Monday, December 28, 2020

Baby Lemon vs Barracuda!

Wow - watch.
I guess one could say, such is life out there in the wild.
But I'm particularly happy that the little Lemon made it out alive!
Anyway, enjoy!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Yasa - Incoming!

Source - click for detail!

This is gonna be really bad.
The track has indeed completely changed, and although we're not likely to feel the full brunt of the wind, we're still going to be much more at risk.
You can follow the bloody fiasco in near real time here.

See you on the other side!
PS - we are a bit rattled but fine
Thank you so much for your support!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Fiji Bull Sharks - Paper!

Yes those would be our samples - click for detail!
That was then and alas, nothing much has come of it.
For some reason that eludes me, Christine never got around to actually publishing the relevant paper, and a later attempt at resuscitating the effort failed due to a general lack of interest and/or funding and/or time, or whatever. Plus I've been told that nowadays, the newest and shiniest tool for population studies is SNP markers and not anymore microsatellite DNA - and I'll most certainly leave it that, the more as that's about as much as I understand.
Or not - so correct me if I'm wrong.

Enter our indefatigable friend Kerstin!
She is now a newly minted, and highly deserving PhD - and the latest paper from her thesis once again confirms that the insular Bull Shark population from Fiji is genetically different, and likely closed = isolated from its continental counterparts. 
In essence, this means that our Bulls are truly unique and that they spend their whole life right here in the archipelago without ever engaging in large transoceanic migrations across deep water trenches and vast distances. And no, they also most definitely do not travel to Vanuatu and Australia for mating as was recently publicly proclaimed from the peak of Mount Stupid!
Obviously, this makes them specially precious but also, especially vulnerable - and Tashi's My Fiji Shark initiative, especially pertinent!
And the taxonomic consequences?
Years ago my ichthyological guru told me that a species is what a geneticist tells you it is - and very sadly and despite of my best efforts all the way to outright begging, the relevant Shark taxonomists remain firmly of the opinion that the present genetic distinction doesn't warrant declaring a new species. 
And when it comes to our Bulls at least being a possible (and I would add: obvious!) subspecies or race, I'm being told that apparently, in Shark taxonomy one just doesnt do that
Oh well - but we will keep on trying!

Anyway, great job!
Oh and - please, Adopt Your Shark Now! 
Thank you.

Monday, December 14, 2020

TC Yasa!

Click for detail!


Sadly, it also looks like it is highly likely that starting on Thursday, it will very badly affect the Yasawas, Nadi & Lautoka and then Vatulele and Kadavu - see the forecasts here and here.
See at bottom!
So far, it looks like we down here will fare better.
But who knows as those tracks are fickle at best - plus, we will certainly experience some mighty gales and heaps of rain.

So there you have it.
And in case you're still wondering: you need to start prepping right now.
Seriously, chop chop!
Good luck everybody! 

PS - and this?
Source - click for detail!
Believe it or not, but we're currently sandwiched between two cyclones: TC Yasa, currently a Cat2 and TC Zazu, a Cat1 that is lingering close to Vava'u!
What a fiasco - bloody Climate Change anybody?

PPS - NaDraki here and here, FMS, Windy here etc = the track has changed dramatically = not good at all!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Bloody Cyclone!

Well, as so often I was wrong.

That cyclone forecast was very real.
It's gonna be called Yasa and it's gonna linger forever = pick up strength around Vanuatu, and most certainly influence the weather in our West and also give us a good soaking down here, albeit with much lighter winds, once it starts tracking South.
970 HP is approx a Cat 3 and it may even increase further.

So be careful peeps.
You know what to do!

Monday, December 07, 2020


Well well - behold the first cyclone of the season!
But it's obviously only a forecast and methinks it is wrong.
But who am I to say. 
All of 2020 has been warmer than average and now we're in the middle of a La Niña which over here translates into a hot and wet summer, with possibly more cyclones.

Be it as it may, it's a good time to get ready.
Personally, I'm gonna trim the trees and clean the garden, test drive the generator, check the tarps and ropes, and make sure I have enough water, food and fuel.

Good luck everybody!

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Tiger Shark vs Loggerhead Turtle!


I must say that I really like it.
Yes, in theory, one should generally not interfere with Nature.
But in practice, we always do, and this overwhelmingly in negative ways - so the small act of kindness for that little terrified turtle was nice to see.
And trust me, that Tiger will find another meal.

Well done guys!

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Shark Attack Horror?

Really - have you seen this shit?
Andrew is obviously totally correct, the comments are total rubbish.
He was cornered by an eager "reporter" and like we always do lest there be any misunderstandings, asked that any questions be sent to him by email.
Alas, that obviously never happened.

So there, let me try to put things into context.
  • First and foremost, Mark is apparently going to recover OK.
    He's a real nice kid and we wish him the best of luck and a speedy recovery.

