For the past few days we have been receiving an ongoing series of emails and phone calls from a variety of sources concerning an invasive SPOT tagging effort at the Farallon islands.
There was an apparent "tagging accident" this week covered in graphic detail by Bohemian Magazine.
SPOT tagging is a white hot issue within both the commercial shark diving community and shark research community. The SPOT tagging technique employs crews to catch white sharks with large hooks and to drill tracking tags into their dorsal fins.
A person identified as "Chris Fischer, owner Mothership Ocean, Expedition Leader," has been refuting and then negating the seriousness of the alleged tagging accident by responding to question asked of him by posters at this blog:
"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."
"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."
The Making Of Media Disasters
This is a classic example of a media disaster in the making for the tagging team at the Farallons and one that could be addressed by getting ahead of the negative and extremely graphic media that is surfacing around this incident.
Two issues need to be addressed immediately.
1. The full extent of the tagging mishap. Images, video, and a full accounting of this event as it transpired with nothing held back.
2. The role film and television productions had in this event if any.
The event was witnessed, photographed, and video taped by multiple sources so it cannot be hidden or downplayed. At stake is the reputation of a well known shark researcher and National Geographic television show about this teams tagging work set to air Nov 16, 9pm Est/Pacific.
The tagged shark is said to be "doing well" by this team. With the abject lack of transparency about the mishap to date we're now asking for "proof of life" to be added to the media list with the inclusion of a recent tracking map of all animals tagged including the first one.
This data should be independently verified by resident shark researchers from TOPP.
In a moment of media foresight this week we pointed to the unprofessional image of this group "high fiving and smiling" around a grounded shark at Isla Guadalupe and suggested "in the end these images will dog your continuing efforts for years to come."
Shark researchers have as much responsibility for media handling as any group that interacts with charismatic mega fauna and in the case of the team at the Farallons doubly so. We're not the only ones to point this out see also Mark Harding has a point.
Media transparency surrounding this event is critical for the sake of continued research with white sharks and for the public perception of invasive techniques for animal science.