Thursday, January 19, 2012

Carl Safina, Dropping the Hammer

What's all the fuss about this fish?
Read Carl Safina's regular blogs on Huffington Post because if you are not a fan yet you soon will be.

For readers of this blog and others on our blogroll you'll note a tendency for irreverent blog posts skewering many of the Titans of Media and the gasbagging program decisions that make up our wildlife programming media landscape these days.

Carl is on board and this week we found him harpooning, with the finesse and grace of Japanese Research Whalers, recent programming choices by National Geographic Wild.

In Carl's cross hairs this week a decision to highlight the take of endangered Bluefin Tuna in a new show called Wicked Tuna. Naturally this show has raised the ire of many in the conservation world, and not the simpleton Green Gotcha ire we recently witnessed with the pseudo anti-lesbian Rosie O'Donnell shark hysteria either.

This is good old fashioned main stream ire that only comes from poor programming choices by Nat Geo and a brand that has devolved in the form of Nat Geo Wild the ugly step child of the wildlife media stage.

Frankly it is refreshing to see this kind of smart, targeted, media push back and kudos to Carl for this post and others. Let's hope 2012 sees more of this from Mr.Safina because every street protest needs a leader out front defining the issues and Carl has a nice way with words.

Why shoot productions with sharks at Tiger Beach, Bahamas?

Mythbusters 2009 Discovery Networks
Film and television productions have come to realize that Tiger Beach, Bahamas is perhaps one of the best sites to film shark productions on the planet, and for good reason.

Shark Diver has been involved with top rated productions for the past seven years at this unique dive site and we have listed just a few reasons to consider your next shark productions here.

1. Ease of Production

Tiger Beach sits just off the shores of Grand Bahama Island. With top rated hotels for talent and crews like the Old Bahama Bay Resort and Marina as your base of operations and medium sized dive vessels for productions, from concept to shoot day this site has everything you will need. Additionally the Bahamas Film Commission is perhaps one of the most production friendly government agencies in the Bahamas and has gone to great lengths for every production they service to make things happen.

2. Multi-Species Encounters

Few dive sites on the planet can offer guaranteed big animal encounters with Tigers, and even fewer offer multi-species encounters all within a short distance of each other. From Reef sharks to Tigers and even clouds of Lemon sharks, Tiger Beach and the surrounding reefs offer shark filled productions in short order.

3. Dive Site Magic

At a maximum depth of 20 feet Tiger Beach offers an encounter space tailored for novice to serious talent. Visibility at Tiger Beach is 80% blue water, additionally the vast majority of Tiger Beach is white sand bottom allowing for additional objects and production development for larger commercials and product placement. Consider Tiger Beach a blank canvass for commercial productions that seek live sharks in the environmentally friendly environment they develop.

4. Cost Benefit

Most shark productions originate out of the USA. From commercials to documentaries flights, accommodations, and time are of the essence once you decide to do a shark production. With ease of travel to Freeport, Grand Bahama from multiple major airports in Florida the Bahamas makes the most production sense. We like to call this site a one-stop-shop for unique productions.

In 2010 Shark Diver was the driving force behind an award winning Gillette commercial at Tiger Beach, developing the site, building cage systems, talent choices and dive safety crews. In tandem with a top Los Angeles based commercial agency the following Gillette commercial set the bar for live action shark filmmaking and won a prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Where are you going to shoot your next shark production?

White Sharks vs Snappers - Great Video!

We have always said the easiest way to find a white shark is to follow the fishermen. It was how Isla Guadalupe was "discovered" many years ago and if you happen to be in Arno Bay, Australia this time of year, finding a white shark is as easy as snapper going fishing.

"A 4 metre great white shark circles the boat waiting for an easy feed as we have a double hook up of big snapper at Arno Bay"

Fisherman's gold: Shark fin hunt empties west African seas

SAINT LOUIS, Senegal: Retired fisherman Sada Fall is upbeat. His two sons are returning from sea with a boatload of “gold”, as he calls shark fins, whose value has near-obliterated the ocean’s top predator in these seas.

Fall, 62, walks along the beach in this fishing village in the north of Senegal, his blue-grey boubou flapping in the dry, dusty wind, a bright red flowered umbrella shielding him from the scorching sun.
“This is the great shark cemetery,” he says waving his hand dramatically across the beach where dried hunks of shark meat are piled up, filling the air with a musty, acrid odor as suffocating as the heat.

Colorful painted pirogues line the beach where children play and sheep wander around. A giant pelican is curiously tethered to one of the crumbling houses. Saint Louis is one of the biggest shark landing sites in Senegal and one of scores along the west African coast where the predator is quickly disappearing.

Fall’s sons have been gone for two weeks deep into Mauritanian waters for a voyage which, including food, water, fuel and salt to pack the fish, can cost more than 500,000 CFA (750 euros/$1,000).

Spurring these fishermen on is the insatiable Asian appetite for shark fins, which make their way onto ostentatious dinner tables in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. “The fins don’t stay here, they are worth a lot of money,” says Fall. He explains that when a boat lands, amidst the chaos of bartering and buying shark meat to be dried, smoked and sold in the region, the fins are swept away by intermediaries to Dakar, and treated very carefully.

