Thursday, March 5, 2009

1000m White Shark - Shark Geek Cool

Let's channel our "inner shark geeks" for a moment and savor the news coming out a small and dedicated group of White shark researchers off Stewart Island, NZ this month.

Data coming back from a series of shark tags are showing these remarkable animals diving to 1000m or 3280 feet:

Up to 70 per cent of the time they are near the surface but this winter one of the whites dived. "We've got what we think is a world record of 1000 metres for a white shark."

They believe it would have gone after a giant squid or phosphorescent fish. At that depth it would be pitch black and the white would have been guided in by the fish glow. A tag on a white shark popped up off Mana Island but its data was partly corrupted. The shark had been north to the tropics for winter and had come back in summer.

Three of six sharks tagged at the Chathams were found to have swum 3000km north to Tongatapu, the main Tongan island.

And you wonder why we love shark science so much?

Complete Story.

Neptune's Chariot - Mobile Shark Cage

Hold all our calls and take the kids out of school, we think we just came across something pretty unique.

For the past 30 years shark cage systems have been, for the most part, static. A big industry breakthrough happened a few years back with a clear cylindrical cage system in South Africa.

Unfortunately the material cost of cage systems like these makes the advancement of shark human interactions with cages a basic proposition...until today.

Welcome to Neptune's Chariot one mans dream for closer, mobile encounters, with the world's sharks:

I am presenting Neptune's Chariot, a high performance mobile shark cage. This chariot is designed to provide protection from some predatory animals, but also designed to allow a human to peddle efficiently through the water. The cage gives its occupant the piece of mind to swim out over the ledge, taking the creep out of the deep. Sharks can be enjoyed instead of feared, but always respected from the inside of Neptune's Chariot.

We like it, kudos to inventor Stephan Logie for looking at our industry and shark interactions in a new way.

Sea of Cortez - Production Adventure 5

Good friend Captain Greg Grivetto of Horizon Charters is on another eco adventure and this time in the company of the BBC as they film their much acclaimed series,“Last Chance to See”. Biologist, naturalist, writer - Mark Carwardine and esteemed actor Stephen Fry host this series and will be aboard aswe search for blue, sperm and humpback whales.

For the next two weeks he'll be sending us his "notes from the field":

We rolled into Santa Rosalia right at first light and set about drifting as the sun made it's way over the eastern horizon. Our 130 mile overnight journey to the offshore waters of the town that Eiffel built was in order to come in contact with the oceans ultimate predator...Humboldt squid.

Shortly after our arrival, California based squid researcher Scott Casselle met up with us and proceeded to give us all a valuable lesson on food web in-balance that appears to be a leading factor in the exponential Humboldt squid population explosion. "With the rapid decline in the predatory species, the voracious appetite driven rapidly reproducing squid are expanding unchecked toward a destiny that could lead to the collapse of many of the eastern Pacific Oceans species.", says Casselle. " The salmon stocks have suffered tremendously due to squid predation and rockfish species are not far behind. "

As Horizon's crew set up Scott's squid pen, local fisherman captured numerous squid and deposited them within the pen fastened to the swimstep of Horizon. Scott then donned his wetsuit and protective armor, which today consisted of a fine mesh stainless steel chain mail suit designed by San Diego based Neptonics. This armor is his "light" protection as during dives where he is to encounter large 5 - 8 foot squid, he dons full protective plates to cover the majority of his body. And even with the heavy armor he has had his shoulder dislocated and his wrist broken on several occasions by the extraordinarily strong squid. "During one dive a squid grabbed my camera from behind me, and as any crazy photographer would do, I held onto the camera at tremendous cost. The squid yanked my arm over my head and dislocated my shoulder. I then had to fend off other squid with my free hand while keeping control of the camera with my bad arm. I was not going to lose my camera!".

