Saturday, December 26, 2015

Healing in Sharks - Paper!

Click for detail!

Love it!

Check out this new paper.
Much like we continue to document the miraculous healing power of our Bulls, the authors describe the same faculties in Blacktip Reefies, often equally through observations in the field.
Very nice!

And I like the part about releasing hooked animals!
Our Sharks regularly steal bait and fish from the local fishermen, and we get to see countless individuals sporting hooks, with and without lines; and with the notable exception of Pointer that got hooked in the throat and had a rope trailing from her gills for several years, we could not discern any notable reduction in the Sharks' fitness, with all hooks disappearing within weeks to as couple of months.
With that in mind and considering the substantial fragility of some species, I totally agree that it's probably best to forego hook removal in favor of minimizing handling time and thus potentially lethal stress for the animals, and that all unwanted Sharks should be released even if mechanically injured.

Anyway, very well done indeed.
Enjoy the paper!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Basking Shark Scotland - Scottish Wildlife Spectacular!


Spectacular indeed!
Basking Shark Scotland are a member of Global Shark Diving, your home for safe, responsible and sustainable Shark diving.
Story here.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Conservation Shark Diving in Fiji!

Love the title! :)

Martin has penned this piece about his next trip to Fiji.
Yes it's obviously marketing for his trips - the good news being that every single word is absolutely true!
Thanks buddy - much appreciated!

And here's that video again.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cristina - Shark Love?

Watch what happens at 1:45ff...

Amazing isn't it.
A pal writes,
The romantic in me says it's LURVE
The cynic says the shark is assuming that position to have ectoparasites removed - and simply following what it takes to be the ecto-parasite-removing creature when it retreats. I think this shows how we, as hug-loving mammals, are hard-wired to misinterpret what is presumably going on - and hence how easily the idiots (Ritter, Treadwell et al) can go off the transcendental deep end. 
Yes and no!
Clearly, those are conditioned Sharks that as a minimum have been habituated to humans insofar as they appear to have lost their natural fear of them. This is one of the known side-effects of provisioned Shark dives that when they are conducted responsibly, leads to less agonism = defensive aggression - the flip side being that the resulting familiarity can lead to the well-known problems with those infamous beggar Sharks, hence the need for good protocols.

So yes those Sharks may well want to get cleaned.
Jimmy did show me equally amazing footage of Lemons snuggling up to divers at the Tiger Beach cleaning station, and equally only being rewarded with a friendly rub. Both Jimmy and Cristina have removed squillions of hooks, and the Sharks may indeed regard, and thus seek them out as some sort of cleaner organism as a consequence.

But maybe it's something else?
Specially in the case of Cristina that induces a trance-like state (not tonic!) by stimulating the Sharks' snout, the Sharks may simply come in for the resulting, obviously pleasurable sensation. Does that equal LURVE and affection and the like? Methinks not, it may be more akin to us, ahem, visiting a brothel - but it is totally amazing nevertheless!

And now?
Does this mean that we should all swarm out and start giving Sharks affection, or whatever, by conditioning them to come in and get petted?

Certainly not!
Back then in 2008, Patric asked
Is it not enough to "witness" these animals in all their grace and elegance? Do we need to touch them and ride them as well? Do photographers really need to shoot inside a Tigers mouth? Do we need to throw pokey-sticks at them? Where does it end, where do we call the game and set the safety goal posts?
And for me, the answer is crystal clear.
Like I never cease to repeat, Shark dives need to be regarded as wildlife encounters and subsequently, conditioning needs to be kept at an absolute minimum = limited to attracting otherwise shy species, and ensuring the necessary degree of safety. All else is just simply unwarranted and often disrespectful showmanship that benefits only the human, with only more risks for the animal.

Cristina and Jimmy of course get a pass.
Mind you, this not because of what they do but because of who they are!
The other molesters, not so much - but once you've logged thousands of Shark dives, devoted your life to Shark conservation but above all, removed hundreds of hooks, you too will be entitled to some rather superfluous, and clearly not reciprocated Shark LURVE - petting, scratching, hugging and kissing included!

In diesem Sinne - happy Shark diving!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Diving with Bull Sharks in Fiji - BAD Reports!


We've recently hosted several shark-enamored bloggers.
Please read this by Kathryn of Friends for Sharks; and this by young Shark researcher Tom; and this by OWUSS Australia Rolex scholar Ben!


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Very early mating - El Niño?

Who knows - but it is definitely happening!

The whole thing, at least for me, is rather puzzling. 
Contrary to what you may have assumed, the current severe El Niño has brought us way colder, not warmer water - and with the Bulls being poikilothermic, this appears to have delayed fetal development insofar as all of the pregnant females are still sticking around for a bit longer instead of having already absconded to give birth in the river nurseries.

And the mating?
I would have thought that it would be triggered by some environmental factor - but compared to a "normal" year, the water is definitely still on the cool side, and precipitation is also sub par = I would have thought that mating, too, would have started later.
But then again, who am I to say!

