Tuesday, September 30, 2008


No, not the movie - the wave!!!

To me, it appears that the surfer dudes out there might as well forget worrying about Sharks - THIS is scary!!!

Bloody awesome!!!
( as evidenced by the multitude of triple exclamation marks in this post!!!)

Worst Movie ever!

The Shark who writes Chumslick has personally reviewed this movie - so who am I to add or subtract anything!

"Two Words: Shit Swarm!

I tried to watch this stinking pile of Hallmark shit and we actually fell asleep in the middle.
I have sat through lectures on bond markets, full Latin masses, happily sat hungover in all night dead stop traffic on the I-15 on the way back from Las Vegas, and Shark Swarm starring Darryl Hannah, John Schneider, Armand Assante, and F. Murray Abraham was just about the most boring and unpleasant experience in my life.
Is it possible to be bored, sleepy, and pained at the same time? Yes.

Even tough this film had a pro-green and anti-real estate rape message, it was so fucking bad that I won't give it the courtesy of a proper film review. Instead, here is a picture of a scantily clad PETA ad."

(for that, u need go see for yerself on the original post!)

And here's an equally shitty preview - you have been warned!

No, don't tell me: you've actually watched it!!!

The Daredevils

Valerie just sent me this lovely pic of our Bulls she took in March and a short post reminds me that she and Ron have been part of the underwater world for more than 40 years.

They are my Heroes and we've been best friends forever, and ever since 2002 when we sat down on the upper deck of Pelagian to discuss the first draft of the Fiji Project, they've been enthusiastic mentors of Shark Reef Marine Reserve and regularly pop in to gauge its progress and discuss its future direction - and of course, to have a great time with the Sharks!

They are the kindest and most generous people ever, always willing to share their limitless experience and unique insights garnered from a lifetime of interacting and trying to protect Sharks - and yet, nobody could be more modest, humble and self-effacing, and quite unaware of the huge influence they have had in touching the lives of so many, yours truly included. To me, that is the ultimate sign of true greatness.

And whenever you should marvel at some "feat" by one of the Shark people out there, keep in mind this: in all likelihood, Ron and Val have already done the very same thing decennia ago!
Have a look below and you'll understand what I mean - the difference being that back then, there was no such thing as hi-tech, foolproof gear and safety divers ensuring quasi total protection, and no World Wide Web and YouTube enabling an instant replay for the masses at large. It was adventure, exploration and daring pure and simple, sometimes reckless, always intriguing - but always springing from a deep knowledge, unbridled curiosity and deep love for the Blue Wilderness.

Truly, nobody, and I really mean: NOBODY out there comes even close!

And yet, do you really know who they are?

Here's a "curriculum" from one of the websites.
Yes it's long - but so are their life and the list of their achievements!
It doesn't even mention all of their successes in Conservation, be it the protection of Great Whites, Southern Right Whales and Grey Nurses in Australia or the countless other initiatives where they act as vocal mentors and supporters, e.g. in Komodo or with us in Fiji.

OK, enough ..... Check this out and be amazed!

Ron Taylor was born in March 1934 and Valerie in November 1935. They married in December 1963. Ron began his diving in 1952, Valerie a few years later in 1956.

Like most others at the time, Ron was interested in spearfishing and conservation was not an active movement in Australia until the late 1960's. Ron Taylor had another interest, underwater photography.

He spent almost as much time with his cameras as he did with a spear gun. In 1960 Valerie began spear fishing, eventually winning several Australian championships for ladies in both spear fishing and scuba.

Ron's first award for photography came in 1962, from Encyclopedia Britannica, for a news film titled, Playing With Sharks. Ron Taylor's introductory underwater 16mm film, Shark Hunters, was filmed with diving partner Ben Cropp and showed the first underwater scenes of Grey Nurse sharks and a search for a shark repellent. It was an enormous hit.

Ron received the Underwater Society of America award, the NOGI statuette for Education and Sports, in 1966.
In 1965 Ron won the World Spear fishing Championship held in Tahiti, the first and only Australian to do so. It came after winning the Australian championship for four years in succession at a time when competition was keenest.

By 1966 they had realized that they could capture the underwater world on film and cause it no harm.

The Taylors then began winning honours for their films. While Ron shoots film and video, Valerie concentrates on stills. Over the years the Taylors have produced and worked on numerous feature films and TV documentaries. Barrier Reef, Taylor 's Inner Space and Blue Wilderness were all television series made by the Taylor 's. Blue Water White Death, Jaws, Orca, The Blue Lagoon, Return to the Blue Lagoon, Honeymoon in Vegas are some of the feature film they were involved in. Wild,Wild World of Animals included Taylor Shark sequences; TV specials include Operation Shark Bite; The Wreck of the Yongala; Sea Lovers; In the Realm of the Shark; The Rescue, a Disney feature; In the Footsteps of Mawson; Blue Wilderness; Shadow over the Reef; Mysteries of the Jungle Sea; the tiger shark sequences in The Island Of Dr Moreau. They concentrated on working with sharks because the footage sold well, and they had to make a living.

In 1967 (on the Belgian Expedition) Ron devised an idea of a diver wearing a full length chain-mail suit over a wet suit as possible protection against shark bite. It was more than a decade before the suit was actually made and tested. The result appeared as a National Geographic Magazine cover picture. Although the idea worked well, it was not financially practical, nor necessary, for the average diver.

