Friday, May 8, 2009

Halting The US Commercial Media Disaster

Alright folks it's time for "The Chat."

I know that all of the US based commercial shark diving operators read this blog. We know it, you know it - so this post is directed to you and you only.

You're killing the industry and your dive sites with media based Hara-Kiri. We have talked about this for the past year, operational video and images coming from 90% of our industry featuring stark "stupidity with sharks."

Video example.

There's been absolutely no industry leadership here in the US by any of you, in fact the US now represents the worst and the best of the worldwide commercial shark diving industry - serving up a constant stream of questionable media lapped up by major news sources. If right about now you're saying "this is not me", it probably is not, apologies.

We have at our disposal three of the most sought after dive sites on the planet. The Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii.

Two of these sites are outside US territorial waters and unfortunately we have shown our host countries via a series of You Tube videos and shockingly poor media appearances that our operations are little more than ongoing liabilities to those host countries.

Politicians and lawmakers decide our fate with a sweep of a pen, often guided by the images and media we put forth. In the hands of a skilled anti-shark diving advocate videos of sharks ripping apart cages and divers riding tigers at sites under cease and desist orders is all it takes.

Can't you see that?


The litany of negative video and images has made 2008-9 the worst years on record for our industry and it continues. Like an alcoholic staggering away from a bar - our industry is not content to just go home and call it a night, no, we're actually rooting around in the back alleyway for beer cans with cigarette butts in them looking for that "last shark media high."

Enough.

All of you profess to "love sharks." I read it all the time, on your websites, in interviews and I believe that. How does that "love of sharks" translate into sharks tearing apart cages that are then featured all over the planet on the major media - causing Mexico to institute a ban on chumming?

At what point do you discover Bahamas Tourism ministers and staff discussing the possibility of banning interactions with tigers and decide that a mainstream yahoo media push is a good idea?

Knowing that Hawaii has a long cultural history with sharks, why would anyone attempt to open operations in areas guaranteed to cause a negative media firestorm resulting in calls for a complete ban on all operations in Hawaii?

Oh, and the idea that the media is bad and that you all have been made to look foolish on accident? How old are you? Media is our lifeblood, it is what we do. If you as an operator have not figured that out yet after the years you have been in business...get out of the business.

Playing "the media victim" has a shelf life, it's a one trick pony. Eventually you and you alone have to man up and own your mess.

In case it had been lost on you, or this has never been explained to you, our clients are, in order of sustainable and lasting importance:

1. The host country
2. The sharks
3. Our divers

So, that's the "Come to Commercial Shark Jesus" spiel guys. Do with it as you see fit. Hopefully take some of it and change because unless you do, those with the big pen will force change upon you.

What happens in Hawaii, impacts Mexico and Bahamas and vice-versa.

The Florida decision in 2000 to ban shark diving is a prime example of how that change happens, and we, as the US shark diving industry are hanging by the next piece of negative video on the rest.

You can take that to the bank.


Cheers,
Patric Douglas CEO
www.sharkdiver.com
www.sharkdivers.com
www.sharkdivers.blogspot.com
www.guadalupefund.org
www.islandofthegreatwhiteshark.com
415.235.9410

23 comments:

Felix Leander said...

Excellent post! Will report on my blog...sharks and country should share the first spot :)

Anonymous said...

Fuck you!

Shark Diver said...

That's' not exactly the rational soul searching we were looking for there mate.

We'll leave that post up for all to see though.

Allen said...

Good point shark divers and about time someone said something. This video is really a last straw, what are operators thinking out there?

Sarah from VI said...

Kudos Patric, that was a pretty bold and brave statement of fact.

We need change.

DaShark said...

Congratulations Patric!

Truthful and unflinching as always!

Have posted the deserved laudatio on http://fijisharkdiving.blogspot.com/2009/05/shark-diving-at-watershed.html

Anonymous said...

what EXACTLY do you object to in the video? just curious. I can guess, but i'd rather hear your take on it.

as for your post... it seems that you are more concerned with the way shark diving is perceived than the way it is conducted. why so much hand wringing over the video, as opposed to the actual practices?

are you really trying to put your host country and sharks first...or are you just concerned about protecting your revenue stream?

Shark Diver said...

Thanks for the post. The trick is here, operators cannot hide in this convo (tracked your IP back)

If you have something to discuss and move this forward in a positive way then stamp your name and operation on your post.

Look guys, if the dive industry could self regulate, we can too, Mike in Beqa is correct.

It's going to take some leadership and strong suit our industry lacks at the moment.

Let's restart the convo with your name, and then let me ask you what is right about that video?

You an industry leader or just some guy at a dive show?

Felix Leander said...

Patric - why do you even allow anonymous posts on your blog?

Shark Diver said...

