Friday, January 31, 2014

All quiet on the Bimini Front!


And that's a good thing!

The season is in full swing - and so far, no bitching!
Looks like last year's lessons have been learned, and that everybody is simply trying to experience those magnificient Great Hammers, get along and work towards making this a rewarding season for everyone involved - as it should be!

And, there has been leadership!
The Sharklab has published information about their ongoing GHH research and is asking all divers to report their sightings via the following questionnaire - click for detail.

And the Bimini Tourism Advisory Board has issued a document that provides guidelines and etiquette on best shark diving practices and reads as follows.

Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) Diving in Bimini, Bahamas Guidelines and Etiquette, as put forth by the Bimini Tourism Advisory Board (BTAB) 

Attracting and Feeding the Sharks 
  1. There shall be no hand-feeding of the sharks. Bait should be presented in a way that does not directly relate divers as food-providers. 
  2. There shall be no unnecessary touching or handling of the sharks. 
  3. Only fish (Fresh or Frozen) shall be used to feed the sharks. No ‘human food’ or other non-related animal products. 
  4. Bimini’s reef fish should not be harvested to be used as bait. 
  5. Bait should be presented down-current from divers. 
Navigation and Anchoring 
  1. Sites used should be in areas that do not damage or disturb nearby reefs, seagrass beds, or other sensitive marine habitats. 
  2. All boats should make sure their anchors are set in sand. 
  3. If necessary, divers should set anchors in place on the bottom to avoid dragging.
  4. When available, boats should use permanent moorings. 
Related Etiquette and Protocol 
  1. Visiting boats should contact the Bimini Tourism Advisory Board (BTAB) prior to their arrival and report the duration of their stay, number of divers, etc. Email
  2. Visiting boats should coordinate via VHF radio to ensure each boat has plenty of space to operate safely and comfortably. BTAB suggests a minimum of 0.5 miles between each boat when more than one boat is in the area.
  3. Visiting boats should be willing to report sightings and observations to the researchers at the Bimini Biological Field Station (SharkLab)
  4. “Diver Down” flags should be displayed at all times when divers are in the water.
 Regulations and Restrictions
  1. All non-Bahamian vessels must comply with Bahamas Customs & Immigration regulations.
  2. All production crews must acquire proper permits from the Bahamas Film Commission
  3. All vessels must comply with the Fisheries Regulations of the Bahamas
  4. All visiting researchers must acquire a proper research permit prior to their arrival.
  5. All divers and operators should be in possession of necessary certifications and permits.

I say, great stuff!
May this be the best season, ever!

Catch-and-Release fishing for Sharks - Paper!

Nothing to be proud of - source.

Good stuff!

Remember those interminable debates - especially here?
Now that Austin has finally published his research, the verdict is unequivocal: targeting those Great Hammerheads is just simply wrong - especially in the case of land based fishing that requires subduing and wrestling in the Shark all the way to shore. Considering the documented post release mortality, there is no best practice here as even those Sharks that swim away seemingly unfazed are in grave danger of dying shortly thereafter.
Of course one cannot always chose what takes the bait - but the deliberate targeting of that species must stop immediately.

Or as Austin puts it,
This study may also suggest that relying on visual observations of post-release vitality could underestimate mortality and that these events could still occur in conservation zones that wholly restrict shark harvest (e.g. shark sanctuaries) and/or require release of threatened or protected species (e.g. regional/national prohibited species, endangered species list). 

For example, in January 2012, the state of Florida added 3 species of hammerhead sharks (great, scalloped [ Sphyrna lewini] , and smooth [ S. zygaena] ) to their prohibited species list, requiring individuals caught in state waters to be released. 
However, our results suggest that great hammerhead sharks are particularly vulnerable to fighting on a line with short fight times, even when sharks are observed swimming away vigorously post-release. Thus, potential conservation strategies to address these issues in great hammerhead sharks (in addition to restricting harvest) could include having fishers avoid peak or aggregation areas/times, use weak fishing line or hooks, or simply cut the line nearest the hook (without having to ‘fight’ the animal; Stokesbury et al. 2011).
Synopsis here, paper here.

And here's the usual nice video by Neil's lab.

PS: follow-up Q/A on the Shark Defenders blog here.

Tagging Sharks - Article by Neil!


And I cite.
That said, at times it is necessary to keep some information “privy” (i.e., shared only with regulators) such as the location of a specific unknown aggregation site but such instances are uncommon.
Remember this, and the debate?
To my knowledge, this is the first time that a researcher has publicly addressed my only reservation against satellite telemetry in general and publishing those tracks in particular, i.e. that like in the case of those Fish spawning aggregations, publishing the location of particular hot spots may be unwise.

