Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fiji Study - Fiji Template

We have said in the past and for the sake of saying it again, kudos!

Fiji's Beqa Adventure Divers have once again shown the rest of the commercial shark world how to sustainably manage their sharks with ongoing research.

While other sharks sites worldwide such as Playa del Carmen struggle with commercial shark fishing interests, because they did not take the time to roll out an embedded and highly visible research component with their diving programs, Fiji has created a global template - and they are willing to share it.

That's not to say all's lost elsewhere, but the fact remains that too few sites hedge against commercial disasters and embrace ongoing shark research. It works, and we are bound by more than commercial gain to adopt the time and funding necessary to make it happen at our own shark sites.

This morning Da Shark revealed his teams ongoing Bull shark project:

Seasonal and Long-Term Changes in Relative Abundance of Bull Sharks from a Tourist Shark Feeding Site in Fiji

Juerg M. Brunnschweiler, Harald Baensch

ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Department of Biology, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Kearney, Nebraska, United States of America

Shark tourism has become increasingly popular, but remains controversial because of major concerns originating from the need of tour operators to use bait or chum to reliably attract sharks. We used direct underwater sampling to document changes in bull shark Carcharhinus leucas relative abundance at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, a shark feeding site in Fiji, and the reproductive cycle of the species in Fijian waters. Between 2003 and 2009, the total number of C. leucas counted on each day ranged from 0 to 40. Whereas the number of C. leucas counted at the feeding site increased over the years, shark numbers decreased over the course of a calendar year with fewest animals counted in November. Externally visible reproductive status information indicates that the species' seasonal departure from the feeding site may be related to reproductive activity.

Complete study here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Say it ain't so Gordon Ramsay!

Apparently just a few months prior to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's foray into the world of shark conservation he was on vacation in Florida...killing sharks.

This image is from a video circulating through the media of Ramsay catching not one, but two, bulls sharks off the coast of Florida, including a nine foot hammerhead in a two day shark fishing orgy of bad taste - at least one of the sharks was mounted at Ramsay's request, all were killed.

Are you kidding?

We're sure there will be a few within the shark world who tend to play in the grey areas of conscience and good taste who will continue to support Ramsay and his expose of the shark finning world, but we're a tad disappointed.

Like we have long said for many who fail to talk the talk and walk the walk in our industry, "you cannot open an animal shelter if, in fact, you abuse animals".

Clearly Mr. Gordon Ramsay has much to atone for and his media team should be fired.

Heck, he should be fired.

Tuna - The Power of Mass Marketing vs Conservation

As the Bluefin tuna debate rages through 11 different nations and as many NGO's, we pause to remind those on the front lines that when it comes to mass marketing, conservation has nothing on well heeled commercial interests who want to see the next two billion consumers eating tuna.

Let's rethink how we market to the populace. Clearly the threat of mercury in the diet does not factor into the commercial propaganda:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shark finning ban now a CNMI law

The CNMI marked another milestone yesterday by becoming the first U.S. territory to ban shark fins.

It was inspired by Hawaii, the first U.S. state to make it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins. The CNMI, in turn, inspired Guam to also introduce a similar bill.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who signed the bill into law yesterday morning, said this should also inspire other island nations and countries to pass their own shark protection laws.

The new law prohibits possession, selling, offering for sale, trading, or distributing shark fins in the CNMI. It, however, allows catching of sharks for subsistence or non-commercial purposes.

Shortly after Fitial signed the shark protection law, the Humane Society International, and WildAid congratulated the CNMI leadership “in championing shark protection in the region.”

“With passage of this bill, yet another region of the Pacific takes a strong stand against the trade of shark fins and the sale of shark fin soup. It sets a great example for the region to ensure a sustainable future for the islands,” said WildAid executive director Peter Knights.

Fitial said he received only positive comments about what he described as a “landmark” legislation, and that he was never pressured by anybody not to sign the bill.

“Today, we proudly follow suit behind Palau's creation of a shark sanctuary in 2009, Hawaii's law banning all shark products in 2010, and President Obama's enactment of the Shark Conservation Act just this past January 4th,” Fitial told the crowd inside the conference room who witnessed the signing.

Restaurants in the CNMI that possess shark fins may still serve shark fin soup, sell or offer for sale shark fins within 90 days from yesterday. After that, it will be illegal to do so.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Theiss Factor - Genius is Genetic!

Last week the shark world lit up with the recent results from a study that said sharks are color blind.

Take that Yum Yum Yellow believers, we know it has been a hard week for you, but heck science ain't here so you can come up with crazy shark myths.

For us the exciting moment in this study was not the study itself but the team behind it and one name that stood out like a beacon - Dr. Susan Theiss of the University of Queensland.

Could it be that this Theiss was related in anyway to another well known Theiss at RTSea Blog and RTSea Productions?

A quick phone call to Richard Theiss at his home in California confirmed all our suspicions, "Yup, that's my niece", said a very proud uncle on the other end of the line.

What is it with Theiss clan and sharks?

You'll note that RTSea Productions was behind Island of the Great White Shark an award winning look at both shark tourism and research working in tandem at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico...and now this.

For those of you who read Richards blog you'll also note the uncanny scientific manner in which he distills complex issues down to a readable and digestible format, a trademark blog style that has rocketed Richards readership to one of the top Blue Blogs out there right now.

They say "Genius is Genetic". In the case of the Theiss clan the world is better for smarts like this and the shark world is benefiting as well, one groundbreaking study, and one groundbreaking documentary at a time.


Stefanie Brendl Needs One Voice - Yours

Commercial shark diving operator turned full time legislative shark conservationist, Stefanie Brendl, has an urgent request for one voice today - yours:

Some of you will have already heard about the shark fin bills (based on last years Hawaii fin bill) in progress in Guam and the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands).

CNMI legislator Diego Benavente introduced almost the exact same bill as Hawaii last August, prohibiting possession and trade of shark fins. The measure has travelled through the House and Senate and has made it to Governor Fitial's desk, waiting to be signed into law. The opposition has mounted a last minute full blown effort to kill this bill. All hands are needed to help this bill take the last hurdle.

