Wednesday, September 17, 2008 Underwater Onions of 2008

O.K so we're flying into San Diego tomorrow for the day and will not be at the office, nor will we be blogging. We will have the trusty mobile office so feel free to email and call.

For our many daily blog fans don't despair, we thought you would be amused-along us-with few of the Underwater Onions we created in 2008.

These were sharky and underwater stories that might be believable but for the fact we made them up:

Sperm Whale Hunt Closed-Japans Fleet Turns Back

China Olympics: Speed Whale Shark Champions

Japan: Whale Hunt Causes Fashion Crisis

Competitive Eating Champion Sets New Record-36 Pounds

White Shark Discovered in Hotel Pool

DNA Disaster-Scientists Add Seal DNA to Asian Caterpillar

Editors Note: Eh, it's a work in progress.

£9.5million Tiger Shark Underglass Anyone?

A Tiger shark in formaldehyde sold for £9.5million today.

What is wrong with the planet?

According to the one who bought this item it's called "Modern Art". We call it a travesty. O.K maybe that's a strong word, but you get the point...extreme displeasure.

The artist formally known as "The Undertaker", actually Damien Hirst, is known for putting all manner of wildlife in containers filled with strange liquids so you can view them in whatever dank and dark cellar you call home.

Kinda like a sick and twisted Limey version of Noah, except Noah let all his critters go from his O'ject D'Art-and they went on to propagate...that's if you follow the bible-this blog is exclusively non denominational.

So that's about it. A dead Tiger is now worth £9.5million in the U.K which in U.S dollars today is about 30 Billion or so.

Island of the Great White Shark Documentary-Timely

When it comes to Great White sharks, there are few ambivalent opinions. Whether its the diver next to you or the guy from Oklahoma who has never seen the ocean, we are either repulsed or drawn magnetically towards these enigmatic predators. Since a minor percentage of people, even divers, ever encounter a shark in the wild; the media plays a pivotal role in our perception of the ocean’s apex predators.

Shark films beginning with the infamous Jaws have made dramatic ripples across the public psyche, generally to the detriment of the sharks themselves. However, even documentaries on the much celebrated Shark Week frequently prey upon our instinctual, but predominantly illogical fear of these perfect predators.

As a documentarian who loves to swim with sharks, I have to admit my bias towards Carcharodon carcharias, and after watching the premiere of RTSEA Productions’ film Island of the Great White Sharks at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach CA, I am also guilty of another emotion: absolute envy.

As a northern Californian diver, the seemingly limitless visibility and glorious sunshine of the Mexican Isle Guadalupe are of obvious appeal, but the ultra tight and highly detailed shots of the Great whites clinches the deal: either you climb in the cage or watch this film to experience, and hopefully appreciate Great White Sharks. Shot entirely in high definition video by writer, producer and cinematographer Richard Theiss, the Island of the Great White Shark (IGWS) brings out the dramatic behavior of GWS 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. Excellent graphics throughout the film help highlight the usefulness of tagging to understand the habits of the sharks, threats to their survival as a species, and occasional subtitling underscores the points for those of us too intrigued by the animals to be paying attention to the fact that it is sharks that are threatened, and we are the top predator of the ocean.

The clear water and close proximity of sharks reveals a remarkable amount of detail assisting in identification of individuals, distinguishing physical characteristics, including an incredible range of scarring from unknown sources. Indeed, one notable shark aptly titled Scarboard is tagged with an internal transmitter to collect depth and temperature and, several others are tracked using acoustic tags. Featuring notable shark scientist- UC Davis Professor Peter Klimley PhD, and young Mexican biologist Mauricio Hoyo Padilla, we see shark science at work. The scientists explore the mysterious world of these animals from movements to dinner habits, and the graphics help translate the arcane into the exalted, and at times the dismal future sharks face. Admirably, the filmmaker does not shy away from taking on the greatest threat to pelagic shark populations worldwide, the rising popularity of shark fin soup, creating a demand for shark fins, and supporting the practice of shark finning; the killing of sharks for just their fins.

Kudos to the filmmaker and the Aquarium of the Pacific for not soft peddling this very serious issue that not only affects sharks, but the entire oceanic ecosystem of which they play an integral role. Sharks desperately need more films in this light.

