Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fishing in Indonesia!

I was of course totally wrong.

Those walking Sharks are very much at risk.
And I should have known better as I've been diving there since the mid-eighties and have witnessed the ravaging and gradual degradation of those reefs with my own eyes, from overfishing to cyanide poisoning to reef bombs. It's mostly "only" small-scale artisanal fishing - but by virtue of all those countless legions of people strip mining the ocean, the results are never-the-less devastating.
Check out Steve's pics from Lombok - appalling but by no means exceptional. This is happening everywhere throughout the archipelago

And how about the management?
Stock assessments, fishing quotas, monitoring, enforcement, prosecution?
Yeah, right.

Enforced MPAs and Sanctuaries flanked by education and possibly, the development of alternative livelihoods - practicable stuff, not lofty theories. Oh, and some bloody family planning or else, it's all for naught!

Redefining Shark Finning?

Oh for crying out loud.

Read this.
Then go and read this old post by David where you will discover that Shark finning is defined as 
removing the fins from a shark while still on the fishing vessel and dumping the rest of the shark overboard
or in this further post about fisheries terminology, 
the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea.
The fact that people continue to use the term erroneously does not mean that the term needs to be redefined - it means that people need to educate themselves when talking, and especially petitioning (!) about this topic! When the fins are being removed after landing, one can talk about "definning" or "cutting off the fins"'. But that's not the issue here - the issue is what happens to the remainder of the Shark, see below.

Of course I get the gist.
Even when Sharks are being landed with their fins attached, a substantial percentage of the carcasses are being thrown away. Although certainly less cruel than live finning, this is equally wasteful and thus reprehensible - and yet this behavior is not being equally captured and sanctioned. 
This is what many conservationists call "killing Sharks for their fins alone", and it would be useful if the various statistics (example) and also, the various legislations could capture this phenomenon as a coherent unit, i.e. a "fins-only fishery" as opposed to a "food fishery" for Sharks where ideally, all the parts (including the fins) are being utilized.

But is this "overfishing" as per that blog post?
Not necessarily! The term relates to the number of Fish that are being caught, not to how they are being utilized - meaning that the people at Stop Shark Finning (this one?) do not know what they are talking about, and that the whole argument is essentially a non-issue!

This is once again about sustainability.
Where David's definition is very fisheries-centric, I'm of the opinion that true sustainability has to look at overfishing but also at other factors like bycatch, the impact on the environment and habitats, even fair trade etc - including the question whether a particular fishery is particularly wasteful like in the case of a fins-only fishery for Sharks.

And since we're at it - read this!
Hypothesis is not Theory is not Model - Jessica?
Scripta manent indeed! :)

But I'm digressing - long story short?
First and foremost: you gotta do your homework!
Shark finning campaigns are essentially a (valid) animal welfare issue, not conservation, the more as they do not save any Sharks. Conservation should instead focus on sustainability.

And yes I'm repeating myself! :)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Responsible Shark Management - Excellent!

Click for detail!


Yes in theory, it's that easy!
In practice, unless you live in a country that is capable and willing to throw plenty of resources at it, not so much! Hence my continued preaching that the Risk and Stock Assessment and the Trade Data and Certification should all be paid for and provided by those who make the money, i.e. the fishing interests and the traders, this in order to prove that what they do is sustainable and legal, and later, in order to prove that they are abiding by the rules!
Oh yes I'm not about to stop pontificating anytime soon! :)

Anyway, this is a great presentation.
Required reading!

Is Anote Tong nothing but a Con Man?

Time to unbestow? Source.

You be the judge of that!

Read this!
Seriously, do!
If true, it's so bad it really defies description - and although I don't have the means to verify the allegations, the article sure looks extremely well researched and dovetails perfectly with the ongoing narrative that the PIPA is ultimately nothing but a scam.

Will there be consequences?
We shall see shall we not. If they want to continue receiving contributions, both Tong and CI got some massive xplaining to do - and I frankly would expect nothing less than a full, detailed and convincing rebuttal or else, an official apology followed by rapid and measurable changes. And if not, let's please focus our resources on other places and orgs that do not brazenly lie to us!
To be continued no doubt!

Oh and one last thing.
Can fraudulently obtained Benchley Awards be unbestowed?
Now THAT would be a statement!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Alan Arakawa - brilliant!

This is simply phenomenal stuff.

And this is he.
Huge congratulations!

Chuggy - healing in GWS!

 Chuggy last year and now - click for detail!

Very interesting!

Martin is spot on.
We, too marvel at the near-miraculous healing power of our Sharks and having read Martin's post, I'm more than ever convinced that the reported fresh mating scars on the female GWS in Lupe are very powerful circumstantial evidence for Domeier's theory that mating happens there, and not in the SOFA as speculated by Jorgensen and lately, by Chapple.

But there's another observation that caught my attention.
And I cite.
I'm blown away by their ability to survive injuries that would kill just about any other animal and the weirdest thing is, these nasty injuries don't even seem to bother them all that much. They swim by like nothing happened, with no discernible change in behavior or activity. They are not "limping" around, they keep swimming around normally, acting exactly like they did the day before.
Where any wounded Mammal or Bird would clearly signal signs of discomfort, flinch at any contact with a wound or avoid further using an injured limb etc, the injured Sharks I've observed do nothing like it. 

