awareness focused wildlife features such as In the Realm of the Shark, Shadow Over the Reef and Shark Pod.
At the same time, Ron and Valerie themselves became the focus of documentaries made about their lives in the sea, their contributions to scuba diving, exploration and conservation in the features The Sea Lovers and In The Shadow of the Shark.

 In 2000, the Taylors were inducted into the International Divers Hall of Fame ceremony held in Grand Cayman.
The Taylors have jointly been awarded with the Australian Geographic Society Lifetime of Conservation Award and the Australian Cinematographers Society Hall of Fame, among their numerous honors. The years 2000 – 2011 were filled with dozens of scuba diving expeditions where Ron filmed some of the rarest and most dramatic creatures of the sea: Sperm Whales off the Azores Islands of the North Atlantic, Blue Whales off Indonesia; Great Hammerhead Sharks and Tiger Sharks in the Bahamas; the myriad of strange and often unidentified creatures of the shallow reef and sand slopes of Indonesia, among others.

Ron is survived by his loving wife and collaborator of over fifty years, Valerie.
His legacy is an awareness and appreciation of the ocean and its inhabitants unknown in Australia and throughout the rest of the civilized world fifty years ago. His story, of the journey from an unsurpassed marine hunter to a passionate conservationist putting himself on the line has led the way to a renaissance in thinking and understanding for three generations to the current state of conservation awareness in Australia so admired around the world.

Ron Taylor has inspired every major underwater image maker and cinematographer working today and will be admired not only for his flawless technical ability as a filmmaker, but for the quiet, unassuming, grace of a gentle man working with subtle dedication to make the underwater world a better place and a lasting environment for the next generation and generations to follow.
There has never been a better friend or dive buddy, a more patient listener or down to earth conveyer of underwater exploration.

Also posted on Wetpixel.

Please also read the eulogies by David Diley, Alex the Sharkman, Richard Theiss and Patric Douglas
Thank you.