Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COVID 19: We are Shark Diving!

Happier days - great pic by Allen. Click for detail!
We are being asked, so there.

Fiji has its first three confirmed coronavirus cases.
The first is a flight attendant and the others are his mother and nephew, and they are in isolation. The other members of the family have been tested and they've all come back negative but remain isolated. Lautoka where they reside is on lock-down, and the police and military are monitoring that nobody comes out or goes in. So far, there are also no news about any colleagues, passengers or other contacts having been infected which is great. But they too will need to get in contact and self quarantine as a minimum - c'mon people!
There has been a tiny bit of panic shopping and price gouging, and some total morons have posted misleading and inflammatory comments, but the police has quickly put an end to all those shenanigans. 
And all flights by Fiji Airways have been suspended - likely now including any flights to Singapore that is now closed as well.

But I must really say that considering, that's a small price to pay.
When I read stuff like this, and that the beaches in Florida and Australia have remained open = and now those retards will go home and kill their families and neighbors, I'm happy that none of those folks are being allowed to come here and infect us, too.
And I must really say that Fiji's government is doing an admirable job both in containment and disseminating timely information - and hopefully, this Thursday's emergency budget will also include some mitigation for the many, many people especially in the tourism industry that are being let go and are losing their livelihoods. Fiji can surely not do that alone (= that would be our Finance Minister speaking) - but I'm hopeful that the usual development partners from World Bank to ADB to EU, Australia and NZ etc will lend a helping hand.

Of course our business has dropped to zero.
Fortunately, Andrew is doing a fantastic job in managing the dive shop and consequently, we have some small reserves and are able to retain all our wonderful staff and even assure them a minimum income for the next months to come.

And we are continuing to dive!
Andrew will schedule a dedicated coral dive for two paying customers, and a Shark dive for four - so please, if you are in Fiji feel free to drop him a line or call 345 0911 as he may even extend a nice little discount to locals = citizens and residents! And just to be perfectly clear, no, right now there will be none of the usual freebies, sorry!
And should everything fail, we will run a weekly Shark dive even without clients, this in order to monitor and keep the Sharks happy and also safe - and also, to record any changes which will eventually result in a nice little scientific note! 

And Tashi Blue continues to curate My Fiji Shark.
This is not the time for complacency as I believe that as Government resources are being diverted elsewhere, compliance with Fish management measures will decrease, and our marine stocks will be under increased attack as a consequence. With that in mind, any assistance is highly welcome, the more as we will most definitely have to step up and invest scarce resources in running patrols to defend Fiji's first National Marine Park.
So, what are you waiting for - thank you!

Obviously this is all until further notice.
Over here, everything is being done communally and with that in mind, social distancing is simply not going to work, period. Yes I know that many are preaching the right things, and that local gatherings have been banned, and that the schools have been closed etc etc - but ultimately it is a deep-rooted cultural thing, and it will not fundamentally change.
But so far, it really looks like the excellent response of Government has managed to contain the spread of the virus - and there are other measures like local lock-downs, road blocks and curfews that may prevent the worst. 
So Bravo, a huge Vinaka Vakalevu and fingers crossed!

And if  things change?
It will be bloody tough - but we will adapt and prevail!
And finally
Please, STAHP believing and even worse, repeating what you read on those idiotic social media but instead, get your information here (FB here)! Seriously, this is not the time for politics, backstabbing and silly jokes: we will only survive if we all hold hands!
And that also applies to any comments to this post. Please!

Let's go Shark diving!

To be continued no doubt!

Monday, March 09, 2020

Palau: QED!


And here we go.

Looks like Palau's Marine Sanctuary has backfired.
All I can say is that I'm totally not surprised, see here and here.
That's what you get when NGOs parachute in and propose half-baked solutions to credulous politicians.

And now?
Accountability anybody?
Yeah I know I know...

Friday, March 06, 2020

Forrest Galante, Cretin!

Who, exactly, thought that this was ever gonna be funny? Source.

Read this - pretty disgusting huh.

But of course nothing of it is in any way surprising.
It's same old same old, just yet another piece of deception, featuring yet another unethical self promoting media whore.

Obviously, the real problem is not Galante.
He's just yet another disrespectful moron parading himself on television - dime a dozen, and more turn up every year for ever more bizarre shows that are just mindbogglingly idiotic. His mother who knows him best calls him a cretin, and is likely 100% correct - and I can most certainly leave it at that.
Because the real problem are the American networks.
One would think that at least the corporate entities would care about such archaic and obscure concepts as telling the truth, or behaving ethically, be it only to safeguard their own reputation - but no such luck.
Every year, we get asked  to partake in some of their shitty, exploitative shows - and every year, we inevitably turn them down as soon as they show us their idiotic scripts. Sometimes, I really wonder where that relentless race to the bottom is gonna lead us - but then again...