Instead, they continue to do their thing completely undeterred. 
The most astonishing occurrence I've witnessed was probably when Bum turned up with a partly severed tail. At any tail beat, the upper half would flap around at crazy angles, something that would have led to agonizing pain and clear avoidance behavior had it happened to any mammal. But not only did she not in the slightest appear to try and limit the use of her tail - the injured tail has even managed to grow back together, albeit at an angle, and this despite of the incessant back-and-forth movement!

So what does this mean?
The way I see it, one of the functions of pain is to help avoid harmful situations and thus, the total absence of pain would seem to be an evolutionary dead end. But may there possibly be different manifestations of pain, ie the sensation that makes us flinch back unconsciously (and Sharks certainly do!) and then the other pain that manifests itself in conscious suffering?
It's of course a hornet's nest where the latest research claims that Fish don't feel pain (and here) but where others passionately disagree. I'm on the fence on this - but from what I've observed, I just cannot believe that those Sharks are simply toughing it out, or whatever.

But it matters not.
It is certainly not ever going to justify resorting to unnecessarily cruel treatment, even if only by human standards. Images like these are certainly highly disturbing and although I don't for a minute subscribe to the notion that the research may be redundant or gratuitous (quite the contrary!), I'm equally highly irritated by the continued unnecessarily invasive procedures and bombastic self-promotion of the self-professed re-incarnation of Cousteau! 
Which of course begs the question, how will Shark Week's latest favorite Shark tracker succeed in handling that colossal ego and in generally navigating those treacherous media waters unscathed?
Having witnessed this, I'm not at all hopeful!

But I'm digressing as always.
Bravo Martin - very interesting post!

Australia - Paradigm Shift?

Shocking - GBRMPA assessment by the Australian Government.


And I cite.
We argue that users of shark resources should be responsible for demonstrating that a fishery is sustainable before exploitation is allowed to commence or continue. This fundamental change in management principle will safeguard against stock collapses that have characterised many shark fisheries.
I must say that I'm positively elated.
It's obviously only a recommendation and by no means what is being done in practice - yet! 
But like I've said here and continue to preach, we need to discuss this and hopefully, people will start considering and even implementing it - and having it mentioned in a scientific paper is simply fantastic!
I'm convinced that it's the fairest and most effective solution that will ultimately benefit everybody in the long term: the governments that will not anymore have to allocate all those resources to data collection but can divert them to monitoring, enforcement and prosecution; the fishermen that will stop fishing themselves into extinction; and of course also the species that are currently being overfished!

Great stuff - kudos!

PS - I just got myself the paper, and this is what it says.

Progress is being made in understanding the distribution, mobility, genetics and population structure of exploited sharks in the GBRMP. 
However, we argue that in poorly understood multi-species fisheries, the burden of proof needs to be reversed. The current situation is ‘‘business as usual’’ until a problem can be found (e.g. declining abundance). However, given the global declines of most shark species, extractive activities should not proceed until it is proven that exploited populations and/or associated ecosystem components are not harmed, or are minimally harmed relative to the social and economic benefits derived from them. 
Sharks are worthy of stricter management because (1) mounting evidence suggests that some sharks are keystone species that regulate community structure and contribute to ecosystem resilience, and (2) their intrinsic characteristics (e.g. K selection) predispose them to over-exploitation. 
A key challenge for the future is to convince the public and policy makers that the need for shark conservation is both beneficial and urgent.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Epaulette Shark!


Mark and Gerry have found another one!
And the species is probably legit - despite of Gerry being Joshua's splitting co-perpetrator of those infamous Pacific Damsels!
After the 2008 crop of Hemiscyllium henryi and H.galei from Western Papua, here comes the spanky new H. halmahera from Ternate! Incidentally, none of them is an apex predator nor a keystone species, nor are they being hunted for their fins - but they are all cute and they all walk!
Just saying!

Behold the new walking Shark in action!

Raies Léopard!

Vol de raies léopard deep down in Tiputa Pass - source.


The ORP keeps cranking out the goodies!
Case in point, this article about the research by Cécile Berthe who confirms that the Eagle Ray of French Polynesia is not the Spotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus narinari but the Whitespotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus ocellatus. And with the Marquesas being so far east and featuring a scenery and fauna that are reminiscent of the Western coast of the Americas, it is quite possible that they may be also harboring one more cryptic species, i.e. the Pacific Whitespotted Eagle Ray Aetobatus laticeps that is found in Baja

Those Eagle Rays can be reliably seen in Rangiroa in Dec/Jan.
That's when they form large mating aggregations, see at top, that are in turn stalked by ginormous but very shy Great Hammers. And, it's bloody deep, at least (!) 40m but in crystal clear viz on the incoming currents - and then you'll have to negotiate the ripping current in the pass, quite possibly whilst managing multiple decompression stops! 
Challenging but fun fun fun!

H/T: merci Johann!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Adopt a Bull Shark - new Kid on the Block!

Click for detail!