“The fins are gold, sometimes we keep them in our own living room – with the air conditioning on,” he laughs. Often the intermediaries will meet with Asian businessmen in a Dakar hotel to hand over the booty. “You bring the bags, go into the hotel, hand over the bag, they hand over the money.” Mika Diop, a biologist and coordinator of the Sharks sub-regional Action Plan (SRPOA-Sharks) says that depending on the size and species of the fin involved, they sell for up to 100,000 CFA (150 euros) per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
But it is the men further up the chain who benefit the most, as many fishermen don’t realise exactly how valuable their product is. Some restaurants charge more than $100 for a bowl of sharp fin soup. “We catch them, but I couldn’t afford a small bowl of soup,” says Fall. ‘Mercenary mindset’- many fins are also exported fraudulently through normal channels classified as dried fish, says Diop.
In West Africa, shark fishing began in the 1970’s, booming in the nineties due to rising demand from Asia for shark fins, according to a report entitled “30 Years of Shark Fishing in West Africa” co-authored by Diop in 2011. Since 2003, shark catches have plummeted. This is not good news but a sign that there are less to catch. These days fishermen can spend up to 20 days at sea, heading as far west as Cape Verde or south to Sierra Leone in search of their gold, with what Diop bemoans as an often “mercenary mindset”. Diop explains that sharks are particularly vulnerable because it can take more than 10 years for them to reach sexual maturity and their fertility rate is very low, making recovery from overfishing all year round near impossible.

“On average the weight of the fin represents only two percent of the total weight of the animal, so you can see the massacre needed to keep up with the demand for shark fins,” he tells AFP.
In Saint Louis, Fall finally gets a phone call from his pirogue. Days of bad weather have hampered fishing and even the good days have yielded no sharks. The boat is now expected the following day. A fisherman for more than 30 years, he has seen first hand the worrying drop in shark numbers. “We are obliged to catch small sharks. We know its not good but if one person doesn’t, the next will… “It brings in a lot of money, so we don’t see the importance of the shark.

We earn and we will keep on earning until the sharks disappear,” he says sadly. The shark fishing report talks of days when hammerhead sharks up to six metres long (20 feet) and one-tonne sawfish were caught in these waters. The sawfish-printed on the back of Senegalese bank notes-hasn’t been seen since the early 1990s in coastal waters from Mauritania to Sierra Leone, except for Guinea-Bissau.

According to the report, the value of sharks landed annually in 2008 in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde is estimated at 8.5 million euros ($11 million).
Diop’s shark project has published an identification guide for fishermen and has helped west African nations put legislation in place, most importantly to ban “finning”. In Senegal this legislation is still in the pipeline. Finning is the practice of cutting of the shark fin while at sea, and tossing the rest of the shark back into the ocean to face a cruel death by suffocation or blood loss. Despite the laws, it still continues.

If shark-hunting, in Senegal and the world over, is not brought under control, Diop and other experts predict dire results for a marine ecosystem regulated by the predator for some 400 million years. A report by the Pew Environment Group in June 2011 estimates some 73 million sharks are caught annually and 30 percent of species are threatened with extinction.

The fisherman Sada Fall becomes anxious and harder to get hold of. The “big shark guy around here”-his distributor-has left back to Dakar after hearing the fishing trip has not gone well. Three days after the boat was supposed to land it reaches shore just after midnight. With no sharks caught, it quickly refuels and heads out again for several more gruelling, and expensive, days in search of fisherman’s gold.

From PRI.

Mercury bioaccumulation in elasmobranchs? Study

Conservation sources have been waging a war on shark products for the past five years saying that shark fins and meat for human consumption are loaded with mercury. Here's another first rate study that backs those assertions up.


 Nicholas Kutil and David L. Taylor.


Mercury (Hg) is a toxic environmental contaminant that bioaccumulates in fish tissues,
including numerous marine species. Cartilaginous fish of the subclass Elasmobranchii are important ecological constituents of marine ecosystems, yet the fate of Hg contaminants in their body tissues is largely unknown.

In this study, four species of elasmobranchs: little skate (Raja erinacea), winter skate (R. ocellata), smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis), and spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), were collected from the Rhode Island/Block Island Sound, and the Hg content (ppm wet wt) of white muscle tissue was analyzed using automated combustion atomic absorption spectrometry. Diet and feeding habits for each species were also assessed by stomach content and stable nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C)
isotope analyses. Mean Hg concentrations differed significantly among species, with highest
levels measured in smooth dogfish (mean Hg = 0.680 ± 0.107 ppm, n = 15), followed by
spiny dogfish (mean Hg = 0.312 ± 0.034 ppm, n = 44) and skates (mean Hg = 0.110 ± 0.008
ppm, n = 78 and 0.069 ± 0.005 ppm, n = 56 for little and winter skate, respectively). The Hg
concentration of skate muscle tissue did not vary by body weight, suggesting that Hg does
not bioaccumulate in these species.

Conversely, smooth and spiny dogfish bothbioaccumulate Hg with respect to body size, although smooth dogfish have a higher Hgcontent relative to spiny dogfish. The elevated Hg concentration of smooth dogfish may beexplained by their higher trophic level status, as determined from δ15N signatures (meanδ15N = 13.29 ± 0.88, 11.82 ± 0.60, 12.33 ± 0.65, and 12.12 ± 1.06 for smooth dogfish, spiny dogfish, little skate, and winter skate, respectively). The enriched δ13C values of skates and smooth dogfish indicated benthic foraging (range of mean δ13C = -16.39 ± 0.32 to -17.42 ±0.46), which was further confirmed by the dominance of decapods and crustaceans in the
stomach contents. Conversely, squid and butterfish were the principal prey of spiny
dogfish, and the contribution of these pelagic prey was reflected in the depleted δ13C
signature (mean δ13C = -21.97 ± 0.83). Future work includes researching the effect habitat
use and prey Hg to better understand bioaccumulation patterns in these species.

Presentation at the 2012 Winter Meeting of the Southern New England Chapter (SNEC).

January 26, 2012

University of Rhode Island