When Senator Hee and I were there in December, Governor Fitial stated that he would be in support, but lobbying by opposition has caused a delay of the signing and has endangered passage of this bill. Short, but powerful statements from all Shark and Ocean conservation organizations will help push this over the finish line.

We didn't need it until now.

But its time to bring everything we have to the table! Passage of this bill is key to setting the pace in the region. With Guam and other Islands considering shark fin legislation it is imperative that this bill will pass into law!

So please take a few minutes to urge Governor Fitial to sign bill HB 17-94

Deadline: Now

Send email or call
(670) 664-2282

(CNMI time zone is GMT +10)

Vice Speaker BJ Cruz and Senator Rory Respicio of the Guam legislature introduced a similar measure last week.

Strong opposition is already mounting in Guam, mostly from the fishing community and some members of WESPAC (Western Pacific Fisheries Council, the regional Fisheries Management Organization). Some of this opposition is based on the misunderstanding that this bill will affect local fishermen, but as they do not fin sharks, (which is now illegal due to the Federal Shark Conservation Act), this bill will not hinder their fishing activities. It will disrupt the commercial take of sharks and fins, which is beneficial to all fishing communities.

Explaining your view on why sharks are important to the ocean eco system and why such legislation is necessary in the form of testimony will be most valuable.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

240 whale sharks rescued off Gujarat, India

Mangrol (Gujarat), Jan 26 (IANS) From being hunted in hundreds for their liver oil till a decade ago, about 240 whale sharks have been rescued off Gujarat's coast since a conservation project was initiated in 2004, an official said Tuesday in this coastal fishing town.

Rahul Kaul, senior director with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) said that the programme that was started in 2004 was the first one of it's kind to pave the way for voluntary conservation at this scale.

'The fishing community willingly agreed to sacrifice its economic gain, displaying exemplary sense of responsibility to the marine environment in which it thrives while the government has come forward to provide relief for the loss of the fishing net to the extent of Rs.25,000 and Tata Chemicals Ltd (TCL) has been funding the project,' Kaul said on the sidelines of a function held in Mangrol in Junagadh district to celebrate 'Whale Shark Day'.

The WTI in concert with the Coast Guard and Gujarat's forest department with funding from Tata Chemicals have been spearheading a conservation movement for the whale shark, endearingly known as 'Vhali' in the state.

In 2009, TCL and WTI had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for a conservation project to create awareness and undertake research to save the endangered species that visits the coastal shores of the state between January and March.

The MOU also undertook a study to explore whale shark tourism opportunities in the region, making the project a unique one in the country.

Rishi Pathania, manager (community development) with TCL, said the whale shark conservation project along with the Mithapur coral reef securement project stood out as two of the largest corporate-supported conservation initiatives in India aimed at creating a conducive environment for the well-being and breeding of marine life species in this coastal region.

A decade ago, whale sharks were brutally hunted in hundreds along the Gujarat coast for its liveroil to waterproof boats and also for its meat, which was exported. On May 28, 2001 whale shark hunting was banned in India.

Every year, Whale Shark Day is celebrated to spread awareness amongst people, specially the fishing community. This year, the fishing town of Mangrol went a step further to adopt 'Vhali' as its symbol.

Shark Tourism Under Siege - Second Boat Burned

We have been following the news out of Hawaii this month as things are once again heating up for the commercial shark diving industry there.

This morning news of a second commercial shark diving boat that has been set ablaze on Oahu less than one week after a first boat was burnt almost to the waterline.

The cause?


The blame?

Local island politics, and an atmosphere of anger, fear, and politically enabled groups and individuals who have created this terror campaign.

This ongoing campaign was started in one small political office in the Capitol seeking a wedge issue to stir up local constituents and has lead to two vessels deliberately burned, and a failed court case involving Super Secret GPS devices with excuses about national security.

By either stirring up groups with false information and fear tactics about sharks, enabled with town hall style political meetings, to not curbing starkly terroristic threats and anger directed at two small commercial shark diving operations, a few local politicians, in our minds, are responsible for two boat burnings in Hawaii.

Angry rhetoric in any form can be a boon for politicians, especially when the target is defenseless.

Angry rhetoric can also be dangerous in the hands of politicians who fail to see what long term effects false information and fear can have on unstable members of the populace.

It is time for the politicians involved in the ongoing attempt to destroy two commercial shark diving operations on Oahu to step up to the plate and calm their troops down. Two boat burnings in one month is a legacy that no one wants on their political record and clearly someone in the politically created, fueled, and enabled anti-shark diving crowd is not firing on all cylinders.

We say enough is enough. For all the fear that the anti-shark diving crowd has directed at the sharks, it is the groups themselves who have become the most predatory and who have caused the most damage.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna - A Visual Representation

Da Shark over in Fiji is a hopeful man. Last week he posted an in depth look at how the Atlantic Bluefin tuna might be managed without big EU subsidies, ending his post on this note, "It is not too late - not for the Tuna and not for the Sharks!".

We're in agreement about the sharks as this fishery encompasses a myriad of species and is a global phenomenon.

But Bluefin tuna? Sadly this might be the end of the species in the wild.

When word leaked out that a single Atlantic Bluefin sold for for 32.49 million yen, the highest price paid for a single fish since records began in Japan this year we went looking for a video representation of the Bluefin tuna fishery in general.

Thanks to the BBC, we didn't have to wait long:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jumping the Shark in Hawaii - Seriously? National Security?

Only in Hawaii. As the ongoing saga of two commercial shark diving operations on Oahu continues, with a commercial vessel burnt to the waterline by unknown arsonists and a bizarre dismissal of a GPS chumming court case this week.

It's time to call this done.

What's been happening on Oahu is small town political vendettas under the guise of national security. At least that's the excuse agents involved in the prosecution of three commercial shark diving staff members who allegedly chummed for sharks within the territorial three mile limit off shore are offering this week.

Chumming within three miles happens on a daily basis by local fishermen in the region who are not hauled into court by agents posing as tourists.

