Monday, June 29, 2015

Cristina and Caribbean Reefie!

Just saw this.

This is why I totally respect Cristina.
This is also why when it comes to those interactions, I do give her a pass: like I've said before, this appears to be completely voluntary insofar as the Sharks appear to actively seek her out  for a friendly rub, and this irrespective of any food rewards - and again, no, this is not the dreaded tonic immobility but something else that is totally amazing and intriguing!
By the same token, there are now so many copycats that the once unique and equally amazing posing with vertical Sharks has degraded to a rather gratuitous circus stunt, meaning that it would probably be best to gradually phase it out.

Anyway, this continues to amaze me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rusi, back then.

Happier days - picture by his friend Cristina, with kind permission.

This was in 2009.

Alex and Ila had proclaimed the International Year of the Shark, and we decided to roll it out across Fiji in a series of various initiatives under the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project.

This is a PSA we ran on local television.
Although this is not his voice, it was entirely Rusi's brain child - and I will never forget how seeing the finished product drove tears to his eyes.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Squid giving Birth - amazing Video!

Story here, article here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rusiate Balenagasau 1960-2015

I've just received the tragic news of the passing of my friend and dive buddy Rusi, the man in the yellow hood. A gentle and humble man, he loved and understood his sharks like no other.

May you dive in endless seas filled with friendly sharks.

David here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Michael - telling it like it is!

Well done!

I must say that I'm impressed.
Following the tragic Shark strikes in North Carolina, Michael Domeier is warning Californians about the growing population of GWS on their coast. So far this is good news as it means that protection measures are having the desired effect. And so far, those are juveniles and small subadults, and thus rather harmless  - but one day those Sharks will reach an age where they will gradually switch to larger prey, meaning that the risk of predatory attacks on humans will undoubtedly increase.
This is of course totally in line with the recent statements by Burgess - and once again bravo to Michael for having the guts to tell it like it is!

And yes, I've, gasp, deliberately used the dreaded A word!
This is a Shark attack.

And like I would do in the case of a Cat, or Lion, or Croc, I call it an attack because there is definitely no confusion and there is definitely intent - which in this specific situation is both totally understandable and perfectly fine!

The strikes in North Carolina?
Dunno and that's why I call them strikes - but by the same token, what makes Mr. Barrington state that the assumed Bull Sharks more than likely mistook those kids for Fish? Does he really believe that a Bull Shark is too dumb to discern the difference between snapping at a Fish and severing a human limb - or may this possibly be yet another misguided attempt at PR rehabilitation a la Neff and Hueter?

Seriously, could we please stop with the stupid whitewashing?
Can we please let Sharks be Sharks, meaning that we got to accept that some species are large predators that will from time to time both target and unless disturbed, consume a human? And that many of them will intentionally bite when molested? This makes them neither bad nor good but simply describes what they are = large predators that have every bloody right to predate, and complex animals with a broad array of behaviors among which aggression!
We don't blink an eye about properly describing the equally rare predatory attacks by the Big Cats, Bears and Reptiles - so why this obsession of trying to exculpate Sharks by coming up with lame excuses and trying to introduce politically correct lingo?

Which brings me to this further comment by Michael.
Spot on! Read the testimony, and read this further account, and even the most rabid Shark hugging apologist should clearly discern that this was most definitely a predatory attack - curiosity and testing with their mouth because they got no hands, yada yada, my ass!
Same old same old - especially the pronouncements by the increasingly irritating Neff! This nonsense fatally reminds me of someone else - and we all know how that one ended!

Anyway, having asked, Doc replies
In an article I write way back in the eighties, for Naval Research Reviews entitled why do sharks bite humans, I made it perfectly clear that some sharks actually consider humans as legitimate prey. We all know which ones these are.
I say, the serial breathy couch farting and ultracrepidarianism are bad enough - but misrepresenting Doc is just simply unacceptable!

