Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bimini - here we go again!

Same old same old. Source.

Good one!

Honestly, I thought that it would be business as usual.
The first pictures of people manhandling those Hammers have already hit the social media - but then I get this in the mail. 

Greetings from Bimini,

The magnificent Great Hammerheads of Bimini have proven to be one of the islands most popular tourist attractions.  In order to sustain this annual event, and ensure that both the sharks and Bimini's stakeholders benefit from this experience, the Bimini Tourism Advisory Board (BTAB) would like to present guidelines and etiquette for all participating operators.

We would appreciate your help in circulating these instructions amongst any and all off-island operators who plan to dive with Bimini's Great Hammerheads.  Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.
Great Hammerhead Diving in Bimini, Bahamas
Guidelines & Etiquette, as put forth by the
Bimini Tourism Advisory Board (BTAB)

Attracting & Feeding the Sharks
1) There shall be no direct hand-feeding of the sharks.
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) Visiting boats should bring their own bait, and not rely on harvesting from Bimini’s fisheries for bait.
5) Bait should be presented down-current from divers.
6) Bull Sharks (C. leucas) should NOT be fed at Bimini’s Great Hammerhead sites. Anyone wishing to dive with Bull Sharks can contact the Bimini Bull Run operation in Alice Town, or utilize a location outside of Bimini’s Great Hammerhead diving zone. (See map attached separately).

Navigation & 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 & 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 VisitBimini@Gmail.com
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 distance 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).  Any divers seen interfering with research or tagging efforts should be reported to BTAB, or the Royal Bahamas Police in Bimini.
4)  “Diver Down” flags must be displayed at all times when divers are in the water.

Regulations & Restrictions
1) All non-Bahamian vessels must comply with Bahamas Customs & Immigration regulations.
2) All production crews must acquire abide by the proper permits from the Bahamas Film Commission
3) All vessels engaging in any fishing activities must comply with the Fisheries Regulations of the Bahamas
4) All visiting researchers must acquire abide by the proper research permit prior to their arrival.
5) All divers and operators should be in possession of necessary certifications and permits.
6) Hooking or catching any sharks, without proper permits and permissions, is prohibited by Bahamian law.
Additionally, Great Hammerheads are especially vulnerable to the stress of being caught, and this should never be attempted without extensive consideration.
And Grant Johnson, currently the BTAB's chairman doubles down as follows.
Greetings from South Bimini, 

As some of you may have already seen, the Bimini Tourism Advisory Board (BTAB) recently sent out some guidelines for any and all operators coming to dive with Bimini's Great Hammerheads this winter. 
The BTAB group consists of a wide variety of Bimini's stakeholders and after discussions with the islands businesses, residents, and researchers we've decided that these guidelines represent the best way forward in conducting these dives. Things may change in the future, and deviations from these protocols may have existed in the past, but we'd appreciate your cooperation in conducting these dives in accordance with the current BTAB standards. 

Bimini's Great Hammerhead dives have generated an enormous amount of positive publicity for the island and given a significant boost to the tourism industry here. 
That being said, there has also been some unfortunate behavior from a small minority of the visiting operators. From simple trash-talking to boats making illegal entries into the country, to the outrageously disrespectful act of interfering (removing tags, transmitters, etc.) with ongoing research, we'd like your help in advising these reprobates to stop. We have already alerted the Defense Force, Customs & Immigration, and the local Police of these and other potential concerns. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. For what it's worth, I'm currently the chairman of the BTAB group, and can make sure your comments/concerns are taken into consideration. Please see below (and attached) for the BTAB Guidelines for Bimini's Great Hammerhead Dives, and help us spread the word amongst any visiting shark divers. 

Thanks for your cooperation. 
Grant Johnson South Bimini, The Bahamas
I say, great stuff.
It reflects much of what I posted back in February and earlier, and having seen who it got sent to, it definitely puts an end to all the potential excuses by the usual serial Shark molesters and media whores. Leaves the intruding foreign liveaboard vessels - but people in the know tell me that there, too, stuff is very much in the making and may be announced shortly.