  • He was however not merely free diving, he was spearfishing.
    As shown in literally countless examples, this can frequently lead to shark bites. Like I said many times eg here and here, it is well known that the Sharks in popular spearfishing locations like Frigate Passage can get highly conditioned = aggregate at the mere noise of a speargun being fired, get highly excited by the vibrations of a speared fish, try to nab any catch and retaliate when poked and pushed away. This is most likely what has happened here.
    In brief, do not fight with a Shark over a fish!
    To cite myself (talk about being prescient!)
    And if you spear fish and are not careful, you may well end up having one of those close encounters described by Jonathan - not because of us but because that is what happens everywhere around the world, see here and here among many, many such examples!
  • The Shark was most likely a Grey Reefie.
    But it could also have been a Silky (no that's not a Bronzie - nor is this one!) or a Galapagos - case in point here! Bronze Whalers however are essentially antitropical and not officially recorded from Fiji.
  • The Shark feeding dives have nothing to do with this, zero.
    Once again, we have actually collected the scientific evidence that clearly illustrates that with the exception of our small harmless Whitetip Reefies, our Sharks
    a) were never resident but have instead always spent most of their time roaming throughout Fiji, and most importantly,
    b) have never depended on our handouts but have instead remained wild animals that have always continued to normally hunt their prey away from the Reserve.

    In brief, the fact that we feed less (yes we do still feed) has no incidence whatsoever on the well being and/or the behavior of our Sharks = they are not going hungry nor being more aggressive nor roaming further afield or anything like that - and again, this is not my opinion but evidence = fact!
    Read the links!

    And one more thing.
    Some quarters have suggested that our fed Sharks may have lost their natural fear of humans and may therefore have become so-called beggar Sharks and thus, more dangerous. We do not observe any of that when we dive without bait in the Reserve, and it thus makes no sense whatsoever to assume that it may be happening further afield.

    Again, the people who have conditioned the Sharks to approach spear fishermen are not the Shark diving operators but... the spear fishermen themselves!
  • And no, this is not about testing let alone predation!
    Those smaller Sharks simply don't prey on humans. Instead, the bites are most certainly agonistic = due to competition and/or aggression and/or self defense/retaliation - read this about agonism and this about Shark attacks.
There you have it.
In brief, Fiji's responsible Shark feeding operations have zero effect on the safety of the population at large - re-read this.
Long story short?
Sadly, this is nothing more than shoddy journalism that instead of bothering to engage in even the slightest modicum of objective research and fact finding, is merely repeating some random unqualified and unsubstantiated speculation and hearsay. And by being unnecessarily sensationalistic and misleading, it contributes nothing to the safety of the public and is also bad for the Sharks.
Not impressed, sorry!

Better next time Fiji Sun!
PS: really interesting comments section here = note how there's none of the usual gratuitous drama. And Setareki's reminder of the ubiquitous poaching and illegal selling is obviously spot on. Like I said back then, we know the perpetrators and also the enablers, and there will be a reckoning.

PPS - Bingo: watch this - fundraiser here.
Having actually gone and asked Mark
  • He was indeed spearfishing

  • It was indeed a Grey Reefie

  • The Shark was exhibiting the typical agonistic display of this species and then attacked twice, as they do. This also tells me that it was probably not a tourism Shark as those are used to people approaching them and have never, ever displayed agonistically during any of our feeds.

  • And finally, beware of the charlatans and self professed experts on social media - really, what a sorry bunch of total losers!

Sunday, September 06, 2020

T-Shirts - Limited Lockdown Edition!

Click for detail.

Check out the above mock-up.

See it - and no, that would not be an asterisk!
We've decided to pimp a few of our traditional best-selling t-shirts - and just to be crystal clear: this is about remembrance, not some sort of Statement.

Also available with long sleeves.
Free world-wide shipping for online purchases - and we will also keep a very few in the shop.
First come first served as numbers and sizes are limited.

And here comes the best part.
Every single cent will go to supporting our wonderful staff.

Thank you!

Friday, September 04, 2020

Running of the Bulls!

Happier times.. - click for detail. Source

This is just great
Last November and after a much too long hiatus, we had the great pleasure of hosting our deep diving, dear friends from Hawaii.
Year end is when the Bulls are terminally pregnant, and you can discern several such individuals like Gape and Tip. And there is also Hillary who still carried a tag from 2018 and will undoubtedly deliver a simply epic data set!
Everybody was toting a camera, and Brian has put together a masterful edit of their footage.
In loving memory of Josh Copus.

Monday, August 31, 2020

GTs vs Sharksuckers - Paper!

Remember this post?
That was not the only observation by far.
This never before described novel hunting technique probably started as an attempt by a single innovative Giant Trevally, only to be quickly adopted by the the whole gang of miscreants. At its apex in late 2011, the 15m Take-out had become a veritable gauntlet, with dozens of GTs targeting the Sharksuckers whenever a Bull would come in for a feed. The Trevallies would wait in front of the feeder and then follow the Shark throughout the feeding area, only to then return to the starting point in order to intercept the next approaching Bull.
Of interest, not all caught Sharksuckers would perish as some would manage to latch on to the attacker,  only to then jump back onto a passing Bull Shark - click on the the pic at the top.
It however all ended at year end.
When the Bulls get ready for pupping and mating and are less interested in our bait, we relocate the feed to 25m where the topography is completely different and the trajectory of the feeding Bulls is much less predictable. And then most of the Bulls leave for 4-5 weeks, and the few who remain feed way less, thus further greatly reducing the predation opportunities of the GTs.
Whether it was the above and the Trevallies lost interest, or whether the individual Sharksucker-hunting GTs moved away or were fished: the fact is that we've never witnessed that behavior again.

