Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New shark research begins at Cape Eleuthera

CAPE ELEUTHERA, Bahamas -- At the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) the last survey for the baited video validation study was completed in early June and the results were quickly worked up to be presented at the annual American Elasmobranch meeting in Portland,
Oregon at the end of July.

Edd Brooks, the shark program manager, presented on the seasonal abundance, demographics and habitat use of the Caribbean reef sharks in the waters off Cape Eleuthera.

The second half of the summer saw the start of a new study aimed at quantifying the effects of longline capture on post-release survivorship and behavior of Caribbean reef sharks. The project began with the rearrangement of CEI’s array of 32 acoustic receivers and the deployment of 15 acoustic transmitters on Caribbean reef sharks.

This new type of transmitter transmits the depth of the shark as well as the average three-dimensional acceleration of the shark giving an overall measure of activity. Digital hook timers monitor the exact hooking duration of the candidate shark prior to the transmitter being deployed.

In addition to the attachment of the accelerometer a blood sample was taken from all sharks giving a snapshot of the physiological stress that an animal experiences across different hooking durations.

Thank you to the Save Our Seas Foundation for supporting us for another year, and also many thanks to the numerous Island School families who have also jumped onboard and supported this important work.

Cage Diving Farallones - New Regulations

Editors Note: The following email came from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and finalizes eight years of public input and research data. The final rule bars commercial shark diving operators to a 164' foot distance from white sharks with minor concessions to static decoy use.

It is time operators at this site consider what constitutes commercial shark diving:

To protect one of the most important white shark populations in the world, NOAA/Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has enacted new regulations to ensure sharks are not disturbed.

Within Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries Federal law prohibits:

1. Attracting a white shark anywhere in Gulf of the Farallones or Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries.

Attract or attracting means the conduct of any activity that lures or may lure a white shark in the Sanctuary by using food,bait, chum, dyes, decoys (e.g., surfboards or body boards used as decoys), acoustics or any other means, except the mere presence of human beings (e.g., swimmers, divers, boaters, kayakers, surfers).

2. Approaching within 50 meters (164 ft.) of any white shark within 2 nautical miles of any of the Farallon Islands.

Attached you will find a flyer. Please hang it if you know of a great location with high visibility. Also, please forward this email onto interested parties that we may have overlooked.

Thank you,

Sage Tezak
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

Sage Tezak
Conservation Science Specialist
Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
991 Marine Dr, the Presidio
San Francisco, CA 94129
(W) 415.561.6622 x306
(F) 415.561.6616

Hawaii - Politicians ignoring research data?

In the ongoing battle to preserve two shark diving operators from a small minded, fear based lynch mob who have run roughshod over Maui's politicians, the golden rule of the political set rears it's ugly head - "Ignore research data at your own peril."

Maui city council members glossed over and dismissed a recent study by Carl Meyer and Kim Holland proving sharks were not following commercial shark diving operators back to shore, a key anti-shark diving complaint.

But it gets worse. Not just happy to ignore research data some politicians, no doubt guided by anti-shark diving fear monger talking points, have denounced the data, attacking the two researchers in question and by proxy the University of Hawaii!

The Romans had a saying for this kind of behaviour "don't kill the messenger" and today blow back for "killing the messenger" in the form of an Op Ed reminded politicians in Oahu (hopefully more enlightened than Maui) of the golden rule of the political set:

Shark Tours - Study shows no increased risk

I am obliged to respond to Greg Knudsen's inaccurate characterization of our research paper concerning North Shore shark tours.

Three points:

1) The paper was not based solely on data from tour operators.

2) The operators' information was provided prior to the recent turmoil; there was no incentive for false reporting.

3) The paper was only published after review by independent experts. Soon-to-be-published results of shark tracking research show that sharks found at the tour sites don't come close to shore.

Several elected officials such as Mr. Knudsen took public positions on this topic before they had sufficient objective information or after listening to "instant experts." Apparently, ego now prevents them from changing their minds even though the scientific facts do not support their opinions. Objective data indicate that the tours do not cause increased risk to humans and do not significantly impact the biology of sharks. The tours do provide local employment and they probably increase the general public's appreciation of marine life and how worthy these resources are of our respect and protection.