So godspeed everybody.
Enjoy the beautiful Hammerheads - and this time, fucking behave by respecting the wishes of the locals but above all, by finally respecting the animals!

To be continued no doubt!


Lukas Müller said...

It is definitely a step into the right direction and I am happy to see Grant as the person in charge of this. From his experience he knows the different perspectives of the parties involved. Him and Katy are some of the most competent and dedicated guides I have met and are constantly putting in work to make this a sustainable win-win for everybody. Hats off to them and hopefully what we had to encounter last year will become less frequent. Thanks for putting this up on the blog!

Douglas SEIFERT, DIVE Magazine said...

This will be interesting to follow. Enforcement in deed or only in theory? Time will tell.

But always - and you know who you are out there --keep your filthy mitts off the marine life. They don't ask to be molested. Grabbing wildlife is beyond disrespectful of nature. It only demonstrates a monumental ignorance.

Enough is enough of the "shark pedophilia", frogmen frotteurs!

DaShark said...

Indeed, we shall see!

Here in Fiji, both the molesters and especially, the people barging in and setting up illegal businesses without work permits or business licenses etc would be immediately thrown out and declared personae non gratae = permanently black-listed.
Applied to the Bahamas, that would mean no more Bimini but also, no more TB or Cat Island etc etc.

Just sayin'!

Finger Banging a Shark! said...

Under the thin guise of conservation aka "what sharks can do for me this trip" little will change I am afraid.

The backwards facing baseball caps of the world and the insane shark interaction posse know one thing - once you sink your giant ego under the waves, anything goes.

Sadly, expect more of the arms race, Grant is a good man faced with a monumental task. You need honest people who care about the sharks to realize his vision.

Nothing could be further from the truth at Bimini.

jsd said...

'The backwards facing baseball caps of the world and the insane shark interaction posse know one thing - once you sink your giant ego under the waves, anything goes.'
I took particular exception, last time the backwards-facing-baseball-cap-midget-Napoleon-wannabe-shark-superhero-non-event-non-entity-nobody was molesting the Bimini hammers, that he lied about it in this blog post - posted crap about keeping the sharks off the bait boxes - and thought the rest of us too stupid to see through his pathetic lies.

Finger Bang That Shark! said...

Umm, the ONLY folks too stupid to see through that particular wild animal charade were the Backwards Baseball Cappys Facebook friends. The kind of people who regularly struggle with Velcro on tennis shoes each morning. Meh.

Lindsay L. Graff said...

There is no better example of how to correctly conduct oneself around those majestic hammerheads, than the work done by Grant and Katie (and other wonderful Biminites like Jillian and Dunc). Their beautiful photos, resulting from years of work with the hammerhead population, prove that these dives can be done without any harm or harassment to the sharks and should serve as a model to be assimilated by all the other dive operators.

Shark-Girl said...

We are optimistic that changes will be made and people will be held accountable. I always encourage people to dive with Neal Watson's operation because
1. Grant & Katie are incredible dive guides with a genuine ( no hidden agenda)passion for these animals and safely sharing them with others.
2. Neal's operation also collaborates with the Sharklab and donates money to them from each diver!

Please share these new rules and spread the word. If you are not happy with the operator you dive with or if you think they are not operating in a respectful manner, please speak up.

If you are interested in learning more about what the Sharklab is doing in regards to great hammerhead research you can check out www.biminsharklab.com and make sure to take a tour when you are on Bimini!

Happy Diving!

p.s thanks for the kind words Lindsay!

Grant Johnson said...

Thanks for everyone's support. We're really hoping that this years Hammerhead Season in Bimini will be the best yet.

It's also worth admitting that I'm sure there will be photos posted online that show me and my colleagues touching the front of the "hammer" on some sharks. We are positioned behind (up-current) the bait boxes, and few individual hammerheads seem to be a bit pushy, often times bumping the box and trying to bump us. We try to reinforce that the sharks are not allowed in "our" space, and we usually use small 'bump sticks'(PVC) to deter them, but occasionally we use our gloved hands. I try (keyword is 'try') to reinforce the idea that the sharks are not allowed within arms-reach of the divers, and we announce this in our briefing as well.

