Monday, April 30, 2012

Great Fiji Shark Count - last Day!

Nice article in the Fiji Times!
I had to laugh out loud when I read the descriptions of this month's Great Fiji Shark Count by Helen and our Nani: encouraging and interesting signify that alas, much of this month has been affected by the floods and then, the really horrible weather and that as a consequence, many operators in the Coral Coast, the Mamanucas and the Yasawas have only been able to properly unleash in the past week or so. But having said that, feedback from the other islands has been stellar and of course Pacific Harbour will contribute a plethora of sightings.

Among them, this totally unexpected find.
We saw it from the boat off Frigate's Passage right under the surface, and due to its spectacular coloration, the ID is pretty much unequivocal, the more as I've seen heaps of them in Cocos.
Check it out, here from the Azores - what a beautiful animal!

But I'm digressing as always.
The next week is devoted to obtaining all the sighting reports from the participants and then Helen and a gaggle of volunteers will embark on the tedious task of analyzing and formatting everything before passing it on to Christine. Expect a first informal analysis at the Dive Fiesta and a proper review in a few months.

Once again, thank you so much to the partners and sponsors.
The latter are are, in no particular order, the Shark Foundation, Ocean Soaps, Shark Savers, Save our Seas Foundation and yes, also the Shark Reef Marine Reserve which is the conservation brand of BAD.
And a huge thank you to Helen, Christine and Stuart - and to Nani, too!

So here's to the GFSC 1.2 in November.
Le roi est mort - vive le roi!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Viking Alert!

Check out the pic - scary, scary stuff!

Yes the BAD Viking is due soon!
We're still negotiating this year's terms of reference because a lot of things that were possible in 2009 cannot anymore be replicated, especially the camping out in the infamous pit - but we've developed some other equally exciting gigs for the professionals and I can't wait to let her experience the many changes and above all, the seemingly ever increasing numbers of Bulls!

In the meantime, check out this post.
It documents Lill's remarkable talent and versatility and I must say, I'm really looking forward to her contribution to the ongoing wallpaper challenge. There are more and more pics populating that category and with Peter having set this year's standard, she sure has her work cut out for her!
Anyway, enjoy Lill's pictures!

Great pic - but single Bull Sharks are so yesterday...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting there!

For Georgina: Peter is working real hard - click for detail! :)

Poor Peter!
He's been rained in solid for the past ten days, and the viz has been oscillating between crap and impossible.

BUT, things are finally improving!
The viz today was OK and we were finally able to get him face-to-face with some real biggies - and this is the result. Once again, I am totally impressed, this is about as good as it gets, especially considering that conditions are still far from ideal!
Click for detail!

AND the weather will remain rather stellar.
Just for the record, I'm posting tomorrow's weather chart because somebody has repeatedly doubted my impeccable weather forecasting skills, a fact that shall not be forgotten!

And on Saturday and Sunday, it will be equally great.
If you're in Fiji, this is the weekend to come and count Sharks!
So what are you waiting for!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cocos Video!

El Gran Rodeo II. Acrylic and Oil on canvas. 45in by 104in. 2009, by Carlos Hiller

I really did like this one!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Best Job in Shark Conservation, period!

With Matt sadly leaving, his position is being advertised.

If you care about Shark conservation, this is as good as it gets.
As amply proven since 2010, Pew got the clout, the money and the know how to affect policies at a global level and whoever will take on this position will be truly in the driving seat of what has been the most effective Shark management and conservation initiative ever.

But, you sure gotta bring heaps to the table.
The advertisement is here and it contains a whole array of unequivocal prerequisites that will quickly filter out the chaff from the wheat - one thing is certain, passion and activism alone will certainly not fly!

But if you got what it takes, go for it!
Best of luck!

Stranded Blue Shark!

Thanks guys!
Nice to see her swim away!

A blue shark stranded on a beach chasing kahawai in Palliser Bay, South Wairarapa, New Zealand, on Easter Sunday, April 2012. It couldn't get itself back into the sea.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Shark Populations: Rate of Decline, Rebound Potential and Conservation Strategies!

Fiji's Sharks - still in relatively good shape, especially in the SRMR!

Great post by David!
It ties in with this and describes various ways in which researchers try to document the rate of decline of Shark stocks. The takeaway message: all methods are prone to errors - but regardless of the method, all results indicate that in most areas that have been surveyed, Shark stocks have undergone sometimes precipitous decreases.
This as always with the caveat that the numbers vary considerably depending on species and locations, and that there are many areas that have not been properly surveyed. The biggest threat to Sharks is clearly overfishing but they are obviously equally subjected to all other anthropogenic threats including, and here I differ with David, the depletion of their prey. Yes due to the complexity of food webs, it has not been specifically documented - but to me, it never the less remains a highly plausible hypothesis.

Enter this new paper by Christine Ward-Paige et al.
Yes that would be she of the Great Fiji Shark Count - and obviously, the paper is just great!


