Monday, June 29, 2009

Is It Worth "The Risk"?

Isla Guadalupe, Mexico is an ecological gem. A site with a seasonal white shark population estimated at perhaps as much as 33% of the entire western pacific base.

Why would anyone do anything at this site that could cause a shark to attack a human?

That's the question all the operators are asking this week as another promotional flyer circulated the dive world offering cage free encounters with great whites for $5900 per diver.

For operators who have dedicated almost a decade at this site, out of cage experiences with regular divers is an unwritten policy we have all agreed never to do - for reasons that time spent with these magnificent animals have taught us first hand.

Unfortunately, the nature of organic shark diving sites often finds newer operators who are willing to push the limits of shark diving encounters past sustainability. We have seen this kind of thing all over the planet.

An attack on a diver outside of a cage at Isla Guadalupe would certainly end commercial shark diving at this pristine site and perhaps end the very existence of white sharks here as well. This unique site, now devoid of a seasonal dive boat presence and left open to sport fishermen, would become a scene of mass slaughter.

Is it worth the risk? For $5900 per diver and a few images?

Out-of-the-Cage Experience

"For an additional fee 5 people will be able to experience a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being out in the blue with these incredible animals. Under the right conditions and with safety divers watching your back, you will be able to witness what it is like to be closer to a great white shark than anyone can dream of. Amos Nachoum has 28 years experience diving with Great White Sharks off Long Island New York, Australia,South Africa, and off the Farallon Islands, San Francisco. Ask about this option when you register for the expedition."

As the owner of Shark Diver I am saying it is not worth the risk.

Back in January of this year I spoke with Amos Nachoum directly and he assured myself and all the operators at Isla Guadalupe he would not be offering out of cage diving with with his divers in 2009. Full stop.

This week he sent a promotional flyer to a well known diver in our small community and even offered a discount on this same trip. The flyer was sent to me and I am posting it here. It refutes all earlier claims told to me in good faith and clearly, in no ambiguous terms, highlights cageless encounters for $5900.

Is it worth the risk?

Yes, we all know divers assume risk when encountering sharks, but what of the aftermath of an attack? What happens to the sharks? Does anyone care?

As a dive community we have responsibilities to the animals we make a living from. We should never assume "it can never happen" that is a fools bet. Putting wild predatory animals into a seemingly no-win situation with divers from the general community is both wrong and irresponsible. I believe that out of cage experiences with white sharks at Isla Guadalupe is something the general public should never do, and we as operators should not enable it.

Film and television productions with dive professionals is a different subject. Amos has what it takes to go cageless with white sharks. I have been a fan of his underwater work, he has more hours in water with big animals than many of his peers, that gives him the right to interact with these animals cageless on his own time and in his own manner - but not the right to invite a diver from the broader dive community to join him.

This blog post is, of course, one mans opinion, one operators choice. A choice made with the sharks in mind first and foremost, and an eye towards a long term future where man and wild animal benefit from close proximity and mutual understanding.

Isla Guadalupe is not a proving ground for new dive and predatory animal interactions. It is and remains one of the planets most unique dive sites. We are fortunate to encounter white sharks here and in deference to a long term future with them - we stay behind cages.

Amos and those like him should consider doing the same.

Patric Douglas CEO
www.sharkdiver.com
www.sharkdivers.com
www.sharkdivers.blogspot.com
www.guadalupefund.org
www.islandofthegreatwhiteshark.com
415.235.9410

Darien Island Panama, Shark Fin Loophole?

One of the truly frustrating issues with fisheries regulations is the dreaded "loophole".

No matter how solid government sanctioned fisheries laws are there will always be a loophole somewhere in the wording that allows unregulated or marginal fisheries activities to continue.

