Monday, September 08, 2014

Until a group of Western Environmentalists turned up!

The video description reads.
Giants of the deep: The fight to save Whale Sharks

They're the biggest fish in the ocean - making them one of the biggest targets for fishermen around the world. The whale shark is massive, magnificent and on the brink of extinction. But in a tiny corner of the Philippines, man and shark have come to a unique compromise. Fishermen, who used to hunt this marine giant, now protect it - reaping a financial bonanza from tourists.

And everything had been going swimmingly, until a group of Western environmentalists turned up.
As in Alessandro Ponzo (che rima con stronzo)!
But watch the video, it is great stuff.

First and foremost, Bravo Mark!
Mark Meekan is a heavyweight in Shark research and conservation in general and Whale Sharks in particular, and his statements could not have come at a better time. Ponzo's continuous vociferating is resonating in the conservation community all the way to some of the biggest and most respectable organizations, and the pressure on Oslob is mounting.

I've said it here, the screeching opposition is total bullshit.
If deprived of the tourism income, the fishermen will revert to what they were doing before and kill those Sharks. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the solution lays in investing one's energy into reforming, implementing, monitoring and ultimately, enforcing the interaction protocols. 
Not rocket science is it - that is, unless one is driven by some idiotic Shark hugging agenda or even worse, by one's wish to promote their sites XXX and YYY and shut down the poor people in Oslob without giving them a chance to improve, like a prominent Shark conservation advocate writes.
And it's not only the fishermen and the local economy - this is creating thousands of Asian Whale Shark lovers!

We shall keep an eye on this.
For now, huge kudos and a big THANK YOU! to Mark for having lent his authoritative and unambiguous voice to the debate!


Jess said...

Hi! I'd just like to clarify that Oslob was never a hunting or landing site for whale sharks in the Philippines. The people in this area fish sergested shrimp as their primary livelihood before the tourism started. The catch and trade of whale sharks have been illegal in the country since 1998.


DaShark said...

Thanks for the info.

Does that invalidate the argument that albeit not (yet) being perfect, this can be reformed and will then become an excellent vehicle for both conservation and the establishment of alternative livelihoods?

Incidentally, somebody very much in the know just sent me this private comment.
I find the situation at Oslob incredibly frustrating - take it as model and spread it through a select number of sites in the Indonesian Archipelago and beyond, and the future of whale sharks would be assured in South East Asia.
The opposition to it is not just wrong-headed, it jeopardises conservation of the species.

Unsurprisingly, I happen to totally agree.

PhD Students, Like Shakespeare's "Lawyers Quote" said...

Oslob is a clear conservation win in every sense.

Unlike Holbox where motor boats run over whale sharks on an increasing basis this site features paddle boats for the most part and little actual stress - ask yourself what a four foot long prop wound does for animal stress then compare to Oslob.

Where is the PhD student with his underwater tablet in Holbox?

So what if an animal is brushed against, or touched in Oslob, it's a far cry from harvest or net entanglements.

Da Shark rightfully points out that protocols can be tightened, but that's miles from zero tolerance researchers intent only on the next round of funding for their "research."

I submit to you the conservation community has fractured into too many pieces to count with abject stupidity reigning supreme across the globe.

Maybe it's time to step back and see the forest for the trees, or shall we all subscribe to moments like these with sharks that claim conservation when in fact they do little but sell media and prop up irrelevant careers.

Or support some researcher who has no idea what the word "Context" means.

DaShark said...

The other aspect warranting scrutiny is the widespread lack of representation of researchers from the developing word in general and Asia in particular.

Much of the Shark slaughter and consumption happens there - but their presence in the fora (how many at Sharks International?) is, if at all, dismally small.

And yet they do exist.
So why their absence - reticence on their part, snobbery by the Caucasians or what?

Unknown said...