In 1967 the Taylor's accompanied the Belgian Scientific Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef as advisors and underwater cinematographers, for a period of six months. They worked between Lady Musgrave Island and Lizard Island. It was the first major scientific expedition filming underwater in Australia, and in 35mm. Ron had began filming on this expedition with his own Eclair 16/35 mm movie camera, in a housing he had recently constructed.

In 1969 the Taylors formed their company, Ron Taylor Film Productions Pty Limited. In the same year they co-filmed the feature film, Blue Water, White Death (a Must-Buy!!!) - which was 'an extremely exciting adventure' swimming with hundreds of sharks in bottomless water in the Indian Ocean. Ron and Valerie appeared as themselves being two of the four main characters along with Stan Waterman and Peter Gimbel in this feature length documentary. Filmed in Techniscope which is half-frame 35mm later 'blown-up' to Cinemascope for the release prints. They were responsible for bringing this film crew to South Australia to search and film the great white shark when efforts to find a White shark failed in South African waters and the film was without an ending. They got such an ending in Australia - the film was a hit pre-Jaws.

In 1969 Valerie began underwater stills photography.
Ron built the underwater housings for her cameras which were, at the time, far in advance of anything available in stores. With her art experience Valerie quickly become one of the world's top female underwater photographers, a position she holds to this day.

During 1970-71, they did the 2nd unit underwater filming and directing for the 39 episode Australian TV series Barrier Reef for the same company with Lee Robinson that had success with "Skippy - The Bush Kangaroo".

In 1972-73 they produced Taylor's Inner Space, a series of 13 TV films, showing their encounters with the marine life of Australia and The Coral Sea. These films were sold throughout the world with considerable success.

Meanwhile Valerie's stills had featured in other leading international book publications, Readers Digest, Stern, Life. Valerie was contracted to shoot stills in the Virgin Islands for Time-Life's American Wilderness series of books, and had a major cover and feature in National Geographic with a Great Barrier Reef story obtained after a year of constant work.

During 1974 with Rodney Fox they successfully did the live shark action underwater sequences in Australia for the first Jaws movie.
here - the "small person" was a professional jockey (!) who got a crash course in diving by the Taylors before being dumped into that flimsy and completely inadequate cage!)

Ron and Valerie have since done the underwater filming on many features and documentaries, such as "Orca," and The Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in Fiji November 1979. Both the Taylors have won numerous awards for their underwater photography and videography.

In 1979 Ron finally had his idea of a suit of chain mail made in the USA.
Valerie had to wear it when it was found the suit was too small for Ron.
Another television special features Valerie testing the effectiveness of the suit against shark bite, was titled "Operation Shark Bite."

In 1981 while on a dive trip the Taylor's discovered mining claims on several Coral Sea Islands. They brought this to the attention of the Federal Government and saved these remote bird breeding islands from what would have been disastrous for hundreds of thousands of birds and turtles. Valerie was honored in 1981 by the Underwater Society of America where she received the NOGI award for Arts, and joined Ron as the first husband and wife team to be awarded a NOGI.

1982 saw the release of Wreck of the Yongala, a 47 minute TV film, showcasing what was then the most spectacular of all shipwrecks in shallow water (less than 33 meters deep). The film was instrumental in having the Yongala (and its marine life) made a protected area from fishing.

Also in 1982 the Taylor's lobbied directly and by the media both the Queensland Government and National Parks to make the Potato Cod of Cormorant Pass near Lizard Island known today as The Cod Hole protected.

Valerie has been bitten twice and nipped once by sharks, without permanent injury, she considers such encounters as part of the lifestyle. Three times in 30 years is 'not too bad under the circumstances'.

Four months of 1982 was spent in the Persian-Arabian Gulf, where the Taylors filmed the underwater scenes for six educational films featuring marine life that existed before it was later largely destroyed in the war. On the 4th October 1986, Valerie was in Holland where she was appointed Rider of the Order of the Golden Ark, by his Royal Highness, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. This award was for work in marine conservation.

Later in Sweden she finalized the picture selection for a coffee table book, The Realm of the Shark, a biographical account of their professional lives between the 1950's, until the 1990's. In January 1991, they went to Antarctica. Ron later produced a one hour film In the Footsteps of Mawson. In April that year, they joined Jaws author Peter Benchley, and Stan Waterman, filming once again white Sharks, but in Western Australia. This TV special documented the decline of the species world wide. Twice during 1991, Valerie Taylor was a guest of Jean Michel Cousteau, first on board their boat Alcyone during the filming of their special on white sharks and later when Valerie swam with spotted dolphins in the wild. The Taylors supplied some of their pictures to help illustrate the Cousteau coffee table book Great White Shark.

In January 1992, they returned to South Africa for filming on the National Geographic Blue Wilderness series. This time they tested an electronic shark repelling barrier, and also inadvertently became the first people to film white pointer sharks underwater without a cage, a necessity when the arranged cage was lost in a storm.
Shadow over the Reef,
an adventure diving with giant whale Sharks was filmed at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia in 1993. This film was instrumental in preventing the test drilling for oil inside the Ningaloo marine park.

In February 1996, Ron shot an entire white shark documentary protected only by a Shark Pod repeller.

In April 1997 Valerie won the prestigious American Nature Photographer of the year award for her stunning photograph of a whale shark swimming with mouth open alongside her nephew Jono Heighes at Ningaloo Marine Park. The award sponsored by The American Press Club. Valerie, is also an accomplished artist, a talent that set her off on her first career as a comic strip artist with The Silver Jacket.