And talking of which.
If you thought that Shark Week was being reformed and getting "better", think again - and increasingly, it's not only the idiotic fabricated scripts with their gratuitous drama, and the insufferable idiotic anchors and cameramen.
Having had the misfortune to watch a few recent shows whilst in New Zealand, they did feature several prominent Shark researchers for whom I've now lost every last shred of respect.  Seriously, what a bunch of pathetic hypocrites - and folks, never, ever claim that you got conned into participating in that shit because you knew, and chose to totally sell out! 

And this year?
Trust me, nothing whatsoever will change, zero. 
Having checked, it will be the same tired lineup of media whores from producers to anchors to cameramen to researchers aggregating for their pathetic yearly meal ticket and regaling us with the same old tired pathetic lineup of boring, contrived and exploitative programs. 
Luckily it does not impact Shark conservation one way or the other - but considering how much better it could be, it remains highly irritating never the less.

Incidentally, for us that continued fiasco has been great.
Our steadfast refusal to prostitute ourselves has earned us a reputation for integrity and as a consequence, the great, respectful shows with honest, credible people tend to gravitate towards us - and guess what, those folks even pay their bills!

But I'm digressing as always.
Read the article at the top - and as a minimum, stop believing those media, and stop admiring those horrible people!
It's all staged BS, and those folks are in it only for the $$$, with the animals being abused as props - and no brazen greenwashing will ever change that.
Oh and... cinema science my ass!  You know who you are!
Let's go Shark diving - respectfully!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Mating Scalloped Hammers - Video!


Remember Jorgensen's inane lekking hypothesis?
Back then I stated that I had personally witnessed mating Scalloped Hammers -incidentally, at the El Bajo off La Paz, a long, long time ago- and now somebody has finally captured the spectacular act on video at Cocos Island.
Just phenomenal - as witnessed by the excitement of the dive guide! :)

And since we're at it.
Here are once again the aerial Mantas.

And here's a selection of Sharks.
Like I said, they all end up sinking to the bottom.

And there's even video of Juerg's pesky Zebras!
Agonistic indeed!

And the lekking-, (and sniffing) fiasco?
I'm not seeing it mentioned anywhere at all - which begs the question, maybe because it was nothing but ludicrous BS to start with? And incidentally, may Teresa be lekking, too - cuz that sure looks like ROD to me!
Questions questions! :)

But more importantly.
Can we finally agree that those GWS mate at Lupe?

But I'm digressing as always.
Enjoy the graphic canoodling!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Shark Eco Tourism in South Africa - Action Alert!

Please read this.

Wilfred is one of the real good ones.
His venerable Marine Dynamics stand at the forefront of South Africa's Shark Conservation, Tourism and Research and as such has been nominated to be the only GSD member from that region.

With that in mind, please sign this petition.
Contrary to many others, this one is very much linked to action on the ground whereby your signature will most certainly assist the local Shark diving operators in making their point when they will meet with the local authorities.
More here.

This is urgent.
Please, do sign, and re-post on your social media.

Thank You.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Monday, February 24, 2020

Dugongs in Qatar - amazing!

Source - click for ridiculously awesome detail!

This is just insane.
Stories here and here, paper here, and here is some more info.

Grey Reefie - Agonism, and Attack!

Source - click for detail!


So this is it.
This is the infamous, highly ritualized agonistic display specific to the Grey Reefies.
And incidentally, other Shark species feature other agonistic behaviors that are quite different. And for you Shark whisperers out there, yes pectoral fin depression does play a role - but only when it is sustained and bilateral, and coupled with other agonistic elements: in the overwhelming majority of cases, a Shark depressing one or both pecs is in fact either braking or making a tight turn!
Just saying!

But back to that attack.
It was totally preventable and the divers should  have heeded the obvious warning and turned around as soon as they saw the Shark's behavior - but it appears that they just didn't understand, and I must say that I'm deeply impressed by the sang froid of the victim who despite being bitten, losing his mask and losing his main gas supply in 80 meters managed to complete his 2 hour decompression!

Anyway, great illustrative video.

H/T: Daniel: thanks!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Playa - killing the Golden Goose?

Dooh - click for detail!

And I cite,
“Esperaba a que llegara la temporada, pero nunca llegó. Todas las tiendas se quedaron con los flyers, con los posters, los turistas preguntando por el tiburón toro y no hubo ningún tiburón toro para ver."
Indeed - read this.
The Bulls Shark season in Playa has been a total bust and now that it is over, the venerable Saving our Sharks has thrown in the towel and basically announced that they are stepping back and handing the responsibility of managing the Shark dives to CONANP and the operators, to wit in the words of Google Translate - and yes I'm being lazy but I'm sure you get the gist,
Self-regulation is key! Let's work for hope! We are in a moment of transition. 