The agents apparently used a "Super Secret GPS Tracking Device" to tell if the commercial shark diving operations were in fact within the three mile limit for chumming or not. When called upon by defense attorneys to provide access to the GPS device users manual and training material to defend their clients - the entire case folded last week. Like a house of cards.

Agents said these devices were so super secret that they constituted a national security risk - if the world ever discovered how they worked. We're thinking they have something to do with orbiting satellites, like the Garmin GPS we use, but that's just us.

Does anyone smell the sharp and unmistakable odor of chum that has been left out in the hot, humid, Hawaiian sun for a few days? We do.

So basically this is bull!@!!%$. Grade A stuff and tantamount to using government powers to wear down two very successful, and safe, shark diving operations on Oahu until they go away, or go bankrupt.

Frankly it is disgusting to watch. In a time when Oahu is suffering from a 60% drop in tourism revenues, and is struggling with massive debts due to tax revenue losses. A *few* government officials are spending money on wild super secret GPS cases with agents and lawyers to essentially kill two businesses on the North Shore who have been in business for a decade.

On a side note, the Super Secret GPS Device has been sighted.

North Shore surfers Allison Rand, and Matt Petoski took this image last week. We're pretty sure once folks on Oahu find out how much this GPS device cost local taxpayers (the four who are left on the island) there will be a lot more angst over a never ending and moronic quest to kill two commercial shark diving businesses that are doing nothing more than providing jobs, paying taxes, and adding to the richly diverse flavor of adventure offerings for tourists.

Now going into it's third year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011 Celebrates 5 Million Members Milestone - Sells Sharks Fin, the second largest B2B online trading marketplace on the planet is celebrating, and this week we received an invitation to join the online sales of...dried sharks fin.

We have been tracking the online sales of dried and fresh shark fin after stopped selling all shark fin in 2008.

At the time was the single largest purveyor of shark fin on the Internet. Moving thousands of tons of shark fin each month.

The results from our tracking are not good, and trade continues unabated on several sites like and others.

While celebrates 5 million registered users this week, shark fin traders from around the world have another reason to celebrate as shark fin from Morocco, New Zealand, and Oman make their way to waiting international markets.

Anyone up for round two?

Cristina Zenato - First Lady of Shark Diving

In the world of commercial shark diving there is only one Cristina Zenato.

She is the First Lady of Shark Diving having shepherded the commercial shark encounter program at UNEXSO in the Bahamas for years making it her own.

Today she is the head of diving at UNEXSO and this week it was announced that Cristina will be inducted in The Women's Divers Hall of Fame.

As far as we're concerned, this honor could not have happened soon enough.

For those who do not know her, Cristina is one of the most dedicated shark handlers on the planet. She is also a long time shark conservationist as well.

Kudos to Cristina. If you're lucky enough to meet her or get to dive with her you'll soon come to understand why she will be inducted into The Women's Divers Hall of Fame along with other industry luminaries like Dr. Carole Baldwin, Dr. Ann H Kristovich, and Capt. Diann Karin Lynn.

Today was a good day for the industry.

Sharks - the Science - the Success!

Over in Fiji Da Shark and his entire team have a lot to be proud of when it comes to templates for sustainable and research interactive commercial shark sites - they have written the book.

We'll let Da Shark tell it in a blog post from today:

The section about Shark Tourism fascinates me.

Here are the numbers for our Sharks, in Fiji Dollars. One FJD is worth fifty US cents.
  • The yearly turnover of Beqa Adventure Divers is FJD 1,100,000 (of which FJD 45,000/year marine park levy), all of which gets re-invested in country. Add to that the ancillary revenues in the tourism industry (airline tickets, transfers, accommodation, meals, souvenirs, excursions etc) and assume that the ratio is 1:2 (which is very conservative!) = FJD 2,200,000, gives a total of FJD 3,300,000.

  • We work with approx 100 Sharks, meaning that every Shark contributes FJD 33,000 to the Fiji economy - not once but per year!

  • Assuming that on average, a Shark will live for 20 years (less for Whitetips, more for Bulls), then the value of one Shark on our Shark dive is FJD 660,000.

  • Our competitors work with the same Sharks. Assuming that their cash flow is similar to ours, one can double the above numbers.
Pretty darn impressive huh!

Commercial Trade Trumps the NGO's - Seal Hunt

The announcement of a new multi-million dollar trade agreement between Canada and China has set the seal conservation world ablaze.

For those of us a bit more left of center, this trade agreement is nothing new, and the main reason why many of "save the" campaigns ultimately fail.

While we're sure these fine ladies of PETA mean well, what they are doing here does not affect trade between nations. In fact all direct action seems to accomplish these days is in securing shows on Discovery Networks.

These shows are all but guaranteed to run 20-30 seasons of "saving the" with some colorful moments for audiences to watch. But at the end of the day markets are won and lost by trade agreements and even the top tier "save the" campaigns are at the whim of new trade agreements forged in desperation, or in multi-year packages.

As was the case recently in Canada.

The fact is after all the petitions, after all the sound bytes and protests, trade remains the driver.

Case in point Once the most egregious online platform for the sale and trade of shark fin, a global campaign to shut down this online trade was ultimately successful.

For exactly three months.

Today there are 5-8 online trade platforms that trade the same volume of shark fins. An eye opener for us when these sites were discovered, and a clear line of attack for conservation groups looking to effect change.

Go after the trade.

The debate about sustainable harvests with seals will go on forever, as apparently will the trade in seal meat and furs, to be recycled in China and sold back to us in the form of fur lined boots and premium dog food no doubt.

The end users of trade are the most vulnerable and usually have the most to lose. The folks on the front lines, the guys with the Hakapiks on ice flows in Canada make nice media targets but at the end of the day have the least to lose, because they are starting with little to begin with. Same goes for the shark finners in Mozambique, or the folks in Latin America coming in with tons of sharks fin on second and third rate fishing boats, selling their fins for a dollar a pound.

Change can come, and ultimately conservation groups can be successful, but the days of staged multi-million dollar media extravaganzas on television, small protests with semi naked protesters, and the endless cycle of online petitions has to end.

Trade agreements between nations trump everything and right now very few NGO's have a seat at the table when it comes to changing trade agreements.

