Sunday, November 30, 2008

CNN's Planet in Peril

Richard Theiss at RTSea is on the pulse of eco tourism, media, and sharks with his latest posting today:

In early October, I posted information about CNN's Planet in Peril series (Oct. 10 posting). They will be covering several important shark issues, among other important environmental topics. The show will air on December 11 (check your local listings for exact times).

It appears that the show will cover shark finning/shark conservation and shark ecotourism. The video previews available on the shark finning segment cover familiar ground for those of you familiar with shark conservation issues. Hopefully it will enlighten some of the less informed. Of course, the biggest issue in saving sharks is finding effective ways to change the cultural midset regarding shark fin soup and other related products. Much like the criticisms hurled against the ineffectiveness of the "drug wars", we must wrestle with the demand for the product with equal attention and force.

The other shark issue that CNN touches on is shark ecotourism. They look at a South African operation and then touch on whether baiting white sharks is teaching them to attack surfers and swimmers (it makes for an exciting story). It's an argument often used by opponents, but in my experience and from what I have learned from respected scientists who have studied these animals for a lot longer than I have spent filming them, it just doesn't hold water. These sharks are more discriminating than most uninformed people give them credit for. Attracted to fish chum and chasing/biting hangbait consisting of tuna, bonito, or something similiar, does not make a white shark suddenly develop a taste for human flesh and begin seeking out surfers or swimmers as their next prey. Surfers have been and probably will always be subject to mistaken identity for the large pinnipeds (seals, sea lions) that white sharks feed on.

I did find it noteworthy that the South African shark diving operation CNN chose to film had an incredibly small cage that fit the divers in like slices of bread in a toaster (a cameraman could barely fit a decent video housing in there) and they dragged the hangbait right up to the cage, causing the shark to bang up against the cage - dramatic fun for the tourists but potential harm for both the shark and the divers. This is not responsible shark ecotourism.

Thomas Peschak-Good Idea

One of the more creative ways of pushing shark conservation from the Save Our Seas Foundation and one of our favorite photographers Thomas Paschak this week.

What happens when you pull shark conservation messaging from disparate sources? Great things apparently:

A new kind of shark board
If you say shark board in KZN, you’d be referring to the guys who man the shark nets off the province’s beaches. However, a national art exhibition that aims to bring together two sworn enemies — sharks and surfers — all in the name of conservation has changed that.

Eleven top South African artists — including four KZN ones in Ross Turpin, Trevor Paul, Kim Longhurst and Scott Robertson — will use surfboards as canvases to highlight the predicament of one of Africa’s most endangered predators. They will be accompanied by 40 haunting photographs of sharks by award-winning photographer Tom Peschak from the Save Our Seas Foundation, a non-profit marine conservation group.

Editors Note: Hopefully these boards will go on auction, and when they do count us in for one...or three.

Shark Hating Voyeuristic Parasite?!

Kevin Harris. You either agree what he has to say, or hate what he has to say. Either way you are obligated to have an opinion-because that's how he's set himself up.

One of our favourite shark blogs penned by the folks over at Beqa Adventure Divers all but detonated on Kevin Harris this morning. It's interesting reading.

For the record we're on the fence with Kevin. He skates a fine line between 70's conventional wisdom about sharks that often fail to take into account recent data trends and shark research. The difference, for example, between chumming for pelagic shark species vs reef sharks and a host of other salient points when lumping together "opines" on everything from shark attacks to site closures.

On the plus side Kevin has gone where no one has gone before taking a deeper look into industry shark attacks and poking about in places where our industry does not typically want anyone poking about. This is the blogger equivalent of the 400,000 soldiers who marched straight line into machine gun nests during the battle of Ypres in 1916...when you come out into this industry with opinions there's no where to hide.

One thing is for sure Mr.Harris is not the mindless WOW playing shut in behind the Cyber Diver Network whose anti-shark diving crusade is nothing short of pathological. We would humbly submit to you in the realm of "Shark Hating Voyeuristic Parasites" this fellow gets the award post dated to 2000.

Mr.Harris, his website and opinions, are more nuanced than that. As we said back in September:

"An industry is only an industry when people discuss views, organize, and debate topics affecting that them. Kevin Harris provides the starting point for many of those debates for the commercial shark diving industry".

He also has managed to raise the ire of many along the way, which we suppose, was part of the game plan from day one.

Wild Aid-"Goodwill Hunting"

This morning blog reader Dennis sent in this Wild Aid shark conservation video. It's an older video but it's also has a nice balance between the gorgeous and the horrific. Whale sharks are on the agenda:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

White Shark Mystery-Carolinas

Off all the white sharks we covered this year washed up on remote shores nothing compares with the one that washed up in the Bahamas this summer.

Except, perhaps, this 13 foot female in the Carolinas this week:

The body of a great white shark, one of the ocean's rarest and most powerful apex predators, was discovered last week washed ashore on Morris Island.

What killed the 13-foot, 2-inch female shark remains a mystery, though biologists are hoping that examination of tissue samples might shed some light on how the animal wound up dead on the beach, said Bryan Frazier, biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The shark did not appear to have suffered any fishing-related wounds, nor had it suffered any obvious forms of trauma, Frazier said. And though enormous by most standards, the fish actually was still quite young, at an estimated 10 to 13 years old, Frazier said.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving...Or "Whale Shark Day" India

While the rest of America scarfed down an estimated 200 million turkeys yesterday a small but growing festival in India "Whale Shark Day" gathered crowds again for the 4th year in a row.