Educational yes, but excitement and information pepper this independently produced film and if it weren’t for the subtle melodies scoring the film, one might subconsciously hear that familar tum tum, tum tum we associate with circling sharks. Those of us intrigued by the Man in the White Suit with the cold black eyes and perpetual grin will not be disappointed by a lack of teeth and predatory attack. Tight shots, in focus details and ghostly long shots abound, and the haunting music accompanying the encounters paint a primal scene of intrigue and unearthly beauty. This film shows sharks in their most glorious light, lazily swimming by, ignoring tasty tuna and then surprising shots of striking bait so fast and close the camera can barely follow. But it does, IGWS has one fantastic scene- so fast it requires a replay in slow mo - of the intrepid Hoyo Padilla gathering a tissue plug for DNA analysis as a shark snagged on an unhooked bait collides with the cage.

This is the rub: the footage and the film are collected (prudently) in a cage diving operation. Attracted by chum, and encouraged by fresh fish, divers inside submarine cages connected to the dive boat pay good money to safely experience shark diving. But is it safe for the sharks? Cage operators are under tight scrutiny these days, and for some operators, with good reason.

Not without controversy, certain cage operators have been charged with irresponsible attraction of sharks to areas and even harming the sharks themselves through over-stimulation. Some in the shark community dispute the rising popularity of “shark tourism”, e.g. cage diving in South Africa, Australia, Hawaii, California, and Mexico, claiming that the operations have deleterious effects on the ocean’s most noble predators. Lets face it, we all know that you pour blood in the water and the sharks will come, but it is how you handle the rest of the encounter that seems to make the difference.

This film features the company Shark Diver which conducts the cage operations at Isla Guadalupe, and interviews Shark Diver CEO Patric Douglas. An articulate advocate of sharks, and shark tourism, Douglas seems to take the business of shark conservation very seriously. Without the actual experience of diving in a cage first hand (but with the experience of diving with these sharks) the writer cannot speak directly, but on film, and by anecdote, this operation does appear to be as safe and well managed as can possibly occur while attracting predators within touching and photographic range. To their credit, Shark Diver and the owner/ operators of the vessels leading the tours; the MV Nautilus Explorer, MV Islander, MV Horizon and MV Ocean Odyssey along with are directly supporting the Mexican research program and working together to support the Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund.

The argument runs parallel to that of maintaining wild animals in zoos, or in this case aquariums: that people will love and want to protect what they are familiar with. If the enthusiasm expressed by the divers in the film (and the amazing footage obtained) is any judge, one hopes that the thrill of viewing these wild animals first-hand, or enjoying this compelling film will override any negative impacts of the operations. We clearly take home the message that the conservation efforts of the Mexican Government, the Shark Diver, and the researchers highlighted in this film are making serious efforts to protect and conserve Great White Sharks.

In this film we don’t just watch sharks, we learn about sharks.

Shark lovers who eagerly anticipate the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week are often disappointed by beautifully shot films lacking substance, or even capitalizing on the “man eating, killer” images as portrayed in the successful Jaws vein. Not so, Island of the Great White Shark, and Shark Week is where this film squarely belongs, on broadcast television where millions of viewers can learn to appreciate these amazing predators in a positive light, and how shark conservation needs public support.

The famous conservation biologist E.O. Wilson has offered the following explanation to our love/hate attraction to large predators: “We don’t just fear our predators, we are transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about them, because fascination breeds preparedness and preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters.”

Films like this help us understand sharks, and with hope, reverse the perceptions of fear or hate, and help demystify the monster. Listed as threatened with extinction, lets hope we will learn to love the Great Whites Sharks before it is too late. The Island of the Great White Shark is a fin in the right direction.

For more information on Islands of the Great White Sharks and how to see the film go to

-David McGuire

Diane's Marines From Habbiniyah Iraq to Isla Guadalupe

The Marines are coming!

We're T-minus three weeks and counting to meet some of the coolest guys we know fresh back from their second tour in Iraq and looking to kick back with a few cold ones on the back deck. When we got the call a few months ago from Marine mom Dianne she asked us if we could show them a good time.

Our answer was "hell yes!".

To make these guys feel at home we shipped them a box of Shark Diver Schwag (see image) and a few copies of RTSeas documentary Island of the Great White Shark shot over the past three years at the island and featuring Mexican shark researcher Mauricio Hoyos.

