Sunday, March 31, 2013

Great Fiji Shark Count - start tomorrow!

And this time, the April weather is gonna be stellar!
Promise! :)

So count count count!
Details once again here and of course, here!
Oh and thanks Sam - you're a real trouper!

Manipulating Sharks?

And talking of not messing with Nature.

Stellar post by Cristina!
When people accuse me of “teaching” sharks to attack divers, I remind them that sharks have learned to feed from human boats, fishing lines and spears from the first day our species entered the water to procure food for ourselves (hear hear!)
If sharks truly associated humans with food, in the Bahamas we would never be able to go snorkeling or free diving. Every single shark in our waters would have learned by now to approach and attack each person in the water. Yet spearfishermen — who often lose their catch to sharks — are the first to tell you that they can be swimming for hours, looking for prey without seeing a shark, and as soon as they spear a fish, a shark appears out of nowhere to steal it. 
Where was that animal all along? 
Doesn't get much better than that!
Of course, and I'm quite confident (!) Cristina will concur, it does not mean that Sharks are nothing but big puppies and that everybody should start feeding them! Rather to the contrary, her post explains that it needs to be done responsibly - and you can read on Cristina's post, and on this one she has penned earlier, what doing so entails.

Anyway, great job - bravissima come sempre!

Bimini - another Video!


Great stuff, check it out!
Bravo CJ Crooks of the Sharklab!

And the barbarians?
If this post is any indication, they're not anymore at the gates, they are already crashing them - I hear, repeatedly!

Dunno quite yet if I even wanna bother going there - but think serial purveyors of Shark Porn for Shark Week, and you may have a fair indication of who the perpetrators may be! The question being, will poor Bimini provide for the backdrop to yet another hit piece on Sharks?
I sure hope not - but as always, we shall see!

To be continued no doubt!

More about the Cage diving Paper!

I knew it!
Shark Alley could not have come soon enough!

Case in point, this latest post - LOVE the title! :)
It takes a look at Barry Bruce's latest paper on cage diving at the Neptunes, and where my post on the matter was always gonna be limited by the fact that I'm at best a more or less educated naturalist ignoramus, it is quite obvious that Megalobomb brings to the table scientific rigor and a wealth of hands-on experience in Shark research in general and in working with GWS in particular.

So, again, bravo!
GREAT that within the mix of Shark blogs, there's now one more that says it as it is whilst being backed by fact rather than agendas!

Keep them coming Megalobomb!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

White Shark Cage Operations - bad for the Sharks?

Ozzie Sam at the Neptune Islands - pic, obviously, by somebody else! Or not? Sam?

Here we go again.

Barry Bruce et al have recently published three papers on the GWS operations at the Neptune Islands.
  • This one describes that the GWS aggregate around the berleying (= chumming) sites on small spatial and temporal scales but that they still roam locally and then depart for long trips to other locations in Southern and Western Australia in line with "normal" behavior for this population of GWS.
  • This one describes an increase of numbers, and behavioral effects meaning that the GWS show increased residency, duration of visits and shallower swimming patterns, but that they may also become habituated to the berley and teaser bait, much like already mentioned here. All those findings however show high variability among individuals, with different residency pattern between "transients" and "temporary residents", and different individual behavior patterns when on site.
  • This latest one basically summarizes the findings of the previous ones and also mentions that Shark activity varies seasonally but also in between years, the latter likely linked (that is me speculating) to the massive climatic variations of ENSO.
Barry is an excellent researcher and his findings are undoubtedly correct.
They are also not at all surprising because they just show that what the operators do in order to attract and showcase the Sharks does work.
In essence, they confirm the central statement of Juerg's paper that chumming and food provisioning are unlikely to fundamentally change movement patterns at large spatial and temporal scales, and seem to only have a minor impact on the behaviour of large predatory sharks; hence, the creation of behavioural effects at the ecosystem level seems unlikely.

Which brings me straight over to the conclusions.
With all due respect for Bruce who's certainly a good man, I once again find them highly irritating!
There is an all-pervading undertone of, for lack of a better description, don't upset the natural course of things which is rather ridiculous considering the REAL threats facing Sharks and the fact that actually,  the natural course of things and wilderness are alas very much concepts from the past.
The consequence of that mindset appears to be a frustrating unwillingness to look at positives but instead engage in unsubstantiated negative speculation that ultimately discredits the great work by the Shark diving operators, has led to unwelcome intervention by the authorities and has even been used by our detractors to further their anti-industry agendas.

Not good.
But let's look at some of the details.

The increase in numbers.