As part of an ongoing effort to protect Whale Sharks in India and build on shark tourism as a bridge solution to sustainable shark management and preservation-this program bears watching by the international community.

As far as we are aware this is one of the first programs we have seen that is successfully attempting to transform a local economy away from fishing and into sustainable tourism with sharks. In 1972 the Whale Shark was placed in the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.

Editors Note: Our heartfelt condolence the people of Mumbai at this time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Squalene "The Other Shark Killer"

Squalene found in sharks livers, is perhaps the second most sought after raw product of sharks. Where the value of the animal is almost worthless compared to just its liver. Used in high end cosmetics millions of animals each year are killed just to acquire their squalene. Unfortunately this poor use of sharks gets almost no media attention compared to the well covered and ongoing eco disaster of shark finning. Here's a graphic example of why the shark conservation community should focus in 2009 on the twin killers of sharks, finning and squalene harvest.

This gravid female Tiger shark is having her liver carefully harvested while near term pups litter the ground in the UAE. This is a scene being replayed in thousands of small ports all over the planet right now. The bigger the shark the more squalene a fisherman can harvest leading to the one time "targeted kills" of entire breeding populations:

Squid Video of Magnapinna Focus! Focus!

It's been what, 3 months, since we blogged about anything remotely squiddy?

Today changes all that as news surfaces from internal Shell Oil emails and an rov video featuring Magnapinna which looks like that "face hugger critter" from the movie series Alien. This one was filmed at a crushing depth over 2 kilometers down.

The video is evidence of how, as oil and gas industry ROVs dive deeper and stay down longer, they are yielding valuable footage of deep-sea animals.

Some biologists have even formed partnerships with oil companies, allowing scientists to share camera time on corporate rov's--though critics worry about possible conflicts of interest.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Top 5 Sharky Holiday Gifts Under $40

Tis' the season and we thought we would get a head start by sharing with you a few our favorite shark gifts under $40.00

1. Shark Trust Wines

This great little wine brand delivers a full pallet of taste and 10% back to sharky conservation efforts around the planet. You may enjoy the fact (as we have) Shark Trust Wines are doing their part to save sharks while you sip your way to a better tomorrow. Don't take our word for it go to the website and buy a case today-they ship too!

2. Bite Back Shark Calendar

For the second year the U.K's Bite Back has attracted legendary names in underwater imagery including David Doubilet, Doug Perrine, Jeff Rotman, Chris Fallows, Brian Skerry and Michael Aw head a unique cast of photographers who have generously donated breathtaking images along with individual commentary on the exploitation of the marine environment to create a unique, high quality, 2009 calendar. Now with 30% more sharks!

3. Adopt a Shark

It's a novel idea from the good folks over at Iemanya Oceanica you get to Adopt a Shark. For adopting a shark, you will receive a membership package that includes your Certificate of Shark Adoption, an Adopt a Shark T-shirt, post-cards, stickers and bumper sticker, and a subscription to our electronic newsletter. Yeah we know the cost is a "tad" over $40.00 but if you have it-the sharks need it!

4. Island of the Great White Sharks DVD

Island of the Great White Shark brings out the dramatic behavior of great white sharks themselves and the sheer thrill of the divers viewing the King of the Seas, up close and personal. Perhaps more importantly, the film features shark research and conservation at work, and bravely faces the tremendous teeth of threats facing sharks worldwide. These are your favorite sharks from Isla Guadalupe and a ground breaking film from RTSea Productions. Just the thing to curl up next to a roaring fire while you sip your Shark Trust Wines.

5.Sharks Derek Heasley

Last season we got to meet Derek Heasley from Ireland. His shark imagery is some of the best we have seen shot from a surface cage in the years we have been at Isla Guadalupe. His Tiger Shark work is also amazing.Derek has recently completed a desk top calendar and we thought we would bring it to you today. His work has been featured in magazines all over the planet. As we have to come know over the years, you can never have too many shark pics.

Expedition Ja'Tay-Guadalupe Island

A while back we blogged about the expedition submarine that was rumored to be coming to Isla Guadalupe.

The submarine arrived this fall and the expedition members have created a recently released website so you can follow the crews progress-complete with some great video.

Welcome to Expedition Ja'Tay.

Whale Shark Conservation-Utila,Honduras

Thought we would introduce you to the Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center on Utila today:

The Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center (WSORC) operates one of the few, year-round whale shark monitoring and research centers in the world. Our devoted staff of scientists and volunteers works tirelessly at maintaining and restoring the aquatic environment of Honduras, while continuing the standards of ethical research which have made WSORC the authority on Utila’s whale shark population and coral reef ecosystem for the past 10 years.

At the same time, WSORC is sworn to preserve Utila’s aquatic natural resources through education by increasing the public’s awareness of a marine ecosystem that is one of Central America’s natural wonders.

Our mission is to facilitate the scientific community’s research within Honduran waters while educating the eco-tourist and locals alike in an effort to benefit both the environment and humanity for years to come.