The Taylor's documentary film, Shark Pod was also completed in 1997, featuring their successfully trials with the electronic device (invented in South Africa by the Natal Sharks Board) against White pointer, Tiger, Great hammerhead and other shark species. The Shark Pod film received The Jury Award at the Antibes Underwater Festival, France, a high honor and judged by their peers.

After over 50 years in the "business," Ron and Valerie's fame keeps rising.

The Taylor's latest series of three TV films In the Shadow of the Shark is the story of their diving lives. It has been sold to Channel Seven in Australia and to more than 100 countries. Ron and Valerie have also authored three coffee book tomes, The Underwater World of Ron and Valerie Taylor, The Realm of the Shark, and Blue Wilderness (which won the 1998 Gold Palm Award for images at the 25th World Festival of Underwater pictures in Antibes France) and Valerie has also been working on her second children's book entitled, The Mermaid Who Loved Sharks.

In 1997, Valerie was awarded the American Nature Photographer of Year. The following year, she received the Golden Palm Award at Antibes, France, and in 2000, she became an inaugural Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame. Valerie was also honored with two distinguished National titles - the senior Australian Achiever of the year 2002, the country's second highest national award and the Centenary Medal. She was also knighted by Prince Bernhard at the Palace in Holland for her work in the field of conservation. In 2003 Ron became a Member in the Order of Australia.

Valerie and Ron have been honored by the Wild Life Conservation Society of Australia for their work in conservation and at a ceremony in Parliament House NSW, Valerie Taylor was also made the Patron of the National Parks Association of NSW, Australia.

2002 Pelagian Voyage of Discovery, with Ron & Val, Stan Waterman, Bob & Dinah Halstead, Douglas D. Seifert, Chip & Susan Scarlett, Capt. Thomas Ridenour and Lam

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Catwoman: Riddler, you fool! Penguin must have finished them by now!
Riddler: Why, that stupid waddling mountebank of a bird? He couldn't finish a bag of popcorn!
Riddler: You and your trained exploding sharks.
Penguin: How was I supposed to know they had a can of shark-repelling Batspray handy, you sniveling sardine?!
Here I go, poking fun at Batman And Robin Together With All Their Fantastic Derring-Do And Their Dastardly Villains, Too! - and now THIS.

Believe it or not, Sharkdefense, the inventor of "Semiochemical Repellents" has come out with SD-1, an aerosol canister to repel Sharks!!!
Really??? Really!!!

And they are currently testing it on Bull Sharks!
Thankfully for us, they're only selling the stuff to "qualified" (yup, that wud be an oxymoron!) Government, Safety and Fisheries Agencies as I would just hate to see somebody deploy it at Shark Reef - as you well know, we don't want to repel Sharks, we go to great lengths in order to attract them!

And I hear, it works with Lawyers, too!
Who's the mountebank now?


Photo: Frederic Buyle

I'm certainly not a big lover of Cetaceans, but this had me mesmerized.

A friend sent me a video of Dolphins from SeaWorld Orlando, along with this explanation.

The attached video is of dolphins playing with silver colored rings which they have the ability to make under water to play with. 
It isn't known how they learn this, or if it's an inbred ability. As if by magic the dolphin does a quick flip of its head and a silver ring appears in front of its pointed beak. The ring is a solid, donut shaped bubble about 2-ft across, yet it doesn't rise to the surface of the water! It stands upright in the water like a magic doorway to an unseen dimension. The dolphin then pulls a small silver donut from the larger one. Looking at the twisting ring for one last time a bite is taken from it, causing the small ring to collapse into a thousands of tiny bubbles which head upward towards the water's surface. After a few moments the dolphin creates another ring to play with. There also seems to be a separate mechanism for producing small rings, which a dolphin can accomplish by a quick flip of its head. 

An explanation of how dolphins make these silver rings is that they are "air-core vortex rings". Invisible, spinning vortices in the water are generated from the tip of a dolphin's dorsal fin when it is moving rapidly and turning. When dolphins break the line, the ends are drawn together into a closed ring. The higher velocity fluid around the core of the vortex is at a lower pressure than the fluid circulating farther away. Air is injected into the rings via bubbles released from the dolphin's blowhole. The energy of the water vortex is enough to keep the bubbles from rising for a reasonably few seconds of play time. All this time we just thought the Dolphins were just swimming but it appears they were playing.
Being my old skeptic self, I double-checked and came across this techno-page about making rings in the water. No clue if it's all correct, but it sure sounds impressive, and plausible too!

The Dolphins obviously know nothing about Physics (yes I know, if yer from Kona you may beg to differ) and just keep doing it - because it's fun and because they can!

Take a look: fascinating and endearing!

The Shark Killers

If you believe that the Shark fishing, and finning fleets come from the "bad" Asian countries Japan, China and Taiwan, think again!

After having cleaned out the North Atlantic stocks, none other than the European Union is reaping and pillaging far from home all across the World's Oceans.

"The European Union includes some of the most important Shark fishing nations in the World. In 2005, European nations caught nearly 100,000 metric Tons of Elasmobranches (including Sharks, Rays and Sawfishes). Spain took the largest share at 39% of the EU total, followed by France (22%), Portugal (16%) and the UK (11%)."

