Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fishing for Great White Sharks - Farallons

Perhaps the biggest shark controversy in the western hemisphere is about to play out this week at the Farallon Islands - and no one it seems, is happy about it.

Just 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco these small, protected islands, are home to some of the largest white sharks in the region.

They are also home to notoriously horrific weather, murky cold waters, and a few die hard shark researchers.

This week the same team who caught and tagged white sharks at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico in 2008 will be at it again, this time at the Farallons.

White shark fishing was banned in California over 15 years ago and it is only with special permits that this team is allowed to catch these animals. Therein lies the controversy. Fishing for white sharks.

The team is lead by Dr. Michael Domeier from The Marine Conservation Science Institute in San Diego. We have been supportive of this team for the past few years. Mainly because they have an established track record for working with white sharks that few others have.

The hooking of any white shark is a traumatic event, but the data that comes back from specialized tags that are drilled into dorsal fins gives researchers a window into the world of the white shark that few other tagging methods deliver. Sat tags are notoriously finicky with a high failure rate. These tags allow researchers minute by minute updates and last for years.

With enough of these invasive tags in place we should, in just a few years time, have absolute and definable small scale and large scale movement patterns of a large sampling of the western pacific white shark population.

We would rather see a professional team do this kind of very specialized tagging work. NOAA, the agency for permit approval, has chosen well. Still many are abjectly opposed to these tags and the manner in which they are applied.

The bigger question is not so much the work that is being done, rather the film crews who will be accompanying the effort. It's a double edged sword when you look at any invasive animal technique and film and television productions.

Short media samples of the Guadalupe production are causing a backlash from the community.

While images like the one featured in this post cannot be helped, the perception that this work is in anyway "fun" are what harm the effort. Media control is, as we have always said, 90% of perception.

Gentlemen, a word of media advice from those who know.

Lose the "Cool Dude Shaka images" standing next to captured white sharks. In the end these images will dog your continuing efforts for years to come.

Let's hope Nat Geo's handling of your tagging program is as serious as the subject matter.


DaShark said...

I would have to disagree.

No data set justifies torturing an animal in this heartless and brutal fashion.

George said...

I was thinking, "Wow, that photo really gives off an unprofessional vibe," before I even got down to the paragraph about media control.

Shark Diver said...

With ya there mate, add to that the short media clips being passed around as well.

These guys need to play to both the general public and the shark community as well.

The data will be stunning when it comes in.

Anonymous said...

A very unfortunate situation, whats a national marine sanctuary allowing such invasive and harmful activities for the sharks that already are overloved? I agree, this is torture, come on in the big picture of issues to solve and problems on this planet, is this necessary? I heard the first catch went awful and likely that shark is dead now. Just wait to those pics hit the streets, should be interesting.

Shark Diver said...

"I heard the first catch went awful and likely that shark is dead now."

We'll wait to reserve any comment on that statement.

They did manage multiple animals at Isla Guadalupe without mishap so there's a pretty good track record.

The nature of this work is shocking.

We had a hard time watching the 'Lupe footage until we started seeing tagged sharks on site this season.

They looked great, healthy and big. We have a unique position at I.G if bad things happen with sharks we see it first hand.

Let's wait until it's all over and the data comes back. If this helps white sharks and gives them another chance at surviving then this is ultimately good.

Hard data is the ONLY thing that will move gov agencies to protect sharks that is a fact.

We need more data.

Anonymous said...

On the anchor at the Islands now.
Happy to report in that the first shark has pinged in 4 times and seems to be doing well. The second shark has also pinged in.
Both are still in the area.
That should set the record straight on the blog.
It is unfortunate people don't get the full scoop on photos.
The one in this blog is a picture of Amy. She was just under 17ft and weighted approx 4,000+ lbs.
She was the eleventh and last tag we placed at Guadalupe.
We had not taken a picture with any of the prev 11 trying to get the sharks back in the water ASAP. Since this was the last fish and we had gotten fast at tagging them, I told the guys shoot this photo. It is the only group image of us with any of the 17 fish we have caught, tagged and released.
I am happy that I did so, because Johnny our engineer, front left, died 48 hrs later of a heart attack. It is the last picture of him alive.
Chris Fischer, owner Mothership Ocean, Expedition Leader

Shark Diver said...

