Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Ocean’s Nazis?

This was yesterday's dive! And 30 Bulls!

Are you still wondering what kind of "education" people get from watching Discovery Channel?

Look no further than this astonishing article!
Proof positive!

It's so bloody preposterous that I first took it for a spoof - but alas, it probably ain't.
I really don't know much about US politics but if being anti-Conservation is what US Libertarianism stands for, I shall be very happy never to endorse them!

But back to Discovery.
This is a direct consequence of Shark Porn - and this is why so many people are pissed off!
So, guys, make a choice as you really cannot have it both ways: if you really care about your "green" branding and the income it generates, you really gotta stop this shit.


PS: Sharky has just weighed in with a much more eloquent post.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Conservation Conundrums

Two apparently different topics dominate the headlines.

One one side you have the battle to protect the Whales.
Much loved and even glorified, they are at the center of a bitter feud that has led to the collapse of the latest Whaling Conference. Once nearly extinct, some species have miraculously come back from the brink, to the point that some Countries want to resume hunting them - and actually do, often in very unethical ways. The anti-whaling activists are dead set against it and the fight is turning increasingly violent.

On the other side you have the ongoing decline of the Tuna.
Everybody wants to eat them and stocks have been depleted to the point where many species are severely threatened and the Northern Bluefin Tuna is all but extinct. Once romanticized as some kind of heroic feat by intrepid fishermen, the killing is increasingly depicted as what it really is, the extermination of a species.

Whereas the Fisheries Agencies are finally trying to limit the catches, the fishermen have started to fight back as their existence is being threatened. Once again, violence is on the rise.

But really, these are just two examples of the same conundrum.
I've blogged about it a while ago when talking about the Shark fin industry: in order to protect the animals we love, we will have to accept that some of them are killed.

What I'm talking about is sustainable fishing.
Provided that the stocks are sufficiently plentiful (or after a moratorium, once we have allowed them to recover), we will have to accept a compromise: in exchange for agreeing to preserve the species, fishermen will have to be allowed to harvest sustainable quotas.

If that is true - and assuming that ethically speaking, all life has the same value regardless of personal preferences (and assumed cognitive faculties, etc.)
  • some species of Tuna can probably be harvested sustainably. Other species, like the Northern Bluefin should be fully protected until stocks replenish (tho from what I hear, it may already be too late)
  • some species of Shark can probably be harvested sustainably. Other species like the Hammerheads (please read the link) should be fully protected.
  • most probably, the same applies to the Cetaceans where the populations of some Dolphins and e.g. Minke Whales appear quite robust, whilst other species warrant full protection.
Do I like it? Hell, No!

But pragmatically speaking, it's probably the only way forward - as long as we cannot curb the demand . And when it comes to Sharks and Tuna, chances for that are very slim indeed.

The sooner we accept that, the sooner we will work towards achieving tangible and hopefully, long lasting results - which is ultimately the only thing that counts.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I’m honestly of two minds about this.

It concerns how we should react to this post by Fijigirl on Wetpixel concerning the recent Discovery shoot in Fiji. I was really gonna follow the advice of a friend to just let it go and wait until Deadly Waters would air, after which the truth would be known anyway.
But our staff are very angry indeed and have asked me not to let this go unanswered.

So there:

The way I read that document, it basically claims that Brandon did this and that, loves Sharks, was unaware of the contents of the show, did nothing untoward and finally got "tricked" by us who just wanted to rubbish him.

Cleverly worded, it however contains a lot of factual "errors".
Some are well within the scope of the usual Aqua-Trek "mythology" but surprisingly, some is pretty brazen - actually, very unlike the Fijigirl who is Aqua-Treks consummate spinmaster!
Which begs the question, is she been lied to - too?

Anyway, the facts are this – and I’ll keep is as short as I can.

“Aqua-Trek” is a conglomerate of dive shops in Fiji with varying histories and shareholders.

Brandon worked for Aqua-Trek Beqa (ATB), did set up a Shark feed on Shark Reef in 1999 and resigned from ATB in 2002 to go and work for Aqua-Trek Management (ATM) in Garden Island Resort on the island of Taveuni. As is customary, a reef fee was paid to a village but the site was not protected and fishing continued there until 2004.

Shark Reef was formally protected on 8.4.2004.
A lot of people spent considerable time, money and effort to achieve this – but it had nothing whatsoever to do with either Brandon or Aqua-Trek who never assisted in that effort.

Beqa Adventure Divers (the “other Shark dive company”) was created by James Beazeley and ATBs senior staff in order to manage the reserve as ATB had breached some of its obligations and the villages wanted them out. The protocols for the Shark dive within Shark Reef Marine Reserve were developed by BAD in collaboration with scientists and Industry professionals and are very different from what Brandon was doing back then in ’99.

The “Ultimate Shark Encounter” on Lake Reef was established by the then manager of ATB, Petero Niurou, who negotiated with the village who controlled that reef, and who set up the dive with the other staff of ATB. Brandon was not there.
Brandon only returned to Pacific Harbour in 2006 when ATM acquired ATB.

Thus, ATB and Brandon can rightfully claim to be the pioneers of Shark diving in Pacific Harbour and ATB also developed a Shark dive and set up a marine reserve on Lake Reef.

That's all pretty awesome and very honorable - and way more than what most other operators in the Shark Diving Industry have done.
No need to re-write history and to claim credit for other people’s hard work!

But back to the matter at hand, Deadly Waters.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, I was away and upon coming back to Fiji, I've been busy doing the post mortem on this unfortunate matter. As Drew suggests, we’ll all see it when the episode airs – or better, hopefully not!
The show is currently being edited so let’s not pre-empt anything, shall we.