I say, bravo Neil.
His article in Nat Geo convincingly and comprehensively refutes the various allegations spouted by the loony fringe against especially those SPOT tags. Yes the process is by no means perfect - but in weighing the pros against the cons, it is crystal clear that the advantages prevail. Plus, this is obviously an evolution where all researchers continue to refine their methods to make them as little invasive as possible.
Required reading!

And here's a plug for the RJD Shark tagging program 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Yes I'm insane!


Actually, make it a tad over 7.2!

So there.
This would be post # 2000.


Story here!

We believe in Accountability and Sustainability!

And I cite.
about omojo
Omojo" is a global leader for marine bio-nutraceutical product development, with U.S. headquarters in Burlington, WA. Our name, Omojo, derives from the magic of ocean biodiversity whose mysteries and resources hold infinite promise for promoting human health and well-being.

» We believe in accountability. 
100% traceable raw ingredients. total manufacturing control. commitment to third party certification.

» We believe in sustainability 
taking the long view. not compromising today for tomorrow. knowing that good environmental and social practices = good business.
Now, please read this and this.
Big congratulations to Alex and Paul of WildLifeRisk for having unveiled the abomination that is that Whale Shark slaughterhouse.
Abhorrent as this is, protection conferred under CITES II is not absolute - and here somebody is obviously brazenly exploiting the resulting loopholes, and this very likely coupled with  profiteering from poaching and corruption.

China may be far away - but not Burlington, WA!
Just sayin'!

FINdonesia - one Week left!

Please read this.

Like I said, this project is worth supporting, so please do.
Mark knows intimately what he's talking about (read it!) and will undoubtedly put the money to good use. Thankfully, Indonesia's Manta Rays have just been declared protected species - but of course the proof lays in the  implementation, and witness accounts like this one are conducive to both raising awareness but also keeping people accountable.

Indiegogo page here, FB here.
Thank you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fiji - Cyclone brewing?

Quite possibly!

You know what to do.
Rain maps here, animation here, current warnings here!

When Ignorance begets Confidence!

Absolutely brilliant!
Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge. It assuredly does not mean that “everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.”

(But) this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.

To disagree is to insult. To correct another is to be a hater. And to refuse to acknowledge alternative views, no matter how fantastic or inane, is to be closed-minded. 

Critics might dismiss all this by saying that everyone has a right to participate in the public sphere. That’s true. But every discussion must take place within limits and above a certain baseline of competence. And competence is sorely lacking in the public arena.

None of this ignorance stops people from arguing as though they are research scientists. Tackle a complex policy issue with a layman today, and you will get snippy and sophistic demands to show ever increasing amounts of “proof” or “evidence” for your case, even though the ordinary interlocutor in such debates isn’t really equipped to decide what constitutes “evidence” or to know it when it’s presented.

There’s also that immutable problem known as “human nature.” It has a name now: it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb.
And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself. (There’s a lot of that loose on social media, especially.)

All of these are symptoms of the same disease: a manic reinterpretation of “democracy” in which everyone must have their say, and no one must be “disrespected.” 
Do you have a minute?
Then, please, invest it into reading this - and do click on the link above and read those articles, too!


H/T: David - and yes, hell it must be!

Monday, January 27, 2014

David about making the Beaches safer!


Got no time to post something original.

But I recommend that you read this excellent post by David.
Fully agree that where practicable, all those measures can help further reduce the already minimal risk of Shark strikes within populated areas - and when it comes to remote locations, I would argue that people wanting to pursue their activities there need to be told that they are fully assuming the associated risks, with no recurse to the authorities.

More later.
Maybe - it is extremely complicated, with no easy solutions and happy end in sight.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

IUCN - the Shark Paper!

Red List criteria - click for detail!

I've finally managed to work myself through the paper.

First things first.
It is simply epic - extremely interesting, extremely exhaustive, extremely erudite and extremely convincing in its conclusions. In brief, it is everything one could have ever expected from that illustrious panel of authors and then some, and I really must commend them for their unprecedented, excellent work.
You can find various (and variously accurate) synopses here, here, here, here, here and here.

