Wednesday, June 30, 2010

BBC Shark Videos - simply fantastic!

I really did like this alot - take a look.

This could have been about any other animal and its habitat.
For once, a Shark video featuring no stupid host, no fabricated hype, no gore - but also no romantic stereotypes, no scenes of finning, no doomsday scenarios, no wagnerian drama!

Instead, the clip contains all the ingredients of truly professional nature programming: excellent story line, excellent images, excellent editing, excellent commentary, excellent sound track. With Shark Week looming and increasing indications that this year's lineup will once again feature plenty of Shark porn, the BBC once again shows everybody how to produce fantastic documentaries featuring Sharks.

This is the way forward, this is how one gets the message across.
It has been successfully done with the terrestrial predators and I cannot tell you how glad I am to see that the same rules are now finally being applied to the Marine ecosystems.

More of the same below, capitalizing on the amazing insights of TOPP.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Important Stuff by Neil!

One more post about Shark research!
The Dorsal Fin
alerts me to this video featuring Dr. Neil Hammerschlag.

Story here.
Neil comes across as being an impressive guy doing impressive things.
He popped up on my radar when I reported about the senseless killing of pregnant Sharks in Florida and I have since followed his research blog and had a peek at his website. From what I can discern, he operates very much at the cutting edge of science and technology, is respectful of the animals and is passionate about conservation - exactly the way I believe modern researchers need to be!
Very well done indeed!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Bull Shark Tagging Programme

Please click to enlarge.

This is Juerg's poster for his presentation at Sharks International.

The Program comprises much more than tagging only.
Over the years, it has naturally evolved into a multi-faceted project exploring all the different facets of what we do here in Fiji, from trying to answer strictly biological and conservation-oriented questions to optimizing our procedures in view of always improving safety but also, reducing our impact on the animals and the reef. This has already led to the publication of several papers, with more in the pipeline.

As always, it is work in progress and subject to change as we gain new insights.
This is such a time where we are re-defining our priorities and formulating new initiatives, some of which will surprise, and hopefully, excite you.

Keep watching this space!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Cristina understands.

"I don't think they like it the way human beings perceive liking it... but definitely there's something positive about it that the Sharks like."

Same-same with Sharkman Mike under her guidance - and for once, a show on Discovery I really did enjoy.

All with a caveat: for professionals only!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I stand corrected!

Me and my big mouth!

I recently scorned Kevin Waterworld Costner.
Wrongly so: apparently, his gizmo works just fine!

Guess that teaches me not to always equate Out of the Box with Out there in Left Field!

Guadalupe - what's it gonna be?

Hot - and yes, it is a link! Click to enlarge.

Pete Thomas raises valid points.

His post about Shark diving in Guadalupe is well researched and really hits the nail on the head.
The question is, will the next GW season be a continuation of the stupid arms race whereby the operators try and one-up each other - or will the operators finally get together, agree on a common code of conduct and convince the Mexican authorities to play their role, step in and punish any transgressions?
Anybody taking bets?

Just as a reminder.
This is not about whether it is possible to safely swim with Great Whites outside of the cage – it is.
This is about whether the Guadalupe Shark diving operators should do so commercially, with paying tourists.

At first glance, the situation appears unequivocal.
So far, the official industry standard has been to keep clients in cages and cage-like structures (submersible cages are totally OK and the runabout is as hot as it gets) and to limit more direct encounters to industry professionals only, this in the aim of enabling them to “get the shot” - very much in line with what we do here in Fiji.

Recently, however, that definition has been stretched to the point that instead of being limited to professional video operators and photographers acting behind the camera, we’re now being presented with a whole host of questionable images depicting people, professional and not, interacting directly with Guadalupe’s GWS in front of the camera.
Like this one at 1:42 in an otherwise fantastic production – was that really necessary?


Or check out this video – am I really to believe that this was part of a genuine professional film shoot?
And anyway, what message do those clips convey?

Thing is, the clients see them and want to emulate the experience and above all, capture the same images.
That’s what customers will always do, to ask for special favors and to try and push the envelope ever a bit further. But the ultimate decision will always be ours, not theirs. In fact, on most Shark dives here in Fiji, one of us ends up saying No, sorry, we don’t do that to some customer – and every single one of those happens to be toting expensive cameras with super wide angle lenses.

Our intransigent stance does of course impact our bottom line – but the alternative would be to incur risks we deem unreasonable and to ultimately risk ending up with no business, no conservation and no jobs.
With that in mind, for us, the choice is simple.

Is the situation in Lupe any different?

Having asked several Lupe operators about their views, the answers are all the same.

Us guys are split between two camps.
One faction thinks to "get the business" you have to support this stuff or be part of it. The other thinks we should all just stick with the plan, you know, set diving protocols the usual. The shenanigans are coming from new folks and operators who are trying to make their mark.
Then there's those who support or even work with those guys for reasons that seem to me to be all about cock and ball ego, as in "lookee who I had over to dinner last nite ma."


It would seem that Mexico or the sharks will have to determine the final level of shenanigans at this site, and my bet is with the sharks who have had 100 million years to get their shit together - vs. Mexico who seems to be too preoccupied counting heads in paper bags on their borders to be all that effective in curbing idiots with sharky aspirations.
Can you tell I am a bit perturbed about this?


I have always believed that having customers out in open water with white sharks is simply not worth the risk. We will not do it period.
My partner boat owners feel the same way even more so - they hate to see us working out there with film crews. We have tried to convince all of the other owners the same. But when you have d…heads like the two Anuses out there, it just gets so frustrating.

With the competition always trying to one up the other guy, it makes it difficult to keep people interested in the controlled situation. They (the customer) will always want MORE than the last guy got.