To Diane's Marines - we loaded up some Cuban Cigars for you and we'll see you at the docks in a few weeks from now.

Let's go shark diving!

Isla Guadalupe Chumming-Navy

Site Update:

The MX Navy was not in the North Bay this week according to the Club Cantamar vessel Sea Escape. Owner Pedro Aguilar reports "business as usual" and great shark diving was had by all.

In April of 2008 Shark Diver was made aware of several allegations regarding Isla Guadalupe shark diving eco tour activities-and the perception of those activities within the Mexican Government.

We decided to act. Here is our response this May. To date not one of the Deputies from Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee has responded to our open letter. The fleet wide allegations were simply incredible-while they have since been refuted by other agencies within Mexico we have a long way to go with members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

An Open Letter to Mexico’s Congress on Shark Ecotourism

In April 2008, after marking up a legislatorial Point of Agreement regarding the “non-extractable exploitation of white shark at Guadalupe Island,” Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the federal Chamber of Deputies submitted its negative findings Point of Agreement to the lower house of Congress as a whole, where it now awaits action.

All of which relates to supervised shark diving (in cages) adventure and ecotourism activities that take place within Mexico’s Guadalupe Island Biosphere Reserve, located in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California. Activities that the Mexican government, after due study and review, has authorized through the issuance of a limited number of federal permits to Mexican and foreign tour operators (plus the requisite permits vessel owners/operators or their agents must obtain).

Following a long introductory review and criticism (with a number of unsubstantiated and/or arbitrary “facts”), the Environment and Natural Resources Committee calls for the federal government not to authorize shark watching activities at Guadalupe Island, “insofar as it may not have been determined if these practices change the behavior of this species, creating a risk to its population, the marine fauna of the area, and local fishermen.”

As well, the Committee is calling for Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, through its Attorney General for the Protection of the Environment and in coordination with the Secretariat of the Navy, to carryout increased vigilance and oversight in the ocean area to insure that all of the rules and regulations in the 2005 decree, that designated the land and waters off Guadalupe Island a natural protected area, are followed.

May 11, 2008

An OPEN LETTER to members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, Honorable Congress of the Union, Mexico, D.F.

Honorable Deputies of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee:

Diego Cobo Terrazas, Chairman
Jesús de León Tello, Secretary
José Luis Espinosa Piña, Secretary
Lucia Susana Mendoza Morales, Secretary
Benjamín Hernández Silva, Secretary
María Mercedes Colín Guadarrama, Secretary
Aleida Alavez Ruiz
Armando Barreiro Pérez
Edmundo Javier Bolaños Aguilar
Juan Hugo de la Rosa García
Adriana Dávila Fernández
José Antonio Díaz García
Emilio Ramón Ramiro Flores Domínguez
José Guillermo Fuentes Ortiz
Martha Hilda González Calderón
Christian Martin Lujano Nicholas
Cruz Humberto López Lena
Sergio Augusto López Ramírez
María Soledad López Torres
Beatriz Manrique Guevara
Carlos Roberto Martínez Martínez
Roberto Mendoza Flores
Fernando Quetzalcóatl Moctezuma Pereda
Víctor Manuel Méndez Lanz
Jorge Rubén Nordhausen González
José Ascensión Bárcenas Orihuela
Martha Angélica Romo Jiménez
Víctor Manuel Torres Herrera
Rafael Villicaña García
Carlos Ernesto Zatarain González

Esteemed Members of the Chamber of Deputies:

Several allegations have come to our attention regarding ecotourism activities of the white shark cage diving tour operators at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Your meeting minutes of April 3, 2008 state the following (translated):

1. "As well, it is mentioned that the techniques used by these tourist service providers in order to attract white sharks puts at risk the ecological balance in the area, the habitat and populations of this species, since their boats carry containers with sanguaza (blood of different origins mixed with water), and bait that they dump into the sea once near the island with the aim of attracting sharks in order to see them rise to the surface or jump. It should be noted that the sanguaza consists of blood from different origins, (which) could have been fishes, fowls or mammals, and in some cases (it) has the remains of entrails mixed with water."