But Fiji is very small indeed and people always talk.
When it comes to Fijigirl’s fairy tale, what I can say with absolute certainty is this.
  • Brandon knew of the contents and intents of the show.
  • He willingly and knowingly completely surrendered his site and its Sharks to the crew of Gurney, to the point that his own staff was relegated to the role of mere spectators.
  • ATB delivered chum and bait to the Fiji Peter Hughes vessel that the production company were using as their base and that vessel remained on site for several days during which the film crew conducted multiple dives with and without ATB.
  • A chumsicle was deployed in total breach of established procedures.
  • They conducted night dives in baited conditions, again a total breach of protocol.
  • Clients were taken to Lake Reef to witness the film crew flailing around bait in the attempt to excite the Sharks – in total breach of protocol and the most basic safety procedures (one guest witness was so upset by what he saw that he demanded a refund and was given a free dive on the next day).
You be the judge of whether "They came and filmed our dive as we run it everyday. They conducted no experiments. The filming was about Les with a scientist swimming amongst large sharks. We only show sharks in a normal state of feeding, no chumsicle feeds. All very calm" is an adequate description of the above.
As I said, pretty brazen!

As to our despicable role in this fiasco... we did indeed not call ATB directly.
Brandon and his bosses have historically made it abundantly clear that they do not seek dialogue and co-operation with BAD and it would have been an exercise in futility. As it turns out, he knew everything anyway.

Plus, before Les Stroud turned up in our dive shop, Aqua-Trek was simply not on our radar.
We were working on keeping Gurney out of the country and were completely focused on talking to the relevant authorities and to the folks of Peter Hughes in Fiji and the USA. But as soon as Les left our office, we called and informed the Dive Commission which is the competent authority in such matters. They are part of Fiji Island Hotel and Tourism Association (of which we and ATB are members) and FIHTA did inform Brandon (who already knew) - precisely as per what I wrote in my original post.

We and many others are now trying to sort out Brandon's mess, as it's not about Brandon or Aqua-Trek. In the big scheme of things, they are frankly of no importance - and nor are we!
To us, this is about the Sharks, the reputation of Fiji and how the Shark Diving Industry needs to handle the media.

Please wish us luck in making this "go away".

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Abomination 3.1.

Remember the drunken morons of the South Florida Shark Club.

They just killed this big beautiful female Bull Shark - likely once again a pregnant mother as Bull Sharks migrate to their nursing areas in Summer which in the Northern Hemisphere is in May to June.

Sad "story" here.
Let's hope "somebody" puts them out of their unholy business very soon indeed!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Discovery's Shame

Sorry, once again this will have to be short.

The reason is that having moved to Fiji, I'm currently swamped by trying to establish a new home, kicking off some new research and Shark conservation initiatives, attending conservation workshops and all sorts of menial stuff you really don't want to know about.

Plus, as promised, I'm doing the post mortem on the Discovery fiasco - and lemme tell you, with astonishing results! As Tafa said in one comment, the more one tries to hide things under the mat, the more people will go digging, especially in Fiji!
Keep watching this space!

In the meantime, I invite you to explore Ila's blog Discovery's Shame.
Talk about a lady with a passion!

The petition has just broken 1,000 which is great - but still, we must do better!
Where are all those guys?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Deadly Waters For Whom?

How was your opinion of sharks formed?
All my life I have struggled to overcome negative exposure to sharks. I think I have won, but it has been a long haul.
My earliest memory of sharks is from 1975. I was spending the night at a friend’s house. Across the street from his building was the base movie theater. All that Friday night we were scared witless by the constant screams we heard coming out of that theater during the three showings. We had seen the posters on the movie theater billboard and our imaginations filled in all the rest, which is not too hard for imaginative 7–year–olds. It would be years later before I actually saw the movie, which only reinforced my abject fear of sharks...
Full post here - bravo Eric!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Not hard to stomach!

Well worth clicking on! Bravo Lill!

Juerg is cranking them out as always.
This time, it's a methodological paper about our acoustic telemetry data collection.

As you may remember, any research within Shark Reef Marine Reserve has to fulfill two preconditions:
- Is it contributing directly to Conservation?
- Is the method employed the least invasive possible?

There are several methods for deploying acoustic tags and many of them involve catching the animals, after which the tags get attached via a loop around the caudal peduncle, or via tie wraps through a hole drilled into the dorsal fin or even implanted via a small subcutaneous incision.
Here's an example with satellite tags - not for us!

We don't do any of that as we try to avoid any undue stress to the animals and also, because we don't want to "punish" them for having trusted us.
Until very recently, we have resorted exclusively to hand feeding our tags after having hidden them in fish heads or wrapped them into strips of fish loin. It's quite funny as the Sharks do clearly detect the tags' pinging and have to be "conned" into swallowing the bait by quickly switching the pieces once they are committed to taking them. This method is quite wasteful as the tags get excreted (often via stomach eversion) and thus lost after a relatively short time.

Last September, we started to attach some tags externally by using pole spears or spearguns.
The Sharks don't seem to mind much and have all come back - and still, every time, I cringe when I see happen. The reason why I have OKd it is that we want to track the animals during their mating season when they generally refuse to feed. As a added advantage, Juerg is now getting some very useful long-term data as the tags will stay on for several months.

Juerg's paper is titled Tracking free-ranging sharks with hand-fed intra-gastric acoustic transmitters and deals with the abovementioned hand-feeding technique. You can read an excerpt on his blog or purchase and download the whole paper right here.

More papers very shortly indeed!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not good enough!

Yes, I'm talking about the Discovery Petition!