This is what we've been hoping for!
This dude has turned up for the first time today - and when it comes to naming, he's really a dream come true: he's one of the rarer males, he's young, the identifying feature is unequivocal and permanent, and he's as feisty as they come and already buzzing Rusi whilst ogling the Tuna heads, meaning that it's all but certain that he'll become a feeder and thus a regular!

And he's up for adoption!
Adoptions as of late have been slow, so we're jazzing up the more expensive packages as follows:
  • $ 1,000 Name Your Own Bull Shark: you now get all those perks, plus 3 days of diving with BAD!

  • $ 2,500 Meet YOUR Bull Shark: we're now throwing in not one day, but one full week of diving!

  • $ 5,000 A Week Of Diving in Fiji is now for two persons!
Cool? :)

Ergo: name him and collect your prize!
With 140+ named individuals, it gets increasingly difficult to remember personal names. Thus, we try and incorporate the distinguishing feature into the name, as in Bum because she has a curled anal fin; Long John because he has a cut tail and Long John Silver had a missing leg; Pecker because he has a creased right-hand pectoral fin (gotcha!); Miss America because the tip of her tail is missing and she was named on the 4th of July; Bevis, a Grey Reef, because he's a teenage delinquent - you get the gist.
Just a suggestion, not an obligation!

First come first served!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

México Pelágico - Transition!

Check this out!

Like I said, these are not some naive tree huggers.
This is a well-thought-through further step forward towards Pelagic Life becoming a veritable conservation movement. Very challenging as this will mean a completely different ball game, this including a fair amount of bureaucracy and also, the headache of being accountable for other people's money and having to come up with deliverables - as it should be!
But when the Fundación of this man takes notice, you know that you're on the right trajectory!

As always - well done and wishing you the best of success!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Shark Savers and WildAid - Merger!

Boy oh boy.
I've been asked to write something constructive - but to be perfectly frank, I don't quite know where I stand on this.
So bear with me - it's gonna be what it's gonna be.

So there - the cat is finally out of the bag.
Shark Savers and WildAid have announced that they are merging pending ratification by the relevant authorities. This is the official announcement by Shark Savers, this is the official announcement by WildAid, and these are some further explanations and reflections by Michael Skoletsky.
The merged org will be called WildAid.

Prima vista, this is obviously a good thing.
There are way too many orgs in Shark conservation, and pooling one's resources is certainly the rational thing to do. Shark Savers and WildAid have a long and successful history of cooperation, latest of which the brilliant Manta Ray of Hope project and subsequent stellar advocacy at CITES - so judging by those metrics alone, the future looks bright indeed. I'm also really, really happy to learn that Michael, DaMary and Sam are joining the new org as they are all friends with a terrific track record.

And yet I am saddened.
Ever since the eviction of Andersen and all her crazy BS, I've been a staunch supporter of Shark Savers' agenda of pragmatic and science based conservation initiatives and messaging.

WildAid, not so much.
Check out this interview with Tod Bensen.

This is of course compelling stuff.
And there is certainly a need to curb demand.
Indeed, if you look at the 2000 numbers (click on the graph), finning accounts for 908 tons of the 1411 tons of caught Sharks that were not discarded, making it 64% or roughly 63 million Sharks of which we can state that they were caught for their fins alone. Then of course there is an additional albeit unknown number among the IUU and FAO number - and judging from what we learn about what is happening now in the W/C Pacific, those trends do not appear to have been much reversed.
So once again, judging by those metrics alone WA's principal focus is certainly legit.

I also understand the part about the need to be a niche player.
And still, for me, this is just too uni-dimensional. I won't bother you with the usual ranting about the fact that "Sharks" are not Rhinos and neither all endangered, nor apex predators nor keystone species, or about supply limited fisheries and sustainability, let alone certified Shark fins - just read the links if you care, or don't. The real world is way more nuanced, and so must be the different conservation strategies.
What I will however say is that Shark Savers has a broader scope and that I like that - so here's to WildAid becoming more broadly involved as a result of the merger!

And then, there's the messaging.
Shark Savers has it down to an art, both on their website that is easy to read and navigate, and brimming with excellent content, and on their stellar Facebook page where Sam is doing an excellent, commendable job. WildAid's website is frankly optically rather shocking, and their FB is a mish-mash of different causes that will not equally appeal to all the Shark people.
So here's to a better website and to a dedicated Shark FB page!

Long story short?
One will need to see where this is going.
The merger can result in a better, better funded, more broadly based and generally much improved organization and as long as it appears to be heading that way, it still has my full support and Godspeed to everybody involved.
And if not, not.

To be continued no doubt!

Thursday, August 22, 2013



Is this lady fucking awesome or what!
Here she is doing her thing.

That was a few years ago.
Now Ingrid works as Operations Director and Conservation Manager at Projects Abroad where she also doubles as their in-house Shark specialist. It is she who has developed next year's awesome volunteer program - and it is also she who will personally oversee it in Fiji!
How much better than that can it get!

Interest so far is has been crisp.
There are now not one, but two dedicated Facebook pages featuring the usual mix of Shark advocacy, education and activism - not really my fare but hey, it is what the social media people appear to love! All I can promise is that the project proper will be excellent, rock solid science and conservation under the auspices of world-class Shark researchers.