Hi Felix,

It shows whovever is interested the true face of many within our industry. If all of this is fine come on out and defend it and stamp your companies reputation on it. Stand up.

If it is not. Change. Playing "hidey snipey" on this blog is a waste of time, we're looking for solutions.

Some claim to "love sharks", then we see the videos and images that show differently. In some cases tragically.

You are your media. You're defined by it, how THAT get's misunderstood is not our problem.

We're not putting that media out there, they are creating it. Sadly no one is "owning it". I am tired of the excuses that allow more of the same - year after year giving a global industry a black eye and giving those who want to end regional shark diving the perfect media tools to hurt our industry with:

"the media twisted that video"

"it was an accident"

"it was another accident"

"that was one of my staff not me"

"it was the sharks fault"

"the guy who shot that was crazy"

"i am not responsible for that"

Where do we go from here?

When does this end?

What is the solution?

You take big risks calling bullshit out in any industry. I am calling bullshit.

Anyone want to seriously discuss this?

Anonymous said...

well, for starters i'm not in the industry. just an average diver. honestly.

i agree that a lot of the stuff in that video looks pretty stupid. but do you consider all of the footage from tiger beach to be stupid as well?

just curious - has anyone proposed an industry code of standards to address the problem? is there even an industry association of some sort.

just curious.

DaShark said...

No, there are no Industry standards and it would be very difficult to formulate them.

Protocols need to be species- and site-specific and drift diving with Hammerheads in Cocos, or diving with Great Whites in oceanic waters in Lupe are very different from diving with Tigers in shallow water in the Bahamas and again totally different from oceanic diving with Tigers in South Africa.

But when you take customers to see macro predatory Sharks I believe that those customers and the Sharks need to be kept separated.

Take Guadalupe: taking customers cageless is utter foolishness!

Take Tiger Beach: it was "designed" by a photographer in such a way that photographers would be able to get those wonderful images we all have seen.

I'm told that the justification for those close encounters (I call it interactive diving, where the customers and the Sharks are being allowed to go 1:1) was that the Sharks were not being fed but just teased in and were thus not in "predatory" mode.
Fair enough - I don't quite buy it but so be it.

However, what I now see is people feeding the Sharks, petting the Sharks, riding the Sharks and the Sharks being allowed to circulate freely among the divers, some of which are obviously neophytes.

It's become a bloody petting zoo and a free-for-all circus for all sorts of yahoos and this is just not sustainable.

The images are just the symptom, not the problem.
The problem are those operators who condone and facilitate that stuff and very obviously have no regard for the safety of their clients.

Anonymous said...

yeah, i definitely agree that taking divers cageless with whites is pretty damn stupid.

do you think all shark dives should involve cages? at least those with the macro predatory sharks, as you put it?

DaShark said...

No I don't.

Again, it's species- and site-specific.

We don't do it in Fiji but keep the Sharks and the divers separated.
As far as I know, they also dive cageless with Tigers in South Africa.

Shark Diver said...

Hi Mike,

Great ideas. A uniform shark protocol with some industry buy-in and "teeth" would be a first step.

By species, site, and activity with strong input from host countries should they want to participate.

In the case of Isla Guadalupe there are a series of proposed rules and regs that have been disseminated with the operators. These came from CONANP in written form three years ago, you can see how effective they were with some operators.

Many of these common sense "rules" at I.G have been ignored leading to the current series of near disasters and envelope pushing. With each near disaster the operators run out a series of excuses that we have all seen before - diverting responsibility.

In Bahamas a regional industry cease and desist is still in effect with very specific requests and concerns. Again, completely ignored by users from the US who are guests in these waters. Even a hat tip to any of these complaints here would show good faith.

Hawaii is under the MS Act, and that's a whole other kettle of fish. But the poorly rolled out new guy inflamed an entire island and brought the MS Act back into play and this time the anti shark diving guys are going the full 12 rounds.

For the most part this is not about "cage vs non cage", or even "divers rights vs assumed risk". Those are classic small minded straw man arguments that end up going no where. Operators who want to go extreme hide behind these debates.

No, we're at a crossroads here it's time for some serious long term industry leadership by those few who have transgressed and continue to transgress - negatively impacting the entire industry.

Unfortunately I do not see the leadership anywhere. I see a lot of posturing, a lot of dive show BS about being the greatest, most extreme shark divers and that's about it.

I also see that common theme about who "loves sharks more".Seriously, when you watch a cameraman ram his housing into the side of a tiger shark because the animal is in a pre-predatory investigative bite to the back of a completely unaware diver where is this professed "shark love"?

Meanwhile we have three commercial shark diving houses if not smoking right now, actually on fire, and everyone congratulating themselves on how good they look in their firetrucks.

Anonymous said...

very interesting debate and perspectives. hopefully, those in the industry will get the message that if they fail to police themselves, someone else will do it for them.

DaShark said...