This is where the males are trying to latch on with their teeth - click for detail.

Anyway, all very interesting!
And with Bull Shark numbers already climbing back to several dozen, the proper Running of the Bulls may be only a few weeks away!


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Slick - encore!

Turns out that madame est un peu impétueuse!

And yes, I'm being uncharacteristically diplomatic!
The bloody Shark is a total wrecking ball, and with a good dozen ingested Tuna heads, greedy to boot!

Lest you wonder - Tumbee is not trying to out-Eli the Eli but merely trying to prevent the Shark from biting off his head!

And this strange skin pattern?
The Shark is merely turning towards me - but I love the effect! :)

Click for detail!

Anyway, we had a memorable time.
To be continued no doubt!

Monday, December 07, 2015




It's still low season for the Bulls, and here comes a new Tiger.
We've named her Slick for obvious reasons - tho why she's missing most of her first dorsal will forever remain a mystery. Likely not because of some nefarious fisherman who at the current price of 150 bucks per kilo would have likely cut off all her fins; possibly it was a prop strike or maybe another feisty Tiger who knows.

Anyway, great to have met her.
Tip o' hat to intrepid Tumbee who's becoming a veritable Tiger tamer and did handle her beautifully, click for detail - and to Manoa, for missing his third Tiger in as many weeks!
Gotta be in it to win it buddy!

Welcome aboard madame!

Friday, December 04, 2015

Coastal Fishing for Sharks in Fiji - Paper!


So here are the facts.
Whilst others continue to bullshit the public with tall tales of them spearheading the fight against finning in the SoPac, or whatever, we've decided to finally shed a light on what really happens in Fiji away from the well-documented shenanigans (and here!) by the Tuna long liners.

In essence, we've embarked into a two-month road trip throughout the country - and lemme tell 'ya, it has been epic!
Under Juerg's leadership, we took Swiss masters student Kerstin Glaus to every single coastal village we could reach, see the paper, where she conducted interviews with the local fishermen; and then, we visited some of the principal fish markets in order to verify and collect further evidence.

The results were equally impressive and disturbing.
Contrary to common lore whereby Fijians don't fish for Sharks, we found that local small- and medium-scale subsistence and commercial Shark fishing was very much alive and even on the rise following the defeat of the Shark Sanctuary Campaign but also very much because as Sea Cucumber stocks were being wiped out, the bêche-de-mer traders were increasingly asking for Shark fins as a commercial substitute, and because Sharks were increasingly being consumed as stocks of other more prized Fishes were dwindling.

A first outcome was Kerstin's stellar masters thesis, see at top.
Much more comprehensive than the present paper -and we shall come back to that-, it was the basis of a series of presentations to Fiji's Department of Fisheries that having so far lacked any relevant data, had been largely unaware of the extent of the problem and consequently failed to enact any management measures. Thankfully, this is now changing, also owing to the implementation of the latest protection measures under CITES.

And now this knowledge is finally open source.
But whilst I loved the masters thesis, I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the present paper.

And this is why.

There is bycatch and bycatch.
If a coastal fisherman goes out to net himself some Mullet and having left the net to soak overnight, comes back to find a dead Blacktip Reefie among his catch, then the Shark is genuine bycatch = unplanned, unintended and unwanted.
But what about this.
If a spear fisherman sets out to catch himself a Parrotfish for dinner but upon encountering a Blacktip Reefie, decides to shoot it in order to sell its fins, then I hope that we can all agree that the circumstances leading to the Shark's demise are radically different from the first example. Same-same as if that same Parrotfish-hunting spearo ventured across a White Teatfish and decided to collect it in order to pocket its staggering price of 150.00 bucks, notabene for a single individual.
In both these cases, the take is equally unplanned and thus defined as bycatch - but it is certainly very much intended and wanted!

IMO rightfully, Kerstin decided to highlight that difference.
She decided to differentiate between accidental and intentional bycatch, and I cite from her masters thesis.
Several studies indicate that threatened species are also caught as bycatch in artisanal fisheries (Godley et al. 1998, Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2007, Peckham et al. 2007). Bycatch is defined as the capture of non-target species or undesired sizes of target species (Lewison et al. 2004). Thus, bycatch is typically discarded. However, bycatch can also be retained as valuable source of income, and hence be sought intentionally (Ebert et al. 2013). Furthermore, the association of intentional bycatch of several marine species with artisanal fisheries has recently been reported (Casale 2011). Therefore, inshore shark species may be increasingly under pressure from local-scale artisanal fisheries...

Respondents who had sharks as bycatch were further divided into accidental and intentional bycatch (further described in chapter 1). The distinction between intentional and accidental bycatch was mainly based on the use of sharks caught. Discard of sharks caught is the main criterion in this study for accidental bycatch. Since non-targeted but used sharks may be caught intentionally, any kind of usage (e.g. fin sale, meat sale, regular and repeated consumption) is regarded as main criterion for intentional bycatch.