You Tube Marketing-3 Million Views

Shark Marketing 101

The question we asked in late 2007 was "How powerful is You Tube as a marketing and branding tool?" The answer almost one year later is very powerful. For example a campaign to get 3 million similar branded viewers using traditional Google Ad Words at a mere .10 a click would have cost us $300,000. The guys from a L.A based marketing and consultancy group put the spot together with the help of Luke Tipple diver operations guru.

The end result, as we have come to discover, is that web based "organic marketing" works. It's also not a far stretch to assume that a web based organic shark conservation program would be as successful. As we have come to realize there's more than one way to get messaging just have to know what you are doing:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Subject "Lucy" Isla Guadalupe

A quick convo this morning with Richard Theiss CEO of RTSea Productions netted the following video. We were discussing "Lucy" a uniquely damaged shark from operations site Guadalupe. Shark conservation and awareness does not take million dollar budgets-it takes "time and dedication" something Richard understands organically. Note: For more information about the tracking and ID program go to Marine CSI:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Richard Theiss-Industry Analysis Chumming Perceptions

From the RTSea Blog this morning a critical look at the Farallons commercial shark chumming decision along with the usual stunning shark video:

Recently, federal regulations involving California marine sanctuaries were finally put in place, ranging from expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to tow-surfing at Maverick's to an expansion of the "no chum" zone at San Francisco's Farallon Islands, as reported by Ken Weiss in the L.A. Times.

Regarding the "no-chum" zone, there was a statement made by William Douros, western regional director of the National Marine Sanctuaries program that disturbed me. About the chum regulations, he said, "We just think it was a bad idea for white sharks to associate humans with blood in the water."

While this makes for an interesting news bite (one that the L.A. Times highlighted in the front section as a "quote of the day"), my concern is whether this is anecdotal or supported by solid quantifiable research. I am afraid of the implication that divers participating in shark diving in sturdy cages are somehow exposed to greater danger because, due to chumming, the shark is viewing them as a food source and would consider attacking or breeching the cage specifically because it wants to prey on a caged diver. This is not a behavior that I have witnessed in five years of filming these animals. And this has been supported by people like Rodney Fox and others.

As a professional nature filmmaker who has spent considerable time filming white sharks, my experiences would be in contrast to the conclusion that William's statement implies. I have yet to see a white shark, made curious by a chum slick or hangbait, exhibit any predatory tendencies specifically towards the divers in the cages. In fact, as a professional I accept the calculated risk of exposing myself to the sharks beyond what is deemed appropriate for the "paying tourists" and have yet to see anything beyond heightened curiosity on the shark's part - not heightened aggression.

Now, I'm no fool. I clearly respect these sharks for what they are: powerful, apex predators - not cuddly puppydogs. And I am a strong advocate of stringent safety protocols and conservative baiting techniques that do not over-stimulate the shark. These are animals with complex sensory systems that respond to scent, vibration, visual, and electrical stimulus - many factors that come into play before a white shark makes any kind of predatory move. It is too simplistic to say: blood equals human prey.

My biggest concern is what William's statement says about shark diving as a whole. His choice of words could be fuel for opponents of shark ecotourism - an activity that both educates people to the importance of sharks and provides an economic alternative to their destruction. There are valid reasons that the Farallon white sharks should be isolated and I wish he had addressed those issues rather than make a statement, whether cavalier or calculated, that could be used to damn shark ecotourism as a whole - right when such activity could do the most good.

"Rethink the Shark"-Save Our Seas Award

Save our Seas has just won the Panda Award for a short film/PSA entitled "Rethink the Shark".

In a typical JAWS set up people come to learn that your average home toaster is more dangerous statically speaking than your average shark. In a word brilliant messaging, and Kudo's to Save our Seas for this film.

Which brings us to a post from a few month ago about the effect of force multiplying pro shark PSA's in the marketplace. Now more than ever this idea is valid and just waiting for the kickoff, that of a lead NGO.

Conservation messaging is critical to the shark conservation movement, without a broad based and sustained audience in the millions, it's missing the mark.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shark Free Marinas, Bahamas It Starts With "One"

We are proud to announce the first of 10 marinas in the Bahamas who have joined the Shark Free Marinas Initiative saying "no" to shark kills by educating the public to sustainable catch and release fishing.

Our goal is to have these signs and public education material at a minimum of 30 marinas in the Bahamas. Based on the initial response thus far it looks like we might just meet this goal.

For now please join us in thanking and supporting the Bimini Sands Resort Marina who, with the help of Katie Grudecki, have realized the need for sustainable shark management in the Bahamas and now stand as educational point guards against the taking of sharks for "images and weigh ins".

As we have long said in our industry and with shark conservation efforts worldwide:

One Blog. One Person. One Website.

Everything begins with "One"

It's Official-Chumming Banned at the Farallones

This mornings news is old news for one of the original white shark diving sites on the Pacific West coast. These "new" rules and regulations have been in the works for many years and came as little surprise to the few operations still taking divers to this site:

Under the extensive new rules, federal officials also forbid attracting seabirds by tossing food in the water, as well as other kinds of sea life. Tour boats will have to remain a respectful 55 yards away (length of a football field) when white sharks feed on elephant seals, as they go there to do. That'll make it harder to get a close-up shot, but managers say that whites have been seen abandoning a kill when boats venture too close.