Kim Holland, Ph.D.
Researcher, Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology

Shark Free Marinas - Old Bahama Bay Marina

The Old Bahama Bay Marina, located at the West End of Grand Bahama, originally signed on the campaign in March, but made it official on Sept 10, 2009.

Management wanted to wait for all the right people to be there for the hanging of the signs. Nathan Moody( Director of operations) , Jackie Carroll ( General manager) , Sharon Whymms ( Marina attendant) and Luther Ferguson ( Director of transportation) joined regional associates Jillian Morris and Duncan Brake in hanging 2 signs at the marina.

GM Jackie Carroll was very excited about the movement and anxious to learn more about what she can do to help these magnificent animals.

This marina is also the location where most diving operations clear customs before they head to Tiger Beach, so their joining the campaign is a huge victory for sharks and for shark diving.

Thanks to Jillian Morris and Duncan Brake for their terrific efforts in Bahamas. If you are interested in working as a Shark-Free Marina Regional Ambassador like them check out this page. -LT

Nantucket Shark Divers - Sustainable Media?

Editors Note: Rarely do we change blog entries. Today we did in the best interests of the industry.

The original post was about poor media handling, a subject we have been on more than once and once again faced with as images surfaced of industry members doing questionable things with sharks.

The owner of Nantucket Shark Diving, who we have been supportive of pulled the images today realizing his role in the global shark diving world was not just limited to Nantucket.

Kudos mate, that's industry leadership!

Our original post also had a small quote from a lengthy letter by the Humane Society USA which we will re-post here. As it turns out the Humane Society, in what can only be described as a "senior moment" sent a letter to the rabid anti-shark diving folks and politicians on both Maui and Oahu lending their weight against the entire commercial shark diving industry:

"Feeding wildlife of any species is detrimental to the species, as has
been demonstrated in instances as varied as feeding dolphins and
feeding bears. While I am sure that there are conscientious operators
who do not chum for/feed sharks, there are certainly instances in
which the ban is being violated. It is hard when a few rotten apples
spoil the whole barrel, but regulations are unfortunately directed to
the lowest common denominator (i.e., the need for automobile speed
regulations is not because most people are not sensible, it is because
some are reckless and there is a need to curb the behavior)."

For a conservation organization that works on shark issues, we're not sure how the Humane Society reconciles our industries efforts to preserve sharks via conservation efforts worldwide.

Instead here's a quick letter from NSD, who despite some early media malfunctions, have grown into one of the only operations on the East coast for great shark diving:

Nantucket Shark Divers is gearing up to become a full circle shark diving operation starting up in June of 2010. We will keep you updated with our progress. With an abundance of sharks in the area and warm offshore waters found within 10 miles of the shoreline this is a prime destination to dive with sharks on the Northeastern seaboard. Our operation specializes in taking: divers, researchers, topside viewers, and photographers out to view sharks using a respectful and humane approach to our expeditions. On a side note as a shark dive operator in the area I feel it is important to mention the recent media activity centered around the presence of great white sharks in Cape Cod waters in early September 2009.

I was very pleased to see the vast majority of legitimate media taken from the event was centered around the positives of having these sharks around our coastline. Not focusing on the minute dangers these sharks posed but the remarkable possibility to research and witness these endangered animals themselves. To me there seems to be a more positive outlook on sharks within the past few years, moving from a highly negative outlook toward a public interest and involvement through favored conservation by the public due to the dyer circumstances of sharks being brought to the public eye. I believe sharks are seen more as something to be protected and left alone in recent years than something that must be killed, and very deservedly so.

This has to be largely due to the amount of research and familiarity we have begun to see pertaining to these animals. The spectacle of white sharks around the beaches of Cape Cod brought on interviews about research and science, not danger and fear. Hundreds if not thousands of people drove to the beaches to catch a glimpse of the animals out of pure curiosity not horror, and most of the locals in the area simply replied "they've always been here" when asked about the sharks swimming just off the beaches. As an operator in the area I feel it is strongly important to point out that we do not condone any sort of behavior that interrupts the natural behavior of sharks. For us it is all about providing a way for the public to become knowledgeable about one of the worlds most endangered and critical animals by showing them the animals themselves. There is no room for irresponsible operators or actions with sharks as it does a huge disservice to the animals and businesses themselves.