Just in case you've missed it: that's one hundred thousand Tons or one hundred million Kilos!!!!

"Sharks were usually considered as bycatch in fisheries for highly migratory species like Tuna, Bonito and Swordfish.
This report shows that Sharks are the main targeted species of more than 200 efficient European longliners operating all over the world's oceans. Each vessel is free to catch as many Sharks as it can. European Union Member State fleets take advantage of this opportunity in European waters and in waters around the globe - fishing for economically valuable species in high demand and without the requirement to respect any kind of management measures that limit the catches.

The Spanish and Portuguese longliner fleets are fishing for Sharks in all of the world's oceans: on the high seas, outside domestic Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and even in the EEZs of some of the poorest countries in the world under so-called bilateral fishing agreements with third countries. "

And then comes a long and frustrating list of the countries that have been suckered into signing those deals. Has development aid payed a role in making them more "responsive"?
You bet it has!

All of this from Oceana's "Hunted for Fins", another chilling review of what's going on out there.
There is also "Fishy Business" for those wishing more facts.
And you can also read this short executive-summary-like synopsis.

As a Brit operating in precisely one of those fragile countries, I'm appalled and ashamed.

But surprised? As a European, not really.
We all know all too well what's going on in Brussels, the EUs headquarters.
A "Parliament" that is a repository of politicians that are either unsuccessful or unwanted in their home countries and where "democracy" is a travesty of Zimbawean proportions. An inflated Bureaucracy and Commission where allegations of inefficiency, corruption, mismanagement and illegal appropriation of funds are rife - but never adequately investigated and even less, prosecuted. As always, lacking adequate supervision, Greed and Stupidity reign supreme! Sound familiar?
No wonder if that spawns a fertile operating ground for lobbyists and no wonder if the bureaucrats that get parachuted into the EU's foreign missions are of the very same breed, small fry by European standards but over here, highly courted big honchos with big mansions, big cars, big mouths, big and poorly audited pockets and an equal risk of both corrupting and being corrupted.
Yes, I'm really not surprised!

I say: EU, shame on you!

A new Species of Giant Grouper?

A recent scientific blog is featuring this video of Ratu Rua -pictured here by Michael Aw- one of our Giant Groupers, claiming that it is a newly discovered species, the "Pacific Goliath Grouper", a sister species of the critically endangered Atlantic Ocean former "Jewfish", and now Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara.

Well, maybe there is indeed such a distinct species inhabiting the Eastern Pacific. After Andrea Marshall's stunning discovery of a second Manta Ray, anything is possible.
But Taxonomy is often a matter of judgment and Scientists can generally be divided into "Lumpers" and "Splitters". The latter are often newbies lacking a track record of bona fide descriptions and are eager to finally put their name to a new discovery. I remain skeptical.

When it comes to Sharks, one famous -or infamous- such case was the attempt to split the Grey Reef Shark, Carcharhinus amblyrhinchos into Carcharhinus menisorrah (or proper Grey Reef) and Carcharhinus wheeleri (or "Short-nosed Blacktail Shark) in the 70ies, this based on the observation that the latter Indian Ocean Grey Reefs have a slight white edging to their first dorsal fin and apparently never engage in the typical agonistic display of the Grey Reefies in the Pacific.
It was finally resolved that they are all but one species and in fact, you can see both color morphs on Shark Reef.

But back to the grouper.
A Goliath Grouper looks like this.
It was filmed in Fernando de Noronha, thus in the Atlantic Ocean, but apparently, the "new" Grouper looks identical in body form and markings , the classical case of a Cryptic Species Complex.

In fact, the new Pacific "species" has been named Epinephelus quinquefasciatus, this in reference to its five color bands which are identical to those of the Goliath Grouper above.

Ratu Rua looks nothing like it.
She is uniformly mottled dark with a slight light edging to her fins, a reminder of the much more striking edging when subadult (the juveniles are yellow with irregular black bars).
Like our other three large groupers, she is clearly Epinephelus lanceolatus, the Giant or Queensland Grouper.

Want to know more?
Check out this page from our latest fish count in February!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Out there

"It could be the last thing you see...
A great beast - the size of a bus - and its ravenous appetite, savaging all it encounters with razor-sharp teeth and a crushing strength unknown to man. At first lurking in the distance - another shadow in an ocean full of dark nuances. Then it approaches - and strikes swiftly, without remorse - in a blink, it all ends. In these parts, the locals simply know it as... "

.... and-so-on and-so-forth...
And this in 2008 when scores of Conservationists are despairing at the world-wide demise of Sharks. Thank you for being biased, ignorant and unconcerned!

But granted, Shark incidents do happen and surfers and other aquatic recreationists are understandably concerned and anxious about not ending up at the receiving end of such encounters.
I for one would never, ever go surfing, spearfishing or swimming in Great White territory, ever!

Some simply gloat and try to exploit the ensuing news, e.g. by setting up idiotic websites.
Others, for whom staying high and dry is simply not an option, have gone to the trouble of trying to develop a list of reasonable recommendations.
Like with us Shark divers, it all boils down to being smart, responsible and hopefully, to minimizing the risk by displaying adequate behavior and following a sensible set of procedures.

I did like this post on a South African surfing blog for for its laudable intention to remain unbiased and to put things into perspective. As to the idea with the eye, well, I dunno.... As always in those cases, it will remain an interesting but untested Hypothesis.
Other sites worth consulting are the recommendations by the International Shark Attack File and the Global Shark Attack File. Most of it is nothing more than common sense - but as we all know, that is a rare commodity indeed!

