Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Are Your $harks Worth? - Op Ed

The Paxton Brothers. Probably two of the most unique conservation/personalities you might ever want to meet in Florida and hip deep in real world shark conservation issues and solutions.

The Paxtons look at shark conservation from many different angles both as sustainable anglers, water users, and conservationists.

As the driving force behind the Guy Harvey Catch and Release Shark Fishing Tournaments they have distinguished themselves as out-of-the-box thinkers movers and shakers.

This month they are delving into the FWC and proposed rules and regulations that would ban the take of Tigers and Hammerheads in Florida waters.

Click on the image to read the article as many of the points Sean Paxton brings up resonates to the idea of sustainable fisheries vs no take, an anathema to hard core shark conservationists whose monolithic "no take under any circumstances" often puts them in direct conflict with other use groups.

We can embrace some sustainable fisheries for sharks like we embraced catch and release, all it takes is some science, some broader perspective, and a large amount of long term vision.

As Florida came to understand back in 2001 with complete bans on commercial shark diving, once laws are set in place the unintended consequences of conservation laws for sharks resonate elsewhere for years to come.

Food for thought.

Shark Cage Diving - Guadalupe Island Trip Report 2011

Photo Jack Mears 2011 Guadalupe Island
When Jack Mears called us in early 2011 his energy, excitement, and love of sharks came through the phone lines from the U.K as clear as the line itself.

This was a guy who just had to go shark diving with the Whites of Guadalupe.

Jack is now an Official Shark Diver and sent us this trip report from August. We'll have Jack come back and join us anytime because hard core sharks fans like him are why we exist:

Jack Mears Trip Report 25-29 August 2011.

I booked my trip with Shark Diver after having previously been on 2 unsuccessful White shark diving trips in Australia (we did have an angry young Mako which helped but still..). 

I have to admit this made me slightly skeptical of the guarantee offered to see sharks on every trip but after a lot of web research and speaking to Patric the CEO at Shark Diver it definitely looked like the best opportunity/trip.

I boarded the boat late in the evening before the date of the trip, met everybody, got paired up with a bunk mate and then after a quick beer went to bed ready to clear customs in Mexico the following morning (which was a complete breeze). We then sailed out to Guadalupe – the boat does move around quite a lot it is an ocean after all but after knocking back a few sea sickness tablets I didn’t have any problems the whole way there (or back).

The first day started with us all being matched into groups for the cage rotations, 4 divers at a time in groups of 8 for the 2 cages. I can’t remember the exact time frame but I’m pretty sure a shark turned up within about ten minutes of being in the water. They then (as promised) turned up during nearly every dive nearly for the rest of the trip. I believe there was only one dive where a shark didn’t turn up but out of about 12/13 dives it seemed quite reasonable to let them have one off.

All in all we had about 10 known sharks I think but the largest, Jacques was around for a good few hours and circled the cages slowly and came very close again and again enabling everybody to get some really good photos and videos. Every time I thought I wouldn’t get a better opportunity to get another one, there he was again right next to us. Bearing in mind that was only one shark on one day of the whole trip, we still had plenty of other sharks to look at and (try to) photograph over the 2 and a half days diving.

After the last dive of the day it was then time to grab a beer or two and sit in the sun waiting for dinnertime as the sun went down. Every meal from start to finish was phenomenal, Mark and Alyssa in the galley did not disappoint on any meal over the whole trip it really was good. Combine the food with the people, the weather, the beer and obviously, the sharks and it was a very good trip.

I haven’t even mentioned the rest of the crew - Martin the divemaster was always helpful and friendly as were the rest of the crew who helped with everything from the chumming to our weights and getting us in and out of the cages whilst also running the boat at the same time. The Captains, Spencer and Kyle, helped out with the work and were more than happy to talk to us at any point as well as the deckhands, Nick and Kyle who were always doing something around the boat. There’s a crew member awake all night as well which helps if you can’t sleep or you have a particularly loud ‘snorer’ in your cabin.

Overall the trip exceeded my expectations, the crew were very good and all of the other divers on the boat helped to make it better than I thought it was going to be. The sea sickness was the only concern I had but I took enough pills and was fine the whole time.

I would highly recommend it to anyone and if I wasn’t already planning their Bahamas trip next year I would definitely be planning on going again.


Whale Shark Tagging Expedition - Huge Success!

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in a collaborative effort with several fisheries-based agencies, successfully tagged 10 whale sharks during two recent trips in the Gulf of Mexico.  This represents the largest number of whale sharks tagged at one time in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The tagging effort is a joint venture between the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, Mississippi Laboratories, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, On the Wings of Care and LDWF.  The team is hoping the project will reveal precious information about the little-studied fish.

“Historical information on whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico is lacking,” said LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina.  “We’ve had great success with many other fish tagging ventures and hope that this effort has similar results, providing a wealth of data to assist in the conservation of this species.”

Despite being the largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark is one of the most elusive animals to scientists due to their offshore, nomadic existence.  They are extremely difficult to find outside of a few known seasonal hotspots; therefore, obtaining data on this species is extremely challenging and expensive.

“If the tags stay on for a significant amount of time, we will learn a great deal about how these sharks use the waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico, as well as where they go in the winter time, which is still a mystery to us,” said Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, a Research Fishery Biologist with NOAA Fisheries Service, who has been studying whale sharks in the northern Gulf for 10 years.  “It is still unclear whether whale sharks are residents in northern Gulf waters or simply seasonal migrants from the Caribbean Sea or beyond.  Hopefully the data acquired from these tags will shed some light onto this research question.”

One of the most accurate and useful tools for studying whale shark movements is telemetry, which involves attaching satellite transmitters to the sharks.  Other behavioral information beyond the shark’s movements can be inferred by assessing oceanic and physical conditions around the shark.
The satellite tags provide temperature and depth data every 10 to 15 minutes as well as an estimated position each day for the duration of the tag.  The deployment periods for these tags ranged between four to 12 months.  In addition to the standard satellite tags, three position tags were also deployed, which send real-time location estimates to the satellite when the shark surfaces and the satellites are overhead.  These tags should report for up to six months.

Funding for the satellite tags was provided by the International Foundation for Animal Welfare and World Wildlife Fund.

“Another important factor contributing to the success of this project and our whale shark research over the years has been the participation by the public in our Whale Shark Sighting Survey,” said Jennifer McKinney, Research Technician with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.  “After receiving several reports from the offshore community about whale sharks in region, we mobilized a trip to conduct the tagging.  Due to public participation, we knew exactly where to focus our efforts and therefore had great success.”

The Whale Shark Sighting Survey can be found at  The survey has been an increasing success over the years, in which the general public has been actively involved in the whale shark research program through their participation.

Bonny Schumaker with On the Wings of Care, a non-profit agency, has provided aerial support for whale shark tagging trips since 2010.

For press inquiries, contact Ashley Wethey at (225) 765-5113 or Kim Amendola at (727) 551-5707.