These are the principal findings.
  • 24% of all Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras (= the Chondrichtyans) are threatened with extinction.
  • Of those, many of the completely overlooked Rays are at greatest risk
  • The principal threats are overfishing, both through targeted fisheries but also very much bycatch; habitat loss; conflicts with humans leading to persecution; climate change.
  • Extinction risk is greatest for larger species = species that are slower breeding and/or more susceptible to fishing pressure; species that live at shallower depth and whose depth range is narrower = species that we can more easily catch and whose habitat is more exposed to human degradation; species with limited geographical range, especially fresh water endemics.
Evolutionary uniqueness and taxonomic conservation priorities.
Threat among marine chondrichthyan families varies with life history sensitivity (maximum length) and exposure to fisheries (depth distribution). (A) Proportion of threatened data sufficient species and the richness of each taxonomic family. (B) The most and least threatened taxonomic families. (C) Average life history sensitivity and accessibility to fisheries of 56 chondrichthyan families. Significantly greater (or lower) risk than expected is shown in red (green).
Click for detail!
  • The areas with the highest threats are the Mediterranean, Red Sea and some areas of the Indopacific, foremost of which the Golden Triangle of marine biodiversity.
  • Many nations lack the resources, expertise and political will for implementing adequate management and conservation measures - the notable exceptions being the USA and Australia, and this despite of disposing of important commercial Elasmobranch fisheries.
  • Large geographical ranges spanning many different legislations are particularly problematic for enacting effective management and conservation measures.
  • Conduct more research and data collection for i.e. describing life histories, for population assessments, for assessing fishing pressure, etc. all of which is vital for the formulation of adequate management and conservation plans.
  • Establish science based management and conservation plans for both the Chondrichtyans and their critical habitats, with particularly stringent measures (= precautionary principle!) for threatened species.
  • Radically improve implementation, monitoring, enforcement and prosecution.
  • Improve regional and international cooperation.
  • Splash on some makeup, strap on your bikinis and go ride as many as you can - not!
My only grievance?
This is very fisheries oriented.
No mention whatsoever of MPAs and Sanctuaries, and no mention of alternatives like i.e. ecotourism and aquaculture - which of course begs the question, is this (a) beyond the scope of the paper (b) omitted due to the need to remain concise (c) an oversight?
Or  may this be an indicator for, gasp, ideological strife, competition or some other nefarious agenda? :)

Anyway, fabulous job!
Enjoy the paper!

Projects Abroad - full Steam ahead!

Very cool.

Remember the announcement?
Looks like they're off to a roaring start.
Projects Abroad I hear are being swamped with inquiries - and I may add, not in the slightest surprised!
Pacific Harbour is already swarming with volunteers and the whole program is coming together very nicely indeed. I see them attending dive certification and Shark specialty courses, deploying BRUVs and learning to fish for those juvenile Bulls in the river, and their local awareness and education program has already led to several several highly popular outings to local communities like e.g. here and here.

All in all, excellent stuff - and loads of fun, too!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Competitive Exclusion at Shark Reef - the Paper!

Thriving Sharks - still one of my very favorite pics ever, by one of my very favorite people!

Bless Juerg!
Despite of an ever increasing burden of obligations from his other activities, he has found the time to go and mine yet another data set from our monstrous data base.

So here are his latest insights!
Whereas the last paper (read it!) shows that feeding our Bull Sharks has no notable effects at the ecosystem level, this latest one documents the existence of small-scale effects, notably a progressive change in relative species abundance that as he postulates is likely due to a combination of competitive exclusion and gradual change of feeding protocols.

The general observation is this.
Over the past ten years, we've been seeing ever more Bulls (!), Whitetips and Blacktips and about the same number of Greys - but the number of Nurses, Lemons, Silvertips and Tigers has fallen precipitously.

And the possible explanations?
Juerg doesn't speculate, and a research paper is also the wrong forum for digressing into the minutiae of feeding protocols - but as I'm not being constrained by scientific rigor, allow me to elaborate some more.
Yes some of it is speculative and difficult to test - but having logged close to 2,000 Shark dives on Shark Reef, I would argue that it is at least plausible.
  • Sharks don't generally like to approach people.
    Hence the necessity of using bait when diving where they don't aggregate naturally. Research has shown that at least the big, long lived species like Tigers are able to memorize the location (and possibly time) of successful feeding events - but the flip side is that they will likely stop bothering to pop by once they are not anymore being adequately rewarded.
  • This may in part explain the decline in numbers of those intermediate Sharks.
    They occupy roughly the same depth profile as the Bulls and once the numbers of the latter did increase beyond some tipping point, the risk/reward ratio simply became too unfavorable - this especially for the Lemons and Silvertips who appear positively scared whenever I see them trying to sneak in, this quite possibly because they may well be on the Bull Sharks' menu.
  • The Nurses are a different matter altogether.
    There, the principal factor may well be food composition and presentation, along with the fact that we don't feed them much as they create too much of a mess.