Many elasmobranchs have experienced strong population declines, which have been largely attributed to the direct and indirect effects of exploitation.
Recently, however, live elasmobranchs are being increasingly valued for their role in marine ecosystems, dive tourism and intrinsic worth.
Thus, management plans have been implemented to slow and ultimately reverse negative trends, including shark-specific (e.g. anti-finning laws) to ecosystem-based (e.g. no-take marine reserves) strategies. Yet it is unclear how successful these measures are, or will be, given the degree of
depletion and slow recovery potential of most elasmobranchs. Here, current understanding of elasmobranch population recoveries is reviewed. The potential and realized extent of population increases, including rates of increase, timelines and drivers are evaluated. Across 40 increasing populations, only 25% were attributed to decreased anthropogenic mortality, while the majority was attributed to predation release. It is also shown that even low exploitation rates (2-6% per year) can halt or reverse positive population trends in six populations currently managed under recovery plans.
Management measures that help restore elasmobranch populations include enforcement or near-zero fishing mortality, protection of critical habitats, monitoring and education. These measures are highlighted in a case study from the south-eastern U.S.A., where some evidence of recovery is seen in Pristis pectinata, Galeocerdo cuvier and Sphyrna lewini populations.
It is concluded that recovery of elasmobranchs is certainly possible but requires time and a combination of strong and dedicated management actions to be successful.

The take-away message?

A. Recovery is possible.

As per S. Smith et al., it is (obviously) easiest for smaller, short lived coastal Sharks whereas it is hardest for larger long lived coastal species, with pelagic species in the mid range. Whereas some of the smaller Sharks and Rays have principally profited from the demise of their predators (= so-called predator release), some larger species have experienced modest increases that are attributed to successful management and conservation strategies. These are the graphs for the Tiger Galeocerdo cuvier, the Smalltooth Sawfish Pristis pectinata and the Scalloped Hammerhead Sphyrna lewini from the South-Eastern USA - click for detail.

B. Even the slightest fishing pressure will greatly delay or even reverse the recovery.

Here are models for the population growth rates for the Grey Nurse Carcharias taurus, Great White Carcharodon carcharias, Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus, Smalltooth Sawfish Pristis pectinata and the Whale Shark Rhincodon typus assuming different, incidentally very low mortality rates - click for detail.


For example, the recovery strategy for C. maximus has deemed that 10–17 mortalities per year across the entire population of 321–523 individualsto be acceptable (McFarlane et al., 2009).
This equates to an anthropogenic mortality rate of A ≈ 0·03, which would cause the population to decline according to present results (A > 0·023 caused a decline); however, McFarlane et al. (2009) used the maximum rv values (0·032–0·040) from the range of known life-history characteristics, while that used here (rv = 0·025, Table II) is more conservative. Even with an anthropogenic mortality rate of A = 0·02, the population would take c. 139 years to double, and even longer to recover to pre-exploitation levels.

Similarly, C. taurus in New South Wales, Australia, has failed to increase despite being legally protected from fishing since 1984 (Otway et al., 2004).
Because this population consists of only 300 individuals (Otway et al., 2004), an anthropogenic mortality rate of A < 0·05 or less than 15 individuals per year is required to allow for the population to increase, fewer than the estimated 14–20 per year that are killed by fishing and beach netting (Dulvy & Forrest, 2010).
Can you see why conservationists are so angry?

C. Management and Conservation strategies must be multi-faceted, this because single strategies are often inadequate.
This will be the topic of a forthcoming post.


Species-specific Conservation

Species-specific international and national instruments exist as a last resort to conserve individual species by identifying and listing those species at risk of extinction and implementing strategies to secure their long-term survival (Camhi et al., 2009).
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which provides species-specific conservation status at the global scale, has identified 67 elasmobranch species as critically endangered or endangered (Simpfendorfer et al., 2011). Other international instruments that aim to conserve threatened species, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES; php) and the CMS have recently listed a number of elasmobranch species, including C. carcharias, R. typus and C. maximus on both instruments, and L. nasus, spiny dogfish Squalus acanthias L. 1758, longfin mako Isurus paucus Guitart 1966 and shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus Rafinesque 1810 on CMS (CMS, 2005). All Pristis spp. are listed under CITES Appendix I or II. Some elasmobranchs are also included on national instruments, including the C. taurus, C. carcharias and R. typus on the Australian EPBC, C. maximus on the Canadian SARA and P. pectinata on the U.S. ESA.

Despite progress in providing legal protection to some species at risk of extinction, there are limitations that can prevent the success of these strategies.
These include: the challenge of establishing the extent of population decline and thus a proper assessment of the risk status (Marcus et al., 1999; Ferretti et al., 2008, 2010; Ward-Paige et al., 2010; Nance et al., 2011), hesitation to list species (Camhi et al., 2009, Lack & Sant, 2011), enforcement complexities such as distinguishing prohibited species from look-a-like species (Shivji et al., 2005) and monitoring remote areas (Graham et al., 2010), limited use of non-lethal monitoring techniques that inform about protected species (Domeier & Nasby-Lucas, 2007; Rowat et al., 2009; Bansemer & Bennett, 2010; Ward-Paige et al., 2010; Ward-Paige & Lotze, 2011), and a lack of information about life history, critical habitat and population dynamics at low abundance (Simpfendorfer, 2000, Kinney & Simpfendorfer, 2009; de la Parra Venegas et al., 2011).
Due to elasmobranchs’ low rate of recovery, the success of species-specific conservation initiatives might take decades to be fully revealed.

Based on the first decade(s) of legal protection for elasmobranchs the success of these initiatives is not encouraging.
For example, C. taurus in southern Australia have been legally protected from fishing since 1984, but incidental hooking rates remain high (Bansemer & Bennett, 2010) and populations continue to decline (Otway et al., 2004).
Rhincodon typus in Australia also continue to decline in both abundance and size (Bradshaw et al., 2007) despite being protected by CMS, CITES and EPBC.

While the success of these species-specific instruments for elasmobranchs remains to be seen, they almost certainly require long-term commitments, e.g. beyond species’ generation times, and should be combined with other conservation strategies such as no-take areas, habitat restoration and by-catch mitigation.

