Friday, March 6, 2009

Shark Killings in Belize - Discovery

When local sharks are killed in any region it is usually the commercial shark diving industry that discovers and records the event.

These "events" have happened at a number of well known shark sites from South Africa to the Bahamas recently.

This week it was Belize and a gruesome story of local fishermen pitted against a dive and shark dive industry who are in a struggle for the regions sharks. One time use vs sustainable tourism:

Scandalous photographs of the slaughter of nurse sharks have sent shock waves through Belize. Mating nurse sharks nesting in the shallow waters along the shores of Caye Caulker were being filleted in a sailboat, as well as, on board two motorized boats which were resting on the Caribbean waters.

Caye Caulker tour guide James Rosado from Belize Diving Services saw the Corozal licensed sailboat with what, according to him, appeared to be dolphin carcasses on their boats. Closer looks revealed that what was actually being cut up were nurse sharks. The sailboat was accompanied by two twenty five foot Mexican skiffs, one having a sixty horse powered engine while the other had a forty horse powered engine. These power boats contained what appeared to be gill nets (Gill-nets entangle fish. The nets are comprised of panels of multifilament- or monofilament panels with a stretched mesh size that capture fish by either lodging behind their gill-covers or by entangling their spines) behind them.

“Two of the boats were filled with nets and in the middle compartment of the boats, both of them, were filled with sharks, as well. Each boat had maybe about eight people on it and each person had a big mature nurse shark on the boat, just filleting the nurse shark,” commented Rosado.

Editors Note: Kudos to James Rosado from Belize Diving Services for breaking this story. If there's anything we can do to help please do not hesitate to ask. The way to effect change in Belize is to "bang the drum" and you folks are doing a good job.

Carnival of the Blue - Bigger than a Breadbox

And twice as fun. For the past two years Mark Powell over at the Blogfish blog has been accumulating a monthly meeting of the best "Blue Blog" submissions. The results each month are very entertaining:

Welcome one and all to the twenty-second installment of this monthly meeting of ocean mirth we call the Carnival of the Blue. For nearly two years now, bloggers world-wide have rallied to fill this monthly compendium with their favorite writings on ocean science, conservation, natural history, art, photography, history, critical analysis, and much more.

Read this months Carnival members and no we're not in this months COB since we failed to submit anything. The end of the month comes up on you kinda quick, you know?

Apparently being written up in this months Playboy magazine does not qualify one to be in the COB;)

Attention "Pro Shark" Media People

Call us when you get something this cool to look at. Seriously, the surf guys come up with compelling, eye catching, You Tube sending, classic media at a rate that defies imagination.

And our side, which is filled with some of the brightest underwater shooters and still photographers in the industry - has put out a total of six, maybe seven, "pro shark" media hits in the past five years. This blog post is about quality shark media, not Microsoft powered quickies.

So, if you want to know how it is done here is, once again, another amazing surf video:

Sea of Cortez - Production Adventure 6

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":

After yesterdays interlude with the squid of Santa Rosalia we were back on "whale focus" today and started off early with an agitated humpback whale. The whale was being ruthlessly pestered by a pod of bottlenosed dolphin and a pair of sea lions that appeared to be playing "Lets see who can get under the big jumbo swimmer's skin!". Their tactic worked, as every couple minutes the whale would wildly swing and thrash it's tail in an attempt to, "Get those damn pesky flies outta my face!".

The coup de gras, which worked quite well, was a sudden spectacular full body aerial breach that occurred only 100 feet off the starboard side of Horizon! After that, no more dolphin problem...I think they took the hint.

We spent the next few hours drifting in wait as one of Lindblad Expeditions vessels was anchored in the exact locale that we wanted to occupy. The nerve, in a place as large as the Sea of Cortez, couldn't they find someplace else to go? Anyhow, it worked out fine as the BBC needed some down time to film simple shots around Horizon.

The early afternoon was very cool as we made our first landfall in 4 days at the Ancient Whale Bone site on Isla San Jose. Fossilized whale bones, turtle shells, dolphin skulls and clam shells embedded in sandstone decorate the landscape. The surrounding sandstone cliffs are beautiful in hues of brown, tan, red and orange. Mark Carwardine had wanted us to arrive on site before sunrise to take advantage of the beautiful colors that emanate from the rock during the explosion of sunrises first light. Unfortunately, due to the time it took us to make the long 170 mile traverse from Santa Rosalia, we weren't able to make it in time.

Large Sally Lightfoot crabs scurried from rock to rock while crewmember Kyle spotted a puffer fish and large amberjack as he gazed into the water along the shore. It was unfortunate that we had such a short time at Isla San Jose, we all could have spent additional time there.

Shortly after departing Isla San Jose I placed a call to another eco tour company that was whale watching in the San Jose Island Channel. A quick chat provided information on a large pod of sperm whales moving southerly through the channel, so we were off in search of the cousins to Moby Dick. Within the hour we had alongside Horizon 10 of these deep diving champions, seemingly unaware of our presence. The calm of early evening provided a surreal aire to the scene as we cruised alongside our black wrinkle bodied hosts. Another Sea of Cortez encounter that will not be forgotten!

Tonight we travel south toward Gorda Banks, with hopes of finding more charismatic humpback whales. From what I've been told, the film team already all the footage necessary to produce their show...the rest is gravy to an already amazing meal!

Until Breakfast,

Captain Greg

Tag sharks.Then have informed debate

The Australian media are having what amounts to an "orgastic anti shark field day" with a spate of recent high profile shark attacks.

One lone voice, Professor Iain Suthers, has popped up in a local op ed with a novel idea.

Of course no one would consider a tagging program for shark populations at the cost of $2K per tag and an overall $500,000 for the final conclusions - when a shark program like this (see image) would do the immediate job much faster. Or would they? Ideas can be very dangerous things:

A surprising aspect of the recent shark attacks is what we don't know. Certainly the risk of shark attack per swimmer is less than in the past. But we don't know if there are more sharks around Sydney than last summer (although it seems to be so). We don't know if this is a trend. There were many reports last summer, but no attacks.

We don't know if it is due to the fish bait abundance, caused by recent strong upwelling. With the strengthening East Australian Current and warming of the Tasman Sea, perhaps this is a climate-related process we could model. We don't even know the life history of bull sharks - are they just summer tourists, and if so, where do they winter? At present all such speculation needs data, and the only long-term data is the controversial shark-meshing program.

First, data could be sourced from reliable observers of the harbour and beaches: ferry captains, charter fishing operators and experienced observers from high-rise apartments. They could dial in an observed index from 0 to 9 which, with other data (water temperature, rainfall, upwelling), could form the basis of a weekly shark risk, similar to UV risk.

Second, we need more research and communication. The bad reputation of hammerheads and grey nurse sharks has no basis. Many researchers around Australia are tracking sharks with acoustic tags. The presence of tagged sharks will be tracked with 900 receivers distributed around Australia as part of the Federal Government's integrated marine observing system. One part of that array has just been deployed off Tamarama. Science is needed so we can enjoy the harbour without fear.

Professor Iain Suthers, Sydney Institute of Marine Science, University of NSW

Editors Note: Kudos to Professor Iain Suthers for this "idea".