But we had plenty of footage.
Here's a quick-&-dirty little iMovie edit of some memorable moments. Yeah I know the slo-mo kinda sucks - but you get the gist and I promise that I'll post something better later on.

And now Juerg has also written the paper - finally!
On top of the above story, it also describes other really interesting observations of Sharksuckers at Shark Reef and other Shark provisioning sites in Fiji.
Press release here, additional clips here.

Enjoy Juerg's paper!  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Tashi Blue about Diving with Sharks!

Tashi and her babies - click for detail!

Great stuff!
This has happened today.
Our friends at Saving our Sharks are hosting a series of video talks with Shark diving operators, and BAD has somehow managed to be the first of the lineup. I am obviously biased, but I believe that Tashi Blue has done a fabulous job in representing us but above all, her epic My Fiji Shark project.

But you be the judge of that.
Without any further ado - enjoy!

And the gorditas?
They sure are cute and cuddly, but... :)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Fiji's Sharks in Peril - Paper!

Remember? It is still happening!

Well well - watch.

And this is the paper.
Shame that it's hidden behind a paywall, the more as it is being hailed as a major achievement which it quite possibly is - but I will leave that determination to others.

What however irritates me is the characterization of Fiji.
The press release has quite obviously been re-worded as the initial version stated that Fiji's Sharks are functionally extinct which is a load of horse manure -  but even after the redaction, we are still being flagged as being particularly problematic which is just not true.
Here's the corresponding graph - click for detail.

Seriously, WTF?
Fiji down at the bottom - and then e.g. Tonga of all places near the top? Lemme tell 'ya that having extensively dived, and lived in both countries, this is just wrong wrong wrong in so many ways - which obviously begs the question, may other data sets be equally faulty?

So what exactly happened?
Having consulted the relevant map for Fiji, I learn that having dropped 382 BRUVs on 14 sites, they only recorded 5 Shark and 7 Ray species, and this only on 28.7% of the videos which is perplexing to say the least. But having asked, it turns out that instead of tapping the available local capacity and know how, they decided to parachute in some dude from New Zealand who I hear may have only sampled the sites of a particular NGO and not a representative cross-section of Fiji's reef ecosystems - and if so I can certainly leave it at that. *

Now compare that fiasco to the data of the GFSC.
Or to the fact that in our little region alone, we harbor at least 10 frequently encountered Sharks = GHH and Zebra, plus our usual Bull, Tiger, Sicklefin Lemon, Tawny, Silvertip, plus Grey, Whitetip and Blacktip Reefies, with several other diving operators and also research papers reporting the same and even more, equally ubiquitous reef-associated species like Scalloped Hammers or Blacktips from many other locations.
And then there's the simply massive data set from the hundreds of  BRUV drops by Projects Abroad that had incidentally been initiated in collaboration with the very same Demian Chapman who is one of the paper's leading authors - surely one should have added those sightings, too?

And the data from Tonga?
They are from a grand total of 24 drops on two sites... see what I mean?

Anyway - it is what it is.
Whereas the situation here is most certainly not remotely as bad as depicted, there is equally clearly room for improvement, see e.g.this old assessment, Kerstin's papers here and especially here, and also the description of Fiji's Elasmobranch fishery here at page 188 ff.
In brief and despite of the reduction in the Asian demand for their fins, our Reef Sharks and the juvenile Sharks in the riverine nurseries are now increasingly being targeted as an alternative source of protein as many of the traditional food Fish stocks are being depleted.
And to top it off, we're now witnessing a massive Covid-19- induced increase of indiscriminate fishing and poaching that is  threatening years of conservation efforts and also indirectly threatening our Shark populations by obliterating their prey.
Talking of which, I really did like reading that
Without an absolute estimate of the abundance of sharks, it is difficult to know how effective the estimated levels of conservation potential might be in restoring shark populations in reef ecosystems that have been degraded by overfishing.
Although research has shown that fully recovered reef fish communities have biomasses between 1,000 kg ha−1 (ref. 27) and 1,500 kg ha−1 (ref. 12), we have no current estimate of the size of the forage base that is required by a recovered shark population, or how the bottom-up effects of prey biomass might influence the recovery potential of reef sharks.
A key question remains as to whether management strategies that only pursue shark conservation can make substantial or limited gains, relative to those that include the restoration of the wider reef ecosystem.
If the restoration of the whole ecosystem is necessary to fully restore shark populations, our results underscore the need for managers to engage with the wider social, economic and cultural drivers of marine exploitation.
Could not agree more!