Here are Christine's recommendations.

Successful recovery of elasmobranch populations requires a long-term commitment with strong, dedicated management. The best strategy for elasmobranch recovery might be a multi-faceted conservation approach that includes
  • (1) science-based management and near-zero fishing mortality,
  • (2) clear and enforced anti-finning prohibitions and novel approaches (e.g. fin possession bans) to curb finning in unmanaged fisheries,
  • (3) enforced MPAs or shark sanctuaries that cover a range of habitat types used by elasmobranchs in different life stages,
  • (4) strong conservation and restoration initiatives for critical habitats and aggregation sites such as nurseries, breeding grounds and migration routes,
  • (5) legally binding legislation with a more rapid response that gives species the protection they need before population abundances decline to dangerously low levels and
  • (6) raised public and political awareness to reduce demand and increase support for conservation initiatives.

Since 2000, knowledge of elasmobranch biology and their population status have drastically improved, but there is still only localized evidence of rebuilding populations.
Proper management needs appropriate recovery targets, good life-history information, accurate population assessments and precise taxonomic descriptions. Development and implementation of cost-efficient, long-term and broad-scale monitoring of different conservation strategies, e.g. shark sanctuaries, is needed. Because a large portion of the shark trade is illegal, unregulated and unreported, it cannot be the sole responsibility of conservation and management agencies, but also that of fishermen and the general public to raise awareness, promote good practices and curb demand for shark products.

Could not agree more - as I said, great stuff!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Picture from the Shark Pen!

Just got the above in the mail.

So here's to Jillian and Duncan!
I've said it before, these are real good people.
Always true to their calling, they've tied the knot in what very much appears to be one of Doc's Shark pens.

From all of us at BAD, all our love and as they say here, a Happy Long Life!
And plenty of sharky adventures!

The Fiji Shark Diving Paper - excellent Media!

Our Bulls - worth millions to the local economy!

Great outreach by Pew!

Having checked, the Fiji paper is all over the global media.
Here in Fiji, it has made the Fiji Times twice: in this short piece where I was particularly happy to find a statement of support by Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association president Dixon Seeto; and in this article where Helen once again points out the current decline of Sharks in Fiji and the absolute need to protect them right away.
One thing is certain: FJD 75 million in fully sustainable yearly revenues from tourism are certainly not something the Nation wants to ever put at risk!

And whilst I was rummaging, I also found this.
It is about my recent Shark talk and I must say, it is nice to see one of Fiji's most prominent conservation NGOs post an objective report.


PS one more Fiji Times article here!

Great Fiji Shark Count - post by SOSF!

Fiji Bulls - great shot by Peter Verhoog despite of dismal conditions!

I must say, I am really impressed.

What Peter Verhoog has produced is nothing short of miraculous.
He is the CEO of the Save Our Seas Foundation that has been sponsoring Juerg's research for close to a decade and is currently one of the principal sponsors of the GFSC. Being also a prominent underwater photographer, he has traveled to Fiji to document the count but also, in order to get a first-hand look at our other activities.

Well what can I say, so far it has been challenging.
We've lost a week due to the floods and for the past several days, the weather and consequently, the viz have been dismal, alas with no real end in sight. There's however heaps of Sharks and people sure get to see them as we attract them close to the customers - but getting any useful shots is really terribly difficult as everything is dark dark dark and murky as hell.
I for one don't even bother to switch on the camera!

With that in mind, Peter's pictures are just simply stellar.
The attributes of real professional underwater photographers include getting the shot - and Peter sure delivers in spades, as only a very few others like Doug Perrine do!

You can admire Peter's pictures in this post on the SOSF website.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shark Diving in Fiji - here are the Numbers!

Shark diving - not only fun but extremely valuable, too!

Well it was about time!
After keeping it a closely guarded secret, Pew have decided to finally publish the study they commissioned last year and I must say that I am impressed and also mighty proud!

Executive Summary

We quantified the economic revenues generated by shark diving and the distribution of these revenues to the principal local stakeholders involved with the industry, including businesses, government and local community.

Shark-diving contributed US $42.2 million to the economy of Fiji, a sum composed of revenues generated by the industry combined with the taxes paid by shark-divers to the government.

This estimate was based on self-administered questionnaires designed to collect information on the costs and benefit of the shark-diving industry. We conducted the study in August/September 2011 and distributed questionnaires on the islands of Viti Levu (including the islands of Nananu-i-Ra and Beqa), Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Kadavu, the Yasawa and Mamanuca groups. Questionnaires were answered by 289 divers, 18 dive operators, six resort managers (surveyed at Pacific Harbour and Coral Coast only), 14 dive guides and nine local subsistence fishers from villages that regularly received payment from shark-diving operators for the use of the reef of which they are the traditional owners.

We took a conservative approach to all calculations in order to reduce the risk of over-estimating the value of shark-diving to the Fijian economy We calculated the economic revenue of shark-diving to Fiji based on three key pieces of information:
  • (1) Total number of divers visiting the country and the proportion of tourists engaged in dive activities from the Fiji International Visitor Survey 2009
  • (2) All expenditures of the divers visiting Fiji primarily to engage in shark-diving activities(“dedicated shark-divers”) as revealed by our surveys;
  • (3) The expenditures of divers who visited Fiji for reasons other than diving with sharks, but chose to engage in shark-diving while in the country (“casual shark-divers”) as revealed by our surveys.Expenditures of these divers were allocated as the proportion of their trip spent shark diving, rather than for their entire visit.
In 2010 we estimated that approximately 49,000 divers were engaged in shark-diving activities in Fiji accounting for 78% of the 63,000 divers visiting the country. Dedicated and casual shark-divers accounted for 24% and 54% of all divers we interviewed respectively.