It was ticking along nicely, with about 100 new signatures a day. Then, it went mysteriously offline - and ever since, the daily signatures have slowed significantly, to not more than 20-30. Last time I looked, the total was 854: respectable but a far cry from the goal of 10,000.
In order to achieve that, the whole thing needs to go viral with "everybody" pitching in and above all, with the "big guns" signing on and then mobilizing their followers.

Having searched for "names" and having looked at the websites of the plethora of self-professed Shark lovers, savers and protectors out there, I'm starting to wonder: where are they? Why is it that I've failed to find a single major website posting a link to the petition?

Where are, to name but a few, the Funds, Allies & Alliances, Societies, Foundations, Initiatives, Conservancies, Institutes, Projects and Trusts, the Backbiters, Savers, Preservers, Spotters, Angels, Shepherds, Aiders, Stewards, Researchers and all of those other orgs that solicit donations from the public for safeguarding Sharks - and that incidentally, each run their very own, undoubtedly unique and original petition to stop Shark finning?
Where are all those prominent photographers and cameramen that draw their sustenance from taking images of Sharks?
Have the Shark diving operators and the Travel agents that book them bothered to mobilize their clients?
Where is the scientific community, especially those guys that always profess that their imput and research are being abused?

Does this mean that the majority of us Shark people agree with the way Discovery is depicting the animals we profess to love?
Or is this a reflection of how hopelessly unorganized, inefficient and fragmented we are, and of how our notorious infighting is ultimately condemning us to be pathetically irrelevant as a group?

Questions questions...

My very personal position is this.
I'm actually not a lover of "activism" and of petitions and I'm also rather skeptical about their ultimate effectiveness. Had I been asked, my call would have been to try and embark on a less confrontational route (and yes, I know this has been tried before with little success) that would have shown alternatives on top of condemning the status quo. And quite frankly, I cringe when I read some of the emotional tree-hugging posts on that website.

But this petition is a fact and because of that, I'm willing to support it, if only because I believe that one must show solidarity.
Also, it has been started by a group of people who have the important ethical advantage of doing it for one reason only, because they truly love Sharks - and not because of any other hidden agenda, commercial or otherwise.

To me, the petition is but one, albeit important element in how we should try and tackle the problem of Shark-related media. Some of the others are already on the table: dialogue, educating and holding the operators accountable, alternative media productions - and the list is by no means exhaustive.
Suggestions welcome!

But having said this: guys, c'mon, show the support!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Well done Bill!

Remember Bill Fisher?

He was with us in 2006 and wrote a glowing report of his experience in Shark Diver Magazine, garnished with great pictures by Terry Goss.

Bill and Joe Romeiro have teamed up to form 333 Productions and judging from their page on YouTube, they've literally been "everywhere".

I was really excited to find this 2006 video featuring not only a feisty (and much smaller) Scarface (the one with the crooked mouth), but also our biggest Lemon Whitetail. See the black dot on her nose? That's typical for Sicklefin Lemons - check out yer pics from Tiger Beach!
And there's also footage of Adi, or Princess, one of our smaller Tigers, filmed on Aqua Trek's dive (we don't grab).
Very cool!

Fiji Sharks-2006

But the real reason for this post is that 333 Productions have just won the Emerging Underwater Filmmaker category in this year's BLUE Ocean Film Festival!
Here's the trailer of their winning submission Death of a Deity.

Well done guys, and keep up the good, pro-Shark work!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our Question to Discovery Channel

From today's dive - bravo Lill!

WhySharksMatter has landed quite a coup.

He has managed to convince Mr. Paul Gasek, an Executive of Discovery Channel, to answer 10 questions relating to Discovery's Shark Week. Here is the background to that serendipitous opportunity.

So there - here's our question.
David, my heartfelt thanks for the chance of hearing it directly from the horse's mouth!

Dear Mr. Gasek

As you may know, one of your forthcoming programs, “Deadly Waters” has caused quite a controversy here in Fiji.

We are one of Fiji's pre-eminent Shark diving operators and were contacted by Joshua Puga of Gurney Productions who wanted to come and film our Bull Sharks for the aforementioned show.
After having seen the program's "Experiment List", we declined their request, this based on the following aspects of the planned show.
  • The depiction of Sharks as man-killing monsters
  • The untrue allegation that Fiji is a hot spot for Shark Attacks
  • Above all, the damage such an allegation would cause to the fragile tourism industry of a small island country
Gurney then tried coming back via the "back door", by having a local live-aboard vessel contact us asking whether we would host them and a video team shooting for Discovery's Shark Week.
Having asked for further clarifications, we were told that the show "hadn't yet been named" - but we soon noticed that the producer and the host, Les Stroud, were the same as in January . Once again, we declined to cooperate and informed the vessel about the production team's true intentions.

The shoot was finally hosted by our local competitors who however claim that they had no idea about its true nature as they were told by Gurney that it was a scientific program for Animal Planet.

If true, this would mean that after having unsuccessfully tried to mislead us, Gurney Productions only succeeded in filming the show's Fiji segment by deceiving the Shark diving operator who would have otherwise opposed the production like we did.

I assume Discovery Channel care about their reputation for being factually and scientifically accurate and thus credible. I also assume they they pride themselves in following impeccable ethical standards.

With that in mind - and assuming that your own independent verification would lead you to conclude
  • That the allegation that Fiji is a "high-fatality hot spot" is a complete fabrication and that there are no data whatsoever supporting it
  • That such an allegation would cause substantial damage to Fiji's tourism industry
  • That Gurney Productions used deceit in order to film the Fiji segment of "Deadly Waters"
Would you then be willing to completely scrap "Deadly Waters", or at least remove the segment that was filmed in Fiji?