And if everything fails, there is always this.
And this for gators (I don't go swimming in the Everglades, either...)
And this if you parachute should fail to open (yes, you're likely to break your arms! over my dead body....).

But better than starting to memorize - be smart!
Chances are very very very much in your favor and you're likely to have one helluva time out there!

When a Turtle goes Punk - and Men are still Idiots

Check out this post by SeaWayBLOGs Guido Trombetta.

Nature - simply Amazing!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Naughty File!

Sasha has posted the Naughty File, so there!

Thankfully, it has been posted in its correct aspect ratio, thus sparing me more comments about "fat Sharks" and the like - after all, they're big and healthy enough as it is!

When it comes to all that bumping and grinding, the jury is still out on what it could mean.
It may just be the signature of the camcorder scrambling the Sharks' sensory system. But it may also be an attempt to assert dominance. Most powerfully armed animals resolve their conflicts via highly ritualized fights and employ their weaponry only at the very last resort.

Have you ever "stared away" a Shark?
I've found that to be a highly effective tool and in most of the cases, the animals will veer away as soon as eye contact has been established. Sometimes, however, they will react by making a direct beeline for the camera, especially in the case of some specific, very large and thus likely dominant females as Granma, Crook and Bum.
With that in mind, in Bull Sharks (and other Sharks, too), the escalation in asserting dominance could be as follows: Size - Staring - "Beeline" and "Giving Way" - Bumping - Biting. Yes I know, it's once again only a Hypothesis - but we're working on it.....

Keep in mind that I'm generally out there in the very center of the fray and that I could be regarded as just another big something that is equally interested in the food and thus needs to be put in its place - just like in that take at 0.32 where Kinky bites away Whitetail the Lemon Shark, a rare case of documented interspecific aggression..

As to Scarface, our biggest Tiger (4.5 meters - and growing...) , that's another story altogether - yet maybe it is not.
Doug Perrine took this picture on the very day when Scarface and I met for the first time. What ensued is the final take on the file. The way I see it, she had just taken a fish head from a feeder and upon seeing another person "offering" something dark, she came in and had a nibble. Ever since, she regularly glides in and has a real good look and sniff at both yours truly and the housing, but she has never even opened her mouth again. What you perceive as "bumps" is actually me pushing her away whenever I get the feeling that she lingers for too long, just in case she makes up her mind and decides to do something more radical.
Is there "something going on"? I'm convinced there is, some sort of a "squaring off" which however is limited to both of us resorting to a lot of mutual staring. Very intense for sure, as Tiger Shark eyes sure are something completely different from the reptilian glances I get from most other Carcharhinid Sharks.
Very personally rewarding, too.

Anyway, I just wanted to put things into perspective. As the title implies, this is not our normal fare, nor is it by any stretch of the imagination what our much-supervised and -protected clients are bound to personally experience.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The straight Shooters

Have you noticed: I very frequently reference "Underwater Thrills; Swimming with Sharks", the fabulous blog by California-based Shark diving operators Shark Diver.

Always interesting, often funny and sometimes highly controversial, they embody the very best our Industry has to offer in terms of Information, Entertainment and Opinion.

As you may have gathered, the universe of Shark aficionados is populated by a passionate and diverse menagerie of unique characters. Talk about being toothy, opinionated and solipsistic - yours truly included! But despite of all the controversies that regularly have our tempers flaring, we all share a great common love and concern for the welfare of Sharks and the Ocean in general.

Regardless of whether we're Cowboys, idealistic Tree Huggers or Pragmatists, Underwater Thrills offers something for everybody.
And in a small community where draw-shoot-aim seems to be the rule, their global outlook and their well-thought-through and often visionary op-eds regularly position them at the very forefront of developments within our Industry.
Like this latest one exploring the limits of sensationalism and risk-taking in commercial Shark diving, and the ensuing discussion thread: timely, well said, well moderated. Yes indeed, "Commercial Shark diving is not SCUBA diving"!

Much to learn from and much to be inspired by!

I say: well done guys, and thank you - May Dakuwaqa always be with you!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cage Diving? Hmmm........

OK OK, I get it, what we do in Fiji is sub-optimal, if not outright stupid, and we should use Metal Cages!

This is because they are designed to keep the divers on the inside of the cage, and the Sharks, on the outside.
Absolutely foolproof.
And Very Very Safe!

I also understand that there are basically two kinds:

  • The Re-bar/Chicken-wire Cage, somewhat hard-core and basic but very much up to its task

  • The hi-tec Welded Aluminum Cage, the absolute Acme of Safety - or was it ACME, as in Wile E. Coyote? Go wonder......

(just teasing, guys...)

Howly Sardiine!!!

All I can say is that Batman rocks!!!

(From the epic Dialogue: "Hand down the shark repellent Batspray!")

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The whole Picture!

Despite of our best efforts, our periodical posts about Juerg's ongoing research on Shark Reef have been limited to little snippets, without really being able to detail the full scope of what we're trying to achieve.

Finally, here comes a comprehensive overview of the aims, techniques and preliminary results of what he has been doing in Fiji over the past few years.
You can click on it to see it in full size (yes, it's huge!).
Enjoy - plenty of great stuff to discover!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Told you so!