Thanks for the update Chris.

Anonymous said...

What is the saying? Assumption is the root of all evil....something like that. This is the first I've heard of this operation so I dug deeper and it seems extremely fascinating. Yes the protection of the white shark is very important but how do you protect something you know so little about. It seems these researchers are the only ones sticking their necks out to open the mysteries of these sharks. Lets wait and see what the data shows before we stone them in the city square. I personally think the photo is great. It looks like the crew is loving what they do. Would you rather see a bunch of miserable, unhappy people doing research on something they don't love? Maybe we could start a blog about the 3,000,000 sharks they kill a year in Costa Rica for the finning market.

Shark Diver said...

Yes "Anonymous" a blog like that would be nice indeed. Back to the image.

For credibility sake an image that looked less like stone age hunters over a recent mammoth kill would be better.

We're not the only ones to react to that image and a few others like it floating around.

Fishing for great white sharks is a white hot button topic. Most people will not see or understand the "data part" so it is imperative that the images coming from this effort show professionals - nothing else.

We're only 20 year media veterans with an uncanny understanding of negative and positive media impacts.

We're rarely wrong about long bet media calls.

Anonymous said...

Chris there are ugly rumors floating around about a "gut hooked" white shark this week.

You want to comment on that?

Anonymous said...

We hooked two sharks this week.
We were concerned about the first shark because the hook was a little deep.
It was in the back of it's mouth, not gut hooked.
We were able to cut the hook in half so it could roll out backwards, and left a part of it in the shark.
That was our concern, we had never had to do that.
Fortunately, that shark has been pinging away regularly the last three days. Has moved 20 miles or so from the island.
Second shark was hooked cleanly in the lip. There was not even blood in the hook wound. First time we have seen that.
It started pinging away a day or two later as well.
Both sharks are doing well, and we are headed out. The weather is coming up and it would not be safe for the sharks or our crew to attempt to land a shark in the current and forecasted conditions.
So far 17 sharks tagged and released and all have pinged in.

C. F.

Anonymous said...


The word is a "gut hooked" animal with a 60 minute battle to get the animal torpid enough. There's also word the animal had a float ball in it's mouth for most of that time and was bleeding a lot.

In short a disaster.

If there was a time to come forward with the exact story this would be it (and images/video)

Concerned is one thing, massive compounded mistakes something else.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong, saw it with my own eyes.
Saw the part of the mouth it was actually hooked in.
If it were gut hooked it would not be pinging in. It would be dead. We recieved another ping today and that fish was released Friday.
I'm out, not really down with anonymous bloggers calling me a liar.

Anonymous said...

It did bite a small float. It was not a threat to the shark just tough to pull out. We had water flowing around it while we removed it.
Seems like it does not matter. You clearly are not searching for the truth.

Tessa said...

Chris can you post a complete report about that first shark to clear the air.

There's a bunch of rumors about that animal and clearly something happened that was out of the ordinary.

You yourself didn't think anything was wrong until someone posted about what we all have been hearing.

Starting from the hooked shark what actually happened out there?

Anonymous said...

We had released 15 sharks prior to this trip. All are pinging in.
We have had special circle hooks
made to ensure we have the max odds of hooking fish in the corner of the mouth.
On the first fish the hook caught on a little tab of skin on the inside of it's mouth. Very strange.
There was bleeding but we have seen bleeding from the hook wound on all of the fish we have caught.
So we cut the hook in half so it could roll out backward.
We were all concerned for the shark because we had never had to cut a hook like that.
We were all relieved when the shark started pinging in and moving around.
I thought you guys would enjoy the good news, that's why I blogged.
Sorry to see some of the members of the blog were hoping for a disaster.
Last blog from me. All the best. You will see it all on Nat Geo in the summer of 2011.
Our Premier on Nat Geo is Nov 16 9pm est/pacific.
Full series about Guadalupe next summer July in us and this coming Feb on Nat Geo Intl.
The science is going to rewrite a big part of the book on GWs. Doc is writing his papers for peer reviews as we speak.