We are not gonna be letting folks out of cages...
s..t, can you imagine the shit/fan scenario that would go on about that!
Personally, although I think I am pretty brave I don't think I am stupid, and it would take a LONG time of seeing these guys and knowing who was who before I would even think about swimming around with them.

But then, the reality seems to be much fuzzier.
We get plenty of Shark divers here announcing that they are going to Guadalupe where “somebody” has offered to “quietly and secretly” take them out of the cage.
And I get e-mails like

One of my guest who told me that they went snorkeling with the seals there!! I almost chocked on my tea!
Snorkeling with one the major food sources!! It was OK he told me - the water was only about 4 feet deep!!! Yup, not like they are gonna sneak up behind you in shallow water is it???? Honestly the more I hear in this business the more amazed I am at the stupidity of mankind!
I check out the Darwin awards on line sometimes and it reconfirms that for me!


I just had a client this week who did Lupe with … and they took the top off the cage, sent it down to the bottom (I think) so that when a white had come in it would dive down toward the bottom and they could get a better look!
He said they were told "if a white comes in to the cage, then you want to get out of the cage!" - well, no s..t! He said they sat around on the top of the cage for a while till they were bored and they swam about a bit with 4 -5 whites cruising around!!
Sounds like a when and not an if that someone is gonna get nibbled...

Yes Amos is of course the most brazen example of how those limits are continuously being tested - and will of course be tested again this year! For an additional fee!
I certainly won’t bore you with a re-hash of my take on the matter – but he certainly has a point when he complains about double standards!

In the end, it’s gonna be up to the operators and Mexico – as it should be.
They know the place, the animals, the risks, the rewards, the business models and they will win, or lose based on the decisions they will take – or not take!

So, what’s it gonna be?
More shenanigans or long-term sustainability?

Friday, June 25, 2010

At the Forefront!

From The status of chondrichthyan conservation in the Indo-Australasian region.


Sharks, batoids (rays) and chimaeras (Class Chondrichthyes) are considered to be particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation as a result of their K-selected life-history strategies, which is generally characterized by low fecundity, slow growth, late age at maturity and long life spans (Stevens et al., 2000).
Population declines and localized extinctions have been documented for a number of chondrichthyan fishes (Dulvy et al., 2000; Simpfendorfer, 2000; Stevens et al., 2000; Graham et al., 2001; Frisk et al., 2002).

Many chondrichthyans play an important role as apex predators at the top of the food chain and their removal can have serious top-down effects on the ecosystem, i.e. through trophic cascades (Myers et al., 2007; Baum & Worm, 2009).
Thus, the conservation of both the biodiversity and the populations of chondrichthyans is critically important to maintain healthy marine ecosystems.
The main threats affecting chondrichthyans worldwide are fishing (both indirect and direct) and habitat degradation. Most of the available information, however, relates to the effects of fishing.

Understanding the threatening processes affecting a species is paramount in understanding its conservation status and for directing effective management.
International concern for the status of shark (all chondrichthyans) populations has increased since the 1990s and led to the development of the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) (FAO, 2000). Although implementation of the plan is voluntary and not adopted in many areas, it still reflects the growing concern on an international level for declining stocks of sharks.
The main premise of the IPOA-Sharks is that the harvest of sharks should be biologically sustainable, economically rational, using all parts of the animals killed and managed to maintain biodiversity conservation and healthy ecosystem functioning
(FAO, 2000).

Since the early 2000s, the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Shark Specialist Group (SSG) has been committed to assessing the conservation status of all chondrichthyan species for inclusion on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (the Red List) (IUCN, 2009).
The Red List is widely recognized as the most comprehensive source of information on the conservation status of the world’s plant and animal species (IUCN, 2001). The Red List has been paramount in highlighting the global status of sharks.

The movement towards increased conservation of chondrichthyan species worldwide has yielded many positive results to date.
For example, in 1988, the Philippines issued a Fisheries Administrative Order prohibiting the capture of manta rays (Mobulidae) and whale sharks Rhincodon typus Smith in its waters (White et al., 2006a).
In more recent years, Taiwan has ceased its R. typus fishery due to increasing international concern over the status of populations of this species.

In 2003, Fiji established the Shark Reef Marine Reserve within which fishing is prohibited and local villagers receive a levy from dive operations capitalizing on the protected area (Brunnschweiler & Earle, 2006)

Conservation efforts, however, need to increase and improve in order to better protect chondrichthyan fishes at both global and regional scales.

One of the many problems facing conservation of marine species, particularly sharks and rays, is the trade-off between knowledge acquisition and conservation action. This trade-off becomes particularly problematic in tropical developing nations, particularly south-east Asian countries, where some of the world’s greatest species richness occurs (Briggs, 2003, 2005), coupled with the greatest need for protein by the substantial populations. Further exacerbating this is the increasing export of marine products from these regions.

These countries, however, have little capability to undertake the scientific research required to assess the sustainability of current fishing practices, and therefore, developing adequate conservation actions is extremely difficult (Ban et al., 2009).
Thus, although most of the positive conservation efforts in marine environments are occurring in developed nations, the paucity of such efforts in developing nations is of grave concern.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Check out this video.

Totally agree!
No Whaling in Sanctuaries!

Which brings me straight over to this press release – and I must say that I’m impressed! And I lost a bet!
Whilst re-affirming their wish that the general moratorium be maintained, the WWF, the Pew and yes, Greenpeace state their conditions for accepting the IWC compromise proposal allowing Japan, Iceland and Norway to engage in limited and tightly monitored commercial whaling in exchange for submitting themselves to the authority of the IWC and relinquishing their fake research.

For those NGOs, deviating from their previous intransigent position must have been excruciatingly difficult, especially on an emotional level, and I salute them for having risen above themselves and for having made an honest attempt at showing a pragmatic way forward.
Great also to see some of the heavyweights coordinate their actions, a fact that makes me hopeful for the next ICCAT meeting in November.
Well done!