WTF - and I mean it!

And don't forget to repeat the mantra!
I certainly do!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Brava Cristina!

Yes it is what you think!

Way to go!

Shark Tourism - Overview!

Bravo Shark Savers.

Behold their spanky new Shark tourism page.
Completely revamped by Hannah, it is an excellent representation of the contribution of Shark ecotourism to  local economies and often, also to research and conservation.

And whilst yer at it - the simply brilliant funding drive is still ongoing! :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Managing and Protecting Sharks in the Central and Western Pacific - Report!

Read this - seriously, do!

Yes it's a bloody mess!
Shelley Clarke has analyzed the status of the current Shark management and conservation measures in the WCPFC and comes to the conclusion that essentially, the current framework is not working. 
There is a lack of specific and uniform objectives, there are no adequate stock assessments and research, the fishing data are highly questionable and sketchy, there are not nearly enough observers, overfishing continues, Shark mortality is not being reduced, finning is rampant, compliance, implementation, monitoring and enforcement are inadequate - in brief, it continues to essentially be a free-for-all and even where there is a willingness to do the right thing (which is certainly not a given everywhere), the managing authorities are hopelessly outmatched and any improvements under the present regime appear highly questionable.

As just one example, take the case of finning - remember?
Here's what the report states.
Finning rates are lower than they were prior to the effective date of the cornerstone measure but they do not appear to be continually decreasing.

Furthermore, finning continues at levels of ~15‐25% in the purse seine fishery and 30‐40% in the longline fishery. Although the reduced finning rates in the purse seine fishery are encouraging, most sharks in the purse seine fishery will already be dead when they reach the vessel, therefore this reduction in finning is likely to translate into only a very small increase in survival. 

Furthermore, according to catch estimates for 2010, the longline fishery catches over ten times as many of the key shark species as the purse seine fishery does (Lawson 2011), and therefore effects in the longline fishery will be considerably more important to shark populations. With the reduction in finning rates, it appears that the percentage of observed sharks that are released alive in the longline fishery has increased, but it is not known how many of these survive and the percentage of sharks with confirmed mortality remains above 72% in all but one year (2010). 
In summary, on the basis of existing information the expected benefit of the cornerstone measure to sharks in terms of increased survival appears negligible.

Starting with ICCAT in 2004, and followed by IATTC and IOTC in 2005, and CCSBT in 2008, all of the other tuna RFMOs have adopted a 5% fins‐to-carcass ratio as a means of controlling shark finning. Most of these measures have similar provisions relating to the mitigation of fishing impacts to sharks including waste minimization and encouraging live release.

Several problems have arisen with regard to interpretation of the 5% fins-to‐carcass ratio (Fowler and Séret 2010, Biery and Pauly 2012, Santana‐Garcon et al. 2012). 

First, while provision is made in the measures for the ratio to be reviewed and modified, it is now well‐understood that the actual ratio of fins‐to‐carcass weight will vary by species, the number of fins utilized from each shark, and the type of cut used to remove the fins from the carcass. Nevertheless, none of the ratios have been amended since the measures were adopted. Second, the measures do not make clear whether the ratio applies to fresh or dried fins, and to what form of the carcass (i.e. whole weight, dressed or partially dressed carcass) the fins are to be compared. These interpretation issues, along with the difficulties of weighing fins and carcasses in an enforcement setting, have led some countries to replace fins‐to‐carcass ratios with national requirements for fins to remain attached to the carcass until landing (IUCN SSG 2013).

Although similar measures have been discussed within tuna RFMO forums for several years, to date no tuna RFMO has adopted a fins‐attached policy.
See what I mean?
Finning is certainly one of the least controversial issues insofar as everybody agrees that in theory, it must go - but look at the mess they've made when implementing the ban!
And, it does not reduce Shark mortality anyway!

And what about Clarke's other recommendations?
Check out the WCPFC members and other parties to the treaty in the link above, and then, re-read this post. Many of those members are the very countries who have obliterated their own marine resources and whose distant water fleets are now pillaging the Fish stocks in the Pacific. They have zero interest in promoting any sustainability and continue to use dirty politics in order to block any positive developments as last seen in December. And if those folks cannot adequately manage the Tuna stocks despite of knowing what needs to be done - do you really think that anybody is going to bother investing their scarce resources into the management of Sharks that in the big scheme of things are merely an afterthought?
Only glimmer of hope: the PNA members that comprise several countries that have already enacted Shark sanctuaries and that continue to show those foreign fleets who is boss whilst raking in ever increasing revenues!

And that's only the beginning!
CITES 2 compliance, i.e. the implementation of all the necessary paperwork but above all, the onus of proving that Sharks are being managed sustainably is just around the corner! Think that any of those Pacific island countries that have not declared a sanctuary will be able to meet their obligations - the more as compliance is subject to public scrutiny?

Oh yes we're back to square one - read this post!
Clarke's recommendations are theoretically impeccable - but let me re-iterate that in practice, they will, if at all, take years to implement whilst the indiscriminate overfishing will continue. It's the old ways and by now everybody should agree that those have been weighed, tested and found wanting.