Editors Note: The Farallones as a stand alone shark site was once a good operations site. That was in the days when the Farallones was the only white shark dive site aside from South Africa and Australia. Back prior to rules and regulations operators could tow decoys prompting similar aerial attacks to those seen at Dyer Island in South Africa. That is not the case today. With the opening of Isla Guadalupe, MX and it's guaranteed shark sightings divers who experience the Farallones are often extremely disappointed. This prompts a conversation about the ongoing viability of this site for commercial shark diving operations. The market will determine how long this site stays in business. Our guess is not much longer. Going into 2009-10 adventure travelers will be running to value, in the world of wild animal encounters that means encountering animals.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great White Shark Damage-Guadalupe Island

Yesterday one of our shark divers Gene Williams from our 2007 expeditions sent over some interesting video he shot. What made his footage unique is a shark called "Lucy". This female, first spotted at the island back in 2003 and again in 2004 was a healthy animal until her disappearance in 2005 and again in 2006. Lucy reappeared in 2007 with some extreme damage to her tail as seen in this video.

Damage like this happens from a variety of sources in the white sharks world-but more often than not it happens from other white sharks. Lucy's fate was unknown until this season 2008 when she reappeared back at the island. Apparently the damage she sustained to her tail did not slow down her migration to the Shared Offshore Feeding Area known as SOFA:

Shark Conservation-Bite Back-Great Idea

One of the better and least expensive ideas to hit the shark conservation movement in a while has been the U.K's Bite Back local Shark Sightings Map.

Using Google Maps and peoples input Bite Back is hoping to build a data base of all local shops and fish markets that sell shark products in the U.K. Why is this a good idea? Managing a user generated database such as this allows for effective campaigning on a consumer level that has never been done before. You have to find and identify the targets before you can campaign against them.

For local conservation with sharks this is one of the better ideas we have seen in a while and Kudo's to Bite Back for rolling this out.

Years After Shark Ban Some In Florida See "Shark Gold "

Since a complete ban on commercial shark feeding and diving in Florida back in 2001, Florida has seen the loss of millions tourism revenue.

Safe commercial shark diving is a viable bridge solution to sustainable management of species and a local tourism booster in terms of hotel stays, flights, and local restaurants.

Had Florida adopted and managed commercial shark diving in it's waters by now a minimum of 10 commercial operations would be taking divers from around the planet to safely interact with sharks. Florida is a scuba operation rich state, wherever you find success competition is sure to follow, perhaps a major factor for shutting down commercial shark diving back in 2001.

So, it was with some measure of satisfaction that we noticed at least one operation that was back ending the ban to realize "Shark Gold" in Florida waters. It begins with "one".

As the economy of the United States flounders and local states suffer their worst economic outlooks in the past 20 years it is high time to review commercial shark diving in Florida's waters again. As an "instant tourism resource" Florida has riches off it's shores waiting to be tapped while modern protocols for safe shark interactions have matured to a point where reliable and safe interaction with sharks are all but guaranteed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EU May Stop Shark Fishing-Dogfish, Porbeagle Off Menu

Some great shark conservation news we suspect had something to do with the constant governmental pressure being exerted by NGO's on this subject:

The European Commission is planning to end all fishing for spiny dogfish, porbeagle and angel sharks while also expanding protection for rays.

Spiny dogfish are sold as fish and chips in the UK and as smoked belly flaps in Germany; fillets are eaten in other EU countries including Belgium, France, and Italy. Female spiny dogfish remain pregnant for nearly two years, a record in the animal kingdom.

The move was welcomed by the Shark Alliance whose policy director Sonja Fordham said: “These proposals demonstrate the most solid step to date toward a new, more responsible era in the management of European shark fisheries.

"We urge each and every EU Fisheries Minister to follow the Commission’s responsible lead and support proposals to eliminate catches of these beleaguered species and at last set them on the path to recovery.”

Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund 2009

Two years ago Shark Diver launched, with the help of a few forward thinking dive operations, the Isla Guadalupe Conservation Fund website.

Our goal as a commercial shark diving operation has always been the integration of science and tourism. Redirecting funds back into worthy shark site projects.

The funds original objective was to provide much needed dollars for ongoing and Mexican based shark research.

Additionally, we were interested in the continuing mechanics of a web based fund roll out combined with a video push created by RTSea Productions on You Tube and elsewhere. After two years we can report this effort has been a great success both in terms of dollars generated and information about the Bio Sphere to the public 24/7.

As a template for other commercial shark diving operations worldwide-this works. It was a cost effective project and to date has been viewed by well over 400K interested parties.

The funds original brainchild and most ardent financial supporter has been Mike Lever owner/operator of the Nautilus Explorer. His constant selling of the fund has raised thousands of dollars for Isla Guadalupe projects.

Since the websites debut a lot of changes in policy and direction have happened at I.G and the website is becoming outdated. In 2009 we will be updating this site to reflect the current situations and needs at the island with updates on current research and more.

Please check back with us in the near future for web updates.

White Sharks In Tonga? Update

As we covered last week three "archival pop up tags" have begun transmitting in the waters of Tonga from a group of 6 great whites tagged off of New Zealand's Chatham Islands.

Yesterday one of the tags was recovered allowing researchers a deeper look into the data stored on that tag. To say this latest tracking data is "epic" is an understatement. It opens a whole new chapter into the migratory habits of the worlds foremost oceanic predator:

One of three electronic transponders so far discarded near Tonga by great white sharks tagged at the Chatham Islands has been recovered from the Ha'ateiho Reef.