The shark-diving industry contributed US $17.5 million in taxes to the government, a sum composed of corporate taxes from shark-diving (US $11.6 million) and the direct taxes from shark-divers (US $5.9 million).

A minimum of US $4 million was generated annually by shark-diving for local communities. This revenue consisted of salaries paid by the industry to employees (US $3.9 million annually) and community levies paid by dive operators to traditional owners in villages for access to reefs (US $124,200 annually). Employees of the dive industry were predominantly Fijian (13 of 14 dive guides who responded to surveys).

Community levies from shark-diving have played a significant role in promoting the conservation of reefs through systems of traditional ownership.

Viti Levu hosted the largest number of dedicated and casual shark-divers (17,000) with Pacific Harbour accounting for around 50% of the shark-divers, or approximately 8,600 tourists. The Mamanuca/Yasawa group also hosted a large number of shark-divers (11,000) while Vanua Levu/Taveuni hosted approximately 3,600. Kadavu had only 17% of divers identified as casual shark divers and no dedicated shark-divers interviewed during our survey.

Shark-diving generated approximately US $10.2 million on Viti Levu (63% of business revenues from diving) and US $3.2 million (40% of the business revenues) in the Mamanuca/Yasawa groups.

Yes I'm obviously biased.
But having witnessed the enormous effort and acribic number crunching of Gabe Vianna and Mark Meekan when they came to Fiji to collate the data I say, this is as good as it gets - and the real figures are probably even higher!
As a reminder, here is our own back-of-the envelope calculation for the contribution by BAD, once again probably too conservative.

Plus, this only looks at Shark diving.
Like I said e.g. here, I personally believe that the value of Sharks extends far wider, by preserving the health of Fiji's marine habitats and thus having a crucial importance for not only tourism in general but also local fisheries and the well being of our coastal communities.

You can find the entire paper here.
Required reading!

Hammerheads in the Rewa!

Releasing juvenile scalloped hammerheads back into the estuary after taking length, weight, and other measurements. Photo Credit: Kelly T. Brown

Nice to see Kelly looking at Fiji's rivers!

This ties in directly with what we found in 2009.
The result were a university report by Victor and then a proper peer-reviewed paper in 2010, plus
this feature on MaiTV. In essence, what Juerg and his co-authors have discovered is that most rivers harbor juvenile Bulls and that several feature juvenile Hammerheads in the estauaries.

This is really important information.
With the Sanctuary looming (fingers crossed!), Sharks in Fiji will hopefully be protected from targeted fishing - but with such a large percentage succumbing to incidental catches, we really need to get more information about Shark philopatry and hotspots, of which the nurseries are obviously one of the most important examples.

Juvenile HH, possibly Scalloped, caught and killed incidentally by fisherman, Navua River

Once we can determine the specific locations and time frames, we can then concentrate on establishing local seasonal fishing bans (prohibiting all fishing or maybe only specific gear etc), something that is much easier to attain compared to full no-take MPAs.

With that in mind, Kelly's research is a great beginning.
So best of success and also, best of luck in securing the necessary funding for making this an ongoing undertaking!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Way to go Rick!

Kudos and Vinaka Vakalevu to Rick MacPherson and Manoa Rasigatale of the Coral Reef Alliance for doing the right thing!

Fiji - two PSAs!

Shark Tourism - an important niche product in Fiji!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Listen carefully!

Senator Tony DeBrum is the Minister in Assistance to the President of the Marshall Islands.
This interview was given at the 17th Micronesian Chief Executive Summit in Guam. This is a preview of "Micronesian Voices for Sharks," an upcoming short film about the efforts of Micronesian people to protect their sharks.

And what about Fiji?

Matt, Thank You!

Matt doing what he does best, rallying global leaders behind the cause of Sharks

It is with great sadness that I hear that Matt Rand is leaving Pew.
Matt is one of those rare conservation people that combine leadership, vision, unassailable knowledge and meticulous attention to detail with the exact right amount of gut and passion and consequently, he has been one of the most effective advocates of Shark conservation with a track record that is second to none. This bio is likely to disappear, but Stefanie has posted a real nice little hommage which I invite you to read here.
And yes, on top of it, he's a real nice guy, too!

Here he is speaking from the Bahamas, one of his most spectacular successes.

Pew will be greatly diminished by his departure.
Their Global Shark Conservation Campaign does unite some excellent people and we can look forward to more great successes, some of which, I hear, may be revealed in the very near future. But at the same time, I equally have no doubt that Matt's vision and leadership that have been crucial in driving the past achievements will be sorely missed, not only at Pew but within Shark conservation in general. Whoever will be his successor will have some mighty big shoes to fill.

To Matt I say, Thank You and Godspeed in your future endeavors!
We all miss you already!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cristina, bravissima!

From Cristina's first blog post.

If you are in the position – based on experience – to question why you are asked to behave or not in a certain way and feel that the rules are not pertinent to you, then abort the dive and seek out a different operator that works better for your needs.
If you enter the water behaving against the instructions of the dive leader or operator, it is not only disrespectful, but could be dangerous, potentially jeopardizing your safety and that of others sharing your trip, the operator and the sharks.

Mamma mia - absolutely brilliant!!