The last thing these misunderstood animals needs is more media aimed to portray them in a negative light. Just for the record all of our shark diving occurs 10 or more miles from any beach, no fishing of any kind is allowed, and close contact with sharks is prohibited by divers. For more detailed information about our operation and what we can offer please visit www.brohrer.blogspot.com

Bryce Rohrer

Volunteers, sponsors sought for tiger shark tagging project

Tigers in Bermuda and a nascent research program could use your help this week:

It costs $6,000 to sponsor a shark, but along with adopting the animal, they are also given the opportunity to meet their shark in its environment.

The more sponsors they are able to find, the more sharks they can tag, which means more information for the researchers.

Sponsors are offered regular updates on their sponsored shark, and are even invited to join Mr. Aming in tagging the animals.

"It's not every day you get to reach down and pet a tiger shark," said Mr. Aming. In order to tag the sharks, they are first caught with rod and reel, and brought close to the boat only when they are exhausted.

"You obviously don't want an 800 lb shark full of energy and right next to the boat," said Mr Aming. "These are dangerous sharks. They're not as bad as most people say, but they can kill you."

After the shark is brought alongside the boat, it is cinched to a specially designed stretcher and brought on-board the boat, where it is measured and tagged, before being released.

He said the tag costs $3,000 and tracking time costs $20 per shark, per day and while Mr. Aming has already found several sponsors, including Lindos Markets, he's still looking for more.

"Every scientific project always needs more funding," he said. "We've got a bunch of local sponsors. Some are friends, some are keen fishermen."

The tagging project started last year, with the team tagging three sharks in a test run of the equipment.

Complete Story

ARKive - Seeking Images for Conservation

ARKive (www.arkive.org) is calling on divers and underwater photographers for their help in gathering images of all the world’s threatened marine animals and plants.

ARKive promotes conservation and builds environmental awareness through wildlife photographs, films and sound clips – which are being pledged by many of the world’s top photographers and filmmakers. The aim is to produce a global, centralized record of all 16,928 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This will provide an invaluable conservation tool - a quick, easy and free online source of information for anyone keen to learn more or to help with conservation efforts.

Films and photographs are an emotive, powerful and effective means of building environmental awareness. They bring every species to life and demonstrate quickly and simply what makes them so special. Thinking about the non-divers - would they know what the Indonesian speckled carpet shark looks like, does it really have speckles? Does a spotted hand-fish really have hands? And what on earth is a Banggai cardinalfish or a seadragon?

Many divers, amateur and professional alike, take fabulous photographs of a broad range of threatened species, so this is an opportunity to work with ARKive and help the wide variety of amazing animals and plants that give pleasure to so many divers. Photographs and video give these threatened species a face, they give those who won’t ever be lucky enough to see them in the wild the chance to understand their characteristics, their biology and the threats they are currently facing.

Threatened marine species make up just ten percent of the current material held in ARKive, reflecting just how hard these films and photographs are to collect, so the divers underwater images are urgently needed to help fill the watery gaps in the rapidly growing library.

TV presenter and passionate diver, Kate Humble, is a keen supporter of ARKive. “I love that first plunge, the first glimpse through the mask of the underwater world,” says Kate. “And I know I am privileged to have experienced the ocean’s depths, many others are not so fortunate. So I encourage divers to donate their images to give ARKive the best means possible in their quest to raise awareness for the world’s underwater creatures.” Her celebrity scrapbook on the ARKive website focuses on diving and includes some of the species she has been lucky enough to see whilst underwater for pleasure and work (such as when filming Springwatch).
Professional shark photographer and regular ARKive contributor Andy Murch says, “Many of my shark images have been used in conservation campaigns to help push through legislation aiming to protect animals at risk. It’s hard to raise support for an animal that has no face in the media and good images can make a huge difference. I feel ARKive is a shining example of what can be done to bring attention to the plight of the world’s endangered species. A project of this size is too large for individual photographers to take on but it is an obvious cause for us to contribute to.”

The ARKive team are searching for a huge variety of marine materials and are keen to see the photograph captured from the cage when the diver comes face to jaws with a huge great white off South Africa or South Australia. They too will be mesmerised by the classic silhouette of swirling hammerheads filmed whilst gazing up into the clear blue waters of the Pacific. From the mighty pelagics that every diver longs to witness and photograph, right down to the camouflaged and almost impossible to see pygmy seahorses of the Pacific Ocean, ARKive is interested in them all – and the more unusual and obscure the species, the better.