Long story short, the paper is certainly welcome.
Far from being defeatist, the authors suggest several pathways for improvement that I can only second, albeit with the usual general caveats (= e.g. follow the links here).
The good news is that here in Fiji, there is already some progress, namely the fin ban, the CMM for Sharks by the WCPFC  (incidentally once again courtesy of the simply unequaled Shelley) and an upcoming, WWF-sponsored, long overdue NPOA (Sharks) that will provide a framework for subsequent regulations and pacify the FAO.

And then, hopefully, we will get The Big One.
No, likely not a Shark Sanctuary but instead this comprehensive regulation - and having checked, all appears to be on track for the December deadline at the end of this year!

In any case, we stand ready.
Thanks to Tashi Blue's boundless and also, infinitely endearing passion and commitment, her My Fiji Shark project has been able to accumulate a nice little war chest that will greatly help us assist with the implementation of the regulation.
So fingers crossed and yes, very much to be continued!

But I'm digressing as always.
Enjoy the Shark paper!

* PS - Demian informs me that there was no parachute science as the vast majority of drops was effected over several years by that local NGO - which obviously begs the question, what went wrong?
Wrong habitat/site selection? Lousy bait?
Anyway, it is what it is.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

GWS vs Humpback - Video!


Pretty awesome ain't it.
Story here - enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Selective Removal of Problem Sharks - Paper!

Click for detail!


Remember this paper?
Now Eric et al have doubled down with this further publication that specifies possible techniques for first, a) establishing a data base of potential perpetrators and then, b) identifying and removing individual problem Sharks after they have attacked a person.

Well what can I say.
Like I've already stated here, I am absolutely convinced that problem individuals do indeed exist, much like what has been shown with large terrestrial predators. And I'm equally of the opinion that removing them selectively (whatever that means) would ultimately be vastly preferable over indiscriminate broadcast culling - though having said that, there are obviously other solutions (like eg hazing, etc) that would need to be exhausted beforehand!

But that's the theory.
In general terms I remain unconvinced that individual profiling and selective removal is a practicable solution for large geographical areas featuring thousands of potentially dangerous Sharks, like, say, the USA or Australia. There methinks that one will need to continue trying to reduce the risk and mitigate the consequences - but by the same token, one will have to accept that the odd Shark bite is ultimately just simply inevitable and part and parcel of coastal living.

And in comparatively small areas?
Interesting to see Cocos and Reunion mentioned in the paper!
I've said what I wanted to say about both situations back then and really got nothing to add - maybe with the exception that Reunion looks like an ideal testing ground, the more as there is already an adequate scientific infrastructure allowing for the proposed broadcast DNA sampling and visual identification. So by all means, go for it - tho bon courage trying to establish a feeding station like suggested! :)

Anyway, all very interesting indeed!
Knowing Eric, something is likely brewing - and if so, godspeed, Fair Winds and Following Seas and all!

To be continued no doubt!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Kleptoparasitism in Sharks - Paper!

Click for detail!

Very nice!

Read this.
Following their epic dives in Tetamanu and the many experiments they have made, the team around Laurent Ballesta have published their observations about the interactions between the Grey and Whitetip Reefies when nailing that Grouper spawning aggregation.
Here's what Johann has posted.

Not surprised about the kleptoparasitism by the Grey Reefies
They are just that bit bigger and bolder than the other reefies, and will thus tend to dominate any competitive exchange, much like described in this paper from Osprey Reef.
And here in the Reserve, they will equally try to dominate the other reefies during the shallow feeds, something we try and counteract by hand feeding selectively so that the Blacktip and Whitetip Reefies always get their fair share.

Anyway, all really very interesting.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Feeding Frenzy!

Click for detail! Source.

And here's another great one.

Great story by MPO right here!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Mega Mouse!


A Mega Mouse has arrived in the wave of the left coast of the wave!
The size is 6 M strong, and it is simply surprising! It's a deep-Sea Shark, so I stocking up immediately after the record, but I swam to the deep place and went to the deep place! 
Movie-by F

Translation by Google! :)
From what I can discern, this is from Tateyama, Bōsō Peninsula, Japan  - apparently the Megamouth was trapped in a net and released.

Not quite an epic natural encounter like this - but still!
What a great animal - I hope she makes it!

Friday, June 12, 2020

More Sharks in Pacific Harbour?

Well well.
Somebody has apparently seen a Shark or two in front of Nanuku Resort and now there's a bit of a kerfuffle, with various quarters offering their opinions.

Thing is, opinions are like assholes: everybody got one. 
Look no further than Dunning Kruger and you will quickly discern that that's just simply not good enough. If you wish to be taken seriously, you really got to inform yourself before making public pronouncements - and no, educated guesses and random unrelated factoids do not qualify!

With all due respect, the premise of this posting is just simply 100% incorrect!
Tashi Blue has valiantly attempted to rectify the story with the media but apparently with little effect, the more as Fijjivillage has only published excerpts of her entire statement.