We look forward to your reply and would be happy to provide you with copies of all correspondence and corroborating evidence if so wished. You can reach the dive shop's manager, Andrew Cumming at Beqa Adventure Divers.

Thank you very much for your kind consideration.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The other Camera!


I knew Lawrence was behind me when i filmed Rusi's mouth-feed - and here it is, on 1:02!
Love that Hi-def, gotta get me one!


Get out your Barf Bag!

Meet the Sharkman of Cortez!

He barged in on an interview by the Shark Safe Project and I invite you to view that remarkable document. Alas, there's no embedding feature so please go to the relevant Facebook page.
No - wait a minute! Felix just posted the YouTube video! Good find my friend!

There you go - these are the people Shark Safe and Shark Free Marinas are trying to convert.
Just long haired rednecks! Right!

It's gonna be a long, steep road!

Abomination 2.1.

Pic: Lill Haugen, who else!

Back to Destin.

I'm running out, and I'm also tired of posting pics of dead pregnant Sharks so here's one of our very much alive newcomers. We have named her Nani in honor of our incomparable Nanise and no, that's not because she's feisty and has a big mouth!

Note the bent up tip of her pec which will make it easy to identify her going forward. The gash in the mouth is from a fishing leader which Rusi managed to remove last week. Yes, that was tricky!

Anyway, the Destin abomination is now getting the attention it deserves.
First, there was this funny (!) article in the Daily News. Then, Luke Tipple's op ed in the Destin Log. Finally, the Log is running an online poll on the subject - when I entered my vote in the bottom field on the right-hand column, the result came out as 55% No and 38% Yes. Let's hope the vote stays the same and Ms. Donaldson listens!

Talking of which, I cannot access the Discovery Petition site!
Just a Fiji thing - or is it global?
And if so, why?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Great title!

According to WhySharksMatter, it is, without a doubt, the best conservation-minded shark documentary he has ever seen.

Website here and here's the trailer.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lots of Stuff going on!

Still trying to settle in, so once again, this will have to be short.

A lot has happened in the last two days and I invite you to go exploring the following links.

Oceanic Dreams have posted the 2009 Shark Week program - including Deadly Waters (not Bio Recon - I'll come back to that later) with the following synopsis.

SURVIVORMAN’s Les Stroud is back for more shark action — this time venturing to five of the most notorious shark infested waters in the world to find out which is the most dangerous. Les will initiate a series of immersive tests in these high-fatality “hot spots” to determine what makes these waters so deadly.

So, Fiji is now officially a "high-fatality hotspot"! Great!
So much anti-Shark evil in such a small announcement. Just remarkable!

In that respect, Underwater Thrills have re-posted a two-part series from January when Les Stroud and Gurney first got in contact with their anti-Shark garbage and which contains the infamous "experiment list". The Fiji experiments have been slightly modified - but more about that later. As the title of that post says, this is just for the record.

Underwater Thrills have proposed a media Contract for Sharks and Sharky has given it an eloquent and intelligent endorsement.
So do we. It's work in progress and we have proposed to add some further guidelines which you can see in the comments section of that post. Let's hope this will quickly progress into something tangible where many operators will sign up.

The Discovery petition is progressing well but still needs to explode into viral mode, so please make the effort to contact and motivate all your friends! Ila France Porcher of the International Year of the Shark has created a blog devoted to this topic and Gary has written an op ed about it on the Shark Safe Project blog.

Much to read!
Talk soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Stick

This is the first time I sign a petition, ever.

Quite frankly, I've been caught completely unawares and only found out about it when browsing Underwater Thrills during my morning coffee, as I do every day. I'm kinda between homes and countries so I'll have to keep this short.

This is important, but it is only one part of the equation - the other part being that as an Industry, we got to provide for alternatives by working with serious producers and cinematographers in order to come up with better programs.

And we the operators need to finally shoulder our responsibility and stop shooting ourselves in the foot, by agreeing that the Deadly Waters fiasco must be the last time where this kind of despicable rubbish has been allowed to happen on our watch. We are the stewards of our sites and without our consent and logistical support, nothing goes - and yes, I'm repeating myself!
Always remember - our customers have a choice and there are always alternatives!

So, let's start with the stick - but let's also work on the carrot!
Please sign the petition and tell your friends.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I've followed my own advice and browsed the Website of The End of the Line.
Kudos to the authors for having followed up by posting a lot of pertinent information.

There's a really interesting News section and that's where I learned that the Atlantic , or Northern Bluefin Tuna is all but gone. Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi has researched the topic and I invite everybody to read this shocking synopsis of his findings. Nothing new really, but what had been depicted as imminent in 2006, 2007 and 2008 has apparently eventuated - basically, it's over.

Barring a miracle that is - but alas, I'm not hopeful.
The very much not aptly named International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) has only one track record - and that is, to continue applying unsustainable quotas despite all evidence pointing to the imminent catastrophe. It's the bloody same farce every time they meet: politicians and functionaries trying to "negotiate" against scientific facts - last time in November where they didn't adopt the recommendations by their own scientists and then managed to congratulate themselves for the fiasco!

Want to know the full extent of the debacle - involving mismanagement, fraud and piracy?
Read this!

Like in the case of Sharks, we are faced with a supply limited fisheries with zero price elasticity where the Tragedy of the Commons is preventing any useful consensus about applying sustainable quotas, let alone a fishing moratorium where stocks would be allowed to replenish. Contrary to Sharks which are extremely slow breeders, Tuna reach sexual maturity between 3 and 5 years and such a strategy could really lead to positive results within a comparatively short period of time.

Alas, it's not likely to happen.
The policy makers will continue to drag their feet and Bluefin Tuna will become a prized delicacy for the rich, then the very rich and finally, only the select few.
And then, it'll be gone for good. Forever.