Playa Del Carmen. An example worldwide! 
This town is the only destination in the world where the diving of attraction with sharks is recognized and regulated legally, this puts us in the eyes of the international community. The future of this activity is in the diving community of playa del Carmen and the competent authorities.

Each of us can influence the destination! 
Self-regulation by tourist service providers is key! Today we managed to integrate the activities of interaction with bull shark to the legal framework of the corresponding authorities. The National Commission of protected natural areas, through the reserve of the Mexican Caribbean biosphere, is the authority responsible for the surveillance of the activity, without forgetting the responsibility of good management by each of the tourist operators. 

Disinformation has been one of the hardest obstacles to beat. Saving our Sharks cannot continue with the management of sharks in playa del Carmen without the proactive participation of the entire diving community that performs responsibly this activity. 

This case of success for the conservation of this species is endangered due to: 
  • Excess load capacity. 
  • Lack of follow-up of the rules 
  • Lack of economic cooperation 
  • Unfair competition between diving centers and independent divers (low prices) 
  • Lack of surveillance by the authorities 
Among other factors... 

In the following link you can see the conference presented on January 29 at the planetarium of Playa del Carmen explaining more thoroughly the problem and possible solutions. The participation of the whole community is indispensable for the continuity of activity! 

What is required?
#StrongMeasures: Collaboration and unity for: 
  1. Solving the payment of the fisherman's compensation with legal fishing permit. (due at the beginning of the month) 

  2. Community Payment for the supply of equitable bait where the entire diving community is included that takes advantage of this resource. 

  3. Self-regulation for compliance with loading capacity and respecting schedules. 

  4. Union of diving centers to form committees and decision making. You can create a new association or join the already existing as awd or union of Caribbean divers. 

  5. Creation of a common fund or trust, for management, surveillance and improvements of the area.

  6. Coordination with authorities for the surveillance of tourist operations.
And then, please peruse the video.
There, you can learn about the countless exeplary research and conservation initiatives by SOS and the substantial costs that entails - and then, you may want to notice that only a paltry 11% of the operators have contributed in the past 4 years, and to which extent each of them have stepped up to the plate.
And, you can also see why the bulls did not aggregate, and read about the issues of overcrowding and price erosion.
All very sad really, unnecessary and demotivating.

But lemme make it easy for you - long story short?
Forget about all the different "explanations" ranging from Climate Change to the Bulls having been fished away - none of them is correct.

The reality is much more simple and also way more pathetic.
And as always in these cases, it reeks of hubris, greed and stupidity.
  • The Bulls did come to Playa like they do every year.
    But as per the slide at the top, they haven't been aggregating at the feeding site because they were seeking some conviviality with the divers but instead, because they were being chummed in - and the latter meant incurring a lot of upfront costs for buying the bait ahead of the season and then storing it, and then a lot of work for driving out to the site and establishing an initial presence that then needed to be continuously reinforced with an adequate amount but also quality of bait. In the past, this was being performed by essentially, Phantom Divers along with a very few other dive shops, with everybody else then mooching on their hard work.

    But this year has been different.
    Let's just say that somebody has taught everybody else a lesson about the need for cooperation and coordination - see below. And because chumming has been inadequate, the Bulls have not aggregated - the question obviously being, has the lesson been learned?
  • At the same time, the whole scene has plunged into chaos.
    Playa has more than 100 dive operations, many of which don't even sport own premises and/or any notable infrastructure let alone staff, but instead merely consist of a few folks operating a website; and then during the Shark season, there is a substantial influx of illegal foreign Shark whispering dive guides migrating to Playa who are further undercutting everybody's profitability by offering dirt cheap bare-bones Shark dives from hired boats with rented gear.
    All of these second- and third-tier operators are not only unprofessional and outright dangerous, they are literally not invested in the local dive community and most importantly, they don't follow the Code of Conduct.
    And as a consequence, Playa's whole Shark diving scene has progressively been caught up in a downward spiral where there has been no more solidarity and cooperation, quality and safety have been compromised, nobody has anymore been making any real money, and the pathetic backstabbing and badmouthing, even of SOS (!), have become simply intolerable.
    I say, what a fucking disgrace - talk about shooting oneself in the leg huh.
  • And lastly, the pressure on the Sharks is just not sustainable.
    On any given day, they may be no more than 20 Bulls - but there are approx 400 divers, notabene daily, being taken to see them!
    In industry lingo, that is called cattle diving, and countless examples of such multi-user sites have shown that it just does not work unless the operators self-regulate and/or the authorities intervene with regulation.
And that's it.
So simple and at the same time, so sad and pathetic - and above all, so totally self-inflicted and preventable.