Not so other NGOs.
I get copied on all kind of things and this week, I was twice presented with a remarkable pamphlet that ended with this equally remarkable conclusion.

The bottom line is whaling is morally unacceptable. We do NOT have the right to slaughter sentient beings, sentient beings possibly more intelligent, more caring, more developed than ourselves. No negotiation on this issue. No deals. Whaling is morally repugnant, it is murder, and cannot be condoned.


Sadly, the author would have to be considered one of “us”, the Shark people.
Not that I’m actually surprised: the Org she represents is, for lack of a better word, associated with this, this and even this person. In that regard, it just totally re-affirms my severe reservations vis-à-vis some of the people involved, their scientific credentials and the agendas they pursue - and I’ll leave it at that.

As to the IWC meeting, it’s same old same old.
Japan gets slammed, the activists continue to vociferate, no resolution is being adopted.
And thousands of Whales continue to get killed.
And Watson keeps his job.

Great, isn't it.

David vs River Monsters


I thought it would be bad when I ranted about it more than a year ago.
The despicable descriptions ares still online and now WhySharksMatter has watched the Bull Shark episode of Animal Planet's River Monsters and blogged about it. Some excerpts are online, more than enough for understanding what he's talking about - including using a gaff to drag in that shark, just great! The heartless bimbo: this one!
Looks like in terms of having reached an absolute low point in programming, we've got ourselves a winner: David is usually as mellow and level headed as they come and to see him this angry is truly remarkable.

Please read his post here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gotta love it!

I’m posting this at exactly 2:35pm, Fiji time.

This is relevant because of this.
The idiotic prophecy has been stirring up a great deal of controversy and I have no doubt that it has caused a lot of anxiety and also, substantial economic damages in terms of lost productivity. Having asked, I know of one business where because of it, workers did not turn up for work today. From what I can see, Government has done all it could to contain the hysteria but like in the case of the infamous OITC, there will always be people who will believe the most preposterous of allegations – and not only in Fiji!

I say: time for some accountability!
This is not a question of human rights and freedom of speech, or the like: this is a question of holding a bunch of unscrupulous charlatans accountable for the consequences of their reckless actions. As a minimum, how about a deluge of law suits by the businesses this has harmed.

Will the public learn the obvious lessons?
Only a real Fijian could answer that – opinions?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shark Warrior

If you have not already done so, please sign up to iDiveSharks.

It's the place to be, but you also need to do so in order to read this.
It is the I think moving story of how a warrior discovered SCUBA, became a world renown underwater cinematographer and now runs the first iPhone app and the first social network dedicated to Shark divers.

Mark's awareness of the plight of Sharks has been a gradual one.
Now, like so many of us old timers, he has joined the increasing ranks of the grassroots marine conservation movement. In a way, it's the inevitable consequence of having been there for such a long time, and of having witnessed the global decline first hand - and still, it never ceases to amaze me how people from such diverse walks of life and with such different life histories continue to converge and find themselves united around this common cause.

As Mark says
Onwards and upwards.
The ride hasn't finished and I definitely don't wish to get off just yet.
Its all about to get very interesting.

Indeed it will - and in a good way!
Keep watching this space!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

So, what's it gonna be?

I was pleasantly surprised by this.

So, what's it gonna be?
Another Discovery Shark Week filled with gore, attacks and asinine presenters, or a look at Sharks by a channel who makes a living by educating people about the wonders of our fragile planet - and this, without deceiving their audience?

This time, I'm moderately optimistic.
We were contacted about two productions for Shark Week and although both didn't eventuate (we simply had no space on short notice), both looked fun, entertaining and respectful of Sharks. I also hear that there has been some re-shuffling within Discovery and that the worst pornographers have been removed - but then again, there are whispers about Shark Porn being filmed in SA, and that everybody has been ordered to be very very quiet about what is being planned.

So I guess that as always, we shall see!
But as a gesture of good will, we've removed the petition from our website - at least temporarily!

PS: As chance would have it, more information has just been published here. Having obtained the seal of approval from Oceana is great news - now let's see if they deliver!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dancing with the Devil?

It’s that time of the year again.

The Humpback Whales are slowly moving towards Vava’u.
And very shortly, a related migration will see the delegates of the IWC meet in Agadir, Morocco, on June 20 to 25.

IWC meetings are always controversial, but this one especially so.
After lengthy and more or less secret negotiations, a proposal will be tabled aimed at ending the whaling moratorium in favor of allocated quotas for Japan, Norway and Iceland (only). In exchange, those countries would relinquish their fake scientific whaling and agree to be fully regulated and also, monitored by the IWC.

Obviously, nobody is happy.
The conservationists are crying foul and advocating that all whaling, scientific or not, must end, period. The whaling countries are unhappy as the quota system would reduce the total numbers of killed whales.

But such is the nature of pragmatic compromises: everybody must make concessions and nobody wins outright.
But whereas the discontent is only human nature, personal egos and ideologies are not the topic at hand. The topic at hand is the survival of whales as a species, and how best to achieve it – and this in a real world and not some utopic vision that continues to fail in practice.
And yes there's plenty of shenanigans including blatant bribery. But let's not be holier than thou - having been an investment banker, I can assure you that we very much engage in the very same practices, and worse!

The question is, is it acceptable to kill some whales in order to better preserve the species?
I say: in this specific case, absolutely yes!
It’s the same old conundrum facing all marine conservationists dealing with fisheries: in this world where people want to eat animal protein, the long term solution can only be sustainable harvesting, meaning that we will have to accept that some of our pet animals will be killed.

In exchange, conservationists must however get a say about which species get killed along with how many, when, where and how they get harvested, and they must also be able to rigorously monitor the hunt in order to ensure that everybody adheres to the agreed upon rules.
From what I can see, the proposal appears to pursue precisely those aims.