It's a race everyone involved in "save the" campaigns can ill afford to lose.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Frank Solomon - Firing on all cylinders?

Apparently Frank Solomon thinks you can snorkel off shore in a chum slick with sharks and not come under some intense scrutiny.

Unfortunately that's not always the case, and Franks chum filled shark adventure was soon topside.

Titanic P. pristis Caught in India

Local villagers in Devabhaga of Karwar Taluk, India caught a sizable Sawfish on Monday.

Local fishermen measured the animal at 300 to 400 kg and about 18 feet long.

Apparently fins of these animals are a delicacy in China.

P. pristis can grow as large as 23 feet in length and 5,410 lb and are rare in the waters in and around Karwar Taluk.

Bravo Mr Ramsay, Bravo!

Whatever your personal opinions on milk fed veal, freshwater eels, or even foie gras, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has done a solid for the shark conservation world - and for that we're grateful.

Facebook conservation groups recently lit up over Ramsay's new in depth television series on shark finning. Taking his somewhat angry Chef-i-Ness into the world of commercial shark finning in Latin America and beyond.

What he uncovered on his voyage shark conservation folks have known about for years - sharks are under siege.

This message has been getting somewhat lost recently as competing shark groups find themselves jostling for position, and the messaging about sharks has become increasingly partisan and wild.

No, the world will not "run out of oxygen if we lose all the planets sharks".

Where Ramsay wins, is in his ability to speak as an end user, an unbiased businessman who's livelihood depends on sustainable harvests and clearly the shark fin trade is not sustainable.

It's also nice to see his reaction, it is the reaction of plain disgust. Watching this series the viewer is there with Ramsay, on the front lines experiencing his discovery in real time.

It is a great format, the viewer is not on a journey with a self anointed "shark expert" and is not on the sidelines watching a reality television moment, Ramsay and his crew are clearly not here to entertain, nor are they here to enable Season Two, this raw, unfiltered, shark expose.

So kudos to Gordon and his crew.

The shark conservation world needed the boost, and coming from the outside you added a healthy dose of credibility to the effort.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

B.C's Orcas Snack on Sharks - Study

The research team of Graeme Ellis and Michael Wetklo of the Pacific Biological Station, Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium, and Craig Matkin of the Alaska's North Gulf Oceanic Society have made an interesting discovery.

Orcas routinely snack on regional sharks, with Pacific sleeper sharks (Somniosus pacificus) being the main prey item.

The team have been focusing on tooth wear found on dead animals, a wear pattern that suggested a rough skinned prey. Unfortunately the wear pattern is causing enamel loss and tooth infection found in many animals.

"This represents the first confirmed prey species of offshore killer whales based on field observations of foraging and the first record" of Pacific sleeper sharks as the prey of killer whales anywhere, the study said.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bahamas Shark Sanctuary - Betting on a Sure Thing?

There's quite a conservation push in the Bahamas going on right now, and if we were betting folks, we might give this enterprise a 99% success probability.

The effort is to make most, if not all of the Bahamas a Shark Sanctuary.

If successful a Bahamian Shark Sanctuary would be an unprecedented achievement in the region and would likely cause other Caribbean nations to follow suit - eventually.

The effort has some big NGO names behind it like Matt Rand from Pew Trusts, the Bahamas National Trust, Guy Harvey Foundation, and more encouragingly several of the mainstream commercial shark diving operations in the Bahamas who are at the center of a $78 million dollar a year shark tourism and film and television empire.

The Bahamas, currently reeling from the worst tourism economy in the past 60 years and looking over the horizon at a new and open Cuba, would be wise to move in the direction of broad based conservation initiatives.

Once Cuba opens up, and all indications show that will happen in the next five years, tourism development will leave the Bahamas for the next 20 years. That giant sucking sound Bahamians hear will be the millions of development dollars flowing out of the U.S. and back into Cuba.

The timing for a greener, park based Bahamas, will be the ultimate tourism hedge against Cuba's regional ascension.

A Shark Sanctuary would start the process of reinventing and re-branding the Bahamas in a way that will take an emerging Cuba decades to catch up. Which is why we think that, ultimately, the Bahamian government in Nassau will in fact create their first comprehensive Shark Sanctuary, because at the end of the day, it's all about touri$m.

Image by Christy Fisher.

Friday, January 14, 2011

1935 and Sharks - We have come a long way

Digging up rare clips like these really reminds you how far we have come in terms of the understanding of sharks.

This is one of those videos you just shake your head at, but in its day this was all that was known of Tigers in the Gulf of Mexico.

White Sharks and Snickers - Good Combo

From time to time commercial interests enlist sharks to sell their products. This week Snickers launched it's new brand using the white shark.

Great stuff, very funny, and terrific graphic rendering of a white shark, with details on individual animals right down to scar and spot patterns. This is not your average Nicorette commercial.

Did we see the spot patterns of Isla Guadalupe's Bruce on the first shark?

Hat Tip: Dorsal Fin Blog

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Honolulu fire investigators say arson was cause of shark tour boat blaze

We have been following the increasingly ugly, partisan, and mis-informed anti-shark diving movement in Hawaii.

A movement that started two years ago and this week culminated in an arson attack on a local commercial shark diving vessel.

Just when you thought things in Hawaii could not get any worse for two first rate commercial shark diving operations - they just did:

Honolulu Fire Department investigators have determined that arson is to blame for a blaze that destroyed a shark tour boat in Haleiwa Harbor early Friday.

The case has now been turned over to the Honolulu Police Department, which has opened an arson case, said HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

The fire on board the 30-foot North Shore Shark Adventures boat was reported at 12:40 a.m. Flames burned the bridge and cabin of the boat and the heat from the fire damaged a nearby vessel, said fire Capt. Terry Seelig.

Damage was estimated at $225,000.

North Shore Shark Adventures is one of two shark-tour operators operating out of Haleiwa that have been the source of constant debate in recent years.

Officials with the company could not be reached for comment.

Update Here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Playa del Carmen - All Together Now?

Once again word from Playa del Carmen in Mexico and nascent Bull shark dive operations in the region are not good.