The title sure had me fooled.

"Searching for elusive Sharks with those who farm the Sea" had me think about a piece about some Conservationist trying to find some threatened species, like Basking Sharks or the like.

Instead, it is an idiotic ramble by an equally idiotic "journalist" about having gone out fishing for one of those "monsters", only to return empty-handed as the Sharks have disappeared due to the "crazy EU laws".

Or whatever.
No empathy, no reflection - just his frustration about not having been able to kill one more.

Told you so - that's what fishermen are.

Freshwater Giants!

I found this amazing picture on the unparalleled SeaWayBLOG.

It depicts what could be the largest freshwater fish, a Giant Stingray from the Mekong River..
The post is about ecologist Zeb Hogan and his Megafishes Project, the quest to document and protect the World's largest freshwater fishes.

The Mekong harbors other giants, like this enormous catfish that is equally a contender for being the largest freshwater fish.

Other freshwater giants are the Amazon's Arapaima , the European Wels Catfish (pic on the right) and of course, with up to 8 meters and 2,700 kilos, the largest of them all, the Beluga Sturgeon which is however anadromous and may not fully fulfill the criteria. And how about the Chinese Paddlefish which however may already be extinct?
Or have you previously heard about the Taimen, the world's largest trout? Me neither!

Any freshwater Sharks?
Of course, there's our Bull Sharks and some other well known species - but they're merely freshwater-tolerant.
But there's a small and poorly researched group of Sharks from the Glyphidae Family prowling some Asian and, no wonder , some Ozzie rivers. They are the Ganges, Speartooth and Irrawaddy River Sharks but very likely some more, undescribed species like this specimen from Borneo (and there's plenty more to learn if you continue scrolling down that website) and some new discoveries among a new batch of finds from OZ.

Back to that stingray, here's a video of that amazing encounter - enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nice Footage!

Here's a short clip from The Shark Dive by Aqualuminous Production.
Great footage, impressive video quality!

Adios Square Groupers - Hello Subs!

It used to be bales of pot raining from the sky, affectionately called "Square Groupers" and mega-powered speedboats like this "Midnight Express Interceptor" for both the drug smugglers and the DEA alike - in brief, the stuff "Miami Vice" was all about.
Apparently, "one could wander the shipyards of Miami and occasionally spot DEA and drug runner boats under construction side by side, at the same builder!"

Talk about mega-bucks for R&D!!!

Now, it seems, both sides have ratcheted up the stakes by several notches, as witnessed by this interesting tidbit from Central America:

"MEXICO CITY - The U.S. Coast Guard says it intercepted a submarine-like vessel carrying 7 tons of cocaine off Central America's coast. The Coast Guard says a U.S. Navy aircraft spotted the 60-foot vessel Wednesday about 400 miles south of the Mexico-Guatemala border.

The Coast Guard sank the vessel after determining it was too unstable to be towed to port. The Coast Guard's statement Friday did not say if anyone was arrested. Officials didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

The bust came four days after the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy seized another homemade submarine carrying 7 tons of cocaine. That craft was towed to a Coast Rican port and four Colombians on board were arrested."

Are we about to witness the emergence of a series of "sub-like vessels" for the public?
Judging from the commercial success of the Interceptor, it may be only a matter of time.

In a world where a woman called Bacon wins a Hog Calling Contest (?), anything can happen!

A double half decaf and our daily dose of bad news from the Middle East

And here's another brilliant one by Patric.

Although I really did like the article in the Edmonton Sun as well!

Well done to both of them!

PS: For those in the know, this pic by Doug Perrine is one of the very few records of Doris!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Сказовые Изображения!

If you thought that the above picture illustrates typical Russian diving, think again!

The drabness of the Soviet Union is but a memory and a new and wealthy generation of Russian diving tourists are scouring the Oceans armed with a new-found pride, brand-new passports, top-notch gear and a degree of Enthusiasm and Passion we Westerners seem to have all but forgotten.

Case in point: this fantastic collection of underwater images.
From the hotspots of the Eastern Pacific to the Maldives to Indonesia, and yes, to Fiji too, these Russian underwater photographers have collected a portfolio that is second to none!


The eccentric Shark Hugger

That's what the mainstream media obviously think she is.

But label or no label, those media reach out to an awful lot of people, among which yours truly who had never heard of the lady before.

Turns out that Dr. Ellen Pikitch has a bio (and here's another one) to make one's head spin and that her PEW Institute for Ocean Science is sponsoring a wide variety of highly worthwhile projects, as the (frightening!) PEW Global Shark Assessment, research aimed at protecting the Shark population of Belize's Glover's Reef or a new DNA-based monitoring system for improved US Shark conservation and management.

And she has co-authored a new book: "Sharks of the Open Ocean" is "the first thorough review of the Biology, Threats, and Management outlook for open ocean Sharks and Rays".
Virtually every pelagic Shark expert in the world has contributed to this landmark publication which includes the latest data and knowledge on pelagic Shark biology, fisheries, management, and conservation. 173 bucks are a lot of money but in view of both the topic and the authorship, they are probably a worthwhile contribution as this certainly displays all the hallmarks of being required reading.

Impressed? Me too!
May all eccentrics be like Dr. Pikitch!

The incredible White Sea

Alexander alerts me to this fabulous portfolio from the Russian underwater photography community blog uw_photo. You need to click on the pix to see them in all their glory and also, I highly recommend going through the whole portfolio in the blog - stunning!