So there.
We look back on more than 15 years of scientific research into these specific Sharks, and our findings = the actual evidence unequivocally shows that.
  • The big sharks are neither resident to the feeding sites, nor are they "territorial" = they have never only been hanging around Shark Reef or for the matter, Pac Harbour but instead, they have been visiting sporadically but have otherwise roamed all across Fiji, e.g. we have tracked them all the way to the Rewa, the Yasawas, Ba and even Vanua Levu. In fact, those mentioned Tiger Sharks are known to make astonishing trips of hundreds of miles that take them into open ocean where they then fall victim to the long liners = and you have all seen those jaws, and those of the Mako Sharks at the Suva handicraft market!
    But I'm digressing. In brief, nothing whatsoever has changed and our Sharks continue to roam the entire archipelago completely unperturbed, like they always have!
    Paper here, blog post with explanations here.

  • But more importantly, their food intake on the Shark dives has always been negligible = they have never depended on our handouts and they have never stopped hunting and are not now having to change their behavior, let alone venture out of their nonexistent "territory" because we feed less and they are "going hungry" or such nonsense. In fact, we note no different behavior and/or increased aggression, or the like during our dives.
    Paper here, blog post with explanations here.
Again, this is scientific evidence = fact.
In brief, there is no factual basis for speculating that any increased Shark sightings on the beach are due to changes in the Shark feeding schedules - and please don't comment that you disagree as there really is nothing to disagree about = you may, possibly, be entitled to your opinion but you are certainly not entitled to your alternative facts unless backed by solid evidence!

And this?
Sorry, nope, that's not correct, either!
Shark populations reproduce slowly and take a long, long time to recover = a single year since the export ban is just too short to have had any notable effect. But more importantly, recent research shows unequivocally  that fishermen are targeting smaller Reef Sharks and also the riverine Shark nurseries  - not for the fins but for the meat!
Especially the latter bodes really ill for Shark populations = in fact, for what it is worth, over the past few years we've experienced less and not more Sharks!

So what about those mysterious Shark sightings.
  • Firstly, that big blue expanse in front of the Nanuku Resort is called "Ocean". That happens to be where Sharks live, and an occasional sighting is only normal and should be no cause for alarm but rather, for joy as Sharks are an indicator for healthy marine ecosystems!
    In fact, the beach in front of the resort is a nursery for tiny baby Blacktip Reef Sharks that are actually very cute and perfectly harmless. Is that what the staff have seen? If so, go have a look as they are adorable! And in the past, there have also been reports of Tiger Sharks patrolling the shallows in front of the Pearl at early dawn.
    All that is normal and part of living on the coast, and it behooves us to act accordingly, see below.
  • Secondly, it is important for a aquatic recreationists to make responsible decisions.
    The ocean can pose many dangers, from currents, waves, and undertow to encounters with species that can cause injury to humans, whether they be sea urchins, cone snails or even Sharks. Learning how to swim (!), not swimming in rough seas, not swimming early morning or at dusk and not swimming alone are some considerations. This is especially important now that the schools are closed and many children go to the beach = perhaps instead of being unduly alarmist, it would be a better idea to explore hiring/training life guards to monitor the most popular beaches?
But there could also be cause for concern.
I ignore whether there is really any actual increase in sightings, and if so, whether it means that there is a higher influx of Sharks  - or whether it simply means that there are more observations due to more people being on the beach.
And, are those Sharks small and harmless or big and potentially dangerous?

Anyway, let's assume the former = that there are more Sharks.
If it's not the Shark feeding dives: what may have changed to trigger such a phenomenon?

IMO look no further than Covid-19!
  • When we did our tagging, one surprising result was that the bulls would aggregate in front of the Navua river (= receiver # 12) in the early evening, and this irrespective of tide. Only later did we discover the reason, i.e. people trying to avoid paying the rates by dumping their trash into the river, and that the Sharks had learned to take advantage of the windfall much like a pack of stray dogs would raid unsecured garbage bins.
    May this be an increasing phenomenon as money is tight, also with respect to the Qara-ni-Qio? And what about all the trash that is notoriously being left behind by the beachgoers, and then gets washed out to sea by the high tide? May this be attracting Fish and consequently, their predators, too?

  • Have you noticed the many pop-up Fish vendors on the side of the road, and the many ads for fresh Fish in the social media, etc?
    All along the coast, many, many more people than before are fishing - for fun, for kanakana but also in order to supplement their income by legal small-scale commercial fishing but unfortunately, also by illegal commercial fishing and poaching in the MPAs including Shark Reef. We know the perpetrators and also the enablers, i.e. we know who fills the tanks of the gang of scuba diving spear fishermen, who sells them the spear guns and who fences the poached seafood etc - but tackling these things take time and for now, the shenanigans continue unabated.
    Anyway, all this massive ubiquitous fishing, spear fishing and cleaning the catch directly on the coast is bound to attract Sharks, like it does everywhere else.
    And if you spear fish and are not careful, you may well end up having one of those close encounters described by Jonathan - not because of us but because that is what happens everywhere around the world, see here and here among many, many such examples!