In essence, the results confirm Juerg's findings about our Bull Sharks, this however possibly with one crucial difference: whereas it is undoubtedly so that the increase in our Bull Shark sightings is a direct result of our provisioning, the Neptune Islands operation follows the global pattern whereby GWS cage dive operations are being set up where GWS already aggregate naturally - and as a consequence, the increase in numbers is more likely to be the result of a general increase of Australian GWS numbers (and those of their prey!) after their protection in the late 90ies.
The researchers state that
An increase in shark sightings at the North Neptune Islands would be consistent with an increase in population size in response to the species protection in Australian waters in the late 1990s (Malcolm et al. 2001); however, there are currently no effective population metrics in Australian waters from which to assess population trends or status. The lack of available measures of population size combined with these interannual variations makes it difficult to conclude population-level changes in abundance from these data.
Well, yes, maybe.
How about if the new Sharks were principally sub-adults and young adults? Would that not be a strong indication that 20-odd years of protection are showing an effect?
This is incredibly important - not only with regards to assessing the impacts of Shark chumming at the Neptune Islands, but also in order to better assess the current mess in Western Australia and mutatis mutandis, the necessity (or more likely not) of increased GWS protection in California!
Yes it is of course fraught with political conundrums as a population increase could eventually mandate a relaxing of conservation measures - but does that mean that researchers should dodge the issue and  risk reaching the wrong conclusions, as quite possibly in the present case?

Other than that, there are concerns that increased numbers (and residency) may lead to over-exploitation of local natural resources and possibly, to more brawling.   
But is that really the case?

Well yes, maybe.
But so far, this is unsubstantiated speculation - tho eminently testable!

But then again, assuming that the Neptunes are a mating site, would higher numbers not also lead to increased chances of mating due to the presence of more potential partners?
Retracted - they are NOT a mating site!

Local behavioral changes

Yes, like here in Fiji, they definitely happen - and so what?
The concern of the researchers is that the change in residency, diel patterns, and their local aggregation at the chumming sites may either harm the Sharks by preventing them from engaging in sufficient predation (but see above - so which is the risk, too much or too little?), or harm the environment at large by subtracting the Sharks and thus preventing them from fulfilling their natural functions there.  
But is that really the case?

Well yes, maybe.
But so far, this is unsubstantiated speculation - tho eminently testable!

And even if so, there is large individual variance meaning that these effects are certainly not relevant at the population level; and the remarks about habituation also signify that the effects are not long term as the Sharks catch on to the fact that they are being duped and eventually stop bothering.


The papers appear to consider this the ultimate sin.
The reasoning is that allowing the Sharks to feed on the bait would provide them with food that is possibly calorically inferior to the pinnipeds they are supposed to target.

So lemme get this right.
Attracting the Sharks with chum and inducing them to waste time and energy on fruitless "hunts" where they get zero reward is apparently unproblematic - but compensating them for the caloric losses with at least some food is a big no-no?
With all due respect, this is just simply ludicrous!

Long story short?

This is valuable and important research - but I just don't like the gist of it.
Like many (but by no means all - and here!) of his colleagues, Barry appears to be of the general opinion that Shark diving operations are somehow bad because they somehow mess with nature.
In fact a more favorable interpretation of the results of his research may have come to the conclusion that the cage diving operations at the Neptune Islands trigger no fundamental changes at large spatial and temporal scales, that there are no fundamental effects at the population level and that effects at small temporal and spatial scales are likely small and so far unsubstantiated.

In essence, it's about whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Yes it's a matter of interpretation - but with every new paper getting published on the subject, the evidence is increasing that the immediate local effects of chumming and even provisioning are, if at all, very small indeed whereas the effects on the Sharks' life history are quite definitely negligible.

But of course that's only the strictly scientific aspect of the equation.
A more holistic view of Shark diving reveals important economic benefits whereby the industry generates multiples in renewable, sustainable local income when compared to the alternative of fishing. Although I remain somewhat skeptical of the positive effects of caged diving that showcase excited toothy macro predators at their very worst behavior and may consequently appeal more to the adrenaline junkies, it is also a fact that (cageless) Shark diving does create Shark advocates.
The above are important drivers of Shark conservation and in fact, the protection of the GWS in Australia is in large part the result of the incessant advocacy of GWS pioneers Rodney and Andrew Fox, and of Ron and Valerie after whom the Neptune Islands MPA has been named.

Barry Bruce of course knows that.
He is a frequent guest on Andrew's boat who provides help both logistically but also in terms of actual research via his and his father's foundation, and I would have hoped for some more empathy for the situation of the operators and solidarity in exchange?

It's not about changing research results - that would of course be totally uncalled for.
It's about a more positive interpretation - and why not engage in some research in order to at least substantiate one's reservations before concentrating on possible negative aspects and publishing recommendations that substantially impinge on the Shark diving operations!