Gill-nets and hand-lines are commonly used in artisanal fisheries to target reef finfishes (Pratchett et al. 2011). Therefore, the deployment of lines with catch capacities of around 100 pounds and more is used as a further criterion for intentional bycatch. Moreover, the application of spears and spearguns is considered here as technique used for intentional bycatch, since the intrinsic purpose of that fishing gear excludes accidental bycatch.
And with that in mind, this was the result.

See what I mean?
Suddenly, those otherwise rather innocuous bycatch statistics become highly relevant. As a minimum, they document that catching Sharks has become desirable for well over half of Fiji's coastal fishermen - and we all know all-too-well how that desire will lead to dire consequences!
Case in point: we're definitely losing Bull Sharks at a rather alarming rate!

Alas, the paper's peer reviewers did not agree.
The differentiation between accidental and intentional bycatch was scrapped, IMO much to the detriment of the paper's relevance along with its value for any fisheries management bodies.
Oh well - at least the authorities here know the whole picture.

And one last thing.
Remember the musings about Spinner Sharks in Fiji? 
Kerstin's picture from the Lautoka market has been recently corroborated by this catch in the Rewa. That's not a Blacktip C. limbatus but a Spinner, C. brevipinna - check out the anal fin and compare to this ID guide!

But I'm digressing as always.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Oslob - killing the Golden Goose?

Forbidden interaction - pulled directly from the website of an operator no less! This is just fucking stupid!

Oh FFS - have you seen this paper?
And I cite.
Compliance to the required minimum distance from the shark was investigated during the 1,082 complete focal follows. During 907 focal follows (84%) at least one snorkeler or boat-holder was observed being less than 2 m away from the whale shark, inconsistent with the code of conduct (Table 2). On average there were 1.9 snorkelers or boat-holders (S.D. = 2.6) and 0.2 scuba divers (S.D. = 0.9) within 2 m of the whale shark recorded every 5 min. The maximum number of snorkelers and boat-holders around a single shark was observed on 7 September 2013 when 19 people were recorded within 2 m of a whale shark and, respectively, on 10 December 2012 when 10 scuba divers were closer than 2 m from the shark.

Data on the number of guests within 10 m of sharks was missing from 62 focal follows in 2012, the remaining 1,020 focal follows showed that in 56.1% of the surveys the maximum number of snorkelers allowed per shark (i.e., 6) was exceeded. The maximum number of snorkelers and boat-holders within 10 m of a shark was 33. Records of the number of scuba divers within 10 m of a shark only started in July 2013. During these 406 focal follows, the maximum of 4 scuba divers was exceeded on 79 occasions (19.5%). Twenty-one scuba divers within 10 m of a shark was the highest number of divers recorded per shark.

From May 2012 to January 2013, researchers systematically counted the amount of active touches from guests and feeders on sharks. A total of 4,832 active touches were recorded over 545 focal follows. Feeders pushing away sharks with their feet or petting the sharks with their hands accounted for the majority of these active contacts (97.6%); while guests were observed touching sharks 117 times. During the 2013 and 2014 survey seasons, feeder touches were no longer systematically counted, because of the lack of reaction observed in the whale sharks. On 114 occasions guests were recorded to actively touch whale sharks during this same period...

The assessment of the compliance to the code of conduct revealed very low adherence to the regulations in place in Oslob.
Most worrying was the decreasing trend of compliance from 21.4% in 2012 to only 3.4% compliance in 2014 in terms of minimal distance to the whale shark. Our numbers are conservative because only people within 2 m of the shark were included in the count, whereas the code of conduct regulating the whale shark watching activities in Oslob dictates a minimum distance of 5 m from the side and tail of the sharks, which means that the real compliance might have been even lower. Free swimming, snorkelling guests tended to have lower compliance than guests holding on to the boat while watching the shark underwater. Snorkelers can control the distance to the shark by either actively approaching the animal or swimming away to keep the required distance; nevertheless 85% of snorkelers were too close to the shark in 2014.
Seriously, WTF?
I've been a staunch supporter of Oslob's highly controversial Whale Shark feeding encounters, but this only provided that there are good interaction protocols, and that the rules are being followed - and this is just highly disappointing, and pretty darn stupid to boot.
One may question the usefulness of certain prescriptions - but if so, they can be changed. Simply ignoring them is reinforcing the arguments of the many detractors and will undoubtedly precipitate some unwelcome reactions by the Authorities.
C'mon people!

And the other effects?
Yup, there's conditioning by positive reinforcement, leading to a higher tolerance towards people by the WS, more vertical feeding etc etc. This deviates from the behavior of non-fed, non-conditioned "wild" WS - but that's all one can say at the moment, meaning that the concerns by the researchers about possible associated risks to the WS' well-being are so far undocumented and thus merely speculative.
So far, not to worry.

But the non-compliance sucks big time.
I say, follow the bloody rules or you may spoil it for everybody.
This is not rocket science - so just fucking do it!