But then again, I expected nothing less.
La Zenato is one of only a handful of people I totally respect for how they understand and handle Sharks. I've had the great pleasure of observing her on our dive and with our animals, and from day one is was glaringly apparent that she just got it, quel certo non so che.
Compared to the real Shark people, I'm still very much a rookie and as a consequence my opinion really doesn't count for much. But the boyz were blown away and even Rusi was totally impressed and can't wait for her to come back - and lemme tell 'ya, having had to personally labor for more than a year before earning my first smile from him, that really is the highest endorsement I can possibly think of!
In fact, he has asked Cristina to become our first and only guest feeder, ever!

Anyway, I'm digressing as always.
Enjoy Cristinas post here - and above all, pay close attention to what she's got to say because as always, it is as good as it gets!

Hell, No!

This is total bullshit!
It's not even remotely plausible (99% decline in Bull Sharks? I mean, seriously...), as quickly realized by the authors (?) themselves, and I cite.

Dive Tribe -Thailand Hmmm yes it would be nice to have sources where the information was obtained from & would any one like to give Amanda a quick insight into why sharks are important.
Thanks for all your comments - Team at DT.

Dive Tribe -Thailand Have to agree it's not that accurate ..If you need real hard data please try the IUCN Red List or Pew for better facts & figures. Still if it made new people aware of the danger sharks are in then it did its job !

Posting The Shocking Truth that gets re-posted by the usual echo chambers, only to then admit that you don't know where those numbers came from and that they are probably faulty only achieves one aim, to discredit you and everybody else who then goes and propagates this nonsense - but then again, when the great Guru of Sharkwaterism himself is quoted as saying that “The shark populations have gone down by 90 per cent. Nine out of every 10 sharks in the world have been killed,”, common mortals may be forgiven. The good news being that many in the comments thread are skeptical, meaning that there is definitely progress!
Guys, if you want to be taken seriously, be careful!

is the truth as we know it.
It's plenty bad enough - but there has never been a global census of those species, not in 1970 and not now, and the figures are quite obviously way off the mark. We will never really know - but every researcher I've ever talked to puts the global decline somewhere around the 50% mark (much more and much less depending on location) which would be absolutely staggering in its magnitude!

So let me quote myself - yes, again!

The facts and numbers?
Science is in continuous flux and the data do indeed change – but until they do, the latest peer reviewed science remains the best approximation of the truth.
Thankfully, there are now plenty of resources where anybody can consult the latest insights and data, meaning that those who continue to operate with inflated statistics and outlandish assertions lack any excuses and credibility whatsoever. The facts are plenty horrible as it is – so let’s please stick to those and refrain from the usual stupid inflated hyperbole!

Conservation is never happening in a vacuum - it is being used to advocate legislation that in its marine context will deprive fishermen of income and quite possibly, of their livelihoods. With that in mind, we owe it to them, but also, to ourselves not to cheat and to use misleading perceived "marketing", or whatever, but to be truthful and fact based instead.

The situation for many, if not most species of Shark is really, really dire and there's absolutely no need whatsoever to inflate numbers and to come up with ludicrous propositions like the moronic correlation to the ocean's production of oxygen.

And then there's this.
Assume we succeed in having laws enacted based on misleading data - what would prevent the legislators from repealing them once we got caught out?
Think we would ever get a second chance after such a fiasco?

Yes I know I know...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bait Ball: Pictures by the Master!

Masterful: feeding Bryde's Whale - click for detail.

Remember the bait ball video?
Now, there is a set of pictures that appear to be from the very same event - taken by the master of them all, Doug Perrine.

More pictures here.
Enjoy and be amazed!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trophy fishing for Sharks?

Dumpster full of Blue Sharks after fishing tournament - Long Island, NY

...these derbies provide significant socio-economic and educational value for the rural coastal communities? What possible educational value could come from killing and stringing up trophy Sharks?
Anyway, it'll be interesting to watch the finished product!

Here's the trailer.

I say, trophy tournaments are an abomination.
And I'm not only talking about Sharks! Targeting the biggest and oldest Fish that happen to also be the most prolific breeders, and this only in order to get immortalized, or whatever, in some record book is not only ethically reprehensible, it deprives the Fish stocks of their most valuable individuals.

The real culprits?
The IGFA and their record keeping which ultimately incites anglers to continue to target and kill mature pregnant females - and yes I'm very much repeating myself! Thankfully, some forward thinking anglers are starting to question that practice and more and more kill tournaments are being reformed - and there's even eco-shark- fishing businesses like this one!.

But in the end, it all depends on the IGFA.
If they want to remain current and relevant, they must finally do away with their weight records in favor of other non-lethal measurements - especially in the all-tackle category!

H/T: Shark Year Magazine.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

NSW Grey Nurse Sharks - WTF?

This Grey Nurse Shark is going to die.

The culprit?
Forget the individual fisherman - this is the direct consequence of Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson's decision to undermine the protection of the GNS in order to please her recreational angler friends.
The submission period has long closed, the results have long been published (analysis here) and despite of the unequivocal results, the NSW Government is still prevaricating citing the need for further consultations, or whatever.

This is what the public has demanded - click for details.

See any room for interpretation, or any need for further consultations?
What part of re-instate and increase the Grey Nurse Shark protection, now! do those people not understand?
Like in Queensland, it is time to hold them accountable.
Here are all the relevant e-mail addresses.

Oh and I nearly forgot: please be polite...
Or not!


Whale Shark by Sasha.

That's one BIG Whale Shark! Darwin?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Insane Cabo - for Lupo!