Case in point - a recent scene of utter destruction on Darien Island, Panama:

Hundreds of juvenile sharks slayed for their fins yet nobody knows anything. Tourists witness the scene PANAMA. Panama Marvel Tours is a local tour company which explores the fauna and flora of Panama. On a recent trip, company director, Lory Forero de Proctor took two Americans – one a military man and the other a House worker - for a sea tour in Darien. They were in for a shocking experience.

The travellers departed from Punta Alegre to visit Cedro Island, a mineral-rich site in the Caribbean Sea. On landing, they decided to explore the island, only to find a scene of death. A huge area of the coast was covered with hundreds - if not thousands – of dismembered juvenile sharks. "Without noticing it at first, we were walking over their dead bodies," said Lory, disconcerted and ashamed the tourists had to witness this tragic sight. She said they saw nearby a small boat of indigenous people with fishing nets, which could mean that the sharks were victims of artisanal fin-fishing. But since there were no witnesses, this is just a theory.

Shark fining is the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the carcass. In this case, the sharks were just tossed on the beach. The international demand for shark fins is enormous and represents big income in the economy but illegal and excessive catches are a threat to conservation of the species. La Estrella contacted the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP) to know where they stand on this matter but the person in charge of this topic was not reachable. A public relations employee told the newspaper that it could mean a case of illegal fishing.

She said ARAP has ports that regulate all fishing activities in Panama. She also remarked that the method seen in the pictures is not adequate and that it could contaminate the island. ARAP´s office of Inspection, Surveillance and Control said that had not received any prior report of this matter. They will now contact their regional office in Darien for them to go and inspect the area. Law 44 of 2006 sanctions the crime of illegal fishing with minimal fines - $100 – and seizure of the product.

Law 9 of March 16 2006 prohibits the practice of shark fining in Panamanian territorial waters. However it does not include the fishing of juvenile sharks, according to the PR person in ARAP. Reports of suspicious fishing activities can be made to ARAP´s Inspection, Surveillance and Control office at 800-7272.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Businessman charged over alleged shark fin haul

A 35-year-old man could face up to $14 million in fines for commercial shark fishing offences following his arrest at Perth Airport yesterday.

Fisheries and Marine officers arrested Fu-Hsin Chen at Perth Airport as he was preparing to board a flight to Taiwan yesterday morning.

Chen was charged in relation to the alleged seizure of approximately 10 tonnes of shark products from a commercial fishing vessel at Broome Wharf almost a year ago.

Chen is the owner manager of Shine Year Fisheries (Aust) Pty Ltd. The company’s vessel Fortune was authorised to fish off the northern coast of WA.

Both Chen and his company have been charged under the Fish Resources Management Regulations, which state commercial fishing boats can only carry or unload whole shark.

Under the regulations sharks may have their fins cut from their bodies but only the head and parts removed during gutting can be disposed of at sea.

Fisheries northern region manager Peter Godfrey said the regulations were in place to prevent the unsustainable practice of “finning”, where the high value fins are retained and the low-value trunks are thrown overboard.

“The demand for shark fins from markets in Asia has resulted in worldwide concern over the future sustainability of shark stocks,” Mr Godfrey said.

Chen and his company face two charges which carry a maximum of $10,000 each and additional fines of up to $14 million.

If convicted the total fines imposed are at the discretion of the magistrate who may chose one of two mandatory penalties – to charge per weight of the sharks taken, or per individual shark.

PERTH
LISA CALAUTTI

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Presenting Sharks - Badly

We have been rabid supporters of Shark Trust Wines and owner Melanie Marks over the years.

If you're in the shark conservation world you have heard of her or enjoyed her wines at innumerable ocean conservation events across the country.

Melanie's company acts as the "shark conversation lubricant" that has launched more conservation ideas, solutions, and efforts then her company generally gets attributed for.

Melanie also keeps tabs on all things shark related and this week alerted her shark network to a seemingly small and some might say insignificant issue with a regional eye wear company (see ad).

To folks like Melanie and Shark Trust Wines who have dedicated the last eight years of her life to sharks and the positive perception of sharks - every bit helps.