Right now, what works are those sanctuaries.
They are the new, elegant and practicable solution - not for eternity but as stop gap measures, until adequate management measures have been implemented. And the onus for making that happen lays squarely with the fishing industry and the trade: it is they who control their own behavior, it is they who know how and where they fish and what they catch and trade, its is they who make the profits - and it is they that can easily make the necessary changes and then fork out the money in order to prove that what they do is legit!

And what about us?
Screaming is easy - following through much more difficult and certainly way less glamorous.

So what's it gonna be?
A whole lotta noise for ultimately zero outcome like the occupy movement, or in the case of Sharks, quite possibly those Canadian and US fin bans - or should we maybe tone it down a bit and advocate smart, pragmatic and hopefully, effective and efficient policies instead? 
Maybe even start thinking outside of the box?

The choice, as always, is ours!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Shark Bible - review by JSD!

Fiji Bull Sharks - pic by Gary Peart- click for detail!


The bible is out.
And JSD has penned a review hat contains a reference to the Fiji Bull Shark - so I really got no choice but post it in its entirety!
So there!
Sharks of the World: A Fully Illustrated Guide (Hardcover) 

It is not every day that a book appears that has the unmistakable authority and quality of a classic; rarer still that such a tome should be the launch publication of a new publisher. Wild Nature Press' Sharks of the World - A Fully Illustrated Guide is such a work. 

We shouldn't be surprised. 
The team at Wild Nature Press has been illustrating and designing elegant natural history books for mainstream publishers for years and has merely transferred its talents to its own publishing house. Nor did this book appear fully formed from the primordial swamp. It evolved from the Collins Field Guide: Sharks of the World of 2005 and has the same authors (Leonard Compagno and Sarah Fowler) and illustrator (Marc Dando), plus the additional taxonomic input of David Ebert. 

The evolution has been successful. 
The new book is considerably larger than the old (compare, say, a Grey Reef Shark with a full-blown Fijian Bull Shark) and this must come as a relief not only to readers who wish to feast their eyes on the endless variations-on-a-theme that are sharks, but also to the wonderfully illustrated animals themselves. Packed with musculature and movement, they are now less likely accidentally to swim off the page. Furthermore, the species described herein have grown to over 500 (there are some 90 recently named sharks). 

The book basically divides into 2 parts. 
After the foreword (by scientist John Stevens) there is a grand tour through the biology and natural history of the animals that deals with every topic you could ask for. Illustrated with occasional photographs and a great many colour drawings, as well as maps, diagrams and charts, the intricacies of shark biology as well as crucial themes such as fisheries, conservation and management, are explained. On page 59 one reaches the raison d'être of what has been: the magisterially presented description of every shark from the known knowns to the known unknowns. Each has its own entry which includes a detailed line drawing and goes on to describe size, distribution (via a map), teeth, identification, habitat, behaviour, biology and conservation status. To enrich this section the sharks are also depicted in full colour plates and also via some photographs (of living sharks). These photographs take us far beyond the usual suspects: consider the Greenland Shark (p. 157), the Caribbean Roughshark (p. 162), the Goblin Shark - I kid you not! - (p. 216), the Blackmouth Catshark (p. 347), or the Snaggletooth Shark (p. 437). 

But there is more. 
Appendices include a glossary, discussion of oceans and seas, techniques of field observation and fin identification, recommendations for further reading, a list of scientific and conservation organisations, online information sources, and index. Phew. 

Only an ignoramus would claim that sharks are not sufficiently interesting to deserve so impressive a treatment.
I would defy anyone to pick up Sharks of the World - A Fully Illustrated Guide and not pause in wonder at any number of beasts swimming far off the beaten track: the yellow-striped Atlantic Weasel Shark, the abyssal Demon and Ghost Catsharks, the frankly ridiculous Winghead Shark, the hopelessly uncuddly Bramble Sharks. And that is long before one considers the over-sensationalised superstars such as the Whale Shark, Bull Shark, Tiger Shark and White Shark. 

 I cannot recommend this book highly enough so I won't. I can, however, wonder at how Wild Nature Press can follow this debut with a worthy successor. If they can make the fascinating this enthralling, perhaps they should set themselves a real challenge. Worms of the World, anyone?

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch. 
Get it!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lupe - Great Whites and Blue Whale!

STILL my fave Lupe pic!


This is from SDI's first trip of the 2013 season aboard the Solmar V.
Filmed by Matt Swartz.

Friday, August 16, 2013

RickMac - Interviews!

Unsung hero no more!

Rick is Scuba Diving Magazine's August 2013 Oris Sea Hero.
I'm tempted to say, too little too late, the more as he so valiantly continues to toe the CORAL party line - but then again, this is likely an older interview. Plus, CORAL or no CORAL, these are truly the principles by which the man operates.
For reef conservation to endure, it must be locally owned. 
My proudest achievement at CORAL has been building a global team of talented, passionate and effective local conservation leaders in every country in which CORAL works. These are individuals who are part of their community, and who care deeply about the sustainability of their ecological and cultural heritage. 
I am inspired and energized daily by what they contribute to our mission.
And here is one more interview - about trolls and science!

Bravo and thank you.
Wherever you are and whatever you do - enjoy, you have earned it a thousand times over!