From a recent eyewitness account:

The sharks are being fished out right now (see attached photos). There was a great agreement with the local fishermen in Playa del Carmen and they had stopped shark fishing completely. At the beginning of December however, a fisherman from a neighbouring town captured and killed 21 bull sharks, following which the Playa fishermen decided that if he could do it, so could they.

Twenty nine 2 m+ bulls have been killed in the last month or so, and no-one is seeing any live sharks at the dive sites.I have just heard that there have been a couple of decomposing finned bull shark carcasses found on the reef in the last week - great advert for Playa!

Of course this ongoing horror with Mexican fishing interests can all be distilled down to a great argument for regional conservation efforts in tandem with initial operations. But we'll leave that to Da Shark from Fiji who summed up Playa in an outstanding Blog Dog post that is a must read for industry folks, and a cautionary tale for the folks trying to make a go of it in Playa.

From Da Sharks Blog - Playa del Carmen - too late already?

Shark Shot of the Week - Bahamas

Isa Baquerizo was recently on a commercial shark diving adventure off Freeport, Bahamas and came back with "The Shot of the Week."

You gotta love the look on this reef shark as he passes close by.

Curiosity has a face.

"So we arrived to Unexso the 2nd day of the trip. We first did the shark dive which was not incredible... it was AWESOME!!! Probably the best shark dive available today.. even better than stuart's cove because these incredible guys let you interact with the sharks within cm of distance. That's why I love so much the dive."

Matt Rand from PEW - Bahamas Shark Tourism PSA

If you are wondering why so much attention is being directed at shark conservation in recent times Matt Rand, Director of Global Shark Conservation of the PEW Environment Group says it is all becomes of an Asian obsession with shark fin soup.

"Unfortunately, because of their value in a bowl of soup, up to 73 million sharks are killed annually, just so their fins can end up in soup. It is a luxury item, it is not a food item. And what this is causing very rapidly is a global depletion of sharks. Right now 38% of shark species that are in the world's oceans are threatened, or are near threatened with extinction; and those are just the ones that we know. We also know that that statistic is actually short," said Rand.

This global decimation of the shark population is now having a negative impact on the ecosystems of many oceans, but Rand says but for a country that has tourism as its number one industry, potentially there can be a more devastating outcome.

"Here in The Bahamas, shark tourism activity actually brings in $78 million into the economy annually and reef sharks here are actually estimated to be about $250,000 each for shark tourism and shark related activities here in The Bahamas. So it is an important economic driver and it's a sustainable situation. If you leave the sharks in the water, keep them healthy as you currently have them, and keep the ecosystem healthy right now then you will have this resource for future generations to come, so that the kids will actually be able to see a healthy ocean environment as well," continues Rand.

Complete Story.

Monday, January 10, 2011

California Whale Bite CSI - Dana Point San Diego

What you are looking at is the fluke of a migrating Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) off the coast of San Diego at Dana Point last week. A fluke with a recent bite out of it.

The image is courtesy of Dana Wharf Whale-Watching with a hat-tip to Peter Thomas Outdoors who brought it to our attention.

Click on the image for the full size.

What we noticed almost immediately were tell tale triangular marks of what might be a bite from the Great White shark.

Typically at this time of year it is the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) that is the predator de jour of the Grey Whale, and tail bites are their signature.

This whale will survive, and probably be a bit wiser from it's latest encounter with a predator.

Our question of the day - which predator was it?

Movements and Ecology of Fishes at Palmyra Atoll

(PI's: Yannis Papastamatiou (FLMNH), Alan Friedlander (University of Hawaii), Jennifer Caselle (University California Santa Barbara), Christopher Lowe (California State University Long Beach)

Numerous marine top predators are in decline world-wide. Quantifying the effects of these declines requires an understanding of the ecological role of different trophic groups of fishes in areas where human impacts are low (i.e. an ecological baseline). However, there are very few areas where the impacts of humans have not been felt. One exception (to a certain degree) is Palmyra Atoll, in the central Pacific Ocean. Due to its remote nature, its status as a US federal wildlife refuge, and the absence of a human population, Palmyra has low levels of anthropogenic impacts and subsequently there are high numbers of top predators such as sharks.

One component of an animal's ecological "niche" relates to patterns of space use. Spatial ecology can be measured over multiple spatial and temporal scales, which requires a variety of tools and techniques. We have been using passive and active telemetry to look at the movements of several fish species, from a number of trophic guilds, at Palmyra Atoll over periods of several years. We study movements by tagging fish with small acoustic tags which emit high frequency acoustic signals. These transmitters are detected by an array of underwater listening stations, which we have deployed throughout the atoll. Every year we dive and download these receivers, and we can determine which fish have been where and when. Species studied include top predators such as sharks (blacktip reef and grey reef sharks) and teleosts (Jacks and Snappers), and planktivores (manta rays). We supplement the study of movement patterns with the use of stable isotopes to look at trophic ecology, and novel data-loggers to study feeding and digestion in situ.

Studies to date show that there is some spatial segregation between species, and differences in the scales of movements and levels of site fidelity. Individuals of all species show some degree of diel and tidal habitat shifts, occupying different areas between the day and night. Results also show that trophic ecology and foraging success can vary for top predators throughout the atoll, even over small spatial distances.

The study provides crucial data on niche partitioning and competition between fishes at a tropical atoll, but it also has wider conservation implications. Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) are areas where no fishing occurs, which allows fish to reproduce and grow, replenishing fish populations outside of the MPA. However, an understanding of fish movement is crucial for proper MPA design. For example, if a fish uses an area larger than the area of the MPA, then it will spend a significant portion of its time in locations where fishing may occur. As such, poorly placed MPA's can actually provide a false sense of security with regards to conservation. Increasingly it is becoming clear that fish species may differ in their movements and habitat use, and that multi-species telemetry studies are required to evaluate MPA effectiveness. Palmyra Atoll is essentially a large MPA, and understanding patterns and scales of movements of fishes within the atoll can be used to evaluate MPA efficiency in other locations.

