Monday, September 15, 2008

Guadalajara Aquarium’s White Shark?

It's been the subject of much back chatter over the past few months. Will Mexico's Guadalajara Aquarium source and exhibit a Great White shark this year or not?

We first heard this news from a small group of interested NGO's from within Mexico last year. Now here's the first blog report:

Guadalajara Zoo’s New Aquarium in Jalisco, Mexico: $2.5 million addition to existing zoo with 95 species of fish. The main attraction is the aquarium’s great white shark, previously only temporarily exhibited successfully by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. No details on the Guadalajara Aquarium’s exhibit just yet...

Editors Note: It would be difficult to source any animal without someone knowing about it. The group of people with the first hand knowledge of an effort like about 30.

My best day ever diving with a great white shark

Some better news from the always forward thinking crew on the NEX. This is their trip report from last weeks turmoil on site. From the sounds of things it's not half bad out there w/o chum especially when you factor in a Lexan cage floor:

Location: Shark Bay, Guadalupe Island, Baja California, Mexico

Dive day 2 of this trip and it was a doozie. The Mexican navy frigate is still anchored on site in Shark Bay and we are getting to know the crew. They are good guys and very interested in the experience of diving with great white sharks. Heck, I think the great whites are even swimming around the back of their boat. The Captain of the frigate extended a very kind invitation to myself and the television crew that I am hosting onboard to go for a 2 hour steam with them to the south end of Guadalupe and then ashore for a tour of the island with the local NGO. I would have LOVED to have gone but it would have been irresponsible of me as Captain of the Nautilus Explorer to be off the ship, onshore 20 miles away, with a full load of guests and crew left behind.

DANG as I’ve never gone for a ride on a navy frigate before and the remote volcanic oceanic island of Guadalupe is always a fascinating place to go ashore. I consoled myself by taking our new submersible cage down for my first dive in it. It is very cool. The lexan deck is fabulous. When you climb down the ladder into the cage and look down, it is completely clear. There doesn’t appear to be anything between you and the bottom 250 feet below. I am definitely thinking about converting our other 4 cages to lexan decks as well!! And as I discovered during my dive, it is pretty amazing when a 15 foot great white shark swims by 1 foot underneath the cage and you have a clear and unobstructed view of him from VERY close up. Submerging the cage is a blast.

I made sure that my divers were ready and signalled ok to the deck crew. And then it was blow the ballast tanks with a big whhooossh and we were on our way down to 40 feet. What an amazing perspective - we could see the 4 other cages above us and the anchor line was clearly visible 125 feet in front of us. Best of all, a nice big 15 foot male great white shark showed up 2 minutes into our dive and started circling us. And circling us. I found it to be a very different experience from watching the sharks from the surface cages as it is obviously far more 3 dimensionable (is that a word??).

The pattern the white shark was following became clear and predictable after a while - he would circle tightly around us for 3 or 4 revolutions and then disappear off the front of the Nautilus. And then reappear in a tight vertical climb towards the boom and transom cages and do a close pass in front of those cages and then gliiiiiiiide down towards us, circle us another 3 or 4 times and then head off to the bow of the Nautilus again. Always more or less the same pattern with just small variations. Fascinating. And boy did this guy swim close to us - we could literally watch the pupil of his eye swivel back and forth as he swam past the cage (when you see a great white shark close up, you realize that their eye is not the black “hole” that it appears at a distance - there is very clearly a brown pupil surrounded by a lighter coloured background).. All too soon, our 40 minutes were up and it was time to put some air in the buoyancy tanks and be hauled up to the surface. What a great splash and my good fortune that Sten and Buzz decided to let me do a second back-to-back dive.

We’re happy to take 2 divers and divemaster in the submersible cage and I decided to ask the navy lieutenant who was onboard the Nautilus if he would like to go for a dive with me. It took him all of 30 seconds to chuck his khaki uniform and jump into the cage in his shorts!!! We blew the ballast tanks and went back down to 40 feet to find that the same shark was still hanging around. Our friend from the Mexican navy had a huge smile on his face and kept on reaching out to try and touch the white shark as it swam past. Today was a very good day and all of our guests are very, very happy.

Captain Mike

The Chumming Debate

From the Blog Gansbaai-News today the issue of "chumming" in South Africa. This is one of the better pro shark looks into this issue. It also highlights the need for pro industry PR:

Blood and Guts

Different perspectives on attracting sharks using chum and bait.

Perceptions are interesting, all depends on where you are coming from.

Underwater photographers always want that great photo, and here is veteran photographer, Steven Frink’s take on bait :

“Speaking of chum (called “burley” in this hemisphere, as in “hurly-burley”, as in “puke”), Rolf had the good stuff. Tuna gills full of blood and stomachs still holding sardines, plus a blood and tuna oil secret-sauce added to the mix. In my opinion, scrimping on bait on a white shark charter is a crime. One can spend thousands of dollars and days of their life travelling to where great white sharks are, spend big bucks on charter boats to find proximity to great white sharks, only to find yourself out at sea with desiccated fish carcasses that no self-respecting shark would eat. The right bait is a critical component of white shark photography.”

Steven also says:

“As important as the quantity was the quality of the action, for these were players. These sharks were not put off by bubbles, or proximity to the cage, or sunshine, or lack of sunshine, or the profile of the boat, or the size of the wave, or the colour of my jacket. All of these and more have been offered as excuses by various shark wranglers at various times in various places as to why the sharks won’t come close to the boat. But here we had good bait, sharks eager to take it, and savvy wranglers able to lure the sharks close to the cage.”