Mark and Stephen had a long chat with Scott as he swam with the squid within the pen. As the cameras rolled we all got the sense that even though these animals are truly amazing, a solution to take care of their sudden expansion and overpopulation needs to be devised quickly before it is too late. The lessons learned today during our short stay with Scott will stick with all of us and will sharpen the focus of our message of conservation.

Our afternoon was spent traveling south through the placid waters north of Bahia Conception. It was a quiet afternoon full of thousands of birds foraging on small schools of baitfish. Within two hours of our departure I had spotted pelicans, cormorants, gulls, loons, boobies, shearwaters, petrals and terns. At one point a masked boobie gliding just over the surface of the water suddenly gained attitude as it spotted a small meal of undetermined nature. At that point it, and mind you this bird is cruising at 25 miles per hour, gained 5 feet of altitude and then plunged like a bullet into the 25 miles per hour! Approximately 8 feet later it sprung out of the water doing 20 mile per hour, gained enough altitude to keep from dipping its wings, shook off the water with one shake and then started flying like nothing had happened! Absolutely the most crazy thing that I have EVER seen a bird do!

The afternoon only gets better. And "No" I'm not making this stuff up. About 30 minutes after the booby did it's crazy stunt we came upon a huge pod of bottlenosed dolphin, the likes that I in 30 years on the ocean, have never seen. There must have been 400 dolphin within the pod, a number usually reserved for common dolphin not bottlenosed. Mark Carwardine and I looked at one another and stated simultaneously that from a distance we had anticipated the pod to be common dolphin. They put on an amazing show, even better than yesterdays dolphin as up to 6 at a time would launch themselves 20 feet into the air in a side by side formation that would rival the Blue Angels!

I'm truly sorry about the expansiveness of this log, but today was freaking cool. Just thought I would share!

Until Tomorrow from Isla San Jose and the ancient whalebones,

Captain Greg

Australia's Shark Fishery - Grasping at Straws

From the RTSea blog this morning a look at the shark wolves in Australia and efforts to leverage recent shark attack media for broader shark harvest quotas:

Always on the hunt to increase their annual shark catch to satisfy the growing Asian demand, Australian fishery industry officials are continuing in their strategy to link three recent shark-human interactions with the need to expand on shark catch limits.

In an online article in The Australian, it was reported that in North South Wales, Australia's southeast territory and home to the three recent attacks, an increase in prey fish and Sydney Harbor's improved water quality may be a contributing factor to the number of attacks.

"NSW has worked very hard for the last couple of decades to try and ensure the sustainability of its fisheries. There is less fishing and the fishing is more controlled -- there is more abundant prey in Sydney Harbour and maybe more sharks because of this," said Rik Buckworth of the Northern Territories Fisheries Department. He also said other factors could be climatic changes and more swimmers at Sydney beaches."The number of shark attacks doesn't mean there are more sharks around, per se, but they're localized on the feeding schools," said Taronga Zoo shark expert John West.

So, you improve the marine ecosystem by improving water quality and control fishing, which increases fish populations (ie: getting back to normal) . . . and that's a bad thing?

Well, according to fishery industry spokesman Duncan Gay, it is as he is blaming conservation-friendly policies for increases in predatory sharks in NSW waters - once again, the fear factor. He said high shark numbers could be linked to "bad government policy in closing up large amounts of the fishery and changing fishing habits."

In another related article, Dr. Gilly Llewellyn of the World Wildlife Fund says, "The calls for an increase to the shark fishing quota in NSW are driven by this opportunism. Some fishers are using the current media feeding frenzy around sharks to call for an increase in shark hunting levels and are making claims that have no scientific basis. They should be ignored." And other Australian fisheries department officials say there is no evidence that fishing restrictions have led to more shark attacks.

Could improved marine environments lead to a higher number of sharks? It's possible. Could the three recent shark-human interactions be simply a statistical anomaly? It's possible. Could the fishing industry be on a witch hunt, drumming up excuses so as to increase profits? Most definitely.