And in general terms, why not look at that glass again.
It is not half empty - it is three quarters full, and the contents are pure unadulterated goodness!

No disrespect - just my opinion!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

USA - Action Alert!

And talking about acting locally.

Please read this and this post on SFS.

If you are a US citizen, you can submit comments.
Yes it comes kinda last minute but please, do voice your disapproval to the e-mail address mentioned in those posts - submissions close on 5:00pm EST March 28.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eli: well said - again!

Kesennuma - this is a local fishery and thus not covered by CITES unless the products get sold abroad, and these Sharks have not been finned - source.

Please read this post by Eli.

He is of course correct.
The problem for Sharks is not finning that is essentially a (valid) animal welfare but not a conservation issue - the animals are increasingly being landed whole for processing, and the problem is thus primarily overfishing coupled with all the other issues effecting marine biodiversity. And faced with realities on the ground, the principal one obviously being human overpopulation, the ultimate solution can only consist in advocating sustainability as prohibition is not rational and will simply not fly.

Watch his video - he knows what he's talking about.

And yes conservation has to happen locally.
CITES listing is great and will undoubtedly have an effect on IUU by requiring the establishment of a transparent paper trail - but it needs to be flanked by adequately defined, legislated, implemented and enforced management plans at the national and supranational level.
And if done smartly, enforcement may be easier and cheaper than generally assumed..

Alas, projects like ours (thanks for the h/t!) will always remain small-scale and not resolve the big issues. But at the local level, they do make a huge difference - economically but especially, for those individual Sharks whose lives are being spared!
As a very tangible example, the Fiji Shark Corridor and the MPAs and dive sites within its reach are currently the only bulwark against the observed drastic increase in coastal Shark fishing after government did announce that it was not going to implement the Shark Sanctuary.

Anyway, bravo Eli - keep those thoughts coming!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shark Alley - Welcome!

Hah - I'm a fan already!
No not because they mention the Fiji Shark feeding paper in their inaugural post but because they use words like malarkey and above all, because they already dare saying Fuck, and this expressis verbis!

Yes we got ourselves a new toothy Shark blog!
And if this is a taste of things to come, we're going to be in for a treat - to wit, their feisty disclaimer! Very nice - and incidentally, what a difference to the pompous ramblings of that bunch of dipshits with an opinion and a keyboard clowning around in the circular echo chamber of the Querulant!

Talking of which, the dipshits have gone underground!
I was about to pen a fitting! eulogy but was reminded of a recent missive by a reader that goes thusly
Oh, and let's not forget Facebook's very own evidence for the argument that evolution does not exist, the White Shark Interest Group - seriously, you could have an infinite amount of monkeys writing for an infinite amount of time, and they STILL wouldn't type anything nearly as self indulgent, mis-informed and fundamentally moronic as what they spew forth on a daily basis. 
Indeed - and good riddance!

And the Shark accident?
It was just that - an accident.
Reminds me of the brouhaha after the cage breach in Lupe and albeit being far less problematic, I concur with the observation that the apparent lack of concern by the operator is disappointing. The Shark will undoubtedly heal, much like they quasi miraculously heal after being grievously injured when mating.

But I'm digressing as always.
What I really wanted to say is, willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!
Looking forward to many feisty posts and spirited debates!

PS: Facebook shark people are idiots - epic!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Palau - Proposal for a Marine Sanctuary!

Tommy Remengesau - a visionary?

The president of Palau is proposing to declare Palau's entire EEZ a marine sanctuary where any commercial fishing would be banned.

Prima vista, it sounds like a great initiative.
It is undoubtedly so that those distant water fleets are pillaging the Pacific without any regard for sustainability and against totally inadequate compensation - and I'm not only talking about Japan and Taiwan but very much also the USA and Europe! With that in mind, one should really finally tell them to fuck off.

But is a total fishing ban really the best solution?
Would it not be way smarter to start developing a local commercial fleet, to fish sustainably, process the Fish in Palau and then sell it offshore? After all, if managed properly, Fish are a totally renewable resource and truly sustainable fishing does not harm biodiversity - so why deprive the country of this income and the tourists, of their Lobster Thermidor?
Hell, defining and implementing 100% sustainable fishing quotas and techniques with the aid of some reputable NGOs would be a great project and propel Palau right to the top of visionary fishing nations!

Or am I missing something here?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bimini - Ya like Sardines?

Granma and Rusi, by MPO.

And they dare call those Bull Sharks?
Check on top - that's a Bull shark!

But granted, it's not their fault.
From everything I hear, the Caribbean Bulls just happen to be the smallest of the three genetic strains, with ours likely to be the biggest - and despite of their diminutive size, they're nice and chubby and in your face!