Plus, in the case of whales, the good news is this.
Contrary to Sharks, whaling is demand limited - and the demand is rapidly waning.
Once you eliminate the ego factor and the irrational perceived issues of nationalistic pride, whaling makes no commercial sense whatsoever. With that in mind and if left to simple issues of offer and demand (and if one disregards the various non-controversial indigenous harvesting exceptions) whaling may well die of natural causes or become biologically irrelevant, especially if it remains confined to species where stocks appear sufficiently robust, as Minkes.
Indeed, as the Pew remarks, other threats to whales may well become equally, if not more relevant- especially Climate Change!

Over to the Sharks and this post by Patric Douglas.
My first reaction was Boy, there really REALLY are some colossal back-stabbing morons out there – and I wasn’t referring to Patric!
I’m not at all privy to any additional details – but if what I read is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then it just once again reinforces my strong belief that I will never, ever want to be part of those horrible circles!

Anyway, Patric just does what Patric does: he thinks laterally.
As a consequence, some of his proposals are really way out there where I have problems following, at least at first glance - but time after time, as results are being achieved and emotions are being superseded by pragmatism and dispassionate analysis, I discover that I end up by ultimately agreeing with his ideas.

Thing is, and contrary to the revelations, or whatever, by the usual detractors, Patric and I are neither close personal friends (we’ve met once), nor do we do business together, nor do we co-ordinate our posts in order to pursue some sinister common agenda aimed at world domination.
We just happen to be two of the most active bloggers on Sharky matters and due to the relative paucity of topics, we often end up covering the very same issues at the very same time. Over time, we’ve developed a degree of mutual respect and yes, friendship as it appears that we share many common beliefs and thus tend to reach the same conclusions. And yes, we’ve also co-operated on some projects, like this one, or this one – which I am proud of and for which I’m thankful for Patric’s support – and I suspect, vice versa!
End of explanation.

Anyway, back to the topic, i.e. Patric’s suggestion.
Would it be OK to partake in the Shark fin trade in order to fund Shark conservation?

Repugnant as that may seem at first glance, the arguments in favor would be this.
  • The web-based Shark fin trade is a fact and it is certainly plausible that in view of the potential earnings, it continues unabated regardless of some past conservation victories – meaning that as some trading platforms get closed down, new ones are being created
  • The idea is that of re-routing part of the already existing trade, not of increasing it by creating more demand – if that can be substantiated, and I believe it can, no incremental harm is being done
  • Shark conservation could sure use those funds – especially if the sums mentioned in Patric’s post are in any way realistic! Wow just think of the possibilities!
  • Apart from earning money that would be invested into Shark conservation, partaking in the trade could yield valuable additional information about volumes, origins, prices, species, etc
The con arguments are obviously ethical and would also have to center around the risk of misappropriation and mis-allocation of funds.
The latter can however be overcome by a stringent regimen of checks and balances.

Which leaves the ethical conundrum.
Being who I am and like in the case of game fishing for Sharks, I can certainly never imagine myself being part of that process – money or no money!

But others may well.
And if so, and if done properly, I can only wish them the very best of success!

Mind you: reluctantly!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Video Break!

This is really bloody cool!

Story here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Does Shark Feeding influence Shark Behavior?

Another fabulous pic from Sasha's 2010 crop!

From my sneak copy of the program of Sharks International.

Tropho-spatial consequences of tourism-related shark feeding: impacts on reef sharks and sympatric fish communities
Maljković, Aa & Côté, IMa
aSimon Fraser University, BC, Canada (;

Shark feeding, as a tourist attraction, is seen as either an economic incentive to conserve sharks, or an activity detrimental
to shark behaviour and human safety.
Despite the debate surrounding shark feeding, and the popularity of shark diving,
few studies have examined the impact of shark feeding on the species provisioned, or on sympatric fauna.

We used a
combination of direct observations, acoustic telemetry and stable isotope analysis to measure the impact of provisioning on the behaviour and trophic signatures of a population of Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) in the Bahamas.
In addition, we conducted visual surveys of reef fishes at various distances from a shark feeding site to elucidate the
eff ect of shark provisioning on reef-fish assemblages.

Of the sharks that regularly attended feeding events, only a few
of the largest ones were successful at acquiring bait.
Bait consumption was reflected in the 15N isotope content of the
muscle tissues of these sharks, but it had little effect on ranging behaviour. Fed sharks exhibited residency times at the feeding site and daily travel distances that were similar to those of unfed sharks in two control groups.

Reef fishes at
the shark feeding site were more abundant and diverse than at adjacent sites, and the abundance of species targeted by fishers decreased with increasing distance from the feeding area.

Shark feeding therefore appears to have little
impact on shark behaviour but shark aggregations at feeding sites may influence reef fish communities, perhaps through competition between sharks and fishers.

Bloody awesome - and pretty much what we in the Industry have been saying all along!
More as I get my hands on the paper.

Valerie Taylor honored!!!

From Sky News.

Shark expert honoured for conservation
Updated: 12:52, Monday June 14, 2010

Underwater adventurer and shark expert
Valerie Taylor has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to conservation in today's Queen's Birthday honours list.
Together with her husband Ronald, Ms Taylor has fought for over fifty years for the protection of underwater creatures, in particular the great white shark and the grey nurse shark. She has also fought for the conservation of habitats including the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef Marine Park in Western Australia and also wants to see sea lions, the potato cod, the southern right whale and marine turtles protected.

From the official announcement.

Mrs Valerie May TAYLOR
Fairlight NSW 2094
For service to conservation and the environment as an advocate for the protection and preservation of marine wildlife and habitats, particularly the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef, and as an underwater cinematographer and photographer.