Details of the sharks that have travelled to Tonga from the Chathams are:

1. 4m long male tagged at Star Keys, 14 April 2008, pop-up location Ha'ateiho Beach, Tongatapu;

2. 4.5m long male tagged at Star Keys, 15 April 2008, pop-up location c. 50 km northwest of Tongatapu;

3. 4.5m long female tagged at Te Awapatiki, 19 April 2008, pop-up location c. 135 km south of Eua. (Clinton Duffy, lead investigator, said that this shark may have visited Pelorus Reef but the tag actually started transmitting over deep water east of the reef, so it could have visited any of the sea mounts in that area).

"This is the first time we have tracked great whites to the waters of Tonga. Previously we have had great white sharks tagged at the Chathams travel to New Caledonia and Vanuatu".

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail-And a Couple of Sharks

We have come to admire Scotty Gray owner/operator and driving force behind Blue Iguana Charters in the Florida Keys.

Scotty was the calm cool captain behind a few of our Tiger shark film shoots last season in the Bahamas. If it's sharky-Scotty will know about it or can take you there.

He recently sent over a dive offer he's calling the "Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail". We asked Scotty if this 3 day live aboard dive adventure was also "sharky" and his answer was-yes. Join him and his crew at a discounted rate of $285 per day and dive the following wrecks and a whole lotta a few sharks in between:

  • USS Spiegel Grove
  • USCGC Duane
  • USCGC Bibb
  • The Eagle
  • The Benwood
  • The City of Washington

Scotty can be found here tell him the Shark Diver Guys sent you to get the special dive rate and good hunting!

Gunther Deichmann.One Camera.One Expose.

Kudo's to photographer Gunther Deichmann for his unflinching expose into the industrial scale of shark fining in Bali.

The story of how he got these images is not as important as what he did with these images. Media is a powerful conservation tool it is not a private club. Nor do you have to have a special talent to acquire main stream media attention. Gunther attracted the attention of the U.K's Daily Mail with a global reach of 18.0 million unique visitors with his images.

All you need are images and a compelling story:

Renowned freelance photographer, Gunther Deichmann, 58, who photographed the shark fin haul, is adamant the world should confront the growing issue of shark fin trading.

'The volume of fins they were unloading was incredible, compared with the loads that the other tuna fishermen were working on,' said Manila-based Gunther. Working freelance on a commercial project, Gunther caught the every day fishing scene just by chance.

'I was doing a shoot for a Balinese restaurant and we were shooting the fresh produce aspect. It was at the harbour that I noticed this fishing haul so I started shooting'.

'This kind of fishing is totally legal in Indonesia so I was not in danger or in anybody's face'.

'The scale of the trawlers that catch the fish, the number of fishermen on site and the number of loads they unpacked from the ships was simply industrial in scale,' Gunther added.

Whale Shark Conservation-Wildlife Trust of India

How do you go from this image to sustainable shark tourism in India?

For many, India is a lost cause, but for a few it's fertile grounds to begin conservation on the street level with local fishermen by re-tasking them in ways that bring them closer to sustainable practices.

Whale sharks have long been know as "instant shark tourism" hopefully this program will lead to the inevitable next steps:

The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in collaboration with the state Forests and Environment Department and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) of Goa will conduct the five-year research to study whale shark habitat, map their migration, various aspects of their life cycles and genetic patterns.

With the commitment shown by the local fishing community for whale shark conservation in the coastal region of Saurasthra, a group of fishermen will be specially trained for project.The research, which also includes the study of the coral reef along the Gujarat coastline, is being funded by the Jamnagar-based Tata Chemicals Limited.

Marine biodiversity expert from NIO, M Wafar, who is part of the core team of scientists for the project, said, "We will be training the local fishermen to collect samples from underneath the sea. They will also be taught how to click photographs of whale sharks using underwater cameras.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Yahoo! CEO to Quit-Now's the time to move on

In a surprise announcement today Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang has announced his departure from the company he helped found.

As we and many others within the shark community have been highlighting it was under Jerry Yangs tenure that Yahoo! invested over one billion dollars in B2B web portal which quickly became recognised as the New York Stock Exchange for hundreds of tons of dried sharks fin sales on the Internet-daily.

Under Yangs governance Yahoo's investment in shark finning was put aside as "a cultural practices issue". Meanwhile other Fortune 500 companies from Disney to Royal Thai Airlines bowed out of shark fin involvement in any form citing the need for large corporations to "show leadership on animal issues".

Now is the time for the shark community to remind Yahoo! of it's obligations beyond profits and beyond billion dollar agreements with Chinese web portals. Yahoo's incoming CEO will have a crippled company on his hands and there's a good chance Yahoo! will be desperately looking for eligible business partners to shore up mounting losses in revenue.

If there was anytime in Yahoo's history where uncomfortable and public issues such as the live dismemberment of animals for profit would have an impact it is now. The new CEO of Yahoo! will be looking for any way to quickly change the companies fortunes and image and a reversal of this horrific investment shark finning would be a perfect first step.

It's a step our community will have to push Yahoo! into but time, for once, is on our side.

Whale Shark Poo "Scientific Gold"...Oh Yeah?

We loves the Internet, especially on days like these.

Turns out filmmakers and researchers have shot (for the first time) a whale shark doing what comes naturally...and even scooped some up for "analysis".