So, go check out the Bimini Bull Run.
And after that, you can always come and upgrade your experience here in Fiji - literally!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Southern Stingrays and Megafaunal Extinctions?

And I cite.
This research brings up interesting questions about the role that humans possibly played in the extinction of the many megafauna animals that disappeared at the end of the last ice age. 
Hell, no!
We did not feed and pet the Mastodons, Giant Goannas, Caribbean Monk Seals and Moas to death - we wiped them out by killing and eating them, especially during the Holocene!

I did make a reference to the Southern Stingrays of Grand Cayman's Stingray City when I commented on our Bull Shark paper - and now and totally serendipitously, we finally got ourselves the paper.
Read it!

It's quite obviously rather bad news.
But what also strikes me is that all of this is oh so preventable and that it could be fixed in a blink, likely via the mitigating measures mentioned in the paper! 
Like I said here, it's often not about what one does but rather, about how one does it! Without wanting to go too much into details, remedies could consist in a) limiting the numbers of operators and/or tourists and/or hours, or days (or maybe even months?) of feeding, b) limiting and changing the composition of the introduced food, c) limiting the direct interactions and especially, the feeding by the tourists, and d) maybe even re-locating some of those Rays to avoid too much overcrowding.
And after this PR debacle, the Caymanian authorities might even be amenable to enacting some changes - ideally not cold turkey but gradually!

To be continued no doubt!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mediterranean Elasmobranchs - two Movies by David!

Xisco Perez's 2nd Great White, Mallorca 1976 - source.

The big Elasmobranchs in the Med are screwed.
This insight is obviously not new - but it is once again being confirmed by this latest assessment by the FAO, paper here.

With that in mind, David's movies are of particular importance.
I've blogged about A Ray of Light a while ago and can only once again invite everybody to watch it.

Fantastic, isn't it.
And I'm obviously not the only one liking it.
Not only has the movie helped Brad take his Stingray conservation project to the next level, but it is now attracting international praise which bodes extremely well both for Brad but also for David Diley as a film maker!
Huge kudos once again!

Which brings me straight to Behind Blue Glass.

WeIl the wait is now officially over.
As announced last December, it is finally being released to the public in tandem with Vimeo's launch of its ingenious Tip Jar pay-per-view (= pay once, watch forever) service. The price for viewing it is a ridiculous 5.99 bucks and I leave it to David to tell you why you should watch it.
And on top of all of that, he just simply deserves your solidarity - for being passionate, extremely hard working and talented, and just simply a good guy who loves Sharks like crazy!

C'mon - just DO it!
You won't regret it for so many reasons, all of which are good!
Thank you!

PS And talking of the Med's GWS.
Read the paper linked at the top - and no, I'm not telling! :)

CITES - what next?

Bravo Al Jazeera!

This is a real good program.
Please do invest those 25 minutes to learn more about the complexities of monitoring and enforcing compliance with the CITES regulations.

Great stuff!

Great Fiji Shark Count - April!

Here we go again!

Thanks to our partners, the GFSC enters its second year of existence.
Citizen scientists all over Fiji will be once again counting Sharks, Rays and Turtles during all of this April and then in November, meaning that we will for the first time be able to start comparing the data - albeit with great caveats especially considering that April 2012 was far from normal due to the incessant rain and the floods in the West. Remember that this is long-term monitoring, so any robust trends will only be discernible after several years!

Talking of which, here are last April's results.
This is a preliminary evaluation insofar as it was done by the Fiji team rather than the official lead researcher Christine who has been exceedingly busy - this very much also in co-authoring the all-important paper on the numbers! It offers a nice overview of activities and also firmly cements our area as Fiji's Shark diving hot spot, with more species and also larger numbers - yes obviously because of the feeding but also because of the good protection!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Vitaly - nice!

Just found this by pure chance.

I had a look at those Reefies and thought wait a minute! 
Yes this would once again be by Vitaly aka Willyam Bradbury, and it depicts our legendary 4m safety stop - and, you may also wanna go have a look at some of the more spicy stuff he has been producing!

Nice! :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Feeding Bull Sharks in Fiji - the Paper!

This pic by Doug is so good that I catch myself using it time after time again - click for detail!

Stating that I'm mighty proud would clearly be the understatement of the year!

Opportunistic Visitors: Long-Term Behavioural Response of Bull Sharks to Food Provisioning in Fiji
Juerg M. Brunnschweiler, Adam Barnett


Shark-based tourism that uses bait to reliably attract certain species to specific sites so that divers can view them is a growing industry globally, but remains a controversial issue. 
We evaluate multi-year (2004–2011) underwater visual (n = 48 individuals) and acoustic tracking data (n = 82 transmitters; array of up to 16 receivers) of bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas from a long-term shark feeding site at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve and reefs along the Beqa Channel on the southern coast of Viti Levu, Fiji. 