Is there any other Ozzie couple where both are members (Ron was honored in 2003) of the Order?
Don't think so!

Valerie - love you always!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New Sharks and Rays!

Check this out!

It's a whole list of newly described Elasmobranchs from Borneo.
It includes some very cool finds like a new Wobbegong and a new River Shark - but the one paper that personally fascinates me most starts on page 141.

It re-affirms the Eagle Ray Aetobatus ocellatus as a valid species.

ABSTRACT.— Aetobatus narinari is generally considered to have a circumglobal distribution but some have suggested that it consists of more than one cryptic species. Recent molecular studies have provided evidence of a species complex, with an Indo–West/Central Pacific clade and a Western Atlantic clade.

This paper investigates the nomenclature of the Indo–West Pacific species and provides a redescription of Aetobatus ocellatus (Kuhl, 1823).
Aetobatus ocellatus is very similar morphologically to Aetobatus narinari but differs in having a slightly longer tail and a different dorsal coloration. A major taxonomic revision of the A. narinari complex is required to determine the number of species present, their distributional ranges and effective field characters. The conservation status of members of this complex needs to be evaluated.

The comparison of Aetobatus ocellatus with A. narinari from the Western Atlantic revealed that they are very similar morphologically... The major difference between these species is the background coloration of the dorsal surfaces.

Aetobatus ocellatus has a dark greenish, greyish to almost blackish (sometimes with a pinkish tinge) background colour, whereas all Western Atlantic specimens of A. narinari have a much paler, medium yellowish brownish (fawn) background colour.

This is a direct confirmation of Mahmood's paper that postulated
Based on combined genealogical concordance and genetic distance criteria, we recommend that the Western/Central Pacific lineage be recognized as a distinct species from lineages in the Central Atlantic and Eastern Pacific.
How cool is that!

As to the conservation status, it looks grim.
The IUCN describes the global status of the Spotted Eagle Ray A. narinari as being Near Threatened. Impressively thorough as always (read it!), the report then adds that the fishing pressure in Southeast Asia and Africa, i.e. the range of A. ocellatus, is particularly heavy, warranting a listing as Vulnerable.

Not good - but still, always fascinating to observe Taxonomy in action!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Don't kill the Goose!

The tragic Gulf oil spill saga continues.

I’ve not yet blogged about it as I just don’t know the precise details.
Rather than engage in gratuitous speculation based on the various conflicting opines, I prefer to resort to my usual trusted Wikipedia, and this is what I learn. Is it correct?
Probably – but if not, go and make the corrections there, not here – that’s the advantage of it being a wiki!

Anyway, from the little I understand, the task at hand is the following

A. Urgently
  • plugging the leak
  • as long as that is not possible, limiting the amount of oil escaping the well
  • capturing what has already leaked with a special emphasis on preventing it from reaching the coastline
  • mitigating the impact to the environment and the people affected
B. Long Term
  • environmental restoration
  • full compensation
  • prevention of similar accidents
Am I missing anything?
Yes I am: retribution if and where warranted - but not right now!

The pathetic blame game, the disgraceful politicking, the stupid alternative instant out-of-the-box solutions and the even stupider conspiracy theories are merely detracting from the urgent job at hand - and anyway, is there really any doubt that BP are doing what they can, and that if there is anybody equipped with the required know how, manpower and hardware, it would be them?
If, and that is the question, the job can be done at all?

And what, please, would be the alternatives?
The Government – and since when have they ever been able to mount a successful operation of these dimensions? Scientific geniuses and inventors? Trust me, if they were credible, BP would have hired them in a blink!
James Cameron and of all people, Kevin Costner? Right!

Plus, and more importantly, there is this.
BP has pledged to come up for all associated costs. That may, or may not be credible - but those are certainly statements they can be held accountable for in the future, the more as they can undoubtedly afford to foot that bill.

That is, if you don’t kill the Goose.
Until recently, BP was one of the most successful and most prosperous companies on the planet.
Net profit for 2009 was $ 14 billion, net profit for Q1 2010, $ 5.6 billion with $ 6.8 billion in cash reserves – more than adequate for paying for the costs incurred so far ($ 1.25 billion) and even, over time, for footing the entire bill which is currently estimated to reach up to $ 40 billion.

But now BP is in dire straights.
Ever since the spill, the share price has been on the decline (read this: very astute!) and after the recent sell-offs, the company’s market cap has been more than halved, from approx. $ 185 to approx. $ 90 billion and the price of its bonds, an indicator for the level at which it can borrow, has completely collapsed.
IMO, this has nothing to do with BP’s financials that continue to be strong – it is the direct result of a change in confidence following weeks of BP bashing and above all, the disgraceful politicking and increasingly strident and threatening undertone of the US Administration.

I ask: cui bono?
Contrary to the US Government who can, and continues to print and borrow the money it does not have, BP’s cash flow has to be earned.
Granted, those 95 billion that have been wiped off have not been lost by BP, but by its shareholders, many of which are pensioners. But as a consequence, BP’s financials will undoubtedly degrade as investor confidence erodes and its cost of borrowing increases – and I may add, should BP heed the idiotic suggestion by several politicians that it ought to scrap the next dividend, it would impact its faculty to raise money even more severely and once again penalize the very much wrong people.
Thankfully, so far, the board has not caved in to the pressure - but let there be no doubt that if the current irrational hysteria continues, BP may well find itself in a position where it could go bust or get gobbled up by a competitor.
Such is the power of market sentiment.

And if so: who is going to do the job and pay for the bill?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Med Tuna Fisheries closed!

Betcha you remember this!

Well, as I said, not all hope is lost!
The much-reviled European Fisheries Commission has closed the Mediterranean Tuna fisheries one week early - much like they did last year! The situation of the Northern Bluefin continues to be dire and the Gulf oil spill has likely made things even worse (read this!) - still, this is good news as it clearly illustrates the desire to enforce sustainable fisheries.
As is this - and I may add, very much contrary to these shenanigans!