    Anyway, where I'm coming from is that fishing and spear fishing close to, or directly at the picnic beaches is just simply unconscionable, and must stop. You have all seen it with your own eyes  - next time, do something about it!
And there you have it.
More facts and action - and less opinions, speculation and idle claptrap!

Have a great day everybody!

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Elasmobranch Tourism for Managers - Paper!

Shark Reef: happy tourists, happy Sharks! Great pic by Ozzie Sam - click for detail!

And here we go again.
Andrew has sent me this paper, and I am once again irritated.
Mind you it is by no means terrible, the more as it correctly states that  
The strict self-imposed management actions and limited number of shark feeding operators at Shark Reef in Fiji, has resulted in minimal long-term effects on bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) behaviour and diet, and is likely to have had no effects on health and fitness,

and that

Provisioning elasmobranchs, the activity deemed to have the most risk associated with it, can be effectively undertaken if appropriate management is in place (e.g. bull shark feeding at Shark Reef Reserve, Fiji)
But the paper is certainly also not good, either.
Like some of its equally irritating predecessors, it suggests that there is a problem urgently requiring third-party management = regulation, something I most strongly disagree with, especially when it comes to those forever maligned provisioned Shark dives.

It's same old same old.
Over the many years, I've blogged about the latter at nauseam and am actually tired tired tired of the bloody useless controversy - but here goes, just because this nonsense cannot remain unanswered.
Read the links!

1. Threats to Sharks and Rays (and their Habitats)

Sharks and Rays are not faring well.
At risk of stating the obvious: the biggest threats to their populations are:
  • Overfishing (Targeted and Bycatch)
    Globally, overfishing of Elasmobranchs remains rampant due to widespread IUU and inadequate management, monitoring, enforcement and prosecution.
    Specifically, this equates to a yearly mortality of roughly 100 million Sharks that are  being killed for the fins, their meat but also other products like e.g. squalene. That is clearly unsustainable and also means that whereas some local conservation efforts have been highly successful, Elasmobranch  conservation appears to be largely failing at a global scale.
    And to add to the problem, we are additionally threatening Shark and Ray populations by equally overfishing their prey.
  • Global Warming and Ocean Acidification whose impacts are both direct but above all indirect (= just a small example) as every single marine ecosystem in general and all Elasmobranch habitats in particular are being severely affected, and this generally negatively. And of course no Shark or Ray will survive if we destroy their habitat!

  • Pollution
    Need I elaborate? And it's by no means only the plastic!

  • Human Encroachment
    This results in habitat change and degradation, and also in conflicts all the way to triggering large and indiscriminate responses that may indeed threaten some local populations like e.g. in Australia, South Africa and possibly, Reunion Island.
And Shark and Ray tourism?

Yeah, right.
Think that in comparison, tourism is in any way a relevant factor?

Actually, on the contrary!
Not only does Elasmobranch tourism not endanger Shark and Ray populations - but in the overriding majority of cases, it contributes substantially to their protection all the way to being its principal driver!
To wit, even in the most infamous documented case of harmful Elasmo tourism, i.e. that of those Southern Stingrays on Grand Cayman, the population appears to be thriving as everybody there understands how valuable they are to the local economy!

So is everything perfect?
Of course not, see e.g. above - but it is certainly not catastrophic, either!

A. Overcrowding and Competition.

This can be a cause for concern.
Especially in multi-user sites, the competition between too many uncoordinated and/or unmanaged tourism operators can lead to excesses that can inconvenience or even harm the animals.
And if so, and only if the industry itself is not able, or willing to cooperate and to self-regulate, then the authorities may indeed have to step in with some common-sense regulations, like limits in the numbers of tourists and/or operators and/or vessels, or e.g. licenses so that the authorities can obtain some data and/or income for monitoring, or common sense codes of conduct, etc.
But regulation should always be the exception and not the rule lest it becomes stifling or even counterproductive!

B. Shark Feeding.

This is what we have learned over the many years.
  • Shark feeding appears unproblematic at the ecosystem level
    All research into those baited Shark dives appears to concur that those dives have little to no effect at large spatial and temporal scales. It appears pretty clear that far from becoming dependent on the handouts, those provisioned Sharks continue to fulfill their ecological roles and also continue to follow their normal life cycles as in e.g. mating, pupping and migrating = there are no described major negative effects impinging on the viability of those populations.

  • However, there are certainly effects at small spatial and temporal scales.
    Shark feeding often aggregates the animals, and this can have local consequences. As an example, take the increased aggression of those Lemons in Moorea; or the observed competitive exclusion of other Sharks in South Africa and possibly Fiji (= much has changed since that paper, and many of the intermediate Sharks are back, for reasons unknown); or those postulated local behavioral changes and marginally increased residency in Southern Australia. That said, the effects are clearly rather minor and don't appear to at all threaten local populations.