Individual C. leucas showed varying degrees of site fidelity.
Determined from acoustic tagging, the majority of C. leucas had site fidelity indexes greater than 0.5 for the marine reserve (including the feeding site) and neighbouring reefs. However, during the time of the day (09:00–12:00) when feeding takes place, sharks mainly had site fidelity indexes smaller than 0.5 for the feeding site, regardless of feeding or non-feeding days

Site fidelity indexes determined by direct diver observation of sharks at the feeding site were lower compared to such values determined by acoustic tagging. 

The overall pattern for C. leucas is that, if present in the area, they are attracted to the feeding site regardless of whether feeding or non-feeding days, but they remain for longer periods of time (consecutive hours) on feeding days. The overall diel patterns in movement are for C. leucas to use the area around the feeding site in the morning before spreading out over Shark Reef throughout the day and dispersing over the entire array at night. Both focal observation and acoustic monitoring show that C. leucas intermittently leave the area for a few consecutive days throughout the year, and for longer time periods (weeks to months) at the end of the calendar year before returning to the feeding site.

So this is it.
Like we never tire to say, BAD has essentially been established in order to manage a Shark research and conservation project and consequently, everything we do is geared towards those aims whilst generating just enough income to compensate the various stakeholders and ensure our long term survival.
So far so good - touch wood!

But of course the beginning was everything but easy.
I had reached out to Gary Adkison when formulating the Fiji Shark Project, and when Juerg lost his Bull Shark research site in the Bahamas, Gary suggested that he go check out the crazy dude who was trying to set up a Shark MPA in Fiji. I desperately needed to find a conservation-oriented researcher, something that in those times was far from common; and Juerg desperately needed to find a new and and above all, reliable Bull Shark research site for his Bull Shark Tagging Programme. We met, took each other's measure, liked what we saw and decided to give it a try.
Gesagt getan and the rest, as they say, is history.

That was in 2003.
Ten years and countless adventures, discussions and heated debates (!) later, I must really say that it was a match made in heaven. I really, really like and respect Juerg and the feeling is likely reciprocal, the more as we really completely see eye to eye on conservation matters (sometimes less so on research techniques), are completely result-driven and despise  bullshit - and we even share the same degree of incisive humor!

But I'm digressing as always.
Back then, Shark conservation was very much in its infancy and the exclusive domain of a handful of idealistic and rather clueless loons (and probably still is!), we were both essentially rookies, and progress only happened in baby steps and with plenty of setbacks. This also on the research side where the first generation of PAT tags was rather temperamental and where for ethical reasons, we had burdened ourselves with the challenge of trying to tag the animals underwater, first intra-gastrically and then externally.
But Juerg and Gary did persevere and eventually got it done - and this very much despite the vocal objections of your truly who developed an increasing distaste for the invasive techniques.
Love you guys! :)

At the same time, we started our long term monitoring.
This is a first (and by no means last!) look at our enormous data base where we have so far meticulously recorded close to 10 years, or approx. 4,000 individual baited Shark dives in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve. Over those years, we have named and monitored more and more individual Sharks and have been keeping particularly detailed records of presently approx 150 individual Bulls.
The paper is the comprehensive analysis of only one subset of those observations, i.e. simple presence/absence data, this in comparison to several years' worth of acoustic tagging data of the same 48 individual Sharks.
Thankfully it is open access - read it!