The equally reviled ICCAT will meet in Paris this November, this after a host of preparatory meetings.
This is the body that has the mandate, and contrary to CITES, the know how to regulate the Atlantic Tuna fisheries. Members here. The fisheries in the Mediterranean are regulated by the GFCM - members here.

Has anybody started talking to them - inclusive of talking to Japan?
And even more importantly: is anybody stepping forward with ideas and funds aimed at mitigating the impact of possible quota reductions, especially when it comes to the poorer African and Caribbean countries - oh, and Greece? All whilst wielding the stick, as in leveraging development aid?

All kidding aside: has anybody learned the lessons of Doha and developed a realistic, and above all, unified strategy - or will the NGOs continue to be naive, badly prepared and fragmented, only to incur yet another inevitable defeat?

We shall see!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

About Great Whites

As usual, found by pure chance!

It is, I believe, a great piece about Great Whites, Shark research and Shark diving in the Farallone Islands - including some gruesome footage of finning, however totally without the usual unhelpful melodrama.
Very interesting to see McCosker explain his mistaken identity hypothesis - certainly plausible but not verifiable!


QUEST on KQED Public Media.

Producer's notes here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Russian Heroes!

This is really as good as it gets! Click on all pics to enlarge

Bless Babelfish and its Russian to English translations!

Many people have described the Fiji Shark Dive – but our Russian friends sure always manage to add a special dimension of poetic heroism!
This is a completely different breed of underwater photographers who pair excellent technical skills with a degree of raw enthusiasm and passion we seem to have all but forgotten – very refreshing indeed, like in the old times!

Case in point:

As this is not paradoxical, but the terrible photographs of sharks with the opened wide mouths and by the [torchashchimi] are not in different directions teeth so terrible in their production.
The majorities of such photographs - result of specific [orkestratsii], in which the command of [dayverov] with the aid of the special features of underwater landscape feeds to shark sequential fish head directing it straight to the photographer. Is thus far in shark occupied mouth all its thoughts only about being removed home into the open water, and unimportantly how closely it will approach - and usually all this concludes " haircut" when either belly or fin catches the head of photographer - it is sufficiently small chances to the increased interest in the equipment and the body.

Another matter when shark in which mouth is not occupied with anything they suddenly manifest interest in the body or the equipment - here already we leave a little to another level of contact with these animals during which it is high the probability of the need of applying the physical interference - namely the defensive position with one of the flare rods of those advanced in the attempt to forward give to understand to animal that to eat here something.
Further usually follows the most powerful header the often bringing down photographer from the balance, and dissatisfied turn to 90-180 degrees that accompanied by the underwater wave of that caused by the motion of powerful tail which it squeezes into the wall from behind if it certainly is. At these moments you understand by what enormous force they possess these 3.5 meter [zverushki] you are penetrated to them by an even larger respect.

The large part of the problem consists in the fact that similar thrusts of curiosity they occur always suddenly - type swim- will swim to itself [akulka] peacefully and it is smooth - and then once - with lightning speed it is turned to 90 degrees to the towards dear camera - so- that ear it is necessary to hold always [vostro] - and if we are located not next to the wall, but on the free space what is 30- meter arena - to still have rather well a bodyguard from behind Zh)

In the photograph higher to me absolutely unexpectedly were fixed two bulls, but analyzing their trajectory and the expression of the snout of face I it understood that head-on collision to [udastsya] to avoid - and instead of the defensive counter made this sequence - 10.5 mm, [krop] [otsustvuet] - appear sufficiently peacefully if we forget about the fact that in the photograph two enormous monsters of occupying the second line in a quantity of murders people after oceanic [beloperykh] sharks….

Even having an experience of contact with the large predators including in [beyt]- Balls always it is required several seconds in order to restore respiration after each [razrulivaniya] of situation - and when this occurred with me it for the first time usually stored up air it volatilized for a few minutes plus to remove by the shaking hands already nothing it was obtained - but when this was! Zh)

This is by none other than our good friend Sasha, a Fiji veteran and master Shark photographer – and surely aimed at impressing the groupies!
And this would be he in “action” in the pit, photographed by his good friend Vitaly - talk about a close encounter!

And here’s the quid pro quo: Vitaly saying hello to Mrs. Jaws – photographed by Sasha!

Vitaly at least has the excuse of being a Bull Shark rookie.
Having been tested and found worthy, we took him to the Arena and positioned him right into the path of the feeding bulls, an experience he describes as follows.
I like it!

“JAWS” on the photo-site Photograph of [sdelann] in Pacific Ocean into Beqa of lagoon of shark of reef next to the Is. of Fiji.

Bull shark at the moment of swallowing fish head is depicted on the photograph.

The size of shark - is more than 3[kh] of meters, this is sufficiently large copy. Objective of 20[mm] - fixed price. Distance from me to the shark somewhere from one to one-and-a-half meters.
In order to obtain the clean photograph (without [melteshashchey] around the small fry) in the spirit JAWS to photographer necessary at the moment of ingestion by the shark of the piece of the food/of output to prove to be on the path of motion of shark;) In this trajectory entire small fish, that so interferes during the photographing, in panic it usually throws in all directions. Camera I hold low- near the bottom, as to he serves as outstanding bait for other competitors (in the time of diving my technology it repeatedly underwent the attacks of predators)

In addition the hands (and other extremities, which you value) must be always in sight in the field of sight.

Therefore camera gunnery it is necessary to conduct at random, slightly [prifigev], being slanted back (in order to on the head not of reserve) It is here necessary to note that when to you rushes this torpedo with the opened mouth for some reason instead of panicky fear you feel this combat ardor as on the ring. I.e. terribly only so that to be completely assembled and ready for everything. It is considered that at the moment is thus far in shark occupied with the food of companies it is not dangerous.