You're so right Patric!

It is so not about divers' rights or cages - it is really only about common sense!
If you strip away all the BS, it is as trivial as this.

For an accident to happen, a diver and a Shark will need to be in the same place at the same time.
(Helloooooooo....)

So, keep the customers and the Sharks segregated, by whatever means are appropriate in that specific situation.

If everybody could agree on the principle, it would still leave ample scope for individual solutions.
Some will deploy cages, some will stage a feeding show, some will lay out food and have the clients watch from a distance, some will just observe the animals doing their thing in unbaited conditions: all fine by me.

Of course, this implies that Joe Diver with the killer camera won't be able to get that wideangle close-up of the Sharks' gullet.
And so what?

What we tell our clients in Fiji is that that's not part of the package we offer - and guess what, they still go home happy!

Shark Diver said...

I see the industry in terms of longevity, not ego, so there's some clarity.

In the past 20 years our industry has organically grown into something unique with a huge upside to the research and conservation communities IF - and it's the big IF - we can get a handle on the few within who only see our industry in terms of the next back slap and high five.

The industry is changing so fast it's hard to keep track. The switch from film to digital changed the way we shoot underwater and flooded the market with hoards of eager new shooters. The switch from pure images to photoshop changed the "value" of what was shot.

Today the "value" comes not from the image but from the extreme encounter the image represents in far too many cases.

Out of shark cages at I.G for example - not just last year either. Or pre-predatory investigative bites on housings at Tiger Beach. I believe there are some who call those "love taps" or "snuggle bumps".

Call it what you like eventually the nexus of poor dive skills, new shark, bad water conditions, and some random chum will lead to another death.

This was the beginning of a dangerous precedent for our industry. As top grade shooters are few and far between operators began to bring in second and third tier shooters and divers to these extreme encounters.

Today clearly it is out of control, with too many short term and short minded enablers, and too few long term thinkers saying "wait a minute".

This is one example of how our industry is changing but like all changes - we also have an ability to change once again.

The question is - is there anyone out there with the stones to start?

Felix Leander said...

That is why you need to keep it real - Nikonos V, no flash, black/white 35MM film and no tanks :)

All kidding aside - I think you both raise some great points...but how can dive operators selectively choose their clientele without knowing their underwater and shark skills?

Do you test them before and depending on their behavior take them out of the water or put them in cages?

And how do you segregate sharks from divers without cages?

Shark Diver said...

Felix,

You bring up a good point. I think there's a place for cageless encounters with tigers, it has precedent all over the world and it works.

The problem I see is three fold:

1. What happens at one site cannot be taken to another. Each site is specific and should be developed with set protocols as stand alones. You can take elements from other dives.

2. Host countries. You have to pay attention to their desires and perceptions of "cageless dives". At the end of the day these are their sharks not ours. Build a program that works with the host country and asks for input.

3. Cageless free diving protocols and mixed use sites. I am all for development of a set aside free diving site in the Bahamas if points 1 and 2 are worked with.

In fact that is the only way it can be done, otherwise it's just an "on the fly experiment" with sharks that get's copied by folks who do not have the talent you and your dad have in the water with these critters.

The passion you two have for tigers is undisputed. The images also. Unfortunately there are also images and videos of a few 20 year old girls in bikini's floating around out there hand feeding and riding tigers.

Those images negatively charge the debate, as we have seen in Hawaii, and cause the great majority of people to once again look at our sport with less than admiration.

Don't forget, as far as the general public, lawmakers and media is concerned we're a bunch of shark yahoos, and that's starting with cages. You add some bikini gal with a tiger and now the conversation ends and the anti-shark diving folks start screaming.

Oh, I know the argument well, "I do this to prove they are misunderstood".

Yeah. That argument just serves to cement you and yours into the "shark crazies" category. We as an industry have to pay heed to the total perception of the industry.

For too long all we see and hear are the minority who love shark diving, being an ambassador for sharks is a good thing.

Let's start being ambassadors for an entire industry. We start losing our ability to interact with sharks, we lose the ability to speak for them as well.

DaShark said...

C'mon Felix, Nik Vs are for wussies - that's like hearing a biker praise his Honda!

Got a few Nik III hanging around somewhere - want one?

As to how we select and do it, read http://fijisharkdiving.blogspot.com/2009/04/in-nutshell.html and the links.

But Patric is right - it works in Fiji, in a reef environment, with only one operator and after years of working with the animals - and as you know, we don't accept free divers and snorkelers.

Shark Diver said...

There's a place for it all. Free divers, non caged, caged, bubble helmets.

The trick is in the definition of it, the when and where and why.

Anonymous said...

What you are talking about are three guys only. They are reckless and out of control. Not one of them really cares about sharks otherwise they would not have allowed the cage breaches, the disasters, the shitty media.

Ban those operators!