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.

Philopatry and migration of Pacific white sharks

Fascinating reading coming from The Proceedings of The Royal Society this week (click on image) with tracking/DNA data from a multi year effort at the Farallons, Point Reyes and Ano Nuevo off the coast of California.

Paper Highlights

"Hawaii is likely to be an important foraging area for white sharks. Extensive use of waters surrounding the Hawaiian island archipelago in winter and spring was evident from 13 satellite tag records (22% of tags with offshore tracks) and five acoustic tags (10% of 2006 and 2007 deployments) detected opportunistically by receivers stationed near the islands of Oahu and Hawaii (together comprising six males, six females and six unsexed individuals) (figure 1). The most precise geopositions and acoustic records from Hawaii included Argos endpoint transmissions (n = 8) with location errors of 150 m s.d. (Teo et al. 2004) and acoustic tags detected at fixed locations (n = 5). These occurred in slope and near shore waters along the entire 3000 km archipelago from the big island of Hawaii extending through the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to Laysan Island and Midway Atoll (electronic supplementary material, figure S2). While this distribution includes areas with colonies of endangered monk seals (Baker et al. 2007), detailed dive records from four recovered satellite tags (three females and one unsexed; three separate years) indicated that the dominant behaviour, when not transiting (Weng et al. 2007), was a precise diel vertical migration, between the surface and 600 m, consistent with foraging within the deep scattering layer community (Shepard et al. 2006) (electronic supplementary material, figure S3)."

Read study here. Adds Multilingual Support

Certification Program Uses Chinese and French Versions
to Raise Awareness of Shark Conservation.

Oakland, Califonia - November 2009 -- The Center for
Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, known more
commonly by its acronym "COARE", announced today the
availability of multilingual resources for its Shark
Safe certification program.

The website,, which allows both
consumers and businesses to learn more about the Shark
Safe certification program, is now available in several
languages, including Chinese and French.

Using an easily recognizable logo to distinguish
participating establishments, the Shark Safe program
offers certification to qualifying restaurants and
select businesses that demonstrate a measured commitment
to shark conservation. Now available in several
languages, the website is expected to reach and
influence an even greater audience.

"The need for shark conservation is a global issue, so
our efforts need to transcend international borders,
cultural differences, and language barriers," said
Christopher Chin, COARE's Executive Director.

"We're particularly proud of and excited about the
Chinese version of our website," said Chin. "The vast
majority of sharks that are killed are taken for their
fins, which end up in shark fin soup - a delicacy
entrenched in Chinese culture and tradition."

"With an estimated 1.3 billion native speakers, Chinese
is, by far, the most widely spoken language on the
planet, and we are thrilled to be able to extend our
message to such a key audience," said Pete Wang, one of
COARE's volunteer translators.

"We have observed that a number of well-intentioned
shark conservation efforts have failed to persuade their
intended audience, and sometimes even alienated those
they meant to engage, because they failed to account for
language and cultural differences," said Richard Nelson,
one of COARE's directors. "Our program takes both
language and culture into consideration, and works with
communities to decrease the demand for products that are
harmful to sharks and the ocean."

The mission of the Shark Safe certification program is
to protect oceanic ecosystems by encouraging practices
that do not negatively impact shark populations.
"Sharks are one of our oceans’ top predators, keeping
the entire ecosystem in check, but shark populations
have declined dramatically over the last few decades as
a result of human greed and lack of understanding,"
said Chin. "If people knew more about these animals,
they would want to protect them."

As a conservation based website, also
offers information about the plight of sharks and about
the need for their conservation. As further development
of the website continues, it will serve as a portal for
consumers to locate certified Shark Safe establishments
quickly and easily.

COARE began development of its Shark Safe program in
early-2007, seeking to protect sharks by raising
awareness of threats to shark populations and by
reducing the demand for shark products. In July of
2007, Jim Toomey, the artist behind the popular
syndicated cartoon Sherman's Lagoon, joined the effort
and helped form the Shark Safe logo in use today.
"Sharks have resided in a dark corner of our mythology
for thousands of years, which is partly the reason why
saving this vital animal from extinction will require a
special effort," said Toomey.


The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and
Education, Inc. (COARE) is a tax-exempt nonprofit
organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its
purpose is to study our oceans and increase public
awareness of the earth's marine environment through
educational programs and outreach. COARE seeks to
enlighten people, young and old, to the plight of the
oceans, to change the way they think and act, and to
encourage them to create positive and lasting change.
For more information about COARE, visit

COARE, Shark Safe, and the Shark Safe logo are
trademarks of The Center for Oceanic Awareness,
Research, and Education, Inc. All other company names
or marks mentioned herein are those of their respective

Media Contact
Jennifer Bowyer,, +1-510-495-7875