The creatures are all from the White Sea, a hitherto rather obscure portion of Russia's Arctic Ocean. Isn't that where the Red October was berthed?

Anyway, secret sub bases or not, this looks like the next destination for lovers of the weird and wondrous! Not me, though, at least not until I hear more about its megafauna. Initial tales about "semi-stable bait balls" containing birds and Beluga Whales are certainly promising - but how about something a little more toothy guys?

And how about the cold? The creature comforts?
Sasha assures me of the existence of a "pretty decent diving center" and a small resort with a Russian touch: banya for after the dive, Russian cuisine and, last but not least by any stretch of the imagination: Russian entertainment!

As in, writes Sasha, "balalaika and dancing bears"!

Or, if yer really fortunate, you may even have the privilege of experiencing This!
Enjoy! (yes I know I know..)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Quod erat demonstrandum........

I cite.......

"The group is collecting information about the species to help the government of Canada to determine whether or not to list Basking Sharks as endangered off the coast of B.C (my emphasis).

After the sharks clashed with fishing equipment mid-century, the Federal Government embarked on a Basking Shark eradication program from the late 1940s until the 1960s. Blades were attached to the front of boats and driven through the gentle giants and since the 1990s, there have only been sporadic sightings of Basking Sharks on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Researchers previously scanned the waters on the West Coast in the spring and last fall and didn't come up with any sightings."

The article I'm citing from is titled "One year and no sightings of Basking Sharks" and describes the futile search for Basking Sharks by some scientists from Canada's Pacific Biological Station. Not having found any at all (in fact, the last sighting of a Basking Shark dates back to two summers ago), the group is planning to go back in October to "hopefully collect more baseline information", undoubtedly at more cost to the Canadian taxpayer.

Beg you - what???

"Baseline information"???
As in: there's no more Sharks???

And I cite again:

"After that, the Federal Government will consider whether or not to add the sharks to the endangered list of species. If they do, McFarlane said, following that decision would be the requirement to develop a recovery program for the species."

I've just blogged about it and here is the case in point: Fisheries Biologists "collecting data", Governments "considering", Conservation being "developed". In the meantime, the species has gone locally extinct and this thanks to, of all things, a Government eradication program.
Bet it didn't take years to ponder about that one, huh?

Enough said.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

CNN again!

I've blogged about it before but I'm compelled to applaud CNNs Planet in Peril again.

This time, it's a short trailer featuring correspondent Lisa Ling and, alas, Cocos Island.
That's the place where I started getting "serious" about Sharks way back there in the 80ies, before the Hunters and Aggressors and the like.
Talk about schooling Hammerheads by the thousands! Really!

It is just heartbreaking seeing video of longlines killing, I believe, Galapagos Sharks coming from that place - and this despite of all of the money going to Costa Rica's National Parks by way of the park fees collected from visiting vessels and divers!
Want to really know the whole chilling story of what's happening to the Sharks of the Eastern Tropical Pacific? Then you may want to download "At Rock Bottom", WildAid's comprehensive compilation of the region's desolate state of affairs.

You can show your concern and solidarity by following Felix and Wolfgang Leander's invitation to get involved.
Their cult-blog "Oceanic Dreams" outlines two possible ways: vote for Cocos to be included into the new 7 Wonders of the World; or else, vote for it to be a nominee in the American Express Members Project.

Thank you and well done guys - and lady!

Eye to Eye

Here's yet another lovely picture by Alexander, along with a funny description on his blog.

Sasha is right, these are moments which to us are funny and endearing.
It is quite obvious that the Bull Sharks are very familiar with the routine and distinguish precisely between the feeders and the bait. Mind you, these are trained animals with a long personal history of interacting with specific individuals.

Even so, we remain acutely aware of the dangers involved.
Rusi may be putting up his hand to stop the Shark - but only because he is wearing a steel mesh glove underneath his black one. Bulls have a rather poor eyesight, as documented by their tiny eyes which are so very different from those of the Reefies or the Silvertips, and a mistake can happen anytime.

On this particular incident which I witnessed personally, all happened very slowly and on a dive where the "feel" was very relaxed. Only then will the feeders consider giving a friendly pat as a sign of their affection.
Other times, things may heat up a bit more, especially when we have a lot of youngsters trying to snatch a snack ahead of the big dominant females. Then, we may close the feeding bin, take a step back and wait for matters to calm down - which they inevitably do.
This is when when the feeders' huge experience comes into play - and not, as some might think, in extending some food to a relaxed, friendly and cooperative Shark, big as he may be.

And then of course there's this video of the stupid Cuban with his bare hands, a pair of Speedos and plenty of ill-applied cojones as his only protection. It's an old one and you may have seen it already - but it still amply illustrates how NOT to do it!

Great Set!

Whilst busily munching on my fair share of humble pie for my repeated failure to mention Terry Goss as the author of, among many others, some of the most amazing images from Shark Reef, I've literally stumbled across a new set of his pictures that were used to illustrate a feature in Shark Diver Magazine's issue number 17.
This one was used to illustrate the Magazine's online description of our main attraction, the Bull Sharks.

I haven't seen the article and just hope Bill Fisher has been kind to us.

Anyway, great pix as always!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The flip Side of the Coin

Under the title "Saving Sharks at the expense of Fishermen", here comes a real interesting article exploring the flip side of Shark Conservation, i.e. the fate of Shark fishermen who are being pushed out of business by new rules from the National Fisheries Management Services, a division of the US' NOAA.