This would be a good time to point out why we did not becomes shark researchers.

Anyway, an article in U.K's Metro Magazine calls this finding "Scientific Gold". Which leads us to a blog post about another drive by "pooing" many years ago with a great white shark we got on camera.

If a whale sharks excrement can be termed "Scientific Gold" this stuff's gotta be at least "Research Platinum". Unfortunately none of the crew or our divers had the foresight to grab a sample...we were too busy trying to get out of the cages.

Undersea Voyager Project 2009

The Undersea Voyager Project is a multi phase program developed by undersea explorer, Capt. Scott Cassell, founder and CEO of Undersea Voyager Project (a non profit research, and undersea exploration company). The Undersea Voyager Project is designed to utilize manned submersibles to take a physical look at the first 100-1,000 feet of seawater, (which is the largest environment on Earth) on a five year continuing mission to explore the unseen as they circumnavigate the Earth underwater. The UVP will break several existing world records and set even more.

It has been suggested this project equals man's first steps on the moon. The focus is on the seas relationship with the global climate, and the discovery of new life. To explore to further man's knowledge of the most hostile environment on Earth, the deep sea.

Scott will speak of this past experiences in undersea marine research (including his work with giant squid), his present work at Undersea Voyager and future plans for ocean exploration.

Scott Cassell
Captain Scott Cassell, President and CEO of Undersea Voyager Project. Since 1977, Scott has accumulated over 12,000 hours of drive time. He is a USCG Qualified Submersible Pilot/Captain with over 1200 dives. A former Advanced Diving Medical Technician Instructor (1 of 10 in the USA), Commercial Diving Instructor, and Hyperbaric Medical Technician Instructor he taught for years at the College Of Oceaneering. He is also a PADI Instructor. His film and documentary credits include undersea cameraman for nearly 20 documentaries and host / presenter on several documentaries on several networks including Disney, MTV Wildboyz, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, BBC and the History Channel.

Frederic Buyle-Simply Amazing

Once in a rare while along comes a film project that captures the imagination. Today was one of those days and this is one of those projects. Sit back, turn your speakers up to 11 and enjoy. On a teaser level this just whets the appetite for more...oh, and make sure you see this in full screen the whale sequence demands nothing less:

Ocean Quest trailer

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sharks Médecins Sans Frontières

We vote that the world starts calling "Freedom Fries" "French Fries" again. If you have any doubts why our vote has changed watch the following shark video. Actually, we always called them "French Fries", cool video none the less:

Shark DNA Markers-Hope In FINS

From A Couple Dives Blog this morning good news on the tech front with shark fins and mislabeled shark products.

With testing like this in "field conditions" companies like and Yahoo! can be held to account for the selling and trafficking of protected shark species:

New technology can provide a way to stop seafood companies from mislabeling shark meat.

Researchers in Spain are reporting that a new DNA identification method could put an end to the false labeling of shark species used in seafood products, such as the expensive Chinese delicacy known as shark fin soup. The study is scheduled to be released in the November 26 issue of ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The scientists describe the use of a relatively new technique called forensically informative nucleotide sequencing (FINS), in which DNA isolated from unknown biologic samples is compared to a database of DNA markers from known species.

The unfortunate truth is that the consumption of shark meat appears to be on the rise worldwide. And, for now, the only recourse shark conservationists may have would be to regulate the species of sharks that are consumed. Recent reports have shed light on some seafood companies having substituted cheaper shark species for more expensive species and incorrectly labeling their products. EU regulations now require listing the species name on shark products to avoid fraud and to help conserve protected shark species. However, a fast, reliable method for distinguishing between different species of shark remains undiscovered.

In the new study, the scientists collected DNA markers from nine different commercial seafood samples containing shark meat and compared them to known DNA markers from 23 different shark species. The scientists found that two of the nine shark products analyzed had been labeled with incorrect species names, demonstrating the effectiveness for the FINS method.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

White Sharks In Tonga? You Bet!

Without a doubt 2008 will probably go down as one of the most exciting in terms of tracking data from a global effort with Great White sharks.

From the discovery of SOFA (Shared Offshore Feeding Area) in the Pacific to Y.O.Y migrations into the Sea of Cortez to this weeks revelations of white sharks in Tonga:

THREE Great White Sharks - each over 4 metres long and a kind rarely sighted in Tonga - have visited Tongatapu waters very recently, dropping their transmitting tags and surprising scientists who say that it is the first time they have known these creatures to come here.

They were among six Great Whites that were tagged off the Chatham Islands in April.

"All three sharks may still be in Tongan waters or they may have left," said Clinton Duffy, a scientist with the Aquatic & Threats Unit in New Zealand's Department of Conservation, who confirmed that three tags have popped up in Tongan waters in the last two months.

Whale Wars-Wagging the Conservation Dog

Our Whale Wars post this week has generated a mass of offline and thoughtful emails here at Underwater Thrills. We also got a few hysterical foaming-at-the-mouth diatribes as well.

Here's one example highlighting how Wagging the Conservation Dog harms an entire movement:

Sea Shepherd are not helping whales, they are exacerbating the problem. Every time they clash with the whaling ships in the Antarctic, the Japanese look like the victims, and they spin this for all it's worth at the IWC - "irresponsible NGOs, terrorist organisations" etc. SSCS are gifting the Japanese whalers a bargaining chip to use within the international diplomatic community. Whilst their hearts might be in the right place, and their passion evident, SSCS are sadly out of touch with reality.