By the way fear is suppressed by two things - respiration (into the regulator necessary to breathe evenly) and… by camera;)
When you remove - you do not think about that which is here dangerous.
Yes, it is dangerous, but completely to itself moderately. When the [ogromennyy] bull approaches up to the distance of the elongated hand panic in the form of hot wave in the back of the head at first rolls, but panic is considerably more dangerous than everything else and therefore control, respiration and… survey! :) Plus these monsters, besides the electrical and the biofields excellently feel fear. The more you fear, the more of them there are all around is assembled =))))

Well yes agreeably, under water all ended well, hand- feet were entire and unharmed, at the pocket lie two [akulikh] teeth (Mike's gift) and now (in any case before the following trip) with the sharks I to be met do not plan.

Quite – and all of which resulted in this stunning portrait of Maite - and yes, being one of our biggest, she is certainly at least 3m long!

Very well done guys - and I’m sure that the groupies agree!

Two times lucky!

That would be the Academic College kids!

Check out their Facebook page!
They are currently experiencing lovely weather with stellar viz and heaps upon heaps of Bulls.
Plus, Scarface has paid them a visit not once, but twice! Talk about being lucky! It's actually a karma thing that only happens to good people: as we always say, the big girl sure knows when to make an appearance!

This is the second installment of ATC's Marine Science Program focusing on Shark Behavior and Conservation and from what I can see, it once again looks like a great success and loads of fun on top of that!
Kudos to lecturer Jon McKenzie for being a worthy successor to trail blazer Imogen, and to Lauren for ensuring that all keeps ticking over nicely and above all, safely!

And fingers crossed that Jon's newly discovered Lemon Shark nurseries will be spared! Anybody out there who wants to finance some urgently needed baseline research?

And as always, a big Thank You to the Manifestation of God!

Monday, June 07, 2010

It's a Wrap!

That's Sivo in the foreground! Pic by Lori Bachelor-Smith

Check out PADI's brand new Dive Master DVD!

Entirely shot in Fiji, it'll be a testament to the beauty of the Beqa Lagoon region - and hopefully, to the acting talent of our own Sivo and Silio!

The crew headed by Director/Producer Dawn Azua were here for a full two weeks and I can unequivocally state that a) never have I seen anybody work harder, and b) never has a film shoot been more pleasant and easier on us! This was 100% professional, meticulously planned and flawlessly executed - and always with a smile!
I am impressed!

Special thanks to my friend Lori and a special "hi" to Tom!
Can't wait to see the thing!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sasha and the Bulls!

Click to enlarge!

This is way cool!

Sasha is back home and has started publishing a whole host of stunning pictures on his blog and lemme tell you, this is by far not the best one!
What however makes it special is that he has put it into context by simultaneously posting some video of precisely the same encounter as captured by one of our videographers. The footage is slightly overcranked to 60fps and the action is consequently slowed down by 20%.

The feeder is Papa’s son Tumbi and the Sharks are two of our biggest females, Naughtylus who gets the first Tuna head and Maite who comes back for her own snack.
As witnessed by his perfect reaction (keep the camera between the mouth of the Shark and yourself) and calm demeanor, Sasha is now a veteran of the Fiji Shark Dive and has thus earned himself some special privileges.
This is the Arena at 30m, one of the locations where we will allow very experienced customers to position themselves under supervision, and you can see Eroni keeping a watchful eye on proceedings in the background.

As to whether this is One additional by anything not remarkable photograph with the artistic value of that being approaching zero (thank you Babelfish), you be the judge of it.
I happen to differ – but then, as always, I’m fatally biased.
Great job my friend!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Shark Attack or Accident?

Ever so often, Bruce goes and gets himself a human.

Not that he really likes to.

Humans taste awful - but ever since Bruce’s Ultra-Great-Great Uncle’s chance meal of a rare Homo erectus rafting out of Africa 1.5 million years ago instantly cured him of his gout, snacking on humans for medicinal purposes has become a valued family tradition.

When mum isn’t watching, Bruce spits it right back out but sometimes, as her nature would dictate, she insists on
lurking nearby and he’s got no choice but to close his eyes and swallow.
Once, he tried pretending to make a mistake and munched on some Seal instead - alas to no avail: as everybody knows, Bruce is endowed with preternatural senses and thus infallible, and his cheating earned him a severe scolding along with a double helping of human.

Other than that, Bruce is just being you good old average killer.

Most of the time, he will just lurk, stalk and devour and generally engage in his usual unpredictable and hence, misunderstood behavior.
Sometimes however, when in need of a dental make-over, he will go and bite a propeller (which he obviously knows for being a propeller) or a Shark diving cage (which he obviously knows for being a Shark cage) to make space for a brand spanky new set of replacement teeth.
Or, he will decide to hone his hunting skills by knowingly chasing after some decoy or surf board which being infallible and endowed with preternatural senses, he instantly recognizes for what they are.
And sometimes, when afflicted by human-induced stomach bloating, he will voluntarily (and knowingly) swallow old tires, anchors and even license plates to re-establish his buoyancy.

And when particularly boisterous, he will sneak up on some unsuspecting diver, scare the bejeesus out of him and then nibble at his strobes which owing to his infallible, and preternatural senses, he obviously recognizes as being strobes – all good fun really, and well within the unpredictable, misunderstood and yet, preternaturally infallible behavioral spectrum of any member of Bruce’s tribe!

Have I completely lost my mind?
Quite - but what has actually prompted me to write this stupidity is the frustrating comments thread on this article about Jimmy’s book.