    And some of the other marine life may be affected insofar as they, too, may aggregate and partake in a meal = incidentally much like they do in countless other occasions ranging from organic waste being pumped into the oceans by discharges and e.g. rivers all the way to targeted feeding - and now please do tell me which has the by far greater impact!

  • Plus, let's not forget the impact of the thousands upon thousands of people who feed and condition Sharks and other Fishes on a daily basis, i.e. the fishermen and spearos!
    Case in point:

    And this is being repeated, mutatis mutandis, countless times wherever there are fishermen = always and everywhere!
    --> C'mon, seriously: do you really believe that the incremental effect of a few dozen Shark feeding operators is in any way relevant to the health of Elasmobranch populations?
So let's please be crystal clear about the following:
Elasmobranch tourism does in no way threaten the survival of the populations of the Sharks and Rays it showcases - period!

2. Threats to People

Again, this is obviously about Shark Feeding.
As per the below table, the authors considers it to be extremely dangerous, and also postulate the urgent need for regulation owing to widespread lack of management.
Click for detail!

But if so and Shark feeding is so damn dangerous - how come that actually, we are not drowning in horrible injuries and fatalities?
See below!

So there, for the umpteenth bloody time.

A. Public Safety Considerations.
  • There is no geographical correlation between Shark feeding and Shark strikes.
    Re-read this. In brief and with maybe the exception of SA, the vast majority of Shark strikes occurs in locations where there are no Shark feeding operations (like e.g. Florida, California, Western Australia, Reunion or Recife, Brazil)  - which is even more surprising if one considers that most of those dives have been established in places that are known for their healthy Shark populations!
    And even if there were some correlation, it certainly does not equate causation = there is a grand total of zero evidence that Shark feeding endangers the public at large!
    But of course there are some caveats.
    • Location matters.
      Many Shark dives have been being established where there are already Sharks, meaning that objectively speaking, the risk profile is unlikely to change - but perceptions matter and like in the case of population centers like, say, Cape Town or Playa, the diving activity and associated increased publicity of Sharks can lead to conflicts with the other local ocean users. Consequently, as a rule, the feeding locations need to be as remote as possible and should definitely not be established e.g. right in the middle of population centers or right in front of popular beaches etc.

    • Obtaining the required social license and stakeholder involvement are crucial.
      The local stakeholders need to become an integral part of these projects - and this not only through regular awareness, education and consultations but also by letting them partake in the financial windfall, both indirectly but very much also directly. This will help avoid unnecessary risks (eg by having locals avoid the feeding sites), help protect the animals and ensure crucial local support when the inevitable problems will arise.

    • Get in the research.
      The best argument against many of the intuitively plausible reservations of our detractors are strong scientific data. As an example, when people got bitten by Bull Sharks in Cancun and everybody tried to blame the Shark feeding operations in Playa, the operators there had the data showing that they were only feeding females whereas the Bull Shark population in Cancun was only comprised of males. Or in our case, our Bull Shark data show conclusively that we are neither causing residency nor any dependency on our handouts - which right now is helping us make the argument that the present reduction in Shark feeding due to Covid-19 is not endangering our beachgoers!
    B. Safety of the Participants.

    This is a different matter altogether.
    Contrary to the public at large that may be unaware and/or unsupportive of, and thus be subjected to Shark provisioning, anybody partaking in Shark feeding dives knows what they are getting themselves into, and is thus implicitly approving of the activity and possibly even assuming the associated risks.
    Still, we strongly advocate that the operators of commercial dives need to keep their clients (and their employees!) safe - and if not, they need to be held accountable.

    The following considerations apply.
    • Feeding protocols.
      Like I often state, it is often not about the WHAT but about the HOW.
      Shark provisioning creates its own risks, and those risks need to be managed - meaning that all protocols should be chosen in function of minimizing the impact on both the animals and the habitat, and on maximizing the safety for the participants but also the public at large. E.g., everybody will hopefully agree that creating humongous chum trails or dumping indiscriminate amounts of bait to create feeding frenzies is probably a bad idea. Here at BAD, we run a tightly choreographed dive with stringent safety protocols that is often hailed as a template for sustainable Shark feeding, see the citations at the top. Or as another example, we go to great lengths to condition the Bulls never to come to the surface, lest we get accused of endangering other aquatic recreationists.
      In brief, we need to be in a position to demonstrate that we are always striving to conduct our dives in the safest possible way - think, Airline Industry!

    • Shark bites will nevertheless happen.
      As Sharks feeding is risky, the risk will sometimes eventuate - and there is really nothing whatsoever we can do about it apart from protecting ourselves (= steel mesh!) and then dealing professionally with the consequences - and if we do, I am convinced that the consequences will be minimal.
      Case in point: it didn't quite happen like that - but a client did get bitten despite of arguably the industry's most stringent protocols, and no degree of management would have prevented it. And he obviously survived because we were prepared in terms of training, medical supplies and evacuation protocols, as everybody should be!
    • There are Shark strikes and Shark strikes.
      Whereas Shark provisioning is certainly a dangerous undertaking requiring skills and circumspection, everybody in the industry agrees that the cause for bites during provisioned dives is either a) self defense, b) competition or c) mistakes - not predation = those bites can be serious, but the consequences of a fully fledged predatory attack would be something else altogether!
      Exception - but the guy was certainly asking for it!