Kudos for bringing attention to this. If you would like to add your voice please do so, here is the website you can send a calm, well reasoned letter explaining the need for positive shark media.

vision-centre.com

Friday, June 26, 2009

Image of the Week

This just in from a sharky blog reader. One word for this image...Wowza!

A stingray leaps out of the water as it is hunted by a killer whale, whose fin can be seen below the ray, just off St. Heliers beach in Auckland, New Zealand, Wednesday, June 24, 2009.

(AP Photo/New Zealand Herald Photograph, Brett Phibbs)

Shark Love - A New Take on JAWS?

Two men, one shark, and love. What's not to like about this?

Op Ed - Ireland Shark Kill

We have been following the eco blow back of a single, record Six Gill take, off the coasts of Ireland this week. When one dead shark becomes an ambassador for change.

Today another pro shark Op-Ed appeared in The Independent summing up the issue of sport take sharks.

Killing a majestic shark just for the ego-massage is plain wrong
By Ian O'Doherty

Friday June 26 2009

So, here's the deal. You like fishing, and while on holidays in County Clare you go out onto the water and before you know it, you get a bite. A big one, maybe even the biggest you've ever had.

So, after hours of battling the beast, you finally reel it in -- and discover that you've just nabbed a record-breaking half-tonne, six-gill shark.

They're incredibly rare off our waters and, for catching it with just a rod and line, Swiss angler Joe Waldis certainly deserves respect.

But to then have the shark killed so he could take it ashore and massage his ego by having his picture taken with this majestic creature was utterly despicable; a classic illustration of what happens to animals when man's ego crosses their path.

It's ironic that Waldis should land the fish in the same week that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature issued an alarming report warning that up to a third of the world's sharks and rays face imminent extinction due to over-fishing and the truly barbarous practise of 'finning'.

As shark fin soup continues to be a prized delicacy in Japan -- where, like just about every other food item they eat over there, it's seen to have aphrodisiac qualities -- thousands of sharks are caught every month.

When they're dragged aboard, their fins are sliced off and then the shark, still alive and in unbelievable pain, is unceremoniously dumped overboard, where it corkscrews down to the bottom, promptly drowning.

And, frankly, there is no difference in what those charming Japanese do to defenceless sharks to what Waldis did.

I'm certainly no vegetarian; indeed I'm a proud carnivore.

And when that creature is as rare and endangered and beautiful as a six-gill, it should be a crime to kill it simply to take a picture of the carcass.

Terrifying and majestic, these incredible creatures have a virtual stranglehold on the imaginations of millions, largely, but not entirely, down to Spielberg's classic Jaws.

That film seared itself into the psyche of several generations and, personally, still remains my favourite film of all time -- the pull shot focusing on Brody's face when the Kintner boy is attacked is still one of best pieces of cinematography in modern cinema history -- and it is certainly responsible for captivating millions of people.

After all, everyone's afraid of the dark and it doesn't get darker than the ocean depths and the creatures concealed within.

The irony of the success of Jaws, both the book and the movie, is that it led to the slaughter of tens of millions of sharks, as idiots everywhere decided they were going to become real-life shark hunters like Quint.

It was a situation which haunted the author, Peter Benchley, who then spent the rest of his life fighting for shark conservation.

The guilt of the unintended consequences of his actions virtually broke the man and, before his death from cancer when he was asked what his biggest regret was, he replied, tragically: "Writing Jaws."

The irony of being haunted by his most famous creation wasn't lost on him, and he spent his life spending the millions he made from the book and movie on shark conservation programmes in a desperate attempt to try and absolve himself of some of the crushing guilt he felt every day.

When asked about the possibility of an updated version of the film, he once commented: "Well, the shark could not be the villain; it would have to be the victim, for sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.

"Interestingly, Ireland is one of the finest shark fishing spots in the world, with the nutrient-rich waters off our West Coast regularly attracting large Blues and Makos.