But enough of that.
Good to see that some within the research community are finally speaking up against the creeping Dolphinization of Sharks. They are certainly not monsters - but by the same token, some of them can be extremely dangerous and need to be treated with the utmost respect and circumspection.
Nothing to do with those recent tragic events mind you - when humans and Sharks share the same space, these things are unfortunately bound to happen. But if we ever want to succeed in mitigating the consequences of this increasingly uneasy cohabitation, we must address all sides of the issue: ever more people encroaching into Shark habitat but also, in some places, more Sharks - some of which will sometimes regard people as food!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Andersen - at it again!

And I cite.
I do not advocate touching sharks — and these days, I do my best to avoid it, regardless of how much those incredible moments fuel my drive.
Why? It’s simple: As divers, we assume a very important responsibility when we enter the water with sharks. We must always act with the utmost caution, to ensure no thoughtless risks are taken...

I also realize what I do influences others.
I’ve taken dozens of people into the water for the first time to dive with sharks. If they see me touching, I could be setting in motion a lifetime of shark petting. Or coral grabbing. Or turtle riding. It’s hard to know where to stop, and even harder not to get carried away when it comes to sharks. I don’t pass judgment on my peers, but I do silently wish some of those times I touched sharks had not been so widely publicized or shared...

As we collectively chase sharks to the brink of extinction, it's more important than ever to encourage people to gain an appreciation for their true character through safe diving. So, while contact feeds my conservationist soul, I’ll forgo touching to ensure just that, and hope that others will do the same.
And now, watch this.
Betcha that like always, the video and the proud FB post will be made private as soon as I call them out - but it hasn't yet happened, so enjoy or whatever.

I did call it back then.
And still, the hypocrisy and the narcissism really beggar belief.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Blacktip Reefies in Palmyra - Paper!

Blacktip Reefies in the SRMR - great pic by Allen, click for detail!


This is great stuff.
By deploying some cutting-edge gizmos and then, engaging in meticulous data analysis, Yannis et al were able to show some rather surprising aspects of Blacktip Reef Shark diel cycles and predation. I for one have always assumed that they are typical diurnal hunters and definitely stand corrected.
Story here.

Great job, bravo!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

WWF - Plastic Bag Challenge?


No, really not!
Don't be a credulous sucker, the more as this shit can kill you!

Story here and here!

Lupe - heavily pregnant GWS?

Have you seen Mauricio's video?

That's one fucking big Shark - and not very friendly!
Named Deep Blue, here she is again.

But did I hear, heavily pregnant?
Were she a Bull, I would categorically state that she's big and bulky but certainly not pregnant - but not being a GWS connoisseur, who am I to say!
Looks like Mauricio and Skomal are of the camp  that asserts that the GWS mate at what they dub the GWS Café - but if so, how can those fresh scars indicate mating considering that pregnancy, let alone heavy pregnancy would only be discernible many months afterwards? Can't have it both ways!
Me, I'm obviously sticking with Domeier's theory (read it!) = that Lupe is the site of a GWS mating aggregation - meaning that the hypothesis that those are mating scars is totally plausible.

You GWS guys out there - opinions?
Anyway - what a magnificent animal!

PS - Michael here - not pregnant!

Ritter - at it again!

Oh for crying out loud!

Read this shit.
A prominent Shark researcher comments,
Never even heard of that journal. What's the point??? I don't get it. Ritter must be a lot smarter than me.
But is he?
Yes some Sharks do sneak up on divers.
Big deal. We divers all know that all Fishes, not only Sharks appear to know when you're looking at them and moreover, appear to be wary of occasions when we pay them special attention like when taking pictures or spearfishing. Depending on our behavior and the animal's boldness or lack of, this may lead to close encounters or conversely, to flight behavior. It's complicated because of the countless variables - but if there's one constant, then it is indeed the fact that the animals are very much able to discern whether we see them or not. This is hardly surprising as this faculty is an advantage for both predators and prey and also in other interactions, meaning that evolution would have certainly selected for it.

So far so good.
But then come these remarkable statements.
Since nearly 59% prefer to swim very near—less than 1 m—from the sea floor when approaching the test-subjects, we suggest that the ocean floor is used as a form of camouflage, allowing the sharks to better blend in, whereas a mid-water approach may make them more visible against the lighter background, illuminated by the sky. Approaching close to the bottom to reduce visibility reflects a typical stealth behavior.
Nothing about currents, and the fact that currents are generally lowest when swimming close to the substrate. Nothing about the fact that on sandy bottoms, most of the potential prey will be either highly camouflaged, or partially to totally buried - meaning that proximity to the sand will enhance detection and chances for predation. Dunno about you - but that's where I would swim too, especially in a stronger current and/or when capturing images of wildlife!