Sailfish by Lupo

Great Video!
Reminds me of an email my friend the Lupodiver sent me after bait balling with Sailfish!

So this is for you Lupo.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Great Fiji Shark Count - Fiji Times Article!

Good to see that Fiji's biggest newspaper is taking notice!

The article is here, nice job.
The weather is finally improving and the Nation is slowly digging itself out of the mess of the last weeks. Normal flight schedules have resumed and with the arrival of the first tourists, the count is now finally kicking into gear.

Our first Shark dive after the floods is going to be tomorrow.
I cannot wait to see what has happened in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve. All along the Coral Coast, thousands of sedentary and cryptic Fishes like Morays and Stonefish have been washed ashore after drowning in the sudden deluge of fresh water - but Shark Reef is approx one mile offshore so the hope is that the flood waters have been sufficiently diluted before reaching it.

I'm moderately optimistic.
I am a closet Fish geek and know every nook and cranny, and every single Fish there and will certainly do a quick census & report back. The Sharks are going to be fine, don't worry.
Fingers crossed and keep watching this space!

Horrific - this is happening in Queensland, right now!

Dugongs - harpooned and then drowned

Warning - graphic footage!

This was posted two years ago - story here.

The reaction?
The State and Federal Governments reactivated a national task force and called a round table meeting in November of that year.
And here is the result of those talks - story here.

Now, apparently, there is hope.
This latest report is apparently leading to investigations and the politicians are concerned - whilst once again faffing about and making no clear commitments, as can be clearly witnessed in this follow-up report by the ABC.

This is not about poaching or indigenous rights.
This is not even about conservation or sustainability - it is about the most basic tenets of compassion and humanity, and anybody who sees this and is not moved to take immediate action is just a heartless pig.

Those state officials are answerable to the public.
Do hold them accountable and do not let them get away with yet another round of gutless procrastinating.
E-mail addresses and info here.

Oh I nearly forgot: try and be polite...

Mermaid Minute!


Thursday, April 05, 2012

South Africa: one Submission, two Petitions - and plenty of Hypochrisy & frothy Activism!

SA Great White by Dirk Schmidt

Well well.
Fisher's South African caper is attracting plenty of interesting chatter and activism.

First, we got ourselves not one but two petitions! Yay!
Both have been created, or whatever, by one Chris Hartzell, another one of the token Californian Sesselfurzer that found it fit to publicly fart some rubbish during the Junior controversy. His expertise: occasional cage diving in Lupe to heroically document animals slamming into cages - and I will certainly leave it at that, the more as like his expert pronouncements, those petitions are nothing more than hot perfumed air and will achieve zero as usual!

But there is also a submission.
Yes I've posted the link because I find it rather good, albeit in places unnecessarily argumentative - and no I won't go into detail as overall, it's a valiant effort that needs to be commended, the more as it appears to have elicited some interest by Dr. Alan Boyd.
From what I understand, Boyd is the person who ultimately controls all permits including those of the researchers and commercial operators and thus the big honcho man nobody in his right mind wants to start messing with.
Frothy petitioning or no frothy petitioning, the final decision in this matter will be taken by him - so it's good that he is at least considering.

My prediction: the circus will go ahead.
Fisher is certainly crafty and appears to have it pretty much tied down by having obtained the active support of the SA Government's Department of Marine and Coastal Management for which Dr. Boyd works, and by having successfully roped in a whole gaggle of local researchers for whom the double temptation of perceived global fame and money has obviously proven to be irresistible.
It's a big, well coordinated effort, it has already been set into motion, plenty of Sharks have been tagged and plenty of tracks are already being published, and I just cannot imagine that Boyd will pull the plug now that things are so well under way - but who knows.

On a side note.
Among the researchers, I hear, Ryan Johnson, Enrico Gennari, Alison Towner etc.

Ring a bell?
Yes those three are among the authors of this paper about the damage caused by SPOT tags. To be fair, the paper examines sub-adult GWs where rapid growth may compound the problem, meaning that the effects on the adult Sharks which are apparently being targeted now may be less drastic. But I also read this
the effects of removing large (>450 cm) white sharks from the water in order to deploy SPOT tags are still unknown and should also be considered.

My personal call, so be it.
After what has happened in Lupe and California, I must say that I've come to equally despise Fisher's bombastic clamoring but also, the anal frothiness of the various SPOT tagging opponents.

Where I'm personally coming from is that I continue to hate the current technology.
For very personal and highly irrational reasons (= I love our Sharks) and very much despite of the following, I shall not enable any such research until the gizmos have been finally fixed.

But I must confess that I equally love the tracks and the insights that have been garnered from the tagging - and if they were perfectly honest, so do many of the detractors!
Having tried my best to educate myself and having had literally countless conversations (and heated debates!) with Shark researchers, I have been convinced that every one of them is acutely aware of the current misgivings and is honestly trying to develop better technical solutions.
But at the same time, the dire situation of global Shark stocks mandates that we find out as much as we can about their life history as fast as we can, and satellite telemetry is one of the most effective tools for obtaining many of those vital data. Depending on situation and species, this may well mandate the deployment of SPOT tags - and trying to decipher the multi-year migration patterns of GWs may just be such a case.