So what now?
The solutions are obvious and contained in the above announcement by Saving our Sharks - foremost of which the URGENT necessity to observe one's agreements and compensate the only licensed Shark fisherman whose license is still valid despite of the recent Sanctuary designation, as the different involved agencies appear unable to coordinate their efforts.
And if not - and if so the damage may indeed be irreparable.

Alas, in the short term I'm not at all optimistic.
Without the continued leadership of Luis' SOS and Chino's Phantom Divers, I fear that nothing good and/or lasting will happen - and from what I can discern, both those gentlemen are pretty much disgusted and unwilling to continue making the huge investments in time and resources to keep the industry afloat.

And CONANP, the official regulator?
There too, I fear that they are highly unlikely to have the willingness, know-how and means to step in and provide the needed leadership and supervision.
So yes, barring a miracle, kiss Playa's Shark dives goodbye!

And in the long term?
Like the whole of the Riviera Maya, Playa's tourism industry is experiencing some challenges and in that context, Shark diving has been one of the few touristic highlights and a life line for the local dive industry as Shark divers do not care much about those things and will keep on coming - like they did during our 2006 coup when our other tourism sectors experienced steep declines. 
With that in mind: may this fiasco be an opportunity to finally get the local authorities onboard in regulating and supervising (!) the industry, by e.g. issuing exclusive (!) licenses that would be conditional upon strict adherence to the Code of Conduct but also, upon proof of real investments in the local dive industry = as in there being real dive shops with physical locations, and local staff, and a selection of dive gear, etc?
In view of the continued failure to properly regulate Mexico's Whale Shark industry I'm not terribly optimistic - but then again, as they say, hope springs eternal.

As always we shall see.
Yes I know: in view of the rather pathetic situation here in Fiji I'm probably the least qualified to preach about peace and harmony - but contrary to here where each operator has their own exclusive site and cooperation is a choice, Playa has a single multi-user site where the users have no such choice at all.
Yes there are way too many bad and dangerous dive shops that need to be put out of business - but starting with GSD member Phantom Divers, there are also a few really good and ethical operators that could decide to associate and turn things around = I'm thinking about establishing an exclusive Shark diving association, with a limited number of members with exclusive licenses offering exclusive, sustainable and profitable Shark dives to a limited number of clients.
That sure must be possible - or not?

So what is it gonna be?
Are the operators gonna stop the badmouthing and backstabbing, step up to the plate financially and physically, eat some humble pie and go make amends - and all earn some good money together as a consequence?
Or are the stupidity, egos and hubris just too big, and are they gonna choose to lose that important income, and down-scale or even close down as a consequence?

Folks, the choice is yours.
Good luck everybody!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Big GWS in Florida!


And what is even better: zero obnoxious Shark-grabbing bimbettes!

Story here - enjoy!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Great Fiji Shark Count - Paper!

Yeah I know I know.
39 dive operators doing 30,668 dives and making 146,304 shark observations on 592 dive sites, and then collating, triaging and analyzing those data is a lot of effort - and the concrete results are comparatively lean. BUT, it was always meant to be long term monitoring in order to detect trends and not a population census, and 5 years are really not that long - so there. 
In any case, thank you and congratulations to everybody involved, be it the participating dive ops, the tourists = citizen scientists, the donors, the project management and finally, the scientists: this has been quite impressive.

The good news?
Compared to other places, our Sharks populations appear to be faring OK - but despite of the recent fin export- and import ban, there is equally still ample room for improvement, especially when it comes to the continued fishing in the Shark nurseries.

As always we shall see.
Fiji's Shark Commitments are due by the end of this year..
Having looked, I notice that last year's mandated progress report is overdue which is not good - but methinks that as always, there will be some frantic last-minute activity to push matters over the finish line, the more as there is simply no way that Frank will accept any failures in an initiative he very much personally and publicly chaired.
So, our fingers are crossed and we continue to be hopeful - at least for now.

But back to the paper.
We have terminated the GFSC as it is just too much work and the management team was frankly getting increasingly frustrated at the lack and quality of participation and data. Also, this is merely a pre-print pending the tedious peer review process - but the raw data will not change, and this is now a great baseline from which one will be able to measure any future developments, be it progress or lack of.

So consider this an important intermediary step.
Should we get the feeling that matters have changed be it for the better or the worse, we will most certainly organize a recount and report about developments. And in the meantime, we here have already initiated new efforts to monitor some important sub-populations about which we shall be reporting shortly.

In the meantime, enjoy the paper.
To be continued no doubt.