Oh well.
Back to the Sharks.

Historical Movie

I'm talking about The End of the Line.

It's being compared to Al Gore's An inconvenient Truth and it deals with the overfishing of our Oceans. Underwater Thrills have written about it and I invite you to go read that post and to browse the above link.
Or watch this.

The relevant YouTube page features several excerpts and trailers of which this is but a small selection.

And not to be all gloom and doom, a possible solution.
Reminds me of that place in Fiji!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

5,341 Bucks!

Yes this pic is from Destin! Great destin-ation marketing huh!

Pretty sweet!

That's what Team Tim's Tree Service bagged for catching and releasing a 7 1/2 feet Hammerhead at the Are You Man Enough Shark challenge this week in Fort Myers. And they could have earned themselves another ten grand by catching one of the previously tagged five Sharks.
To me, that should be plenty of incentive for keeping this format in the future - and hopefully, for getting rid of the horrible name in the process!

Compare that to the measly 250 bucks for landing the biggest of many dead Sharks in Destin, and it should be pretty obvious what they guys over there ought to do.

Yes, as WhySharksMatter said, the victory in Fort Myers has indeed been the result of clever and respectful Shark Conservation - but let there be no doubt that threatening to disrupt proceedings via a vocal Conservation rally played an important role as well!

That's also the message to Devin: evolve, and everybody will be happy to work with you in order to find attractive alternatives - or else!

Talking of which, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has scheduled a series of public workshops this month to receive comments on the management of sharks, including possible changes to Shark bag and size limits, the prohibited Shark species list, and Shark landing requirements and gear rules.

Would be great if this could be turned into an ethical debate, as in stopping the despicable slaughter of pregnant females. No reason why the fishermen shouldn't follow the lead of the hunters - or is there?

Time for IGFA to show some leadership!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Airing Right Now!

That would be "South Pacific" on BBC Two!

Yes, with some footage from The Best Shark Dive in the World!
Producer Jonathan Clay and cameraman Richard were with us last year and despite of some very foul weather, they were blessed with a visit by our VIP-enamored Scarface who turned up on both dives and presented Richard with a golden opportunity when she glided in and closely inspected his domeport.

Can't wait to see it!
Entirely filmed in Hi Def, it's once again a production by the BBC Natural History Unit and will undoubtedly contain some epic footage as always! I went on YouTube but so far, there's only this one teaser of a monster wave in slo-mo (and the BBC iPlayer only works in the UK) but judging from that, we're once again in for a real treat!

Apparently, the video versions are due shortly, with the US release renamed into Wild Pacific because of the musical. The funny hing being that after all the recent drama, it's due to air on Discovery! It obviously takes the Brits to show them how to do some decent pro-Nature programs! Isn't life just funny!
And there's another trailer here - featuring a Tiger Shark!
Is it her?

As I read somewhere, Jon is responsible for Part 5 and 6 and I sure hope that we feature in Fragile Paradise! But wherever we are, it's again quite a milestone for our small dive shop.

May many more such great productions follow!
(Oh they will they will!)

PS: "flesh-eating caterpillars"?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Abomination 3.0

From the South Florida Shark Club's Triple Crown site

Sometimes, I'm just simply speechless.

Like when I was copied on this letter.
To his credit, Vice-Mayor Eliopoulos has already answered that he is concerned and will look into the matter.

Dear Vice-Mayor Eliopoulos,
There is a very disturbing issue concerning Delray Beach which I would like to bring to your attention.

local shark fishing club has been chumming and fishing for sharks right on our main beach in Delray, and is now aggressively promoting this activity and recruiting new members.

While drinking and fishing may be legal and fun to them it is cruel to the animals and dangerous to Delray's citizens and tourists.
This group claims to promote catch and release fishing, which may sound relatively harmless, but based on the discussions in their forum (as well as their recipe section) and the pictures on their website, this is not the case.

First of all they are chumming or using bait (sometimes smaller sharks that they've caught are used as bait for larger sharks) to lure the sharks close to shore. Once hooked the sharks are fighting for their lives and are landed exhausted from their survival attempts. After these fishermen have looked at the shark, high-fived everybody in sight and taken some pictures, they attempt to push, pull and roll the injured sharks back into the water.

Potential outcomes that we as Delray residents should be concerned about:

1. These fishermen are throwing chum -- fish heads and chopped up fish into the swimming area on Delray Beach. While snorkeling looking for shells on Sunday, one of us saw several large fish heads in three feet of water and chopped up fish pieces floating on the surface. A passerby on the beach told her that he'd just seen some guys throwing the bait into the water. Aside from the obvious problem that this bait is intended to attract sharks into the swimming area, it is smelly and disgusting! Not what you want to see when you're taking a nice swim or looking for shells!

2. Dead sharks will end up washed ashore by morning. This has already happened on Delray Beach. We have seen dead sharks on the beach while taking a morning walk.

3. Exhausted and injured sharks may be eaten by other larger sharks. As sharks are opportunistic hunters, larger sharks will be attracted to feed on the weak and injured sharks that have been released back into the water. These larger sharks will come to recognize that Delray Beach is a good place to visit for an easy meal. Large sharks coming into the shallow water on Delray Beach looking for the dead and injured sharks that are the aftermath of the previous evening's fishing party is certainly not the type of shark behavior we should encourage.

4. During the struggles between injured sharks that are fighting for for their lives and [inebriated] fishermen trying to return the sharks to the ocean, the chances of someone being bitten are almost inevitable.

5. Some of the injured sharks will not have the strength to swim far away and will be hanging around in the shallow water. Sharks normally go out of their way to avoid people, but a desperate, injured animal can be dangerous to unsuspecting to swimmers.