And this?
Such an observation could imply that sharks might categorize humans as a potential form of prey. However, if the shark’s idiosphere does indeed reflect a flight initiation distance, then humans can rather be categorized as some form of predator. Nevertheless, there is also the possibility that sharks assume humans to be neither a prey nor a predator and simply accept them as unfamiliar objects. It, therefore, remains unclear whether and how humans are categorized by sharks, but considering the low yearly incident rates between sharks and humans, there must be some factors that hold sharks back from biting more frequently during encounters with humans.
Firstly, those are Caribbean Reefies not "Sharks". 
How Sharks behave is species-specific, and there, it varies according to location, situation and individually, the latter based on traits like boldness and/or previous experience etc etc. To in any way try and generalize is just simply stupid, like trying to apply observations made on individual Birds of Paradise to all Birds including Ostriches, Tits, Penguins and Golden Eagles!
Anyway, I can categorically assure you that Caribbean Reefs will never assume that a diver may be prey, as a loud, bubble-spewing 5+-feet person is nothing like anything a Caribbean Reef would ever consume! And for the matter, neither would a Basking Shark, Wobbegong or, say, Epaulette Shark! 
I mean - WTF?

Same-same for the idiosphere!
That's akin to somebody's personal space and like with people, it varies according to the culture (or in animals, the species), the individual and the situation = e.g. the individual's mood or familiarity, or the way it is being approached, etc - meaning that invading it may lead to flight, or avoidance or aggression. Or to a kiss. Or to nothing!

And the explanation of why those Sharks approached the divers?
If completely naive of people (and how likely is that?), those Caribbean Reefies could have indeed investigated those divers as potential predators. Or as generic threats. Or as competitors. Or out of curiosity. Or to better hone their sneaking skills. Or playfully. 
Or because they did in fact know people and had learned that some of them are hunters that will eventually lead them to a feeding opportunity. Or, that some of them are providers of food and/or nose rubs. Or because they wanted a hug. Or as potential partners for kinky sex!
The reason why "they" don't bite more people?
What has that got to do with Caribbean Reefies approaching over sand? But ever the Shark pornographer, that's all the dude cares about! They don't bite people because they actually got better things to do, lives to live, prey to catch, babies to make, places to go! They couldn't care less about Ritter's phobia and in most cases when they encounter people, there's no reason for them to strike - see here!

Anyway, who knows. 
Not you, not me and certainly not Ritter, see the crap that follows!

Long story short?
Indeed, what's the fucking point!
And so it goes!

Monday, June 08, 2015

Bondi Vet!

The Bondi Vet has survived the Fiji Shark Dive!

We've just spent a fun day with Chris Brown.
Chris is a real personable and humble guy who also knows his shit, and the shoot for  The Living Room has been easy. The super-short Shark diving segment is part of a larger feature about Fiji that will be likely aired later this year - so keep watching this space!

Vinaka Tourism Fiji and especially, the formidable Carlah Walton for this amazing opportunity!

Tetamanu - Wall of Sharks!

Really nice.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Florida - GWS!


Just how cool is THAT!
Tho spearing a Cobia right off a Bull Shark really feels like a recipe for disaster!
Story here and here!

Florida - WTF?


Remember this?

Bravo Tim Martell for alerting the media.
And interesting to note that the Mad Hatter did not once utter "oxygen" - not here and not on his post! :)

So here's to progress.
In enforcement and also in Shark conservation advocacy!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Parthenogenesis in Sawfish - Paper!

Florida, 1920ies. Click for detail - Source.

And I cite.
Five of the putative parthenogens were heterozygous at one or two loci (involving Ppe-8 and Ppe-114), which demonstrates that they are diploid. This indicates that they were most likely produced by automictic parthenogenesis with the heterozygous loci being close to the telomere and undergoing recombination prior to fusion of the ovum and the sister polar body.
Hah - OF COURSE! :)
Ils sont fou, ces généticiens!