    Ever since taking on Shark Reef and turning it into a marine reserve, we've been concerned about our influence on the other Fishes. Having noticed an overabundance of small predators and scavengers, we've gradually phased out all Fish scraps and feed nearly exclusively Tuna heads, meaning that the overwhelming majority of bait leaves the reserve in the stomach of a large Shark or gigantic Trevally, as it should be. As a consequence, the Fish biodiversity of Shark Reef has undergone a massive increase from a baseline count of 260 species in 2004 to close to 500 in 2010 which is now highly indicative of a healthy Fish population on a Fijian barrier reef - possibly also because a robust Shark population may favor biodiversity, which would then be a positive small-scale effect!

    Those big Tuna heads are rather unattractive to the Nurses who have small mouths and got no means of cutting out adequate portions. And once we shifted to mid-water dumping as opposed to hand feeding in response to the increased numbers of Bulls, the Nurses were less able to monopolize bait on the bottom and may indeed have relocated to Lake Reef where protocols, I hear, are different.
  • The Tigers?
    From my observations, they are incredibly persistent to the point of obstinacy - but they like to take their time and certainly don't appreciate the stress of having to contend with those frisky Bulls that have become ever bolder with increasing numbers.
    They certainly don't anymore slink away when the Tiger shows up like in the old times, but instead engage in direct competition to the point of where I dispose of footage of them out-swimming and even shouldering away the much bigger Tigers - meaning that in all likelihood, the latter have simply stopped bothering and prefer to try their luck elsewhere!

    And then, there is the fact that recently, the pressure by coastal fishermen on especially the particularly lucrative Tigers has increased substantially.
    If you add that to their risk of running into one of those Tuna longlines during their pelagic migrations, it is quite likely that the Tiger Shark population in Fiji has been depleted by overfishing!
  • Not surprised about the Reefies.
    Like Juerg remarks, they nearly never descend to the lower depths and once there, they never attempt to feed, this likely owing to their inexistent chances of competing successfully for the bait but also, the risk of being predated upon by the Bulls. Conversely, we've conditioned the Bulls never to ascend to 10 meters, this also due to our positioning of the clients who obstruct any direct access to the feeder whereas the small Reefies can access him from the reeftop.
    Hence the Reefies are not subjected to competitive exclusion when they stay shallow.
  • Generally speaking, resident Grey Reefie populations appear to be comprised of juveniles, subadults and adult females and are usually found at reef passes - but ours are predominantly adult males and thus quite possibly much more transient.
    This appears to be confirmed by the fact that they abscond for months on end in mid year, likely to go and visit one or more resident populations during the mating season, meaning that any newborns would reside there and not in the SRMR. With that in mind and considering the risk posed by the Bulls, they will continue to quickly dash in for a snack during meal times but otherwise remain rather wary and nomadic.
  • The Blacktips took forever to accept any bait.
    If memory serves me right, they only started feeding and thus approaching people 6 years ago, and the increase in numbers may well be due to the fact that they are now swimming in from other areas, namely the lagoon side, of Shark Reef during feeding time, to then quickly abscond as soon as the feeding ceases. Like Johann teaches us, they migrate to breed in shallow lagoons, meaning that any juveniles would be found there. But they also disperse, meaning that some may have indeed hopped over from Serua Reef that features similar habitats - but my gut tells me that the majority are resident locals that have simply become bolder.
  • And the Whitetips breed on Shark Reef.
    We know that because we've now observed neonates and juveniles on several years, and the population has increased accordingly - no unsolved mysteries there apart from the question of when we will reach carrying capacity and the population will stabilize.
There you have it.
There have been many changes, some of which massive - the question being, is it good or is it bad?

The answer is probably: rather good to indifferent!
Fish stocks are thriving, meaning that I cannot detect any evidence that those increased number of Reefies are having a negative effect - and when it comes to those other larger Sharks with larger home ranges, evidence suggests that they remain well protected within the Shark Corridor, this with the sad exception of those poor Tigers for whom we however carry no responsibility

And in the vicinity?
Yes like Juerg states, we don't quite know
But what we DO know is that the fishermen in Galoa catch more fish, this likely due to overspilling from the SRMR - whereas further away, stocks are grossly overfished and fishing yields have crashed. We also know that our big Sharks are not resident, meaning that we're not subtracting them from elsewhere where they continue to perform whatever functions they are meant to perform..

So with that in mind, how can I not be happy!
And as always, I'm mighty proud - and so thankful to Juerg for yet again a wonderful job in helping us better understand the animals we love and our influence on their life.

Merci Jürg - sisch jo wie immer e super gueti Sach!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

IUCN - Media Media!