Juvenile Bulls in the Everglades!

A juvenile Bull from one of Fiji's rivers, with a Scalloped Hammer pup in the background - click for detail.

Another nice one from the Heithaus Labs!

This is gonna be one of next year's volunteer projects.
Initially, we'll be investigating their usage of the riverine nurseries and later on, when and how they transition to the reef environment.
Interested? You know what to do!

The paper is here.
And here's the video that thankfully needs no further interpreting.


Moorea Lemons - one more Piece of the Puzzle!

 (A) Map of the study location. (B) The genetic network of adult lemon sharks. Each individual is indicated by a node labelled by shark ID. Circles and squares indicate females and males respectively and symbol size is indicative of the body length of the shark. Node colour corresponds to the three defined residency groups. Dyads sharing a first-order genetic relationship are connected by a line, with line thickness indicating the strength of the genetic relationship (proportional to R values). (C) Genetic degree (number of first-order genetic relationships an individual has) distribution within the population - click for detail!

Very nice!

I was somewhat underwhelmed, and said so - which led to a personal visit by the very charming Eric Clua, and to a real interesting ongoing dialogue with Johann Mourier. And despite of a toothy (!) public debate between Juerg and Jon and the authors, everybody remains on best terms and is eager to share and discuss. That's how science advances and as Eric stated, everybody agrees that nous jouons dans la même équipe and that everybody profits by sharing ideas and engaging in spirited discussions.

And here is strike two - read it!
The feeding paper did raise the concern that the observed increased residency of some Lemons might lead to increased inbreeding - and from what I understand, this paper comes to the conclusion that it probably does not.
Whereas there are only about two dozen resident adult Lemons in Moorea, the species has evolved patterns to mitigate the according risk of inbreeding insofar as the Sharks will travel to both mate and pup (= migration), and that some individuals will travel to take residence in other islands (= dispersal), all of which is conducive to gene flow. Having said that, the degree of inbreeding of the Lemons in French Polynesia remains never the less relatively high, this likely due to small overall numbers and the relatively high isolation between islands and between archipelagos.

And the take away message after this rather epic 5y investigation?
I believe it boils down to this - and I trust that Johann will correct me if not.
  • Like Juerg's Fiji paper, it once again confirms that provisioned Sharks appear to disperse normally, or as Juerg puts it, that
    Chumming and food provisioning are unlikely to fundamentally change movement patterns at large spatial and temporal scales, and seem to only have a minor impact on the behaviour of large predatory sharks; hence, the creation of behavioural effects at the ecosystem level seems unlikely.
    Obviously, this is the one aspect I'm most concerned about - and I sure hope that Johann will agree with this conclusion!
  • That said, Lemons are not Bulls and French Polynesia is not Fiji.
    There remain some local effects that are a possible cause for concern, foremost of which the observed increased residency that could eventually result in lower numbers of Lemons dispersing which in this generally small population might have a significant negative effect on gene flow and thus the fitness of that local population.
  • The second possibly negative effect is the observed increased aggression.
    I continue to question whether the observed increased brawling among male Lemons is really relevant in view of the animals' quasi magical healing powers. But what is certainly worrisome are the reports of increased strikes on humans, see the testimony by  Moorea Natural Diver Lover in the comments section here.
    To me, they are the direct result of poor procedures, foremost of which the surface feeding mentioned here. However Johann tells me that there's only one remaining operator that feeds the Sharks, so maybe that problem has been resolved - that is, provided that the operator is taking the necessary precautions which is not necessarily a given and certainly worth keeping an eye on!
All-in-all, a really brilliant job, and big kudos to everybody involved!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Shark Angels on Shark Diving!


This is really as good as it gets.
Whilst I vehemently oppose the often hypocritical self promotion of its leadership, many of the Shark Angels are accomplished Shark divers all the way to being prominent commercial Shark diving operators, and it really shows in this brilliant collection of posts.

Required reading!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shark Tourism Valuations - straight from the frothy Piranha Tank!

Love it!
This is how real science happens - by means of toothy debates!

Remember the Catlin paper?
Obviously Gabe was less than amused by the negative references to his Palau paper - the more since what was being criticized is not even in the paper proper! I'm not gonna ask you to fork out an extortionate 32 bucks for a mere letter, so here's what he states.
Valuing individual animals through tourism: Science or speculation? – Reply to Catlin et al. (2013)

In their recent article, Catlin et al. (2013) point out that there are challenges in placing an economic value on individual wild animals based on benefits to the tourism industry, and argue that it should not be done. 
While they are right to highlight the difficulties, the authors have failed to clarify the relevant economic questions or identify the appropriate economic theory. For certain economic questions, individual valuations are legitimate and, given sufficient data of an adequate quality, can be estimated rigorously. As a result, their conclusion that, ‘‘The fundamental characteristics of wildlife tourism activities do not lend themselves to valuation at the individual animal level’’ is incorrect. 

Catlin et al. fail to make the crucial distinction between average valuations and marginal valuations. 
The marginal value (for tourism) of a single individual wild animal is the answer to the question, if one animal was removed, by how much would the net revenues of the tourism industry fall? The average value is the answer to a question such as, if the whole population of animals of concern was removed, by how much would the net revenues of the tourism industry fall per animal removed? Assuming that both questions could be answered, the answers are likely to be very different. 