Fisher and his wandering freak show will move on.
But if Government and the researchers are smart (which is not a given!) and have read the fine print before signing away their life to crafty Chris, they will at least own the data that will hopefully result in new insights - and yes, hopefully in better protection as well!
Conservation of highly migratory species is obviously difficult - but as e.g. the GW research from the Eastern Pacific is revealing, there exist well defined migration highways and well defined activity hotspots and time frames, meaning that at least in theory, we can now concentrate on specific locations and enact seasonal fishing bans which is certainly much easier to achieve than blanket protection (Playa: hint hint...!).
The practical implementation will always remain the practical implementation with all of its many hurdles: but at least we are beginning to find out what will be most effective.

And in the specific case of SA?
I have no doubt that patterns will turn out to be similar - and who knows, now that Dr.Boyd is so much involved, may he even be developing a new appreciation of the resource he is tasked to manage? May he even become more accessible to the arguments of those who are fighting for the removal of the KZN Shark nets that are equally subject to the regulating power of the MCM?
Yeah I know I know... I'm now clearly faffing myself!

Kudos to Dirk Schmidt and against all odds, best of luck!

As always, we shall see shall we not!

PS exhaustive statement by Johnson/Fisher/Boyd here - and I must grudgingly admit, rather compelling as well!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Fiji - please help!

Fiji has been struck by the worst natural disaster, ever.
As I said, we are just fine and have been spared the worst, so please stop worrying - but lives have been lost, the towns in the West ravaged, villages and livelihoods obliterated and much of the infrastructure has been destroyed.
The Nation is in dire need of assistance.

The most effective help - come have a holiday.
Tourism is very much back in business and you will not suffer any inconveniences whatsoever but instead have a great time and add valuable income to the country's principal business sector and provider of employment.

And if you can't, please send money.
The PM has launched a flood relief appeal and funds can be sent to any branch of BSP, or the Bank of the South Pacific.
The account number is 4706578.

And this shit?
Trust the Ozzie media and the various interests to try and politicize the issue instead of simply saying the right thing and contributing to helping the people who are suffering, right here, right now. This is the time to assist and not to try and make political capital or whatever - simply disgusting!
This got nothing whatsoever to do with politics and from everything I have seen, every single cent you donate will go directly to where it is needed and zero will be embezzled or dilapidated in unnecessary bureaucracy. Everybody here is contributing and government is working tirelessly to bring relief where it is most needed - and if you don't believe me, ask anybody in the country!

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Douglas about Manta Rays!

Epic pic by Douglas David Seifert

From Doug's article.

The Chinese dried seafood market drives the fishing industries of ‘Third World’ countries.
Those fisheries cannot compete with the ‘First World’ fishing fleets for top-price Eastern (Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan) and Western (European, American and Australian) markets which demand fresh and flash-frozen seafood products – and compensate accordingly. Instead, they struggle to make a living with marginally seaworthy boats, manned by illiterate and unskilled labourers, which are slow on the water and spend long periods at sea. Their decks are the drying space for netted, hooked or harpooned sea creatures cut into prized parts to dehydrate under a blistering tropical sun. The fishermen work long hours for little pay and no comfort, the traders and merchants make all the profit on the voyage, and the formula works with ruthless efficiency and all too successfully.

One segment of the dried seafood business is devoted to fulfilling gourmet ingredients for Chinese gastronomy, such as sea cucumber for sauces and shark fins for soup; the other segment is what is known as the Traditional Chinese Medicine market, where dried seafood joins other desiccated plunder of the natural world: rhino horn, tiger penis, seahorse exoskeletons and the like. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine assert that these ingredients are therapeutic and have legitimate curative use; the 2,000-year history of Traditional Chinese Medicine cannot simply be dismissed due to Western prejudices. Science is ever evolving and although some may turn their noses up at animal ingredients used in medicine, no one can say with any certainty why some things appear to work for some people and some do not. (Before you scoff: just ask yourself why chicken soup is so often prescribed to combat a common cold in the Western world?)

What can be said is that if an ingredient or compound has not been recorded in the meticulously detailed, long written history of Traditional Chinese Medicine, then it is not a studied and recognized remedy.
The use of manta ray gill rakers has no recorded history as an ingredient in TCM in any of the literature. It is only being recommended now and in the past ten years by a new generation of entrepreneurs playing upon the fears and superstitions of an unsophisticated but suddenly affluent clientele. Manta gill rakers are sold as a miraculous ingredient of a cleansing tonic or soup. The vendor spins his or her tale of the incredible properties of the gills, using crackpot reasoning about filtering seawater. Surely, they claim, there is a benefit from this filtration – especially when considering the terrible air pollution over China’s cities. Or they bolster the immune system; or perhaps act as an anti-inflammatory; or as a cure for cancer; or the chicken pox or, or, or… fill in the blank.

The term ‘snake oil salesman’ has a long history associated with charlatans selling pseudo-science to a gullible public. Today, the snake oil salesman has been supplanted by the Chinese seller of manta ray gill rakers. Sellers of manta ray gill rakers do not even necessarily label them as such for the consumer. Often, the translation is ‘Peng Yu Sai’ or ‘fish gills’.

As always (and here!), this is as good as it gets.
When Doug Seifert broaches a subject, he only does so after meticulous research and his pieces are always an impressive combination of erudition and eloquence, and garnished with his very unique brand of spectacular pictures. Alas, the online edition of DIVE has done away with most of the pics - but the message and the information are once again a must read. Doug is on the Board of Shark Savers and as such, he is one of the sponsors of the epic Manta Ray of Hope project that tries to find solutions for the very issues addressed in his article.
Should you want to get involved, you can download their epic report right here.

To access Doug's article, you will have to register with DIVE.
It's free and it's easy, so please do. You will then be able to read the article here.


Loving them to Death?