Anyway, here's the official PR (links are mine).
Critically endangered ocean giant is reproducing without sex in the wild 

About 3 percent of smalltooth sawfish from Florida estuary are products of “virgin birth.” 
STONY BROOK, NY, (Embargoed until 12 NOON ET on June 1, 2015) – 

Are males truly essential for reproduction? 
Female birds, reptiles and sharks living in captivity have sometimes surprised their keepers by giving birth even though, as far as anyone can remember, they have never been housed with a male. Scientists used DNA analysis to solve this mystery some time ago, showing that these offspring were produced by asexual reproduction, a process called parthenogenesis, or “virgin birth.” Although these events have captured tremendous public interest, it was unknown if this ever occurred in wild populations of these animals. 

Scientists at Stony Brook University, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and The Field Museum have discovered that around 3 percent of the sawfish living in a Florida estuary are apparently the products of this type of reproduction, the first evidence of this in the wild for any vertebrate animal. These outwardly normal “parthenogens” live alongside other sawfish produced through normal sexual reproduction, suggesting that occasional virgin births may be more common in natural populations than ever suspected. The discovery, reported in a paper entitled “Facultative parthenogenesis in a critically endangered wild vertebrate” is published in the June 1, 2015 issue of the Cell Press journal Current Biology. 

The smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) is one of five species of sawfish, a group of large rays known for their long, tooth-studded rostrum that is used to subdue small fish. 
Sawfish may be the first entire family of marine animals to become extinct because they are all critically endangered as a result of overfishing and coastal habitat loss. The race is on to save this species, which has disappeared from most of the places in the Atlantic where it was common a century ago and is now listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

Today, smalltooth sawfish are mainly found in a handful of locations in southern Florida, including the Caloosahatchee and Peace rivers. It was here that scientists have discovered that these critically endangered ocean giants are sometimes breeding without sex. “We were conducting routine DNA fingerprinting of the sawfish found in this area in order to see if relatives were often reproducing with relatives because of their small population size,” said the study’s lead author, Andrew Fields, a Ph.D. candidate at the Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “What the DNA fingerprints told us was altogether more surprising; female sawfish are sometimes reproducing without even mating.”

Parthenogenesis is common in invertebrates but relatively rare in vertebrates.
Among the birds, reptiles, sharks, and now rays, parthenogenesis is thought to be triggered by an unfertilized egg absorbing a sister cell called the polar body that is nearly genetically identical to the egg. This results in an offspring that has roughly half the genetic diversity of its mother. In many cases these offspring are malformed or die early. “There was a general feeling that vertebrate parthenogenesis was a curiosity that didn’t usually lead to viable offspring,” said Dr. Gregg Poulakis of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who led field collections of the sawfish. “The seven parthenogens we found looked to be in perfect health and were normal size for their age. This suggests parthenogenesis is not a reproductive dead end, assuming they grow to maturity and reproduce.” The parthenogen sawfish were all tagged and released back into the wild as part of an ongoing study of sawfish biology and ecology. 

The researchers are now encouraging others conducting similar studies to take a few moments to screen their DNA databases from other animals to see if there are hidden parthenogens living in other wild populations. “This could rewrite the biology textbooks,” said Dr. Kevin Feldheim of the Pritzker Laboratory at The Field Museum in Chicago, where the DNA fingerprinting was conducted. “Occasional parthenogenesis may be much more routine in the wild than previously thought.” 

The research team speculates that since smalltooth sawfish are so rare, females might sometimes fail to find a male during the mating season, inducing the parthenogenetic process. “It is possible that parthenogenesis is most often expressed in wild vertebrates when the population is at very low levels and the animals have difficulty finding one another,” said Fields. “Parthenogenesis could help endangered species like sawfish dodge extinction for a little while, but it should also serve as a wake up call that we need serious global efforts to save these animals.” 

For more information on the plight of sawfish and efforts to save them see here.
More articles about the paper e.g. here, here and here!
Very interesting, well done!