The take-away message as I see it is this.
This particular Shark dive has been operating continuously since 1998 and it is fair to state that if there has ever been a population of conditioned Sharks, it would be the Bull Sharks of Shark Reef.
And yet,
  • Our Bulls remain wild animals.
    Once they have discovered Shark Reef, they do come back; but at the same time, it is quite obvious that they continue to roam the area and undoubtedly fulfill their ecological function like any other non-provisioned Bull Shark, much in line with what we postulated years ago - and now we have the peer-reviewed science to back it up!
  • Effects at large spatial and temporal scales appear minimal.
    This is consistent with all research into provisioned Sharks, i.e. that there may well be conditioning on site but that typically, the long term migrations and life history in general remain largely unaffected.
  • Feeding does not appear to significantly effect the Sharks' diel patterns, this with the only exception that they will spend more time at the feeding site on feeding days - however only to depart and continue their usual daily roaming patterns. Note the observation about night-time foraging at and possibly even within the Navua River - very interesting and eminently testable!
  • Same-same for their propensity, or lack of, to approach humans.
    There are obviously pronounced differences at the individual level, something I experience on a daily basis - but despite of the fact that there are Sharks that are decidedly more friendly (or bold), it is equally true that none of them comes begging for food when there is no bait in the water. In fact, the observation that during the time of the day (09:00–12:00) when feeding takes place, sharks mainly had site fidelity indexes smaller than 0.5 for the feeding site, regardless of feeding or non-feeding days may be an indication for the fact that the presence of bait barely compensates for the notorious shyness of this species!
  • Long-term exposure to feeding does not appear to cause any conditioning in terms of dependence on that food source.
    One could stipulate such conditioning if the data showed increased presence over the years - but the fact is that the data appear to absolutely negate that hypothesis, as e.g. illustrated by the site fidelity indexes for 2004-2011 of Crook, a friendly old-timer and voracious hand feeder., to wit 0.48, 0.20, 0.16, 0.24, 0.23, 0.22, 0.14 and 0.47  (Table S1), an observation that is consistent for all monitored Sharks.
  • The Shark Corridor appears to confer a solid degree of protection.
    Yes the animals do regularly leave that area - but site fidelity indexes that are larger than 0.50 indicate that the protected area is apparently large enough to have a positive effect.
Long story short?
Granted, strictly speaking, this only applies to Fiji Bull Sharks that are being fed in Fiji and not to "Sharks" in general - but after Aleks' paper on Caribbean Reefs and Neil's Tiger Shark paper, we now have one more indication that one cannot simply draw conclusions from other research showing conditioning, and possibly negative consequences for other species: not from those Lemons in Moorea, not from the Southern Stingrays in Cayman - and certainly not from teleost Fishes that appear to have a higher propensity for being conditioned, let alone the proverbial bloody Bears!

On the contrary and with the caveat that this may well be species- but possibly also situation-specific (see the Moorea Lemons where there may be procedural issues), it appears that those larger Sharks may just be a tad too smart for the simplistic cause-effect bullshit spouted by our detractors.

In fact when it comes to the risk they pose to humans, I'm of the strong opinion that provided that those baited dives are conducted responsibly, those "tame" Sharks pose less and not more of a threat! Yes I'm obviously speculating - but after thousands of Shark dives, I've earned myself the right to do so!

And their long term life history?
If there there is one constant observation among all papers analyzing Shark provisioning, it is that over the longer term, the animals keep their normal migration and mating/birthing patterns - e.g. think of the GWS in Lupe, the Playa Bulls and the Bimini GHH that are all seasonal irrespective of the fact that they are being fed! This is once again a strong indication that feeding causes no harm, at least not to the Sharks that are being fed.

Anyway - is this cool, or what!

Keep watching this space.
As I said, this is only the beginning, meaning that our data base contains the answers to many more questions. And, we're already conducting and are about to roll out several more new large multi-year projects that will hopefully lead to new important insights - especially about reproductive and possibly even natal philopatry that would greatly assist us in refining local Shark conservation measures.

In the meantime, enjoy Juerg and Adam's paper!

PS thanks Patric!
PS2: thanks Georgina!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sharks Still Getting Screwed!

Read this!
Still think I'm the biggest cynic on the block?

And the reference to Fiji?
Worry not - we got ourselves a brand new gaggle of WARRIORS stomping around in the Sigatoka Dunes so everything is gonna be just fine!

Now, about those endangered Barnacles...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

CITES - it's done!

All the Sharks, and the Mantas have been confirmed!
Let the celebrations begin!

CITES - Plenary Session!

Excellent posting on Shark Defenders!

Please follow the debate on their Tweet feed.
Alea iacta est - let's just hope that the delegates will stick to their vote and withstand the pressure by Japan, China, bloody Iceland (!) et al!

Best of success to everybody!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New South Wales - WTF?

Are we in for more of this shit? Source.

Remember that horrible woman, Katrina Hodgkinson?
The one that stripped the NSW Grey Nurse Sharks of their protection, only to have to back-track in the face of overwhelming condemnation of her reckless actions?

Well, she's at it again.
Whilst Australia shines with its new network of Marine Parks, Hodgkinson is continuing to pander to the Fishers and Shooters Party and opening the marine parks of NSW to the recreational anglers - this all very much unsurprisingly and very much anticipated, and once again prematurely and unilaterally without even waiting for the recommendations by her newly appointed panel. This follows NSW's Premier O'Farrell's controversial decision to open NSW's national parks to recreational shooters.
Story here.

The question being,
will this reckless stupidity encompass the GNS aggregation sites and once again endanger their survival?

Keep watching this space!

Shark Sicko!


What a heartless sick piece of shit!
Watch this.