The difference between us and a few other operators is that you will never see us posting these photos, as it is not something we want to promote. We are not trying to show-off, we are trying to create a safe, professional, reliable experience with one of the coolest fucking animals on the planet.


DaShark said...

Hahahaha - your ears must have been ringing, I just found two of those pics in my in-box! :)

The question I have is, why no hand feeding?
We find it much more selective as we can control the behavior of the animals by extending or withholding food; also, we can then choose exactly who gets it, meaning that in your case, the Nurses wouldn't come steal it whilst provoking a sand storm, and the Bulls would, hopefully, learn that there's nothing in it for them.

Of course that would require some special procedures, i.e. steel gloves and maybe a bodyguard with a pole like we do - but methinks that it could be an improvement rather than something to be frowned upon?

Just my 5c mind you - your island your rules!

Grant Johnson said...

Without being too wordy, by "direct hand feeding" we meant the act of literally letting the shark take bait directly from our hands. We've done this in the past, and seen that the sharks quickly learn to look for food at the end of your arm. We don't want that obviously, as neither us nor our divers are wearing chainmail.

We do use our hands though, pulling one piece of bait out and either dropping it, placing it, or wafting it through the water. It allows us to direct the bait where we want it (to a good extent) without the sharks learning that our hands are worth investigating.

This way, the sharks learn that the bait comes from the box, not the divers. That's an important distinction for us.


DaShark said...

Our Bulls have been hand fed for 15 years now, and clearly differentiate between the hand and the bait, and do not at all go harassing divers with no bait etc - so at least here we see zero evidence for the veracity of the infamous associating divers with food meme.

But yes, we do wear chainmail gloves as mistakes happen, and so should you - gotta stack the cards in your favor, right?

But you got me right, it's about selective feeding - doesn't have to be the hand, could be a short stick 'a la Cove - we here don't do it because of the inevitable loss of teeth but still, it would be better than any indiscriminate dumping etc.

Get yerself some chainmail gloves chop chop - yer neither invincible nor infallible, and I promise you that you will eventually get nailed!

Happy New Year!

DaShark said...

PS - totally agree about not posting everything on social media.

Obviously, from time to time, we have to push away a Shark - but contrary to the opinion of the punters, this is neither wildlife harassment nor Shark whispering but simply people doing their job.
And none of the Sharks are being harmed.

Good talking BTW! :)

Grant Johnson said...

Yeah, believe it or not we saw a fairly quick difference in behavior when we were 'hand-feeding' in the past. I don't think for a second that it made the sharks consider that divers WERE food, but I do think that it made the sharks consider that the divers might HAVE food (at least at that site, on that dive).

And I totally agree about the "wildlife harassment" critiques, especially considering some of the sources of these comments. Yesterday, just to prove a point, I was fending off the biggest, pushiest Great Hammerhead (who has her own Facebook page...) at the dive with one finger. It's hardly a detrimental encounter for the shark.

DaShark said...

You mean, THAT Shark?

The one where somebody ripped off a tag belonging to the Sharklab because she wasn't anymore pretty enough for her fan page?

Grant Johnson said...

Yup, that shark.

The one whose transmitter was cut off on February 20th, 2014, right in the middle of the February 18-22 visit from her biggest fan (aboard the only non-local shark boat diving here during that time).

Christopher said...

I spent two days diving with Grant 31st January and 1st February this year with a group of my clients. We might have been lucky as we were the only boat there, but Grant's briefing was clear, he, Katy and Jack made divers stick to it (stay in a line, close up when someone inside you surfaces) and they work. 7 GHs both days. If Grant says he sees a difference in their behaviour with different feeding techniques, I wouldn't doubt it for a second. Maybe Fijian bulls behave differently to Bahamian GHs.Maybe the GHs are smarter than the bulls? They are certainly prettier and cooler :-)