    • Yes we certainly condition the Sharks, and yes they learn, and this very fast indeed - but they learn to eat bait, not humans!
      It is also absolutely plausible to assume that provisioned Sharks may have learned to e.g. associate the boat noise with a subsequent feeding opportunity, and will thus aggregate when they hear the vessels, or when the operators rev the engines in order to "ring the dinner bell".
      But "turning up" does not equate "attacking"!

    • And finally, with one single fatality (or possibly two) recorded in thousands upon thousands of Shark feeds, baited Shark dives are many orders of magnitude safer than SCUBA!
      This is because contrary to ordinary diving where people are routinely being thrown into situations that can prove to be treacherous, baited and provisioned Shark dives are nearly always supervised and choreographed = help is always quickly at hand.
      Also, and provided that (!) we act responsibly, yours truly and every single Shark diving operator I've ever asked have made the observation that the conditioned Sharks become positively tame, meaning that the risk of a bite is lower not higher!
      Case in point: look no further than Florida and Tiger Beach, home of troglodytes, Shark molesters and media whores, and scene of ever stupider shenanigans by self-promoting Shark whisperers and awareness raisers - and yet nobody is being killed as those poor Sharks are quite obviously unendingly tolerant and forgiving!
    And there you have it.

    When it comes to those Shark feeding dives, I remain convinced that regulation makes only sense in those multi-user sites suffering from overcrowding, and this only when the industry is not able, or willing to cooperate and self regulate, like what is quite possibly  happening in Playa.

    Other than that, any incidents are already suitably covered.
    Since the participants are most certainly willing, those ubiquitous liability waivers should be allowed to stand in minor cases. And any grossly negligent harm to customers can be adequately prosecuted under existing local legislation, whereas existing OHS regulations will suffice to deal with any failure in training and protecting one's employees.
    And that is plenty sufficient.

    Possible exception: those new commercial free-diving ventures!
    Free diving with large predatory Sharks in baited conditions used to largely be private undertakings but it is now being increasingly offered commercially. From this vantage point, this is bringing about a whole new set of specific risks (= foremost of which the great vulnerability of the customers at the water surface) that the paper appears to completely neglect.
    This is novel territory that needs to be closely monitored, the more as those operations are mostly shoestring and largely improvised (and IMO highly sketchy), and with no relevant assets = nothing much to be had should the obvious risks end up eventuating.

    But then again, nobody so far has died despite of all the stupid shenanigans, so who am I to say!

    3. Long story short?

    What really disappoints me is this.
    We are in the middle of the sixth, anthropocene mass extinction requiring all hands on deck in order to try and stem the ongoing catastrophic loss of biodiversity - and yet some quarters find it fit to continue wasting scarce resources in terms of time, brain power and possibly also money on these irrelevant trifles.

    The actual physical footprint of our industry is tiny.
    And yet, we punch way above our weight in terms of outreach but also Shark and Ray conservation and research, and as such are an important agent for positive change = far from being a problem, we are very much part of the solution!
    So why this exasperating fixation on wanting to meddle with what we do?

    Yes, sure: we need to operate responsibly.
    As ecotourism operators, all of us need to strive to have the smallest possible negative impact on the animals and their habitat, and we also need to operate safely - and the vast majority of us actually do!
    Furthermore, we continue to learn from our mistakes, and continue to improve and refine our procedures, like we always have. In fact, we now even have an association of industry pioneers, leaders and trend setters that routinely discuss issues and develop solutions - like right now, we are developing Covid-19 protocols!

    And if not, the market will do what markets do.
    This is a small community where there are no secrets, and notorious transgressors will be quickly weeded out as no travel agent and/or tourist will book dives with operators that are known to be unsustainable and/or exploitative and/or life threatening = which is why I continue to strongly support the establishment of a rating system akin to what has been proposed here

    But enough said - like I said, I'm tired of this shit.
    In concluding (yes, finally!) let me cite myself.

    We did not ask for this - and all this incessant nagging and lecturing by people who ultimately have no clue about, and zero investment into our industry is frankly becoming terminally irksome. 
    There is now a whole cabal of incidentally mainly female researchers whose academic niche (and thus career and thus income) is predicated upon being considered ecotourism experts, or whatever, and who appear to be operating with questionable agendas and also appear to desperately want to meddle instead of waiting to be asked.

    When it comes to the global Shark diving industry in general, there are now one excellent paper and one good one (both, incidentally, by experienced Shark divers!) and several that are not, see e.g. here and also here, and here with links.
    And now there is this. 

    That's plenty enough, thank you very much.
    And now, please, why don't you just fuck off - because we actually got work to do, salaries to pay and tourists to wow!
    No hard feelings, love you all! :)