And he's got the audacity to use Shark conservation memes!
Would somebody in the US Shark conservation community please issue a public statement strongly condemning and distancing themselves from this abomination.

Thank you.

CITES - stand by your Vote!

On Monday, March 11, 2013, CITES Committee I approved protections for five species of shark and two species of manta ray. 
The results of Committee I will head to plenary and will be approved in about 48 hours.
There is a chance that opposing countries will move to reopen the vote and possibly overturn these protections.

Details about what to do here.
And you may also want to congratulate and thank the delegates for what they've done so far!

Also, good piece by the IUCN here!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Value of Sharks - Paper!

I'm about to piss off some friends - again!
Sorry guys and gals, nothing personal - really!

Anyway, I've been remiss in not posting about Catlin et al.

Non-consumptive wildlife tourism plays an important role both in raising conservation issues and in providing economic support for conservation initiatives.
Although the direct value of wildlife has been historically associated with its consumption, tourism is increasingly being used to value wildlife for its economic and environmental qualities. There are various methods by which these values can be assessed. In particular, there is a recent trend towards ascribing tourism values to individual animals. Such approaches enable direct comparisons with the extractive of use animals. These calculations can depict clear contrasts in value in tourism’s favour which can then be publicised to a wider audience.

Whilst this method may appear desirable, this paper demonstrates that valuations made at the scale of single animal are frequently based on assumptions that may not withstand critique. 
In turn it is argued, that given the flaws in this method, instead of enhancing arguments for conservation it has the potential to weaken its case. It is contended that using tourism to value wildlife should be conducted at a destination or higher level where the arguments have a firmer scientific basis and thus more impact and relevance. 
Like my friends, I was initially outraged.
But upon reflection and discussions with some of my scientific gurus, I've now come to the conclusion that the authors are probably correct. Whereas it is evident that the economic value of Sharks (and other animals) through tourism revenue is multiples of the value of fished Sharks, attributing precise values to single animals per year or over their lifetime is at best a back-of-the-envelope guesstimate and really got no place in peer-reviewed scientific papers.
And yes of course I've fallen into the same trap!

But that was conservation marketing
The fact is that even in the SRMR where we keep detailed tabs and actually know and name many of our Sharks, we ignore the precise total numbers - this also owing to such trivial factors as fluctuating visibility and the different propensity of individual animals to approach within visual range, etc! The fact is also that a fished tourism Shark would likely be replaced by another individual, thus very much relativizing its individual value!
And I spare you the many examples in the paper, some of which are rather egregious indeed!

The take-away message?
Those individual valuations are fluff that will not stand up to scrutiny.
What however is totally valid are nation- and sector-wide valuations, and this especially when based on original research like the Fiji Shark Tourism Valuation as opposed to meta-analysis, uncritical citations and outright hearsay like some other publications.
What is equally valid is to state that a live Shark is more valuable than a dead one - especially if considering its ecosystem services, something that somebody really ought to finally analyze!
Ambitious but not impossible!

So be careful when using those numbers.
They sound great - but in essence, they are not true and as such, bad conservation.

CITES - Victory Lap!

Pew - job well done! Source.

Just one of the many victory laps, by people I like.
This is the one by my good friends at Shark Savers, whereas I could not yet find one by Pew (and by extension, Shark Defenders) who have run an immaculate, professional and highly impressive campaign.
The others? Honorable mention to PADI Project AWARE, the IUCN, the WWF, the Shark Trust and probably Shark Advocates International tho in the latter case, reports of personal bickering about the Manta Ray proposal have left me decidedly underwhelmed.
And the SRI? I hear that they were as useless as a third teat - and no I'm not surprised!

But I'm digressing as always.
The fact is that this has been simply stellar and huge kudos once again to everybody involved!

But... it's not done quite yet.
Like the BBC, I fully expect Japan and China to pull out all the stops in order to sink this at the plenary session this Thursday, and the pro listing advocates will have their hands full in countering the likely pressure, disinformation and outright lies. But maybe with the exception of the OWT, the majorities have been so impressive that chances for a reversal appear slim - tho it aint over til the fat lady sings!

Fingers crossed - and kudos again!

Monday, March 11, 2013

CITES - Victory for the Mantas!

Did I really just post this thing to my blog???

First and foremost, a big hug to YOU DaMary! :)
And bravo Manta Ray of Hope!