2. "These boats pour out the sanguaza at night so that the essence can remain in the sea, and the next day they can assure tourists (of) the presence of white sharks around this. Another of their methods, although it is utilized to a lesser degree, is the use of pinniped (sea lion, seal or elephant seal) shaped lures, combined with marine mammal oil, a situation that obviously violates federal legislation."

3. "As has been mentioned, the practices used in order to attract these species are so inadequate that they have modified the behavior of white sharks in the area, as well as its local distribution. This change of its behavior will create a potential risk to the populations of sea elephant (Mirounga angustirostris) and Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), as well as abalone fishermen."

4. "Regarding sanguaza, this must be considered hazardous waste and even potentially infectious, therefore its use to attract could result in the spread of pathogen agents or viruses that may be potentially infectious and harmful to the marine and terrestrial fauna of the region."

We would like the opportunity to refute these allegations, and to speak directly with any members or deputies of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. What you have been made aware of at this pristine site is factually incorrect, and it does a great disservice to the overall positive efforts that this fleet, in good faith, has put forward within the Biosphere Reserve boundaries of Isla Guadalupe over the past seven years of operations.

If this site, and the fate of a large percentage of the Pacific’s white shark population, is to continue to thrive the actions you take in coming months will be a deciding factor. We ask that the esteemed members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee come to understand exactly how these white shark operations are run, and how this fleet, on its own accord, has made great strides in building a long term ecotourism benefit for Mexico.

We stand ready and committed to working with the Mexican government in developing this site as a world class ecotourism and white shark research destination. These small steps have already begun at this site, and we would like to introduce you to them.

Patric Douglas CEO

Making the Case for "Sustainable Shark Diving"

Editors Note: The folks over at Beqa Adventure Divers have one of the better shark blogs out there. What sets them apart is an ability to look critically at our industry...when a critical look is needed.

We posted a video that was sent to us a few weeks ago at what looked like a disaster in the making. A shark feed that had little to no control of the situation, and a shark that was in total control.

This is when things go bad. We appreciate and applaud the stance that that Beqa Adventure Divers is taking to make this issue "an issue". This is called industry leadership and Beqa Adventure Divers should not have to apologise for being "unprofessional".

It goes to the heart of our industry. Bad control of media=a black eye for the entire worldwide shark diving industry. Ladies and Gentlemen, we live in the world of You Tube. Events that once transpired under a cover of darkness for the commercial diving shark world now find the light and a waiting audience of millions sometimes within hours of the event.

If these events go south and a diver is hurt or worse killed the ensuing media storm sets the perception of sharks back to the stone age, and severely damages our industry. It has happened in the past and no amount of spin after the fact changes things.

We have two choices as an industry. Clean up, or get smart about media:

From Beqa Adventure Divers
Upon my last visit to Fiji, we were blessed with a visit by Scarface, always a wonderful and endearing experience, and a privilege on top of that. But this time, far from being her majestic self, she barged in fast and furious and it took several minutes for her to calm down and resume her habitual circular feeding pattern. Needless to say that we were intrigued and alarmed.

But now I think I know what's going on.

What I'm about to do may be considered to be highly "unprofessional".

Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass. Will it lead to unending aggro? Most certainly!
And for you out there who already feel the blood pressure rising: for once, please, use your brain and not your gonads. This is an opportunity for reflection and ultimately, for self-preservation - both of us as individuals and Shark Diving in Fiji in general.

So there: there's a controversial video clip out there.

Having now had to answer the fourth e-mail asking whether this is our dive (and Andrew having had to gone thru the same exercise), the answer is unequivocally:

No, absolutely not, this is not our Shark Dive by any stretch of the imagination!

I've blogged at nauseam about the need for unequivocal and stringent Safety Procedures, so I won't bother you with any further rants.

In our case, they encompass -to name but a few- the clear separation of spectators and protagonists, full dark body suits and gloves, steel mesh gloves for the feeders, safety poles to push away any trespassing Sharks and a choreographed and predictable routine so that the animals know what is expected of them.

Our Fijian staff, wonderful as they are, have a penchant for improvisation and exuberance and Andrew has been spending countless hours reinforcing the message that this is all about being professional, Respectful and safety-conscious - not some macho game by reckless village kids!

Thankfully, at BAD, the message is sticking.

As to the following, you be the Judge of it.

Hat Tip: Stunning shark image Terry Gross