Among the commentators, it comes at no surprise that I discover the token Shark conspiracist and voyeuristic parasite Richard Harris.
Like any self respecting roach, he has not simply gone away but keeps crawling back out from his hidey hole, this time to bite at Jimmy’s ankles.
Oh well, all Harris has once again managed to do, is to prove that he’s nothing but a pathetic bottom feeder – not to worry.

Drudown on the other hand is crafty.
Apparently equally obsessed with the same morbid fascination for Shark attacks, he is obviously intelligent, erudite and very well documented on the specific subject – oh, and very very self enamored on top of that! It’s not the first time that I come across his propositions and actually unpleasantly remember his comments on an old and unfortunately, hence deleted thread on SouthernFriedScience as being basically a carbon copy of the present ones.

His modus operandi is essentially, to provoke the Shark conservationists by depicting Sharks as man eaters and then, to smugly pick apart any inevitable dissenting opinion.
The latter is of course easy: like it or not, the man is absolutely right and anybody denying the obvious, a fool: some species of Sharks have attacked and eaten people, period! And the fixation on calling everything an accident - pure Ritter!

The bulk of his ranting is however nothing but smug pseudoscientific BS.

Yes, maybe

With regards to "accidents" resulting from alleged "mistaken identity", this misguided “theory” totally disregards the shark’s uniquely adapted perceptive faculties OTHER than sight, e.g., ampullae of lorenzini, hearing, smell and lateral lines. By virtue of natural selection, ALL of these enable sharks to quickly identify and differentiate potential meals. The human being does NOT emit the same electro magnetic current as a seal, a turtle or any marine creature… There is no scientific evidence supporting "mistaken identity" nor is it subject to the scientific method.

And yet, Sharks continue to make obvious mistakes and ingest and attack a large variety of inedible items with electromagnetic and other signatures that are completely different from their habitual prey – the principal, and fatal one being fishing lures!
And why have they not learned (having had time immemorial to adapt) to aggregate on our beaches that are teeming with suitable and largely defenseless prey, but continue to engage in the cumbersome and frustrating business of hunting Fishes and Seals instead - maybe, because that’s what they normally prey on?

As to the following, what can I say

Yet because the human/h. erectus has been in ocean for over 1mm-2mm years, we are part of the marine food a competitor and prey item for a handful of sharks… Until someone can disprove my theories, I don't care if you head the ISAF, bunk science is bunk science… Why don't you enlist your favorite shark guru and have them rebut my theories right here…

It’s of course utter rubbish, as in sutor ne supra!
First and foremost, and contrary to religion and all those whacko new age and conspiracy theories, science (as in the abovementioned scientific method) does not work that way!
Nobody has to disprove anybody’s theories, it's very much the contrary: in science and truth-finding in general, he who advances a hypothesis has the onus of proving his assertions - and no, rhetoric is no scientific proof, however erudite it may be!

But for the sake of the stupid argument: Drudown wants to make us believe that Sharks have somehow learned to specifically identify humans as prey items, and that that knowledge has been passed down through the generations ever since Homo erectus rafted out of Africa (?), or whatever.
By world of mouth? Or has the knowledge been imprinted genetically – and if so, through which mechanism and owing to which selective evolutionary pressure?

But I’m digressing as always.
I’ve said it before, any explanations for the causes of Shark attacks are ultimately nothing but hypotheses that may, or may not be plausible but will forever remain untested and thus, scientifically unproven – for obvious reasons!

Plus, really, who cares!
By any metrics, Shark attacks are freak events, an utter nothingness when compared to the deluge of tragedies afflicting humankind – so can we all please stop hyperventilating?
Yes the stupid stereotypes, the voyeuristic trolls and the public’s fascination with Shark attacks are a reliable source of income for the tabloids and Discovery Channel and thus particularly irritating – but let’s face it, that’s just how people are.

What however really frustrates me is that it is us, the Shark conservationists, who ultimately provide a platform for the paparazzi like Harris and Drudown, and the stupid Con-troversies!

As Drudown correctly remarks, there is nothing mutually exclusive about conservation and the truth!
Like many of their terrestrial counterparts, some species of Shark sometimes feed on humans despite the fact that people are not their primary prey - and guess what: it’s totally OK!
It makes them neither Bad nor Good, they are just being predators!

So why our denial, our massaging of numbers, our politically correct lingo, our constant belittling of the risks, our pseudoscience and stereotypes, our unhelpful demonizing of the fishermen? Does anybody really believe that it is helpful?
Do Lion conservationists resort to lying and disinformation when trying to protect Lions?

Thing is, the truth is on our side anyway!
Far from being the stalking, ever-hungry killers, even the biggest predatory Sharks appear to be unendingly tolerant of aquatic recreationists in general and divers in particular. As somebody who has logged thousands of cage-less baited dives with some of the most maligned species, I fully concur with Jimmy when he says that they are nothing but smart, graceful, interesting and COOL – and frustratingly shy on top of that!
And let me add that I never, ever had the feeling that they were sizing me up as a potential meal, ever!

Having said this, one must however never forget that they are at the same time incredibly powerful and potentially lethal!
Shark attacks will continue to occur as long as people will continue to frequent the Oceans. Most will be hit-and-run strikes by small piscivorous Sharks and some, accidents like the tragic death of Markus Groh – and a tiny minority will be genuine predatory events.

The sooner we accept that and abandon our failed marketing, or whatever, the sooner we can start educating the public about the true nature of the animals we love.
It has worked with the big terrestrial predators and I have no doubt that over time, people will come to appreciate the big predatory Sharks for what they really are: potentially lethal and awe inspiring but at the same time, fascinating and once you get to know them better, even endearing – and above all, essential for the health of their habitat and tragically endangered.

As to those trolls – without our stupid clamoring, they are nothing!
As they say where I come from: Raglio d’asino non sale in cielo!

Enough said.