Anonymous said...

I know someone on the boat. They are changing the size and shape of the hook so they do not kill any other sharks. I was an ACCIDENT! Research is not always perfect!

And have a heart. A great guy died working on that project. But the funny thing is no one mentioned that!!!

All of this "great" press will make the show rate well , the network will then tell them to DO IT AGAIN! So by posting and making a stink about it you are actually hurting the sharks...

Anonymous said...

Chris, I watched the video on Outdoor Life's website, and you guys look like a bunch of trophy hunters - who shouted "Battle Stations"?

That giant hook in the Farallon shark's throat is likely to have caused internal bleeding, not to mention that the force of being hauled in probably tore some tissues. Until you post images confirming it was NOT bleeding out of its ass, we can only assume the worst.

And a pair of bolt cutters through the gills - what do you have to say about that? Sounds like a sloppy process!

Any pups inside those sharks surely would be squashed by the weight. Perhaps there's a way to keep the shark in the water while doing this ridiculous macho-man tagging.

JB said...

Wow it astounds me how truly misguided people can be, you're bashing someone and in this case someone of way more qualified conservational aptitude than probably anyone posting on here, and you do it not even knowing the facts first.

You are chanting "give us the facts" Own up to the truth, provide photos etc and yet how many of you have at your own financial and personal cost given as much to the scientific community as Chris Fischer is doing along with Dr Dolmier. Do you not think that these guys have Waaaaay more at stake in ensuring the protection of such a magnificient animal than any of you whiners and arm chair critics do? That they Care waaaay more than most and not because of tv ratings or being "rockstars" of their fields but maybe, just maybe it's their intense passion of all life in the ocean and in this case the Great Whites, that motivate them to do all they can do to help us know how to manage and preserve ocean life.This is done through research and timestakingly gathering data that sometimes requires new and unused methods such as these.I personally want to thank these guys for all the good they are doing and i can trust that they absolutely have the best interests of these awesome sharks at hand. The information gathered will far far and again FAR outweigh any whiny negative and witch hunting media attacks. This is historical stuff and groundbreaking research and i am proud of the way these guys are representing us all as conservationists.They do not need to come on here and try to defend eronious attacks and frankly uneducated opinions.Just keep doing what you are doing guys, gather important data, share the insights with us through tv and media and enjoy the opportunity to be blessed to be responsible stweard of the sea. Thankyou Chris and all involved for helping to make this show a reality and the great things science and all of us will learn from it.

JB said...

Apology to Dr Domeier for spelling your name wrong in last post, oops :)

Shark Diver said...

Thanks for the post JB.

I think when your team is pushing industrial bolt cutters through the gills of big sharks to try and save them a lot of people start asking very valid questions.

Let me restate this. The questions being asked are valid.

The demands are also valid.

As an outside observer I am seeing a whole lot of Hubris and very little Humble Pie from this team.

None of it gives those with the valid questions and demands any sense of closure.

Let's start with a supposition that everyone involved on both sides care about white sharks. No one has a lock on "passion for the animal."

Based on that, a press release, video, images and yes, proof of life are the natural next steps for a team who had a mini disaster in one of the most regulated white shark sites on the planet.

Of course you can fling some more Hubris around if you would like instead. It is not helping.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if this is off topic but I’m thinking of buying this book. Curious if anyone’s has checked out the new book “Hell’s Aquarium” by Steve Alten? I know he’s been a best selling author before, but wanted to see if anyone had read this book first? It’s about the ancient prehistoric shark Megalodon, which makes the current Great White Shark look like a gold fish. Check out the trailer below, pretty awesome:

Anonymous said...

You know what's really ridiculous? The same woman from NOAA who spoke in favor of a reserve at the Farallons under the Marine Life Protection Act granted this permit to fish for GWS...such hypocrisy!