In reality, as Catlin et al. point out, the effects of removing an individual animal on the whole population and on the tourism experience would be extremely difficult to anticipate and quantify.
However, this is not of great concern because (unusually for economics) the marginal value is not relevant to the key policy questions. Questions such as ‘‘should a shark sanctuary be created?’’ are not about marginal changes in the shark population, but about large changes – potentially from none or almost none to a large population. In such cases, it is theoretically sound to compare the average value of sharks for tourism with the average value of sharks for fishing. Indeed, the comparison is simply a scaled down version of comparing the value of a whole shark population for tourism with its value for fishing. 

Catlin et al. criticise Vianna et al. (2012), stating that we calculated an annual (US$179,000) and lifetime (US$1.9 million) value for individual reef sharks’’. 
No such data were presented in Vianna et al. (2012). Given this error by Catlin et al. it is ironic that they criticise the ‘‘. . .tendency for these figures [individual valuations] to be referenced without much care’’. However, we did include these individual values in an unpublished report on the shark ecotourism industry in Palau (Vianna et al., 2010). Our estimates were possible because of a definitive understanding of the number of sharks present in the population and their interactions with the tourism industry. Data were obtained through a comprehensive tagging and community monitoring program that returned more than 2 million detections of tagged animals and >3000 sighting logs over seven years at all the major dive sites in Palau. We chose not to present any individual valuations in Vianna et al. (2012) primarily in order to avoid the need for a detailed explanation of the difference between marginal and average values. Instead we provided results at the population level, which would have been functionally identical to results based on average values. 

Commenting on our conclusion that sharks in Palau are worth much more alive than dead, Catlin et al. state that ‘‘whilst this may be true, such a conclusion cannot be drawn for the reasons outlined above’’. 
We refute this statement on the grounds that our analysis uses a theoretically sound economic framework, is based on high quality data (including precise knowledge of the number of animals that underpin the tourism industry), and does not violate any of the other concerns raised. We found that the value for tourism of a population of live sharks was five orders of magnitude larger than their value for fishing. Even allowing for uncertainties in our study, no plausible scenario could reduce the tourism value to make it remotely similar to the fishing value. 

Catlin et al. also insinuate that, because our study was financially supported to a small extent by an NGO, our results may have been influenced to meet the advocacy agenda of the funder. We refute this offensive suggestion. We note that of 51 recent articles with funding disclosures in BC (volumes 153 and 155), nearly a third were supported by NGO contributions. 

Although we agree with Catlin et al. that calculations of individual value can be problematic, and we do not vouch for the quality of the other studies cited, nor for the usage that others may make of our results, it is clear that average individual values can be estimated soundly.
To which Catlin replies as follows.
And yes you've just spared yourselves another 32 bucks - adopt a Fiji Bull Shark instead!
Keeping perspective on using tourism values for conservation – Reply to Vianna

In response to Valuing individual animals through tourism: Science or speculation? – Reply to Catlin et al. (2013).
 We welcome this further discussion of studies that use wildlife tourism revenue to determine the economic value of individual animals. No single study critiqued in our article (Catlin et al., 2013) makes every mistake that we noted nor does any one study overcome all the problems that we identified. While Vianna et al. make some interesting and useful points in response to our paper, we still contend that, in order to ensure that the ascribing of tourism valuations has a positive influence on conservation goals, valuation at an industry, location, or other higher scale is a more robust and reliablemeasure than is the valuing of individual animals.

For instance, in Palau the sharks that interact with the tourism industry would only make up a very small portion of the country’s shark population. Therefore we argue in our paper that comparisons such as the one put forth below are potentially irrelevant and misleading.
If these fishers were engaged in shark-fishing activities, the maximum revenues that they could obtain for the once-off capture and sale of the sharks interacting with the tourism industry would be around US$196, or only 16% of the annual income each one would have earned by keeping these sharks alive. (Vianna et al. 2012 p. 275) 
Despite this, Vianna et al. continue to suggest, in response to our article, that ‘‘it is theoretically sound to compare the average value of sharks for tourism with the average value of sharks for fishing’’.

Vianna et al. do make an important point – one which we acknowledge was not well explained in our paper, or indeed in any other paper on the issue of individual valuation of wildlife. Studies of individual value based on tourism revenue measure average value rather than marginal value. Average tourism value is the total estimated (usually) or measured (more rarely) tourism revenue averaged across the population, while marginal value is the additional value that one more animal might bring, or that would be lost if one animal were to be removed.

While valuation studies based on tourism measure average value, market prices for extractive uses of wildlife, such as fishing, are marginal. Our article is trying to point out that the two values are often confused. Many articles, including Vianna et al. (2012), compare these values without explaining that they are not directly comparable.