This work is supported by the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium, The Nature Conservancy, National Geographic Society, Gordon and Betty Moore, the David and Lucille Packard foundation, and Marisla Foundation.

Complete Post.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Seal Predation Video at Isla Guadalupe 2010

Filmed with CICIMAR shark researcher Dr.Mauricio Hoyos at Isla Guadalupe in 2010 and featuring an Elephant seal (M. angustirostris) with grievous wounds sustained by resident white sharks.

Welcome to the cycle of life.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tiger Sharks in the Bahamas Could Get Big Break


Image Wolfgang Leander

A ban on commercial shark fishing would help protect the $78 million that shark dive-related tourism is estimated to bring to the Bahamas annually, the industry's potential growth and the predator's role in the sustainability of other commercial fisheries in this nation, a leading expert said yesterday.

Working with the Cousteau Society, Pierre-Yves Cousteau, son of legendary French explorer and marine scientist, Jacques Cousteau, is in Nassau this week to support the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and the Pew Environmental Group's (PEG) campaign to get the Government to enact legislation banning commercial fishing of sharks in the Bahamas.

As shark populations globally have come under threat from over-fishing, primarily driven by the demand in Asia for shark fins for soup, a long-line fishing ban in the 1990s and lack of local demand helped the Bahamas remain one of the few countries with an abundant population of sharks.

However, the advice to the Bahamian government and people from Mr Cousteau, the BNT and the Pew Environmental Group is that the Bahamas should take a proactive stance towards specifically protecting this resource through legislation banning the commercial fishing of sharks, which have both environmental and economic importance to this nation and the wider marine environment.

With any depletion of sharks in the Bahamas, said Mr Cousteau, the multi-million dollar shark diving industry in this country - estimated by the Bahamas Dive Association to have brought in $800 million to the Bahamian economy over the last 20 years - could be threatened, as could the health of other commercial fish populations whose abundance to some extent is "regulated" by the existence of the "apex predator" in Bahamian waters.

At risk, too, would be the exposure that the Bahamas gains from footage of its sharks and marine environment being featured in television programs and films worldwide, which can stimulate not only dive tourism but tourism generally. Meanwhile, Mr Cousteau - who went for his first dive as a child in Eleuthera, where he also saw his first shark - noted that shark tourism could be a growth industry for the country if protected.

Complete Story.

Reaching out to the new generation for sharks

If you read the RTSea Blog, there's a current theme running through the posts.

Shark and oceanic research needs better public outreach. It's a simple fact that the public is largely uninformed when it comes to raw data, current research and even methodology.

Science is not fun for the general public. But is is also the general public who can be moved to push for legislation, fund research, and to become aware of the current status of wildlife.

The great disconnect of our times.

So what's with this site?

What you're looking at is a perfect synthesis of research, video, and interactive research data for the general public. Bringing raw science into the living room, office, and iPads all across the country.

Kudos, we could use more of this. Especially like the tagging videos replete with real action and raw emotion set against a backdrop of science.

Looks like a winning Discovery Channel show to us, is there something in the wings?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dorsal Fin Blog and CBS News?

The Dorsal Fin Blog has arrived.

One of the true marks of any blue blogs ascendancy is recognition by the main stream media.

In this case CBS news.

This week CBS covered a non event with a local white shark in Australia, and used an image to set up their news piece with an image shot by George Probst at Isla Guadalupe several years ago.

George is the man behind The Dorsal Fin Blog.

Does this mean someone at CBS is following The Dorsal Fin Blog?

As long time shark bloggers ourselves, we can say with almost 100% certainty, yes, yes they are.

Now if they would only give him the blog credit for the image.

Tonight - Lecture To Explore Juvenile White Shark Research

The Orange County Natural History Lecture Series will present a look at the Juvenile White Shark Research Project from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight at the Back Bay Science Center in Newport Beach.

The evening will include a presentation by Christopher G. Lowe, who will share some of his findings and insight into the biology and behavior of white sharks in southern California. Lowe and his team are collaborating with Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the Juvenile white shark research program, according to a statement.

The team works with fishers who capture the sharks in their nets, assessing and tagging them for release.

“Their work has indicated that southern California is an important nursery ground for juvenile white sharks and that sharks spend their summers here close to beaches, but move to the warmer waters of Baja in the winter,” the release states.

Lowe has run the Shark Lab at California State University at Long Beach since 1998.

The Back Bay Science Center is located at 600 Shellmaker Road. The gates will open at 6:30 pm.

To reserve a spot, call (949) 644-3038.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Shark Declines - Visual Data

Recently the AFP news service posted an online tutorial on global shark declines and shark fining (click image).

Using available data from PEW Trusts they have produced a very easy to understand PSA that can be used in the fight to conserve sharks.

Too often shark conservationists with good intentions run with wild sound bytes that have little to no basis in hard facts.

One of our personal favorites:

" 70% of the worlds oxygen comes from the oceans, if we kill all the sharks we will not have any more oxygen to breathe"

The battle for the hearts and minds of the general public and of those in Asia often disregard the fact that the people shark conservationists target are savvy customers.

As 2011 dawns for the next round of shark conservation efforts let's stick to the facts and leave the hyperbole behind, as the facts are grim enough without the added and unnecessary doomsday scenarios thrown in for good measure.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shark-Safe Beaches: testing aerial spotters and dismissing electro-magnetics

Starting 2011 out right with this report from RTSea Productions.

If you want concise industry thought and analysis this is your go to daily blog.

From RTSea:

When people enter the ocean - to swim, surf, dive, or just frolic about at the water's edge - they are entering a different wilderness. In doing so, they expose themselves to a measure of risk from interaction with other animals, from a sea jelly sting or an urchin spine all the way up to an interaction with a larger animal like a shark.

To protect people from unwanted shark interactions, several methods of prevention have been tried over the decades. In Australia, there is an extensive network of netted beaches. The steel mesh nets are designed with openings small enough to ward off large sharks but large enough to allow smaller fish to pass through. The nets have been used for many years and, in combination with lifeguards acting as shark spotters, the process has been fairly successful. But not infallible.