Conservation doesn't happen by putting yourself between a harpoon and a whale - although admittedly that is a great way to get publicity. Real conservation happens in international fora - at the IWC, at CITES, within CMS, ACCOBAMS and ASCOBAMS. It's only though negotiation and diplomacy that NGOs can persuade governments and decision-making bodies to lay down new laws that protect wildlife . A £10,000 donation to an NGO that does this kind of work will secure the future of thousands or perhaps millions of whales and dolphins - SSCS would burn through it in a couple of days chasing the Japanese whalers around icebergs, giving just a handful of whales a temporary reprieve.

SSCS are attracting a lot of attention for their antics, and this is diverting funds from the organisations that can really make the difference. The environmental NGO community has come a long, long way in the past 20 years, and we've got inside governments and international fora to a point where we affect REAL change. By tackling the economics of whaling and trade, creating legal frameworks, working with industry and governance - we are making a huge difference to the conservation and welfare of these animals worldwide.

SSCS are alienating and undermining the conservation movement, not helping it. Funders should think long and hard before giving money to SSCS, and question the true value of what they get in return.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shark Images to Ponder-Amos Nachoum

A few months ago we blogged about a series of images and a video making the rounds to "industry insiders".

What was once thought to be a commercial shark diving non starter was attempted by two industry professionals Jeb Corliss and Amos Nachoum this season at Isla Guadalupe. Taking multiple divers "cageless" into the white sharks world. The images they came back with are simply stunning.

What does this mean for an industry already running headlong towards closer and closer commercial interactions with macro sharks?


As we told Amos at the time "We'll defend your right to take these images, but this is not sustainable on a commercial level". That's it. Ironically not three days prior to this shoot a seal was caught on tape being destroyed by a white shark at the island.

Expect to see more attempts like these as time moves forward. For professionals this is a great site to interact with these animals, for the rest of the planet? The cages will do just fine.

Sea Notes Blog-Ken Paterson

From the Mont Bay A.Q Sea Notes Blog and Ken Paterson, a blog to keep your eye on:

Several years before his death, Peter Benchley said that he couldn't write Jaws given what he'd learned about shark behavior and the threats sharks face around the world.

More confirmation about those threats arrived this week, when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported its assessment of sharks & their kin in the northeast Atlantic. The conclusion: 26 percent are threatened with extinction, and another 20 percent are in the near-threatened category.

The total number of threatened species may well be underestimated as there was insufficient information to assess over a quarter of the species.

The most threatened include heavily fished, large sharks and rays, like porbeagle sharks and common skates, as well as commercially valuable deepwater sharks and spiny dogfish. The culprit remains the same: overfishing of species that mature late in life and produce relatively few young.

European agencies that regulate shark fishing have several chances to make a difference in the weeks to come, when they set fishing quotas and consider a European Community Plan of Action for sharks and related species. The good news is that the plan on the table for action in December would ban fishing for the most endangered sharks.

Never before have European countries had more reason or opportunity to safeguard the beleaguered shark and ray species of the Northeast Atlantic," said Sonja Fordham, deputy chair of the IUCN's Shark Specialist Group and policy director for The Shark Alliance.

"Country officials should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to protect threatened sharks and rays at national, regional and international levels. Such action is immediately possible and absolutely necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals."

As individuals, we can make our voices heard. And we can shift our seafood-buying dollars to fisheries that don't decimate ocean wildlife. That's the principle behind our Seafood Watch program.

Can we make a difference? Yes, we can.

Research "Out of the Box"

The fine folks over at Mexico's CICIMAR have come up with a completely novel way of sampling a Sperm Whales breath, it's called "out of the box research". It should also be noted:

1. CICIMAR's team members are also tagging and tracking white sharks at Isla Guadalupe

2. A whales breath can and will drop a Rhino from 60 feet-so this is a novel approach

Gases and mucus blown out are collected in sterile Petri dishes attached to the 3.5 feet-long helicopter which are then examined to discover the health of the animal whether it is carrying any disease.

Steve Blair A.Q Pacific-Monster Hunter

A few weeks ago we got a call from Steve Blair. He was going to upstate New York to fly fish some "Monster Browns" on a river ominously called "Ifwetoldyawehavetokillya".

Steve's a personal favorite of ours here at Underwater Thrills and we have been with him on a quite a few fish related adventures over the years. Here's Steve's email to us this morning:

I would like to announce the arrival of my new "baby". He was delivered on a small river in upstate New York at a chunky 13lbs 8oz and 29 inches long.

Father is doing fine.He did have a few other siblings the same day in the 8-11lb class.

Sent gifts of egg patterns and large rubberlegs (rust and brown) if you would like.


Sharks-Speaking of Websites...

Reading like a "who's who" of shark conservation the Shark Alliance is the clearing house for up to date shark information and conservation efforts worldwide.

We have been watching (and pulling information) from this site for a few years now and it continues to just get better and better. If you have some time today and you really want to get informed about the plight of sharks globally spend some time here. From WildAid to Ocean Conservancy many of the front line NGO's are featured here.

Make no bones about it sharks are on the agenda.