In their response to our paper, Vianna et al. claim:
. . .this is not of great concern because (unusually for economics) the marginal value is not relevant to the key policy questions. Questions such as ‘‘should a shark sanctuary be created?’’ are not about marginal changes in the shark population, but about large changes – potentially from none or almost none to a large population. 
We suggest that policy situations where such a black and white decision about an individual or a small number of animals is being made are actually rare. More subtle policy questions relating to issues such as hunting offtakes, allowable fishing catch, or whaling in international waters are far more common. In many policy situations consumptive and nonconsumptive uses of animals are not mutually exclusive. In such situations confusing the use of average values with marginal values could easily mislead and thereby produce poor conservation and policy outcomes.

We categorically do not suggest that researchers are producing these individual animal valuations corruptly, at the behest of sponsoring organisations. Our concern is that these results are generally obtained at least imprecisely if not unscientifically and can then be easily misinterpreted. We feel that Vianna et al. have not properly comprehended our criticisms of the poor data obtained and the even worse assumptions and extrapolations made in the majority of studies and articles that have attempted to value individual animals for tourism purposes.

We therefore reiterate our original contention ‘‘The fundamental characteristics of wildlife tourism activities do not lend themselves to valuation at the individual animal level.’’
Wonderful stuff! :)
IMO, both are correct - Catlin in principle but Gabe in the specific context of his Palau valuation paper.

Because in Palau, the tourism Sharks are essentially Grey Reefies.
From what I've observed, this species forms natural aggregations with high (but not absolute!) site fidelity that are comprised of subadults and adult females, whereas the adult males are believed to roam further and deeper and all the way into the open ocean, and to thus provide for gene flow. 
Thus, those aggregations could be considered to be semi-closed populations where the removal of individuals would not easily lead to replenishment from outside - the more as any foreign females would be residing in their own aggregation sites! As a consequence, the valuations for those Sharks are likely to be highly accurate - especially considering the staggering amount of data that have been collected! By the same token, if the Sharks in e.g. Blue Corner were to be fished out, this would have a devastating effect that would likely linger for a very long time and severely impact tourism revenues.
This is in stark contrast to, say, our Bulls that are known to roam over very large ranges, with site fidelity hovering around 50% see e.g. here. Over time, it is quite possible that most Bulls in Fiji will have discovered the SRMR, meaning that whilst we're showcasing up to 100 per day, the possible total number of visiting Sharks could once reside in the thousands!
Or take e.g. Cocos and the Galapagos where the Hammers are highly migratory and where the rampant fishing and poaching has dramatically reduced numbers but not (yet?) led to the collapse of Shark tourism.
There, assigning valuations to individual Sharks would be highly misleading!

But the take-away message I believe remains the same.
Those individual valuations are fluff that will generally not stand up to scrutiny.
What however is totally valid are nation- and sector-wide valuations, and this especially when based on original research like the Fiji Shark Tourism Valuation as opposed to meta-analysis, uncritical citations and outright hearsay like some other publications  - like especially this one!!!

What is equally valid is to state that a live Shark is more valuable than a dead one - especially if considering its ecosystem services, something that somebody really ought to finally analyze!
Ambitious but not impossible!

So be careful when using those numbers.
They sound great - but in essence, they are not true and as such, bad conservation.

Hammerhead Pups?

Oh for crying out loud.

What a load of crap.
Those are of course Remoras, Likely Sharksuckers, Echeneis naucrates - which in itself is interesting as I don't recall having  seen a Remora on a Scalloped Hammer, ever!
And anyway - that Shark got claspers!
You can read the whole nonsensical story here.

And here's the video.
Shark fishing off a swimming beach - great idea!
Hammers are protected in Florida, and this is not catch-and-release but instead, it is an appalling case of harassment, likely for taking the usual fucking pictures, that has likely resulted in the Shark's disorientation and ultimate death - so this should be ample evidence for taking those morons to task.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is Fiji's Shark Fishing Industry sustainable?

Read this.

I fully agree.
Most of the 130mt of Shark fins exported from Fiji originate from the foreign distant water fleets that call into Fiji to offload their Tuna, with the bulk having been caught outside of Fiji under highly suspect circumstances (and e.g. here). This is thus not primarily (but also!) an issue concerning Fiji's domestic long lining fleet that is comparatively small. 
It however very much concerns Fiji's Shark fin trade.

And what about the coastal Sharks?
Coastal Shark fishing is rampant, targeted, indiscriminate and on the increase - and it is largely unregulated and certainly neither monitored not enforced. I can say this because having conducted a lengthy investigation, we have the data to prove it. Those data are presently being analyzed and interpreted, and will then be handed to the authorities for the formulation of adequate Shark protection and management measures.

So kudos to Coral and Pew for having made this point!
To be continued!

Pelagic Life - Fiji!


Love it!
So different and so to the point - they have really understood.

We went to Fiji this summer and to be honest we thought we were going to a completely standardized shark dive, we were dead wrong to think something like that. The 'ultimate shark dive' in Fiji is one of the most well rounded shark diving encounters we have experienced that maintains its spontaneity and wonder even after five days diving the same reef. 

Besides the great shark encounters in this marine protected area 'shark reef' you are greeted by a dive shop that is run to perfection accompanied by the friendliest and most committed staff. Beqa Adventure Divers is truly a living model that any shark dive shop or conservationist should aspire too. We thank Beqa Adventure Divers for teaching us more than we bargained for in shark conservation, interaction and culture.
Thank you!