Are these the types of images of Delray Beach that we want to portray to our citizens or tourists?
We do not want or need the negative press that will surely ensue when a beach goer is bitten while enjoying our waters. Even a scratch or small bite by a shark makes the news as a"Shark Attack".

These fishermen are actively recruiting new members, which will bring more fishermen and sharks to our waters and more bloody sharks onto our beaches. Having bloody sharks on the beach is again, not an image that Delray Beach wants to promote. Newspapers and TV stations will get wind of these developments and will display these horrific images to their viewers and readers.

As you know, Delray Beach is a coastal tourist community that depends on the ocean and the life in it. It is an outrage that we would allow such blatant disregard and disrespect for our coastal environment. The shark fishing activity that this club is promoting paints a very ugly picture of Delray Beach, is potentially dangerous to our residents and tourists and is just all around a bad idea.

Other reasons why allowing this activity to continue in Delray Beach is a bad idea:

1. Sharks are seriously threatened due to overfishing:
* Over 150 shark species are on the IUCN list of endangered species. Nineteen shark species are prohibited under Florida law. It's clear from our conversations with members of this club that these fishermen are not able to identify the shark species they're catching, nor do they care.
* Populations of many shark species have been reduced by over 90% in the past 30 years (over 100 million killed per year worldwide -- mostly for shark fin soup).
* 80-90% of all shark populations just in the Atlantic have been reduced to levels that scientists believe can never recover.

* As apex predators, sharks are absolutely vital to the ocean's ecosystem -- they maintain the balance in the oceans. Without sharks the oceans die.

2. Shark meat is highly contaminated with mercury and other toxins, yet this group is promoting consumption of shark meat and even have recipes posted on their website. The 2008 publication titled "Your Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Florida" says the following with regard to sharks (page 21):

For all Florida coastal waters, all shark species:

* Sharks less than 43 inches
- Women of child bearing age and young
children - DO NOT EAT
- Everyone else - Limit to one serving per month

*Sharks 43 inches or more
- Women of child bearing age and young
children - DO NOT EAT
- Everyone else - DO NOT EAT


3. Monday June 8th is World Ocean's Day.
At this time more than ever we need to promote and share the beauty of our ocean environment and educate young people about the importance of respecting and saving these vital resources.

Delray Beach is wonderful, beautiful and vibrant community.
We love living here and greatly appreciate all the hard work that you and your colleagues have done to make Delray a great place to live and visit.
We want to keep it that way and we're sure that you do too! This is why we are urging you to institute a ban on shark fishing on Delray's Beaches as quickly as possible.

Thank you for you attention to this matter.
Please feel free to contact us anytime.


Bless the author for having been eloquent, extremely well documented, convincing and polite. This is pretty much the case in point for what we said a while ago - just much much more intelligent and better presented!

And what's going on is much much worse and obscene than I could have ever imagined! I didn't know that people like that even existed!
More disgraceful pics of the drunken mob parading the Sharks if you go through the forums in the above website.

Abomination 2.0

250 bucks!

That's the weekly prize for killing the biggest Shark in Destin's month-long Fishing Rodeo.

The reasoning behind the new division is “to get more people fishing in Destin,” said Rodeo Executive Director Helen Donaldson.
With the lack of red snapper on the boards for the Rodeo, due to the closure of the fishery as of Aug. 15, the new category was birthed.
“We were just looking for a way we can help the charter boats,” said Rodeo board member Tim Broom. “And not having the red snapper, we needed something else to fish for that will draw excitement. “And a shark on the docks creates more excitement than any other fish,” Broom said.
“I think it will be a good time,” said Capt. Bud Miller, a Rodeo board member and captain of the Melanie Dawn. “And I think it will draw a big crowd when the Rodeo needs one,” he said. “You’ve heard it said, ‘People will step over a 1,000 pound blue marlin to see a 200 pound shark,’ — and they will,” Miller said.
Lemon and nurse shark are not eligible as well as any other shark that is state or federally protected.
However, shark that are open game are Bull, Mako, Hammerhead and Tiger to name a few.

Just great!
Thing is, they should know better. Apparently, this particular Shark killing event had already been discontinued due to the lobbying by one Gail Powell. But the local Chamber of Commerce, in their wisdom, think otherwise.

"I think the national spotlight is a good thing," said Shane Moody, president/CEO of the Destin Chamber of Commerce. "These people who threaten protests, were they in Pensacola when they had their shark tournament? Why are they singling out Destin?"

Indeed, why?
Did I say because yer a bunch of Shark murdering morons? Of course not!

Looks like another chance for the good folks from the Shark Safe Project to capitalize on their recent success in Ft. Myers - this time aided by a local Shark conservationist. Yes, like a prominent Shark person just wrote, Here we go again!! Its like pigs in a sac -get one and another jumps out!!

Welcome to the wonderful world of Shark conservation!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Daniel - Photographing the Rainbow

Check out this slide show.

This is the art of Daniel Botelho, one of Brazil's foremost underwater photographers.
Anybody who knows about Brazil, its colors and above all, the Carnival can see what inspired him to seek images featuring this unique color saturation - and yes, Photoshop probably helps. Totally reminds me of the venerable Kodachrome 25!

Last year, Daniel did a really short 3-day stint with us on his way back from snorkeling with the Humpback Whales in Vava'u.
We like to get to know people before placing them closer to the Sharks and to his credit -and I mean it- he understood where we were coming from and graciously accepted having to sit in the guest viewing area like everybody else. But he's coming back next year and will undoubtedly be allowed to migrate to a more advantageous position. Soft-spoken and modest, he's a real pleasure to work with.