Protect The Sharks Foundation-Media

Exciting news this morning from Protect The Sharks Foundation who have been quietly producing some great pro shark PSA's and documentaries. From their press release this week:

The documentary “GIMME A HUG” of the Dutch Protect The Sharks Foundation has won the Palm De Bronze on the 35th Film Festival Mondial De L’image Sous-Marine in the category Film B (independant filmmaker).

This Film Festival is one of the biggest and oldest in the world.This documentary shows one of the most mysterious phenomena in the animal world; TONIC IMMOBILITY. Amazing animals, showing a totally different behaviour then most people would expect.

Filmmaker and producer Geert Droppers is the first Dutchman who won a PALME in Antibes.

Editors Note: It would be nice to see this work on You Tube and the "Big Five" for public consumption. While this is great PSA work, change comes from a wider audience. Organically, these distribution points are a must for any effective shark campaign. Well done Geert!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Whales Wars-Wagging the Conservation Dog

“WHALE WARS is an epic adventure that looks at the consequences of taking a stand on an issue,” declares Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet. “It’s so important that WHALE WARS calls Animal Planet its home. It’s truly compelling television, and it’s entertainment with a conservation message infused to its core.”

Perhaps one of the most chilling departures from the entire 40 year global eco movement was this year when Sea Shepherd traded it's last shred of dignity and credibility for the cameras of Animal Planet and thus began Eco-Edutainment Television-where the message and outright fabrication of events have subsumed the horrors of actual whaling. Where dead whales and story lines are traded with advertisements for SUV's and laundry detergent. This is a meeting of eco media and horror that never should have happened and now that it has will change the landscape of the global eco movement for years to come.

Sea Shepherds anti whaling operation last season was one of unrelenting and breathless press release after press release. Sea Shepherd members were "taken hostage" by evil Japanese whalers. Sea Shepherd members were "harassed", titular head of the organization Paul Watson was "shot in the chest".

The fact is none of this actually happened the way it was portrayed and 90% of it was fabricated for Animal Planet's cameras creating for the first time a hybrid media organization that,truth be told, is becoming more horrific than actual whaling. Even Discovery Networks are backing away from Watsons "attempted assassination claim" realising their exposure to it might have a negative blow back for the network.

The question most credible NGO's are asking themselves these days, what is worse? Killing whales for bogus research, or exploiting the killing of whales for television ratings and eco donations from a well meaning and ill informed public?

Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd, like the Republican Party, are out of fresh ideas, and out of a true game plan to stop whaling in the Antarctic. One might even suggest this is not the real agenda here. It is well known that Watson hates, with a passion reserved only for the mentally unbalanced, his fellow anti whaling rivals Greenpeace. By allowing reality television crews and cameras aboard his vessel Watson creates his own reality and 20 million unwitting viewers go along for the ride not knowing events are not as they seem. Worldwide Sea Shepherd has all but painted itself into a corner, with fewer and fewer countries and ports allowing his brand of hysterical eco activism into their waters.

Sea Shepherd has chosen, in lieu of actual action, to Wag the Conservation Dog. Where this goes from here is any ones guess. What other NGO's should be doing right now is taking a hard stance against for profit reality television shows like Whale Wars. In the final summation will this stop whaling? No, sadly it will not.

Will it cause dollars to flow into Sea Shepherds coffers and away from other NGO's who are doing real conservation work? Sadly yes, it will, and that's the true horror of Wagging the Conservation Dog.

It's Not All Sharky...Wiley The Raccoon

This blog is 90% sharks and 10% "other".

Today we would like to introduce you to the other 10%. This little guy is "Wiley" (click image) a three week old Raccoon pup we rescued this summer.

His mother had been hit by a car while she was transporting her little brood and Wiley was the last pup left still alive when we discovered him on the roadside after spending a full day in the blazing sunshine.

Dehydrated, and almost dead, we took him home and got him back to the world of the living with some round the clock feedings and care.

Once we got little Wiley stable we shipped him off to Wild Care a fantastic local wildlife rehab non profit who took Wiley in and promptly renamed him "#211".

#211 grew up to be a fine outstanding member of the community with the dedicated help of Wild Care and was released a few months ago where we're sure he's raiding garbage cans with the best of them. For us, every time we hear the sound of cans being raided late at night, we think fondly back to this summer and an encounter with Wiley-211.

In this case wildlife conservation does begin at "home".

Busting Shark Propaganda

If you ever see or read the following statement beware of unhelpful shark propaganda:

"The ocean produces 70% of our oxygen we breath on Earth. Sharks are a critical part of the marine ecosystem that produces that oxygen and without them we could be in big trouble. "

Sadly sharks are in enough trouble as it is without wild hair, unsubstantiated claims like this one. Unfortunately this particular "claim" has caught the imagination of many, and has been repeated more than we care to see.

The end result, those that utter this statement look uninformed and foolish in the eyes of anyone who has got their pulse on shark conservation issues worldwide. Worse they can quickly become discounted as fringe elements by both advocates for shark fining and the NGO community at large. Making up facts that have no basis in any study or even reality hurts everyone.

The shark conservation movement needs to stick to the facts. Those facts are horrific and compelling enough without the added and misguided shark propaganda.

So, next time you post a response, send in a protest email, or write your Member of Congress be sure not to express the thought that if we do not save sharks there will be no more oxygen to breathe...the shark conservation movement needs credibility not propaganda.