I was in Cebu last month to attend their first Shark Summit. Whilst there I decided to go and have a look at Oslob for myself as I have heard both sides of the very heated discussion.
It's far from perfect I do not dispute that, but at only three years old or so it has made vast improvements already so I am told. The initial circus show has subdued somewhat. You arrive and are led to a registration tent and then given a short briefing. They hit every point on the Do's & Dont's list. Then you go and get onto a small outrigger canoe and a team of guides paddle you 50yards off the beach to where they feed the sharks.
The feeding part is something I have an issue with, (I don't think we should ever feed a wild animal but that's just my opinion), however it's not killing them!
You get in the water and are immediately overwhelmed by whale sharks. The briefing said to stay 4m away, yet no one has told the sharks this. I tried to keep my distance, and whilst photographing one, another swam up and bumped me in the back. The guides yelled to keep distance but because of the close proximity of the ten or so feeding boats, all the sharks were contained to such a small area that when you add 40 or so swimmers the circus starts to form.
This can easily be fixed by spreading the feeder boats apart and hopefully this will come in the future. Then the scenes of tourists surrounding sharks, or sharks surrounding tourists won't be so common.
I went on scuba a second time just to see the other angle, and on a couple of occasions a shark would get spooked and dive, swim away, circle and re-engage a different boat.UNHARMED!!
I heard at the shark summit that in its first year Oslob had almost a million visitors. At 1,000pesos for foreigners and 500pesos for locals that's a boatload of income for an area that is well below the poverty line.
To summarize, whilst not perfect Oslob is unique. If it has created 1 million shark lovers in its first year, it might just be the most successful pro-shark operation in the world. The sharks are free to go at any time, however wont so long as there is a free lunch. This does change their behavior somewhat but what has also changed is the impoverished people that live along that shoreline. Asking them to stop feeding and lose this income and return to poverty, I feel would be completely hypocritical whilst we sit in our air-conditioned offices, driving our fancy cars enjoying the high life they can only dream of!
I know many shark conservationists and friends will completely dis-agree with me.
So long as there are container loads of shark fins arriving every week in Hong Kong, I will keep fighting. When the killing stops and we are in an ideal world, then Oslob will stand out as a major problem. Until then we have a lot of work to do to save sharks globally.
*(The above is my personal opinion, and may differ slightly from the official stance of Sea Shepherd whom I work with!)

Anonymous said...

A complex issue that I think speaks to the fact that these trade offs between impacts and conservation are species, region, or species x region specific.

Note- ponzos research is published in pre-print format on PeerJ. Open access.

DaShark said...

Thanks Gary - great comment!

To me those look like subadults that have been shown to also aggregate elsewhere, see Cendrawasih and that other new WS spot in Indo.
Methinks once they get adult, there's a chance that other urges will set in and they will start to migrate normally.

We shall see!

Concerning the feeding of Sharks.
Research appears to show that it is unproblematic at the ecosystem level = over large spatial and temporal scales. But there are equally definitely local effects - some probably neutral, some moderately negative.

Having said that, I have the suspicion that those WS my be a good deal dumber than your average predatory Shark, so maybe those insights don't apply.

We shall see! :)

DaShark said...


These trade offs between impacts and conservation are species, region, or species x region specific
Most definitely!

Where I'm coming from is that it is often not about WHAT one does but HOW.
IMO this can definitely be reformed and become more sustainable.

DaShark said...

PhD Students.

Like I said, on that one, I'm with the mermaid.

Considering my distaste for this shit, this may look like total duplicty.

But the way I see it, one is the result of genuine and extremely well meaning people attempting to discharge their social responsibility within the scope of their unique artistic expression.

The other is the usual, tired self promotion by the usual pathetic gang of media whores.
Talk about an exercise in mental, moral and incidentally, physical midgetry!

Captain Obvious said...

Sad the only trade off is, "Death or Tourism" - just sayin' is all.

Cough, Cough I Say, Cough! said...

Let me frame this another way.

If you read this same statement coming out of corporate headquarters at Shark Week:

"(Shark Week) is the result of genuine and extremely well meaning people attempting to discharge their social responsibility within the scope of their unique artistic expression."

I am pretty sure you would say it was Grade A B%$#!.

To disagree most vociferously with your carefully crafted statement (and what a statement, seriously U.N worthy that one), what they did at Tiger Beach was just-plain-stupid.

You can like their previous work (I do), you can laud them as human beings (you should), you can even say the costumes were nice (they were).

But do not say what they did had any impact beyond selling some bizarre images, getting some personal press, and furthering a few careers within an already narrow and increasingly fractured shark conservation community.

At worst they wrongly suggested that this was in anyway normal or safe, they also lowered the bar (once again) for others to attempt even stupider things with sharks - for what?

If shark conservation is to be considered beyond the fringe elements who use sharks for personal gain and who hog the most bandwidth,this kind of pseudo save the sharks shit has to stop.

As dumb as one might think the masses who lap up online content are, they can see through this.

They do see through this.

In context once again, these same eco shark warriors bemoan the state of Shark Week because just being a shark is not good enough anymore. You have to be a "Serial Killer Mega Shark."

It's as ridiculous as the notion that a Tiger in the Bahamas cannot be celebrated for just being natures perfect predator - it has to be recast as the poodle like backdrop to some woman's ambitions to be the next Disney's Ariel.

Can we just get back to the place of celebrating wild animals without the mindless eco clap trap?

If not, let's not hear anymore from the conservation crowd when Shark Week rolls out next years stupid human shark tricks because as far as I can tell they're doing a bang up job giving Shark Week a run for their money.


DaShark said...

That is, obviously, a mouthful of truth.