Sharks can get through the nets on occasion due to the nets being moved about from currents or storm action, so to maintain a big picture overview, spotter planes are being deployed in New South Wales (south eastern Australia) as part of a test program during peak months of swimming activity. And the NSW government in Australia has deployed a novel method to keep their spotter pilots' skill sharp. Decoy or replica sharks will be placed in the water to check the effectiveness of the surveillance program. Lifeguards will be made aware of the days and times for the placement of the replica sharks, but not the pilots. Results of the tests will be included in the final evaluation as to the aerial surveillance program future.

Far to the west, following a recent series of shark attacks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, a variety of safety measures are being considered. Nothing has been confirmed as yet because the government is weighing an appropriate response that also recognizes the probable causes for the attacks - reportedly everything from unregulated chumming to overfishing of the shark's usual preying to the dumping of dead sheep from a passing freighter.

One approach that apparently will not be used is something akin to electrified fencing. An organization, the Shark Academy, has proposed installing an electro-magnetic shield along the Egyptian coastline of Sharm El-Sheikh in the Red Sea, but the idea has been totally dismissed by the Governor of South Sinai, General Abdel Fadeel Sousha.

"He (the company's owner) showed us a video in a meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh on devices used to protect beaches from sharks and made verbal and purely theoretical proposals that didn't persuade me on a personal level," said General Sousha. "I asked him for a practical demonstration in front of a committee of experts so we could be sure the devices work effectively. This still hasn't happened."

A pretty far-fetched notion when you think about it. I have worked with divers who have used a protective device called a Shark Shield which emits a strong electro-magnetic pulse when needed and seems to be quite effective with medium-size sharks like lemon or blacktip sharks. But I've been told it also "rattles the teeth" of the diver when its discharged. So the idea of having something that strong running constantly across a beach seems rather unlikely.

Apparently, previous attempts at using electro-magnetic fields along beaches in Natal, South Africa and in Australia have been a dismal failure, not preventing the sharks from entering enclosed swimming areas but giving bathers a nice little shock instead.

Rather than rely on Rube Goldberg devices, common sense should prevail. Non-life threatening measures - such as nets and shark spotters - along with a better understanding and acceptance of the wild world we are venturing into is what's called for. While many of us hear the call to return to the sea, we must remember that we enter it as interlopers and strangers on someone else's turf.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Industry Trends ZIBS - Zero Impact Baiting System

When news and images of wire and chain wrapped Tiger sharks from S.A appeared in email boxes across the industry, a quiet storm erupted.

At hand was an issue over best baiting practices for commercial shark diving operations vs several long-standing friendships that jumped to the defense of images that would give even a hardened shark conservationist pause.

We posted our thoughts here asking for all parties to consider actual baiting changes in the region.

Regardless of how the images came to pass, either by baiting system design flaw, or protocol flaw, images and videos like these diminish regional operator’s moral authority. The authority we need to effect conservation change for sharks when speaking with other use groups such as fishing interests, poachers, and regional governments. What many were asking for was a new way of doing things, a new bait system that could be copied worldwide and one that had a zero percent animal impact.

In short, thinking outside of the washing machine drum.

South Africa’s Tiger Industry Primer

The S.A commercial Tiger diving industry has a long and storied history and this is by no means a complete record. Developed over a decade and a half ago for film crews and photographers by a Mark Addison a number of operators soon followed.

Grant Swinford -Aliwal Dive Charters

Graham Powell – Sea Fever

Roger Dengler – Private Operator

Brian Viviars – Umkomaas Lodge

Walter Bernadis - African Water Sports.

In 2003 Mark started developing a baiting system that was called a “baited drift drive”, this required grid work to determine which tiger sharks frequented/dominated a certain area which in turn directly related to which tiger sharks would visit the dive and at what point.

Mark’s staff shared this information and baiting technique in 2005 with other operators, who started “Tiger Diving” with this new technique. By 2007 all operators in the region were using Marks baiting technique.

Some of the early Tiger divers baited animals by tying tuna to the reef and then hiding out in underwater caves with one or two safety divers equipped with a broom stick to see what would happen.

From the "old broomstick days sitting in cave" when divers didn't understand the nature of the Tiger sharks, to today, the industry has certainly changed thanks to the early pioneers.

We interviewed Allen Walker this week to discuss his improved Tiger baiting system “ZIBS” and get the back-story behind this remarkable industry innovation. An innovation that came from near tragedy, and one that has a bright future worldwide.

Zero Impact Baiting System is the first of its kind in South Africa representing a unique and industry generated evolution to sustainable baiting practices.

Enter Allen Walker

As a S.A dive instructor and someone who does underwater photography “as a hobby”, Allen is passionate about the ocean. He’s been diving the Aliwal Shoal/Rocky Bay area in S.A for 11 years, with Tigers for the past 10 years as a dive client. He is also behind the S.A dive website Dive Culture . Allen is an independent diver and not a shark diving operator, he has been diving with Blue Wilderness for one and a half years. Prior to that he has dove with every shark dive operator at Aliwal Shoal/Rocky Bay.

Allen is the innovator of the world’s first “Zero Impact Baiting System” – ZIBS.

Tell us about the system

I have been on the numerous Tiger dives where the drift baiting system is used basically “washing machine drum (to hold bait and create scent trail) and cable (to attach to buoys on the surface)” and I have never seen a shark wrap happen, even over 50-60 dives on it, that was up and until recently. This in my opinion was caused by a change in protocol. So two things had to be done: the first was to ensure the cable could be released from the system quickly and that bait could no longer be tied to the stem, this was easy and it was implemented by Mark. The second was to design the ZIBS as I could see there was a potential for problems and there was room for improvement, I decided this was my challenge to take on.

So it was all about trying a different methodology, from PVC to cable, looking at when a Tiger grabs hold of the cable and why, where does it wrap and what could you do to change things around? I watched a lot of video footage and looked at photographs. We had to also think about potential damage to the shark’s jaws, the skin, teeth and eyes. The new system could have no sharp points and it had to be “soft” so it could not break teeth but high grade stainless to ensure longest possible life cycle. We were starting with the original foundation and building from there. It took us a month to design and build the whole system, from stem to bait ball; the actual problem was the bait ball itself.