Wow - and not in a good way!
Wait til Randy sees it!

Watch this.

With all due respect - this is embarrassing.
I've now watched it four times and am still distracted by the amateurish editing, horrible images and clumsiness of the narrators. The shark conservation universe is awash in incredibly talented editing outfits for whom producing this PSA, for free, would have been both an honor and an opportunity - especially considering the importance of the paper and the prestige of the authors!
Seriously, you may want to consider soliciting expressions of interest for producing a v2?

More when I got time to read the paper.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mistake or attempted Ambush?



Remember, they are smart!

Nat Geo - Hit Piece against Cage Diving!

You probably need to read it several time, inclusive of the extensive and really interesting comments thread to really appreciate the enormity of some of those statements.

Now don't get me wrong here.
I'm in no way of the opinion that cage diving with GWS is an absolute necessity.
In fact, I've never elected to do it as watching Sharks from the confines of a cage holds no real appeal to me. And despite having been offered to go cageless countless times, I just simply lack the motivation to invest all that time to go and do it on my own terms, i.e. not based upon the judgement of others but instead, only after having spent the necessary many hours observing and trying to understand the animals - and then progressing very slowly and in tiny increments like I've done here in Fiji.

And, I frankly don't like the spectacle.
Guadalupe with its stellar viz may be slightly different - but both in Australia and South Africa, visibility is often severely limited and it is therefore necessary to lure the Sharks really close to the cages so that the clients can observe them. The consequence is that most of the spectators will only experience them at their worst, hyper excited and toothy behavior, which is frankly a shame and also quite antiquated - and unfortunately, I hear, this is being aggravated by the stupid macho antics of some of the operators there.
With that in mind, I applaud the gradual introduction of bottom cages in Australia and Lupe as they showcase a more sedate and "natural" aspect of the Sharks - but only to certified divers and since apparently, most of the clients in Gansbaai are not, it may be less viable there.

Granted we here are equally guilty and have in the past enabled plenty of toothy shots like Sasha's stellar Bull Shark closeup at the top - but more recently, we've permanently shut down the infamous pit, and this to everybody including yours truly, and are trying to showcase the gentler side of our Bulls by limiting the number of hand feeds and the amount of food, and by discontinuing to feed when matters start to get amped up.
It's not by any means perfect - but at least we try and yes, it is a gradual evolution.

And I also agree with Evans that natural encounters remain unmatched.
But they are simply not possible, at least not predictably everywhere and with all species - that is, unless one takes up his idiotic suggestion and goes diving in search of GWS in the spots pointed out by the surfers! GREAT idea - and talk about sustainable tourism there!

So by all means.
If you want to observe Sharks doing sharky things in their natural environment, go for it - but unless you're incredibly lucky, forget about ever seeing a GWS, Tiger or Bull! They want nothing to do with us, hear us coming from far away and get the hell outta there way before we can even see them. And if not, they will usually only do a quick flyby and then be on their way, never to be seen again - or they may circle back and then, you may end up being less than pleased with the experience! :)

Thus I really got no problems with personal opinions and choices.
But whereas Evans uses that as an excuse not to engage in any debates with those readers who do not agree with his standpoint, his is much more that a simple opinion piece - his diatribe is a highly misleading and malicious attack on the Shark diving industry that far from being objective is fielding a whole array of falsehoods and anti-industy propaganda to further his agenda.
Like he says, whether you choose to dive or choose not to, you are picking sides - and he sure has!

But don't worry - I wont dwell.
Some of the interlocutors in the comments thread are excellent people with a wealth of local experience, and their eloquent statements far exceed whatever I could ever contribute.

Just this.
  • Cage diving is totally sustainable.

    Even the very link he posts asserts that it does not harm the animals, and all the research on the topic has so far been unable to document any notable negative ecological impacts. There are local effects that are however not at all major like suggested but instead, pretty much irrelevant in the big scheme of things. Re-read this post and the links, and especially, this post about those findings from Australia - significant change in great white shark behavior my ass!

    It is also totally misleading to insinuate that those operations use tons of chum to lure in Sharks from somewhere else. As countless observations confirm, they are already there, often right in the surf zone. The operators merely travel to where the Sharks are, and the little bait is merely being used to draw them closer to the cages so that the clients can see them.

    And the postulated increase in attacks that is maliciously being linked to the industry?
    With all due respect for the victims, I sure hope that I don't need to elaborate on why those absolute numbers are so minuscule that the resulting rates of increase are totally irrelevant, statistical non-events that can easily be reversed by mere chance.
    But I don't "do" Shark strikes and got no inclination to go and rummage for evidence - so should you really be interested in the minute details, go and read this excellent post by David who debunks the rubbish point-by-point.