A list of the ‘most wanted’ images is published on the ARKive website and to check out if your species appears on the Red List see www.relist.org.

Anyone wishing to donate images can e-mail ARKiive’s media research team – arkive@wildscreen.org.uk, or upload to www.flickr.com/groups/arkive using the tag ‘marine’.

So far around 38,000 films and images have been given a safe-haven in the ARKive digital vault. More than 3,000 media donors are actively contributing to the project, from major broadcasters, film and photo libraries to conservation organizations and academic institutes, as well as many individual filmmakers and photographers. All media is donated freely on the understanding that it will be used as a resource for scientists, conservationists, educators and the general public, and not for commercial purposes.

Cage Diving Trip Report - 2009

Editors Note: Pam Vaughn joined us in 2009 at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. As a shark fan who had only experienced sharks on the television, her many face to face encounters with the great whites here fundamentally changed her in ways that only experiential travel with "charismatic megafauna" can:

First I want to thank you and the entire crew of Shark Diver and Horizon for a fabulous "vacation". The atmosphere aboard the ship was definitely 5 Star! Every detail seemed to be taken care of, thus creating a very homey environment.

I had never considered Shark diving and it was not on my bucket list of things to do. I had never even put my head in any ocean. The best I had done was wade in the ocean. The ocean is a powerful force and one that contains many secrets including beauty, tragedy, and life lessons. My friend, Sudip asked me one day if I wanted to go shark diving as it was something he always wanted many to do. At first I thought, "No way!" My hesitation did not come from the likelihood of facing a great white shark. My hesitation was I had never been in the ocean much less diving. I listened to what he had learned from Patric of Shark Diver and my interest was tweeked.

I decided it was definitely something I wanted to do so we made plans for an August trip. Patrick kept in touch with us all along the way which for me was very helpful. His enthusiasm spilled over and soon I couldn't wait to go. Patric was awesome in answering all my questions and explaining how they accomplished the dives with nubies like me. Without giving away my age I truly thought I would be the oldest person on the trip. No way ! We had a 74 year old PRO on board. I am sure some of his pictures will be all over the world by now.

The crew was outstanding and very knowledgeable. They seemed like friends before we were even out of the harbor. I have to say the food on board was outstanding. We had gone sportfishing the day before and brought our "catch" to our chef extraordinaire.

For several days WE had the best sushi I have ever had!

When it was time to take my first dive I found myself for the first time in a "wet suit". Now getting one of these suits on takes some doing and often help. The staff was always there to help you in AND out of your suit. I also discovered a new use for hair conditioner. Mixed with water in a spray bottle and applied to the sleeves and legs of the suit made for a smoother climb into the wet suit. And the bonus was conditioning while you were diving.

Martin, the dive master was very patient and reassuring as he instructed us (5 nubies) in the art of cage diving. He was always mindful of our safety and when we were not in the cages he would point out various things of importance. He did so in the evening as we looked at our fotos! Initially I was a bit uncomfortable in the water but with each dive I gained more confidence.

When I saw my first great white shark in "the wild" I couldn't believe the grace and beauty of each shark. Each one seemed to have it's own personality and was identified by unique markings. Many of the sharks were well known to the crew and most had names. Sometimes I thought they were parading for the audience in the cages. Occasionally I got the feeling there was almost a game type atmosphere with the hang baits. I was completely captivated and our 1 hour dive rotations went by quickly. I never seemed to tire of seeing the sharks. The visibility was great and I could see them way below our cage. At times I was so captivated by them I forgot to snap a photo.

At one point a small boat came up along side of the Horizon. We were privileged to meet Mauricio and his crew. Mauricio is a well known shark researcher with an obvious passion for protecting the great white. We learned so much from talking with him and his crew. He is a dedicated young man that deserves all the support we can give him. He readily shares his knowledge with those he meets and his passion for sharks is infectious. After returning home I watched the DVD, "Island of the Great White Shark" and then I really was in awe of Mauricio"s accomplishments. I also saw the bond he has with the crew of the Horizon. They work together for a common goal.

I am definitely proud that I went shark diving. It was one of those moments in life that change you forever. I hope that the Great White Shark will be protected for all generations to see, not in a zoo but in their own environment.

Thank you for a wonderful experience,

Pam Vaughn

Minneapolis, MN