What do you mean?

We had to find someone who could build and manufacture a fiberglass reinforced sphere about 8mm in thickness, the same stuff you use in a sturdy white whitewater kayak. The reactions I got from local fabricators were interesting once they discovered what we were up to. We had to explain to the fiberglass guy it was a round ball for a Tiger shark “bait ball” that could handle 1-2 tons of bite pressure. The reaction, as you can imagine, was "you’re mad," and as it turned out no one could build anything that was larger than a 300mm sphere, so we had to start from ground zero and find a sphere to mold.

Where did you find a sphere mold for the Bait Ball?

We found a solution at the gym with those Ab Balls, the kind that women work out on, and at 850mm the sphere was the perfect size. So we used the Ab Ball as the template for the new and improved Tiger baiting ball.

So, you got the ball, the manufacturer, Tiger season is just around the corner?

Then it got tough. Our original manufacturer failed in the attempt to build our first ball. After we provided him with the metal brackets, money and design specs, he just folded shop, and would not return our calls. He vanished with everything. Then we had to go back to steel manufacturer to replace all the brackets and bolts and find another fiberglass guy. By now the holiday season was fast approaching and shark season was weeks away, middle of November through April and May, so we were under the gun.

The new manufacturer was great and made it all in one day, with one mold. The interesting thing we discovered is that fiberglass and drill bits do not go together. To create the scent holes we went through seven high tensile drill bits as they either blunted extremely quickly or kept on getting stuck and broken in the 8mm fiberglass shell. It was brutal work.

How many scent holes did you drill in the end for a ball that size?

To get it right, we finally drilled 400 to 500 holes so we could get a good scent flow through the water column. The guys who built the sphere delivered it to us and said "you are absolutely crazy, you go through all this effort to build that perfect sphere only to drill holes into it, fill it full of bait and attract Tiger sharks – Happy Holidays!"

What were the logistical problems, and your primary technical concerns?

Testing in the water, we were very happy with the products look and design. Getting it out there was the challenge. We had to consider the space on the boat, the stem had to be foldable and workable, the stem also needed to be weighted, the stem "aha moment. “ We created an anti-wrapping stem that that folded into a v deterring the shark from further action. Unlike the cable, which could get wrapped as we have seen, the stem does not; each section is linked in a way to prevent wrapping of the animals.

Additionally each section on the stem is designed to quickly and effectively to be lengthened and shortened depending how you want your ZIBS to ride in the water. This system was also designed for one or two bait balls if you need it. Sometime the Tigers stay deep; they will only come up if they see something interesting. This system allows for a deeper bait ball at 10-18meters and another at 5 meters closer to the surface. Even the size of the scent holes had to be small enough that sharks teeth could not get hung up on them i.e no purchase points!

Did any regional shark diving operator attempt new bait systems?

As you know I am not an operator, but as far as I was aware yes, other operations had been working on new solutions as well. Rob Nettleton from Off Shore Africa Dive Charters - took a marker buoy and made a new bait system with that. Walter Bernadis from African Water Sports took “poly-cop” piping, basically pvc tubes, and made a bait system with that, the guys were all developing their own systems. We discussed these on occasion, I was however not happy with it, I just wanted to look outside the box; the ZIBS system, in my opinion was the way to go. I got all my input from Mark Addison at Blue Wilderness. I would call him up and ask about bite radius information, animal behaviors, and depth information.

So each operator has his own system right now?

There's only one ZIBS in use right now by Blue Wilderness, the other operators have to fabricate their own ZIBS and I have provided African Water Sports and Off Shore Africa with a new design stem from the ZIBS design and I will put them in touch with the contact who can build the “Bait Ball”, may even get it done for them, they are both great guys in their own rights.

As for the other operators, they would need to get everything manufactured, I am happy to help with the design.

This whole effort sounds expensive, who paid for it?

If you want something done you just got to step in and do it and that's where my focus as a diver, photographer, and part time conservationist was for this last six weeks, ultimately Hans and I sponsored the new ZIBS system.

What’s the future of shark diving in South Africa?

Personally, there is a whole lot of different techniques and diving operations in S.A, as much as we say sharks might be dangerous, we are really changing the mindset of divers and non divers worldwide, but most importantly future generations of South Africans. The mindset of your average S.A just does do sharks, being out there with them opens minds and changes perceptions. Even children at 6-7 years old who get introduced to sharks is a step in the right direction, he will soon be an diver and most of all he is going to tell all his friends how cool sharks really are! Immediately you have changed their whole thinking on sharks. Once they get to meet sharks they will want to conserve our S.A heritage, our sharks.

We have taken another step to making the S.A shark diving experience even better, from early the days of baits on reef with divers in caves with sticks to today, we have learned and grown and continue to evolve. Blue Wilderness is already working on further improvements of ZIBS and even alternate baiting methodology. Watch this space.

I want to offer some thanks to a few of the people who helped make the Zero Impact Baiting System a reality.

Mark Addison for sharing his knowledge, I would not have had a base to work from without his input. Gail Addison for ensuring I got the help I needed and her support of my project. Ralph from High Tech Packaging for all the steel fabrication, twice, and to Jaap from Link Africa Projects for all the brackets and clips and the nitty gritty to put this thing together. Eugene for helping go through seven drill bits and to drill 400 to 500 bait holes, Hans and Jacqy mates of mine who offered funding and support, and finally to my wife who watched me get totally absorbed with this project. Now that it is done, she has threatened to ban me from diving if I get too involved again, I might still test her resolve on that, I know she will always support me.

And to Wolfgang, yeah you did keep on reminding me. South African sharks ultimately benefit from this innovation and in the end we're here to be site stewards, animal stewards, and look at South African sharks through the lens of sustainability.

My final wishes:

  • The Natal Sharks Board will remove all their archaic nets and drum lines from our oceans and stop legally killing our heritage!
  • That all the other operators in the world will step up to the batting plate and be counted, I see a number of bad baiting techniques used by all of them and I also so a lot of them take a pitch or two.
End of interview.