The Atlantic Ocean Shark population overall has dropped 89 percent, with Tigers dropping by 97%, and Hammerheads, Duskies and Bulls 98%. That has prompted the Authorities to step in with some draconian fishing quotas.

Once they are fully implemented, the new rules could lead to the likely recovery of the population of Sandbar Sharks by 2070, of Porbeagles (like the one pictured above caught for "Science"; the water tube sticking out of his mouth is meant to ventilate it whilst it's being "worked on") ), within the next 100 years and of Dusky Sharks, within the next 100 to 400 years.
Yes you have read it correctly: up to 400 years! This is an indication of the present damage to stocks, but it is also due to the fact that Sharks are extremely slow breeders.

Obviously, the Shark fishing community cannot afford the luxury of waiting for so long and is now faced with immediate disaster, as the new quotas are too low to operate a vessel.

"But hey, wait a minute", I hear you say, "aren't these the very same people that have exterminated the stocks in the first place?"
Yes, they are, and if left to themselves, they would undoubtedly continue to reap and pillage until the very last stocks would be wiped out, along with the industry living off them. That's what fishermen seem to do time after time after time again.
From that point of view, they should be left to go under, with nobody to blame but themselves for what appears to be their stupid and reckless greed.

But having said this, what about the guys who supposedly have the "brains"?
What was NOAA doing whilst the stocks were falling by 30, and then 40 and then 50 and then 60 and then 70 and then 80 and then 90 percent?
You guessed it: likely nada de nada! Or better: as the stocks were falling, they may have started to collect data in order to properly document the threat in view of some future decision.
That's what Fisheries Biology has become all too often: collecting data in order to diligently document the decline, and all to often, the demise of a species. Caught between the interests of environmentalists who say they're not doing enough and the fishing lobby who fear for their livelihood, the Agencies all to often keep procrastinating until the situation has progressed well beyond its tipping point and everyone is faced with a catastrophe.
As an example, the new rules have taken years to document and one and a half years to "equitably" draft by consulting with all of the stakeholders - way too long for the stocks and the fishing industry alike.
Was that smart?

Will anybody learn from this unholy and repetitive pattern?
Maybe issue some pre-emptive injunction and only then go out and document it with the required data?
I wish!

But hope, as they say, springs eternal.

Shrinking Whale Sharks

Amid worrying news that Whale Sharks numbers are dwindling and that individuals are shrinking in size due to over-exploitation, here come news of the remarkable sighting of an albino Whale Shark from in Galapagos.

Upon seeing a first images, I first thought of some photoshopped hoax, but then discovered this series in a photo library.
What a stunning encounter that must have been!

Protecting threatened highly migratory species like Whale Sharks, Billfishes and Tuna is especially difficult due to the need to coordinate Conservation efforts across political boundaries. So far, the fishing fleets have managed to always stay one step ahead of the efforts to regulate their activities.

Sadly, in all honesty, I cannot find an upbeat ending to this post.
If the travesty surrounding the Caviar trade is any indication of what's to come, chances are that some Japanese will be willing to pay a million bucks for the last sushi, and a wealthy Chinese businessman, the same sum for the very last serving of Shark fin soup. In a market for luxury items which is deprived of price elasticity, it will always pay to go out and harvest, regardless of how costly and difficult this may be.

Guess that, like in the case of Caviar, all we can do is keep up the fight to slow down what appears inevitable and in our case, enjoy the privilege of the wonderful encounters we are still blessed to experience.

After all

the past is a Memory
the Future, a Mystery
and the Present, a Gift.

That's why we call it "Present".

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good one!

Having been away for a few weeks, I'm slowly working myself through the many Shark-related news out there.

Here's a brilliant post by Shark Diver's CEO Patric Douglas.
(three links in a sentence must be a record...)

Very, very well said amigo!

The value of Sharks

There's a lot of NGOs out there and generally speaking, I'm pretty weary about them.

All too often, the global picture is that of a deplorable fragmentation of efforts, vitriolic infighting, too much bureaucracy, widespread ideological bias and finally, squandering of resources and lack of tangible results. From a "Business" and "ROI" point of view, most of the Boards concerned should be fired for incompetence and for having failed to meet their goals.

But there are notable exceptions to that.
Apart from Juerg's faithful -and I may add: highly successful- principal sponsors Shark Foundation and SOS Foundation, one organization that regularly shines in its relentless advocacy of the need to protect Sharks is Oceana.

Amid a plethora of information, and action, concerning Sharks, Oceana has released two important papers detailing the value of Sharks:

"Predators as Prey" examines the role of Sharks in safeguarding healthy ecosystems by regulating the numbers and influencing the behavior of its prey. Apart from the famous case of the demise of the North Atlantic's scallop fisheries, it details examples from Australia, Alaska and the Caribbean. This is required reading for anybody, like us, having to defend Sharks from the allegation of being useless, man-hunting vermin that is best eradicated.

"SeaTheValue" explores the value divers assign to being able to experience healthy Coral, Sharks and Sea Turtles, notabene additionally to the value of diving per se. May this be the harbinger of a paradigm shift away from pure tree-hugging and towards a more pragmatic approach to Conservation in line with our own project paper?

Well done and as we say over here, Vinaka Vakalevu!