Despite of the constraints, he managed to capture some great shots which you can admire in this small portfolio - on top of becoming the darling of the local Kava merchants and consequently, of our staff!

Well done Daniel - it's been a privilege meeting you!

Breathtakingly elegant and beautiful!

A woman has been killed by a Shark in the Red Sea.

According to this news flash, the Shark was an Oceanic Whitetip.
I was impressed by the official reaction. Much of what is being said makes perfect sense and the snorkeling and night diving ban is exactly what we have in place on Shark Reef, along with the rule that all tourists be supervised by experienced dive guides and that they descend and ascend along the reef. Not happy about the total chumming ban (cages being the logical alternative) but the Law is the Law and needs to be respected.
All-in-all, this is exactly how such an accident needs to be handled and big Kudos to the authorities for having done so.

I've gone rummaging for footage from those sites and have come up with the following two clips.
If only all Sharks were so easy to approach! And look at how gracefully they maneuver in total 3D: absolutely stunning!

I've never quite managed to dive with Oceanic Whitetips myself and chances for that are becoming slimmer by the day as this is one of the species most affected by the Shark fishing industry.

Can you guess why they have those conspicuous white tips on their fins?
I wasn't able to find the original paper (Myrberg, Arthur A., Jr. 1991. Distinctive Markings of Sharks: Ethological Considerations of Visual Function. J. Exper. Zool., Suppl. 5: 156-166) but this fascinating paper about possible explanations for the coloration of Whale Sharks carries this synopsis of Myrberg's assumption that they may be a case of aggressive Mimicry.

Myrberg’s (1991) examination of the functional relevance of the huge white tipped fins of the oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, clearly demonstrates this concept.
His ‘spot-lure’ theory describes how the silhouette of a nearby oceanic whitetip is easily seen; but from a distance the body’s silhouette becomes indistinct and only the moving white-tipped fins (‘spots’) remain visible. An observer would see a ‘pack’ or a ‘school’ of small, white objects moving closely together at a distance.
Oceanic whitetips are known to prey upon some of the fastest oceanic predatory fishes and it is unlikely they could chase down or sneak up on them in open water. Since many small prey fish are lightly coloured and move in schools, it is postulated that predatory fish would likely investigate by moving toward such ‘prey’. The scenario is that the whitetips spots lure faster moving prey to a distance where the shark’s rapid acceleration could overcome veering by the predatory fish.
Evidence is also provided that young oceanic whitetips hide their lures, as they may attract predators, by wearing a transitional ‘costume’ of black tipped fins.

Isn't that just amazing?
Anyway - Enjoy!

Drew: Kudos!

Pic by Daniel Botelho

I just stumbled upon this old thread on Wetpixel.

Same topic, same perpetrators, same rubbish, same conclusions - and great moderation!
Required reading!

Drew, whoever you are, kudos for doing an excellent job!
This time, we'll try & do better in the follow-up!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Back on Message

Another 1 of Sasha's unbelievable images! Click on it!

Thank you Underwater Thrills!

The discussion about what was intended as a post about Shark diving media, how we, the operators must act as stewards and gate keepers and how we miserably failed to do so in Fiji got derailed and quickly morphed into a petty mud slinging contest.

Not that I'm surprised: the Shark universe is populated by uniquely abrasive and strong personalities and in the present case, it was all too easy to interpret it as the attempt by one operator to rubbish his direct competitor.
Like in many other locations, there is a long history in which they are the "pioneers" and we, the "wannabees and interlopers" who "mooched" from them. The whole story is of course much more nuanced (and ugly) but the end result is that we often behave like squabbling children despite of our resolve not to debase ourselves by engaging in petty brawls in the gutter. Not something anybody wants to get embroiled in, not something anybody can be proud of and something I've sworn to try and avoid. Yes, the learning curve has been pretty flat - but there has been progress and this, too, will blow over as always.

Alas, it is the pure mechanics of the present event that have led to this unfortunate situation.
Our focus had been to prevent Gurney from ever entering the country and we had concentrated on talking to the relevant authorities and associations and then, to the liveaboard they had contacted. We were actually very confident that they would heed our warning and agree that we had to put a stop to the shenanigans and were thus completely unprepared and quite frankly shocked when it then ended up playing out as it did. And angry!

In that context, I'm particularly thankful to Patric for having reverted the discussion to its core message: the despicable anti-Shark rubbish producers like Gurney pitch and Discovery fund and then air, and the role we the operators, other enablers and the filming industry can, and need to play in order to prevent it from happening in the future.

I was happy to hear that several well-meaning, intelligent and passionate people out there are already working on various tangible initiatives aimed at reaching that goal.
I cannot really talk about it, the more as I don't know the details - but my hunch is that it involves coming up with better programs but also, coaching and empowering the operators.

Regardless of the end result (it won't be easy, it never is), that in itself is progress.
And if our rants have made a useful contribution to that discussion, we are quite happy to weather any resulting backlash - as there undoubtedly will be.

Shark diving is evolving at a staggering pace and this is but one small step in that process.
Yes there have been quite a few setbacks but overall, the direction is clear: as an Industry, we need to assume responsibility for protecting the Oceans we love and from which we derive our sustenance.

The big Gorilla in the room is of course the seemingly insatiable appetite for Shark fins and the resulting slaughter of Sharks. I've blogged about it before, the likely solution will have to be some sort of a compromise.

But we're just to small for tackling the Gorilla.
Our personal contribution to finding solutions consists in trying to help change perceptions - and trying to have the media depict a more positive image of Sharks is part of that effort.
We also believe in promoting small-scale Conservation that will help preserve and regenerate stocks until bigger and better funded NGOs and Governments agree to put in place better, comprehensive and Conservation-oriented legislation. Luckily for us, Fiji has already firmly embarked on that route.
Thirdly, we believe in sponsoring research that will provide the data required for that process.
And finally, we believe that we need to involve the local stakeholders and the Country that hosts us as this is the only way we will be able to achieve sustainable and enduring results.