And a huge kudos to Pew!
If the Shark and Manta listings are confirmed in the plenary session, it will be a HUGE slap in the face to Japan, China and their cronies - the ultimate irony being that their insistence on secret ballots may have well allowed several delegations to vote against the instructions of their so-called development partners!
Hint: one should ask for secret ballots at the plenary session! :)

Congratulations Angelo!
No I'm not gonna pose with a flat Shark on my blog - but please, do take the opportunity to investigate the reasons why the delegates have voted in favor this time. I'm quite sure that many will answer if you ask them, and good lessons may be learned for the best strategies going forward!
Was it the excellent science - or may they have been principally swayed by, gasp, those bloody petitions and pictures?

Anyway, thank you ladies and gentlemen.
Thanks to your efforts, this has really been an excellent day!

PS: Thanks Angelo, this is very nice of you!
PS2: and this, too!

CITES - Porbeagle passes!


This is really an EXCELLENT day!

Next the Manta Rays!

CITES - Yes for Hammerheads!



But beware of the caveat - it's not done quite yet!
Porbeagle next!

CITES - undue Pressure?

Japanese booth at CITES - source

You betcha!
Pressure and disinformation - both directly and by their paid minions!!

Read this article on the BBC website!

CITES - OWT Proposal adopted!


From what I understand this is not final.

This is a committee vote.
The final ratification will hopefully happen at the plenary session this Thursday - but this is not a given, remember the ignominious Porbeagle reversal in Doha!
Expect more lobbying and disinformation by the naysayers Japan, China, Singapore et al!

Anyway, so far, GREAT news!!!

Today is the Day!

Japanese disinformation - source.

Today, CITES will vote on the Shark and Manta proposals.

Who will prevail?
Scientific facts versus disinformation - flat Sharks versus totally misleading Japanese comics, see on top? Just for the record: CITES II listing is 100% about sustainability and has zero incidence on Tuna long lining!
Fishermen will be able to continue long lining for Tuna but may be asked to put in place bycatch mitigation measures like no steel leaders etc that actually lead to higher, not lower catches of Tuna!

Best of luck to everybody involved.
My prediction stands: victory for the Mantas, probably not for the Sharks - and if so, let us for once see a truthful post mortem and a moment of accountability on top of the Manta victory laps!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Is Sean van Sommeran a Liar, a Cheat - and stupid?

You be the judge of that!

Here is the background story.
  • In April of last year, SvS went public claiming that a GWS caught in El Choyudo, Baja, Mexico, was carrying one of the tags he had attached to GWS in California.
    That would have revolutionized what we know of the migration patterns of the Californian GWS, and caused quite a stir among researchers. SvS circulated a picture of the tag but claimed that the wife of one of the Mexican fishermen, one Paulina Leon, had contacted him and asked for money for sending it back to him. Later on, he explained that he could not substantiate his assertions because the tag had been sold to some unnamed competing researcher.
  • Patric smelled a rat right away and posted this comment
    What caught us were the nature of the images. In one, the alleged tag was in place with a small knife for perspective. Something only a researcher would do, certainly not a small village fisher-woman in Mexico.
  • Michael Domeier traveled to El Choyudo to investigate the matter and found no evidence whatsoever of either the tag or Paulina Leon, casting further doubt on the veracity of SvS' assertions.
  • I focused on the fact that the claimed e-mail conversation between Paulina Leon and SvsS had apparently taken place before (!) the capture of the Shark, a further indication that the story was likely a total fabrication.
And now, I find this - copy/paste.
Sean R. van Sommeran --
The purpose of the close quarters contact was not for recreation it was for the purposes of recovering an ID tag in 2001 (and other of our tags) that was placed at same site (MBNMS) during 1995, when we first began tagging phase of long term monitor
ing study,, we began study in 1992 but worked patiently and diligently working up to the close approach and tagging aspect of the study, these tags were subsequently identified and documented also (proofing) at SE Farallones in 1999, they were seen earlier but not successfully documented until then by S. Anderson (naturalist) and PRBO assistant Adam Brown, I finally got a copy of that from them (like pulling teeth) in 2006, following our 2005 acceptance (due to vindication of data scandal and concurrent allegations of speeding with our research lure (now standard issue), I was menaced by a $22,000 fine, by same academic corporate clique of experts who embraced the hook and line and fin mutilating methods of Dr Domeier and his millionaire cohorts et al.

Everything we do or accomplish is distorted by PR and Outreach (obese salaries) over in Monterey and affiliated colleges and experts,,,.
Comes with the territory (MBNMS/GFNMS),,,

Wow wow wow!
Compare the picture (see top of this post) with the picture of the tag that was allegedly retrieved from the El Choyudo Shark in 2012, posted here
And now look at SVS' caption: archive/2004-mar???

May SVS have made a stupid sloppy mistake and unwittingly proven that his outlandish assertions were nothing more than bullshit?
As in: totally busted?

Questions questions... :)

PS Patric about tapeworms here!