The above is of course an extreme example.
But it illustrates the risks of opening up a site to tourism without proper protocols in place. The latest focal point in the never-ending controversy about the ecological implications of Whale Shark tourism, especially in those cases where the Sharks are actually being fed: Oslob, Philippines.

Here's Shawn Heinrich's report, and the video.

I'm obviously totally pro Shark tourism.
But I really can't say it often enough: ecotourism is only as good as the protocols that are put into place - and remember the Anthropogenic Allele Effect?
This is especially true when it comes to those multi-user sites where there is competitive pressure and self regulation tends to fail as a consequence. There, it often implies that the authorities step in with regulations, monitoring and enforcement.
Here's what I believe is an equitable look at another place.

And of course I'm not only talking about Whale Shark tourism - like an old broken record, I'm talking about the whole gamut, from "natural" sites like Hanifaru (!) but also Cocos, the Galapagos and Malapasqua all the way to the baited encounters like Tiger Beach where somebody must now step in and put an end to the ever escalating shenanigans!

And yes, and pigs will fly! :)

Monday, April 02, 2012

Chris Fischer in South Africa!

One of Klimley's Tiger Sharks?
Klimley says he demanded the production crew build a sling to hoist the sharks and a live well on the ship, in which to place them. Right.

I certainly don't like Fischer.

Larger than life persona?
Indeed, a loud-mouthed self promoter who has barged into the North American GW scene, severely tarnished Michael Domeier's reputation and to top it of, is now brazenly claiming all of Domeier's research achievements as his own.

Now, it appears, he has set his eyes on South Africa.
I fully expect yet another epic fiasco, the more as he's found yet another naive bunch of helpers in Ryan Johnson and Enrico Gennari of Oceans Research.
Johnson is of course none other than Nat Geo Wild's token Scientific Expert of Shark Experiment LIVE infamy and as such, probably not a great loss, not for academia nor otherwise. Like every single researcher before him that has pursued delusions of grandeur by serving as anchor of those pathetic shows, he will slide into academic irrelevance and be quickly forgotten.

But we shall see, shall we not!

Tuna Wars in the Pacific!

Southern Bluefin - now revealed as being Critically Endangered!

I still don't quite know what happened at the WCPFC meeting.
Probably nothing to be too happy about, if this wail by Greenpeace is anything to go by.

But then again, that's just what Greenpeace do.
They have decided to take on the Tuna industry, have published at least one rather good overview and post a lot of videos, of which the following is a more moderate example whereas this one is an unmitigated messaging disaster.

The industry is not taking it laying down.
It has countered with it's own anti-Greenpeace website and with polished videos like this one.

Personally, I find all of this rather unbecoming and little goal oriented.
If one remained rational, both sides should be able to cooperate as they should be striving for the same outcome, i.e. long term sustainability. But such is the nature of those fights: fishermen over-fish and NGOs over-dramatize and I'll certainly leave it at that.

Luckily, we don't have to care all too much.
Ultimately, neither Greenpeace nor the for Tuna fishing industry have any say in this - those who take the decisions are the members of the WCPFC.
But here is the bad news: the membership is not being limited to the owners of the resource, i.e. the countries within the boundaries of the area covered by the convention but has instead been extended to the notorious resource pillagers like Europe (=Spain!!!), the US, Japan, Taiwan and China. Can somebody please explain why those countries are being allowed to arrogate themselves the right to decide about the resources that do not belong to them? Is that the dark side of development aid?
The bad news is also, that this particular convention (Art.20) mandates decisions by consensus or failing that, by a complicated 3/4 majority, meaning that positive change is painfully hard to come by and can always be blocked by one of those countries that are not members of the Pacific Islands Forum.
The good news? The member states are free to legislate further-reaching measures within their territories, and the PNA have done just that, and this very much in favor of sustainability, and are now calling the big fishing nations to task, as do the more forward thinking and pragmatic NGOs - alas probably in vain.

Long story short?
As always, it is terribly complicated and I'm sure that I'm missing the finer points. Where I am coming from in this particular debate is that I certainly advocate preserving the Pacific's vibrant and profitable commercial fishing industry as a vital contribution to the islands' economies, this however strictly under the following guidelines.
  • the absolute need to focus on sustainability in order to preserve the industry for generations to come - and by this, I mean sustainability in the widest possible sense, very much taking into consideration issues like bycatch and other more general impacts on the ecosystem, etc
  • the absolute requirement to apply the precautionary approach (Article 6) whenever there is a debate
  • and like I said before, I believe that it is high time that the burden of proof be changed so that it would be the comparatively wealthy fishing industry having to invest the resources into science and monitoring and prove that what they do is sustainable, and not the cash-strapped authorities having to prove that it is not.
  • And if I really, really had it my way: I would tell those foreign fleets to just fuck off and those countries, to buy their Tuna from the Pacific Islands who own them!
But most urgently, those destructive practices must go.
The FADs are an ecological disaster, and I strongly invite you to read David's posts here and here and educate yourselves about just how bad they are. Seriously, read them: talk about an emotional initiative by the Dolphin geeks gone horribly wrong! And the long lining industry could do much better by finally adopting the various options for bycatch mitigation as e.g. mandated by the MSC - and incidentally, catch more Tuna in the process!

And to end this on a positive note.
This is completely bycatch-free, stunningly filmed by my pal Richard Wollocombe.

PS interesting article shedding some light on the negotiations here!
PS2 Pew synopsis, finally, here!
PS3 Tuna fishing ban lifted - remember?