    The way I see it, those strikes are ultimately nothing but the inevitable consequence of ever more aquatic recreationists sharing the ocean with a likely increasing number of big GWS, the latter owing to their protected status. In brief, it's a simple numbers game - and the industry has zero effect on it!
  • Cage diving has been a simply massive driver for GWS conservation.

    To assert otherwise is just simply sheer ignorance, and to dispute the validity of research that is being enabled by the industry is both disrespectful and frankly stupid as it shows a total lack of understanding for the scientific process.

    GWS are now protected locally, nationally, internationally and globally, and this specifically owing to the tireless and impassioned advocacy of those early cage diving pioneers like Rodney Fox and the Taylors in Australia, and their counterparts in South Africa! If it were not for those people, the images they have captured and the industry showcasing those magnificent animals, many GWS populations would likely be locally extinct and not very much on the increase instead!
    Animal that is in rapid decline my ass! Again!
Long story short?
It's exactly like Eli says: the article is the result of ignorant prejudice coupled with an abject lack of proper research, a sorry example of shoddy journalism that is being driven by a totally misguided perception of the industry both in its effects and its motivations and quite apparently, by an equally totally misguided perception of ecotourism as some sort of purist nature-hugging exercise - notabene best conducted by booking one of Nat Geo's commercial "expeditions", and this ideally via private jet!

I say, shame on them.
On Evans for this piece of crap but especially, on Nat Geo for allowing him to denigrate the very people they so often cooperate with for their Shark productions.

Nuff said.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Shark Riding - Backlash!



Looks like that last idiotic stunt has precipitated the right reaction.
Watch this.

Of course it is simply egregious.
No not that Hammerhead ride that simply broke my heart - the hypocritical bullshit proffered by the very people who make a living posting videos of themselves doing that shit!

So don't be fooled.
Whereas the stupid home videos by those copycats have no ulterior motives other than moronic braggadocio, all those disrespectful stunts by those media whores in front and behind the cameras, and their sponsors have one purpose only: self promotion and money! And now that the public's sensibilities may be changing - do you really believe that all that public backpedaling has any other purpose than to secure a continued seat on the gravy train?

I say, just go away.
Sharks are no fucking underwater scooters, so stop pretending that abusing them as props for furthering your pathetic careers got anything to do with conservation. Leave us alone and go peddle your t-shirts and idiotic lifestyles somewhere else.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

18-Foot GWS!

And it ROARS!

Behold the PROOF that Sharknado is scientifically correct!

Which  brings me to a glaring omission in yesterday's list!
  • Control you media.
    You got to carefully screen the productions you host - and be very wary of those ad hoc so-called experiments (and here!) that are inevitably total and utter crap!
    Especially those producers of Shark porn are very good at identifying the newbies who would do anything for the perceived fame and marketing advantages of being "featured" on Shark Week. Those productions are always a losing bet, and the operators are then left to clean up the mess long after those people have moved on to greener pastures.
    And then, there are all those customers with cameras that will gleefully post any mishaps to YouTube if not managed!
So what about the above.
Is this in any way conducive to allaying the reservations of the detractors - or instead, may Peter Scott just have foolishly handed them more anti Shark feeding ammunition on a golden platter?

Are you an Idiot?

Click for detail!

Hardly - right? :)


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Squid vs Owlfish - Video!



Story here.

NZ - does Shark Diving endanger the Public?

Have you seen this?
And I cite.
About 10 to 15kg of berley was used in a cage dive, he said, which was less likely to attract sharks than the half-tonne of offal dumped by commercial fishermen.

