Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tagging Disaster at Farallons - Foul Hooked Media

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.


John said...

I'm not a scientist.
But I don't think they should be doing this ! There are other ways. Having the huge mass of the great white under land gravity can't be good for it ! What do you other shark divers think ?

Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

We're supporting of any work that done by well funded professionals.

At this point though we're having reservations about this program.

Anonymous said...

Great white sharks are super animals - resistent to cancer, many different diseases, and heal very well from large wounds. They've been around for millions of years not to mention there have been crazy things found in the stomachs of sharks. Seems like the Crew did their best and half the hook was extracted. All that shark may have is indigestion.
New techniques of study are always controversial...jane goodall for one.

Anonymous said...

that shark died. I know someone on the boat. And I can tell you this... this incident will increase the ratings for the network it is airing on which is sad. We need to just leave sharks alone... they are fine. protect them and move on. I am a Marine Biologist in southern california and can tell you that shark will die.

Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving 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!"

O.K we need some clarification here.

Did a shark die in the process or not?

Accidents happen in research all the time. I have done enough work with animals in my distant past to watch animal die from shock, and stress.

This is a given. It's not pretty when it happens but you learn from tragic mistakes sometimes.

What is not acceptable in my view is hiding something and leaving unanswered questions open for debate.

Additionally the film component is troubling along with the complete lack of image control via You Tube and still images.

An image of what looks like a broken tail fin crossed my desk this morning from I.G.

I have to ask myself what are images like that doing on the Internet?

Guys you need to do the following and very quickly:

1. Full accounting of this event.

2. Release of images and video.

3. Independent verification of that first tagged animals status.

Let's get this sorted quickly, professionally, and with some dignity.

Molly Wingwaiter said...

Accident happen during research. Researchers don't walk on water.

Anonymous said...

I too heard a 2nd hand account of this mishap and it wasn't pretty.

Supposedly this buoy was jammed in the shark's mouth - like a cork in a wine bottle - for the entire struggle. Then for at least 5 minutes the shark lay on the deck as they tried to remove the buoy, at which point the hose was inserted into its mouth.

This source also said that the scene was a bloody mess and the shark was indeed bleeding out of its rear end and upon "release" the shark didn't appear to be moving.

Sorry, but the burden of proof is on the researchers to show that all went smoothly, not the speculating public who suspect the worst.

Anonymous said...

OK people, time for a big reality check. I think it is time everyone start writing their names when they post here, so there can be some accountability. Let me start the trend: I'm Dr. Michael Domeier, Chief Scientist of the Farallon shark tagging expedition.

Those who are saying they were on the boat, or they know someone on the boat etc., need to start naming names. Much of what is posted here is simply not true. There was only one third party person on the boat during the tagging event in question, and there were no other boats in the vicinity. So let's be honest...OK?

First, the shark is alive and well. It is already providing invaluable data, as it has moved from the Farallones, to the mainland and then back to the vicinity of the islands.

Here are more facts. The shark was irrigated for nearly the entire tagging event. Yes, there was a round plastic ball in its mouth, but we were able to irrigate the shark through the corner of the mouth (hose could not be seen from most vantage points since it was between the shark and the cradle) until we removed the float.

The hook was lodged in the rear of the mouth. This is the first time this has happened to us with an adult shark and it unlikely to happen again. We had modified our fishing methods to comply with the conditions of our permit which limited the number and size of baits we could use.

Yes, we were forced to cut the hook with bolt cutters through a gill slit. The gill slits are huge (you can easily slide an arm into any of the gill slits without doing any damage to the gill structure). Yes, a portion of the hook was left, but after cutting, the shark should be able to shed the hook.

There was no damage to the gills and no blood visible anywhere on the shark while it was in the cradle or when it swam away. There was a very small amount of blood coming from the pelvic fin region when the shark came into the cradle, bleeding likely caused from abrasion with the leader during the capture. The shark was swimming strong as soon as we lowered the cradle into the water, and it swam off as soon as it found the exit.

(see next blog for remainder of message)

Anonymous said...

The tags we are using are very different from any tags deployed on Farallon sharks before. They will provide nearly real time tracks of these individual sharks for a period of 4-6 years. Previous popup satellite tagging experiments provide 12 months or less of data. Females may well have a two year migration cycle that cannot be revealed without multi-year electronic tags. Acoustic tags may last more than one year, but they only provide data when the sharks swim past fixed acoustic receivers. These sharks can cross ocean basins and acoustic tags cannot track migrations at this scale with any reasonable resolution. I've been using these same methods for 2 years at Guadalupe Island, and we already have 2-year tracks; simply unbelievable, unprecedented data.

I am not driven by the media. If so, you would have seen me on shark specials every year for the past 10 years. I turn down camera crews every few weeks. This particular project is being filmed for one reason and one reason only: I can't do this project without my partners, and the series we are filming is paying for the research. It's that simple. If any of you have a few million you would like to donate to my organization, we can then discuss how to do it without any media involvement.

I invite you all to attend the International White Shark Symposium in Honolulu this February; a meeting that I am chairing. I will be presenting all of this new data, for the first time, at this meeting. I will also be chairing a discussion of research ethics with respect to white sharks and other large marine species. I will show all the video and stills of this latest tagging expedition at that time. It will be a very interesting meeting.

If we don't know these animals, we cannot expect to foster and manage their vulnerable populations.

As for the photo everyone is haranguing about...give me a break. First, it has been used by media (including this blog) without permission. Don't they teach copy write law in journalism 101?? Second, it is the only photo we ever took of the team with a shark, and it only took a few seconds. This shark went back into the water in record time, even with the photo. As Chris Fischer pointed out, we cherish that photo mostly because it is the last photo taken of one of our team members before he died just after reaching port. That shark, named Amy, is in the middle of the ocean right now, re-writing what we think we know about these unbelievable creatures.

Peace Out,
Dr. Michael Domeier
Marine Conservation Science Institute

Horizon Charters Guadalupe Cage Diving said...

Thanks Michael,

That was a complete and professional update. I think this will go a long way to settling the brush fire surrounding this event.

The anons posting here are exactly who you suspect they are hence they are anon.

This is about your tagging effort and that tagging event - not them.

They have valid questions based on eyewitness accounts that for all intents sounded pretty bad, I did too.

There's no way you can let that story, compounded through multiple channels go unchallenged.

I think getting out ahead of this issue with facts and images will shut this down quickly.

As for that image, regardless of the sentimental story behind it, it is hurting you.

This is your media show you do with it as you see fit.

I appreciate the time you took on this blog. If you have a press release we'll post it.

Good hunting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Michael, but if you can post some pics or video confirming what you say, we'd all rest easy tonight. The burden of proof is on you, and with such an aggressive and invasive tagging method, you should expect harsh criticism from the public.

I look forward to photos and videos of the catch/tag/release in question...

Anonymous said...

Why not just get in the water and use a speargun with no barb and a modified shaft to tag the shark has been successfully been used for quite a few years now in South Africa lot less stress for the animal a quick prick and it doesn't get removed from the water.