Steven Frink is based in Florida, USA and he is describing a trip he did to Australia.

It is worthwhile noting that Steven had been to South Africa twice between 2001 and 2004, and did not not get that special day. On the other hand, he had also got skunked in Australia. Twice. Third time lucky ? The point of this is not to try and compare Gansbaai with Port Lincoln.

The issue here is the chum and the bait. Clearly photographers like Steven want lots of nice bait, they demand it.Californian Sean Van Sommeran is a fierce critic of Gansbaai cage diving operations, particularly the way baits are used. His standard line is ” don’t feed the wildlife”.

He does not want baiting to take place, not because he thinks sharks are being taught to attack people, but because of possible entanglements and resulting injuries to the sharks.

Unlike Steven Frink, Van Sommeran has never been to South Africa or Gansbaai, he was mainly relying on what self styled ” shark researcher ” and “expert” Craig Ferreira was telling Sean’s “envoy”, or rather his buddy that then went back to California and gave Sean his own warped ideas.

Later Van Sommeran decided that well known False Bay operator Chris Fallows was doing it exactly right, and held Chris up as an example of how things should be done.

Ironically, and apart from towing a decoy at sunrise, the methods of Gansbaai operators and False Bay operators are identical. It seems Van Sommeran is extremely jealous of the fact that South Africa, and particularly Gansbaai became the number one White Shark destination in the world.

Van Sommeran claims to be concerned about the conservation of White Sharks and over the years had a great deal to say about how terrible the Gansbaai operations are, his main concern was injuries to White Sharks .

Yet, and this is very strange… In more than 10 years he has never ever said anything, not one single word about the biggest threat to White Sharks in South Africa.

The Natal Shark Board netting programme.

One of the biggest killers, if not the single biggest killer of sharks on the South African coastline. That is apart from turtles, whales and dolphins.

In 10 years .. Not one a singleword about this from Sean van Sommeran! He claims to know what is happening in South Africa.. Yeah right Sean.

In South African White Sharks Cage Diving operations the aim is not to create shark action by feeding the sharks.. On the contrary , the sharks are not fed.

The sharks do manage to steal baits, particularly if the sun is coming in at an angle and the water is murky. It is important to note that there is no feeding effort taking place, crews do their best to keep the sharks from taking the bait.

The University of Cape Town has an excellent Oceanography Department.

Their web site is here :

On this web site they have a poll :

“There is much debate surrounding the increase in shark attacks occurring around the coast of South Africa. A possible reason is that it is a result of the ‘baiting’ of sharks during Shark Cage Diving activities.

Do you think that Shark Cage Diving is responsible for the increase in Shark attacks?”

About 70% of participants voted Yes, that Shark Cage Diving is responsible for the increase in shark attacks.

Oops, but what is wrong here ?

Unfortunately there has been NO INCREASE.

Imagine , a well respected University Department of Oceanography , having a little poll on their web site based on factual mistakes.

This example illustrates the perceptions that are out there, and it is clear that the South African Cage Diving Industry need to increase their PR effort.

The truth of the whole matter is that the cage diving operators are actually restricted on the amount and type of bait they are allowed to use.

No part or blood from any mammal may be used. This includes all land animals as well as seals, whale blubber or any blood or part of any sea mammal.

The operators are restricted to fish , this mains mainly sardines and tuna. They are also restricted to how much ( expressed in kilograms) they may use on a given day. For now this is all that I am going to say about this issue, comments are welcome, and I am quite sure that this topic will be examined in full detail.

Editors Note: Nicely written!

Hawaii Sharks-This Weeks Tiger Soup

Looks like Hawaii has a "Tiger problem". For us in the shark diving world a "Tiger problem" is completely subjective. To discover up to 15 large Tigers aggregating within a mile of shore is not a problem:

For the past week, up to 15 large tiger sharks have lingered along five miles of the Big Island's Kohala Coast, near the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, coming within 20 yards of shore.

Several beaches have been closed on O'ahu in the past two weeks because of sightings. And a shark attacked a surfer Tuesday at a popular Ka'a'awa surf spot called Crouching Lion.

There is no definitive reason why there are more sharks near shore, though experts suggest explanations ranging from shark mating season to clearer water — which increases shark sightings, even if there are no more sharks than usual.

Frank Mundus-Shark Killer- R.I.P

One of the most reviled characters to ever grace the world of sharks-Frank Mundus- is dead this week.

A local legend, shark hunter, and some say the background character of "Quint" from "Jaws". His was a career that moved through the shark hysteria of the 70's and into the new world of shark conservation, all without changing, or adapting to the new paradigm of sharks:

They called him the Monster Man. His business was the stuff of tall tales. Gear for the day might include a harpoon, buckets of blood and the patience to wait for a shark to come along and take a bite.

"I was the pioneer of sport fishing for sharks," Frank Mundus, a legendary shark hunter, said in his trademark blunt style on his Web site.

The Monster Man's own words sum up perfectly a life said to have inspired the movie "Jaws" and its roguish Captain Quint, played by the late Robert Shaw. Mundus died Wednesday of complications from a heart attack suffered Sept. 6, just after he returned to his Hawaii home from a fishing trip in Montauk. He was 82.