Fishing operators cleaning their catch at the entrance to Half Moon Bay were more likely to attract sharks into the harbour, he said.
Let me once again cite myself.
Fishermen do not only feed Sharks by presenting them baited hooks; many of them attract and often end up feeding Sharks when they drag in struggling fish and when they subsequently clean their catch and throw the scraps into the ocean. Spear fishermen are notorious for attracting, and even conditioning Sharks when they shoot fish and often find themselves embroiled in a competitive struggle over their prey. These people number in the hundreds of thousands and if anybody should be examined for possibly causing an increase of Shark attacks on the public, it should be them - not the few dozen operators conducting baited Shark dives!
  • Great Whites are fully protected in New Zealand.
    If that protection is to make any sense, one must assume that consequently, less adult GWS are being killed and that the juveniles and subadults have a better chance of reaching the stage where they switch from a fully piscivorous diet to seasonal preying on Pinnipeds. If so, the number of Sharks sighted in the vicinity of those Sea Lion colonies may well be on the increase. As Stewart Island is slowly being recolonized by New Zealand Sea Lions, its attractiveness for GWS may equally be on the rise.
  • Shark feeding appears unproblematic at the ecosystem level
    All present research into those baited Shark dives appears to concur that those dives have little to no effect at large spatial and temporal scales. It appears pretty clear that far from becoming dependent on the handouts, those provisioned Sharks continue to fulfill their ecological roles and also continue to follow their normal life cycles as in e.g. mating, pupping and migrating.
  • There's no correlation between Shark feeding and Shark strikes.
    Re-read this. In brief and with maybe the exception of SA, the vast majority of Shark strikes occurs in locations where there are no Shark feeding operations - which is even more surprising if one considers that most of those dives have been established in locations that are known for their healthy Shark populations!
    And even if there were some correlation, it certainly does not equate causation!
But of course there are some big caveats.
  • There are certainly effects at small spatial and temporal scales.
    Shark feeding often aggregates the animals, and this can have local consequences. As an example, take the increased aggression of those Lemons in Moorea; or the observed competitive exclusion of other Sharks in Fiji and possibly SA and TB; or those postulated local behavioral changes and marginally increased residency in Southern Australia.
  • Conditioning via positive reinforcement does likely happen.
    Those GWS are certainly smart and it is absolutely plausible to assume that they may have learned to associate the boat noise with a subsequent feeding opportunity - and with the food being presented at the surface, it as equally plausible to assume that they could be popping up next to other boats in the area!
    The assertion that they may be following the boats ashore is however likely to be humbug - provided, that is, that nobody throws bait overboard on the way home!
  • Location matters.
    Many Shark dives have been being established where there are already Sharks, meaning that objectively speaking, the risk profile is unlikely to change - but perceptions matter and like in the case of population centers like, say, Cape Town or Playa, the diving activity and associated increased publicity of Sharks can lead to conflicts with the other local ocean users. Consequently, as a rule, the feeding locations need to be as remote as possible and should definitely not be established e.g. right in the middle of population centers or right in front of popular beaches etc.
  • Feeding protocols.
    Like I often state, it is often not about the what but about the how.
    Shark provisioning creates its own risks, and those risks need to be managed - meaning that all protocols should be chosen in function of minimizing the impact on both the animals and the habitat, and on maximizing the safety for the participants but also the public. E.g., everybody will hopefully agree that creating humongous chum trails or dumping indiscriminate amounts of bait to create feeding frenzies is probably a bad idea. Or as another example, we here go to great lengths to condition the Bulls never to come to the surface, lest we get accused of endangering other aquatic recreationists.
    In brief, we need to be in a position to demonstrate that we are always striving to conduct our dives in the most responsible way possible.
And then, there's this
  • Obtaining the required Social license and stakeholder involvement are crucial.
    The local stakeholders need to become an integral part of these projects - and this not only through regular awareness, education and consultations but also by letting them partake in the financial windfall, both indirectly but very much also directly. Only this will ensure crucial local support when the inevitable problems will arise.
  • Get in the research.
    The best argument against many of the intuitively plausible reservations of our detractors are strong scientific data. As an example, when people got bitten by Bull Sharks in Cancun and everybody tried to blame the Shark feeding operations in Playa, the operators there had the data showing that they were only feeding females whereas the Bull Shark population in Cancun was only comprised of males. Or in our case, our Bull Shark data show conclusively that we are neither causing residency nor any dependency on our handouts, see above.
Long story short?
I ignore the precise circumstances of those cage dives in Stewart Island. Intuitively, I am inclined to assume that they are being conducted responsibly, and that the location is sufficiently remote.

But there appears to be a problem of perception.
If I am correct in speculating that the islands may be attracting more GWS, it follows that  the risk for the Pāua divers may be on the increase. With that in mind, it may be wise to engage in some preventative measures, as in increased dialogue and data sharing with the fishing community all the way to maybe helping fund protective gear like Shark shields etc. And it may also be smart to re-engage with the authorities and the stakeholders, and ensure their support by developing a code of practice everybody can agree with!

But again, I don't know the precise circumstances.
Maybe all of that has already happened, and the current blowback is merely some noise by troublemakers.

But if not, some of the above may be useful.
Good luck!

The inevitable Consequence!

Watch this.

Story here.
Special tip o' hat to shark experts Ocean Ramsey, Kimi Werner and Lesley Rochat and of course ABC4 for having acted as visionary pioneers, to the moronic copycats, to the media outlets broadcasting that shit -  and to all those other idiots that continue to post that Sharks only want to hug!