This would be us - others have different priorities and aims.
Good to be back on message.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Feeding Tiger Shark - 2

This time from Fiji!

Shark Diver have discovered this astonishing document which carries the description this video was shot in February 2008 in Fiji by a guy I know. They throw dead horse and cows in the ocean, so sharks will eat them (Fiji is small so they'd rather have sharks take care of the bodies instead of burying them. Nice video, a bit gruesome. Enjoy!

Difficult to say where it was shot, tho the sizable piece of land in the background may indicate that it was off one of the main islands.
Anyway, very cool!

As per my comment on Underwater Thrills, there's plausible but so far unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence that Fiji's Tiger Sharks have learned to capitalize on the periodic floods during the wet season by aggregating at the river mouths.

2009 is the year where our Bull Shark research is gradually been extended to the principal rivers. It will start with TEK, i.e. obtaining Traditional Ecological Knowledge through interviews with the local population. Promising rivers will then be analyzed to a greater degree, mainly with the aim of identifying the local Bull Shark nurseries. For that, we will selectively deploy acoustic receivers coupled with the tagging of pregnant females.

The Tiger Shark aggregation being a testable hypothesis, we may well decide to go ahead and divert a couple of tags and put them on our Tigers instead. Not decided yet (that's up to Juerg), but I shall keep you posted as things unfold. As always, it's going to be a matter of priorities and of available resources both in terms of money and time. Keep in mind that research money is scarce, Juerg is already mega-busy without having to add yet another species and also, that we're trying to run a dive shop on top of that all.

But I sure would like to do it!
As always, keep watching this space!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Nonsense - but for a good Cause!

This reminds me of that trip to Wolf and Darwin.

We had chartered the venerable Sulidae (more than a century old - and cabin 6 in the stern castle with its multicolored windows is just plain amazing - very retro! The only thing missing is a lava lamp!) for a special charter to the northern Galapagos and had been put under the tutelage of the compulsory naturalist guide provided by the Darwin Station, a real delightful and funny guy called Carlos.

Carlos was a great stickler for discipline and strict protocols, and he started off by having us undergo a thorough check-out dive which consisted in freezing off our collective bums somewhere near Baltra whilst proving that we were able to face the most rigorous challenges diving would throw at us. Which incidentally resulted in some truly epic footage of Valerie Taylor being tested in the arcane art of clearing one's mask - all gleefully recorded for posterity by her loving husband.

So weighed, tested and not found wanting, we all had a wonderful time despite the ubiquitous Garua, saw tons of humongous Whale Sharks, made friends with that pack of Galapagos Sharks on that corner of Wolf, drifted into enormous schools of Hammerheads and Silkies and generally drove Carlos crazy by never, ever, ever keeping to anything that could even remotely be described as a responsible buddy diving system. Poor Carlos gave up the valiant fight halfway through the trip - and ended up telling us that he had experienced some of the best dives of his life as a consequence!

Anyway, on the way back, we stopped at Isla Bartolomé and went ashore to take some pics of the Penguins and Sea Lions, only to have Carlos chastise us when we started unpacking our strobes. That was apparently strictly forbidden and when questioned about the reasons, he proceeded to lecture us about the fact that strobe light would cause permanent damage to the vision, but above all, to the developing embryos of the pregnant Sea Lions!
At which Valerie quietly took him to one side and whilst lauding his zeal, gently explained that he should stop making up such nonsense as it was completely destroying his credibility and defeating the aims of what he was trying to achieve.

I was reminded of Carlos when I found this article.

In it, an equally valiant Filipino fisheries official is trying to promote Whale Sharks as the "heroic" ultimate saviors of a bay infested by pollution and a Red Tide of Harmful Algal Bloom.
I can see that what he is really trying to achieve, is to convince the local fishermen that Whale Sharks are useful and thus worthy of protection. In a way, that's smart pro-Conservation marketing using a local calamity as a pretext.

That is, until one starts to examine the details.
Of course, Whale Sharks are not giant mammals - but let's be generous and attribute that to an editorial mistake.
But "Plankton" is not simply "Plankton" and Whale Sharks eat Zooplankton, not algae. Here, we're talking about a persistent and apparently, toxic algal bloom which is said to be triggered by pollution - hardly the kind of meal that would motivate an army of Whale Sharks to hone in for a feast!
Whale Sharks are not just dumb biological water purifiers that roam the Oceans, mouth wide agape, in the hopes that something useful may end up getting swept inside - they are selective and rather "smart" active predators of Zooplankton and small Fish that have developed efficient hunting techniques and periodically aggregate in areas featuring high concentrations of other suitable nourishment like Coral and Fish spawn.

I would also dare to venture the presumption that the assertion that they are immune to toxins which are lethal to humans is a "Carlos", a daring and spectacular assertion that has been made up on the fly.

In fact, it's not even very plausible.
I did google "Red Tide dead Fish" and have come up with 1,240,000 entries talking about the toxicity of Red Tides to Vertebrates. There's no reason to assume that Evolution would have selected for a largely oceanic Carnivore to have developed an immunity to a largely coastal phenomenon involving plant-like matter - the more as most coastal Fishes for whom the selective pressure would have to be higher haven't managed to do so, this probably owing to the rarity of those tides.

Much rather, I would think that a Whale Shark venturing upon a cloud of toxic algae would sense its taste, keep its mouth closed and simply swim somewhere else.

But I shall be happy to be proven wrong!
Anybody out there who knows?