Nuff said.

PS: "It's just not f***ing worth it, they're just too unpredictable. They're crazy creatures."
No they are not you fucking moron.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Is the Tide turning? Maybe!

Compared to then, things are certainly looking up.
The principal reason appears to be China's fight against corruption that along with the initiatives by those Asian activists is having a notable effect on consumption and also on prices. The latter is particularly welcome because if the Shark fin trade becomes less profitable, it may ultimately lead to less targeted Shark fishing, especially in those more distant nations where the cost of shipping the fins to Asia may eventually become prohibitive.
Good synopsis of recent developments here.

But of course the fight is far from over.
Even assuming a massive and permanent reduction of the Asian demand for Shark fins, Sharks are being targeted for the chemical industry and increasingly, for food - the latter as a consequence of the continued population growth but particularly, of the fact that many Fishes that were considered vastly preferable have been largely fished away. Remember the examples from Mexico or Mozambique, and the excellent Shiver - and far from being the exception, this is happening everywhere in the developing word all the way to the SoPac and more recently, Fiji!

Those problems are not going to be solved by a focus on Asia alone.
They will only be solved by developing, legislating and more importantly, implementing good, smart fisheries management plans that focus on sustainability, this preferably following the establishment of Shark sanctuaries as stop gap measures to allow for the fact that right now, many of those countries simply lack the resources for implementation.

May I be repeating myself?
You betcha - but when I discover shit like this (pressing global, regional and national issues my ass - shame on you Avaaz!), it becomes pathetically obvious that much more repetition is needed!

But I'm digressing as always.
Much has been achieved, so kudos to everybody involved.
And there's much more work to do!

Big Sharks - Papers!


I've been posting fluff as I'm exceptionally busy - but several papers need urgent mentioning, so there!

First the GWS.
As everybody dealing with Sharks has known for a long time, Sharks do get cancer and more importantly, Shark cartilage is utterly useless in curing that disease. Finally, there's scientific verification of the former: here's a possibly first article describing tumors in Sharks, namely GWS' and Bronzies. And here's a synopsis with a funny quotable by DaSchiffman and a stellar pic by Ozzie Sam!

And, they live to at least 70 years!  
This is substantially longer than past estimates and finally confirms the intuition of many researchers and enthusiasts, with possible surprising differences in growth rates between males and females. 
Synopses here, here, and here!

And now the Tigers.
Much like described by several other authors for other oceans, the SoPac Tigers are equally highly migratory. Once again depending on individuals, they may be rather transient in coastal habitats and rather resident in offshore reefs, but then alternate those phases with large oceanic migrations, the latter especially by mature females. This paper by Jonathan Werry and others, among which my pal Eric describes such migrations between New Caledonia and Oz, and highlights the Chesterfields as an important pit stop and temporary habitat for adult males and subadult males and females.
Interview here, synopsis here.

And then, there's this.
Using mark-recapture, Meyer, Yannis and Co have estimated the growth rates and maximum lengths of Tigers in Hawaii. When it comes to the growth rates, this very much validates our observation that the smaller tigers grow incredibly fast, es exemplified by these two pics of Adi from 2005 (maybe 1.5m) and 2011 (a good 3m+), respectively.
Click for detail!

And the maximum size?
I am, quite frankly, highly frustrated!
Until now, I was of the opinion that Tigers could grow to 7m, possibly even longer - and now this: a paltry 4.6m in Hawaii and 5.5m globally! 

Frankly, not totally convinced.
Yes the 1957 record from likely Vietnam reported by Fourmanoir may well be unverified - but 50 years ago, we had not yet managed to obliterate the largest individuals of the largest species and with that in mind, it is not completely implausible. And let's also not forget the Shark culling programs in Hawaii that may have removed Sharks that could otherwise be larger now!
Obviously, those super sizes Sharks would likely be extremely rare, much like those fabled submarines - especially nowadays where they would have to be very lucky indeed to always manage to dodge the barrage of hooks we are throwing at them!
But like the GWS example from Oz and those new records from the Eastern coast of the US are showing, there's always the possibility of a surprise - or maybe one of those current 5m ones will have a better chance of growing even larger now that better management measures are slowly being implemented!
So fingers crossed!

Anyway, enjoy the papers!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Orcas vs Shark!

Brutal stuff!

Story here - and no this is definitely not "playing"!

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Ian - the bigger white spot  NE of the eye is Vava'u - click for detail.

Watch this.

No direct hit.
The eye did pass to the West and the diameter of the cyclone was small, meaning that they may have escaped the very worst.
More as more details emerge.
Story here.