And earlier this month, there were rumours of a Great White being spotted off Cornwall.

So, when you consider that Whites have been found in the Bay Of Biscay, there's no reason why they shouldn't make it as far as Cornwall. And, if they can get as far as Cornwall then there's no reason why, much to the excitement of Irish shark lovers, they couldn't make it to our waters.

But I would fear for any Great White which would swim through our waters -- you can imagine the media hysteria, the panicked calls to Joe Duffy from parents who are afraid to let their precious children into the water and the general lack of composure that seems to afflict most people when the word 'shark' is mentioned.

But it's not just sharks that are needlessly killed.

Only a few months back, the papers were full of pictures of a woman who had paid to go to Zimbabwe so she could fulfil her rather odd ambition -- to kill an elephant with a bow and arrow.

The pictures of Teresa Groenwald-Hagerman proudly standing over the corpse of that once proud creature, beaming smugly at the camera holding the bow and arrow thankfully blew back into her face and it wasn't long before her personal details were up online and she was bombarded with thousands of abusive emails.

Despite what the lunatics in groups such as PETA would have you believe, there's nothing morally wrong about hunting for meat.

We are, after all, carnivores and are top of our food chain -- as sharks are in their environment.

But if you're going to kill something, kill it for the pot.

Anyone who kills something as beautiful as a shark simply for the ego massage is, frankly, a bit of a bastard.

And bags me first into the water if we ever do see a Great White off our shores ...

iodoherty@independent.ie

- Ian O'Doherty

COARE launches Ambassador program for Shark Safe initiative

The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, known more commonly by its acronym "COARE", recently announced that it is seeking Ambassadors for its Shark Safe certification program.

The Shark Safe program offers certification to qualifying restaurants and select businesses that demonstrate a commitment to shark conservation, and uses an easily recognizable logo to distinguish participating establishments.

COARE began development of its Shark Safe program in early-2007, seeking to protect sharks by raising awareness of threats to shark populations and by reducing the demand for shark products. In July of 2007, Jim Toomey, the artist behind the popular syndicated cartoon Sherman's Lagoon, joined the effort and helped form the Shark Safe logo in use today.

The forthcoming Shark Safe website (sharksafe.org) is under development, and will serve as a portal for consumers to find certified Shark Safe establishments, and for businesses aspiring to become Shark Safe to learn more about the program. As a conservation based effort, sharksafe.org will also offer information about the plight of sharks and about the need for their conservation.

COARE's recent announcement noted its plan to expand the program and that it was seeking Ambasssadors to extend the reach, depth, and effectiveness of the Shark Safe effort.

Visit http://www.coare.org/sharksafe for more information.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

CNN Tackles Shark Use - Kudos

Today CNN tackled the harsh realities of traditional medicine use around the globe. It's an interesting take on sharks fin and cartilage use that often gets sidelined when talking sharks.

80% of Africa and Asia still uses traditional medicine as a first line cure for regional illness. While the earths population is hovering around 6,768,167,712 that's a massive demand for all raw use animal products, not just sharks:

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Alternative treatments are as varied as the regions of the world they come from. And while they attract skepticism from some Western medical practitioners, they are an undeniable part of global health.

In parts of Asia and Africa, 80 percent of the population depend on these treatments as their primary form of healthcare.

Shark fin has long been used in traditional Asian medicine. Shark fin soup is regarded as a tonic that promotes general well-being, and shark fin has even been claimed to have anti-cancer properties. Shark fins are mainly composed of cartilage, a type of connective tissue found in the skeletal systems of many animals.

In Japan, they are sold by herbalists as a powder, in tablet form or as whole fins. While shark fin has been used for centuries in Asia, in recent years it has become more popular in the West.

A book called "Sharks Don't Get Cancer," published in 1992, popularized the idea of shark fin as an alternative cancer treatment in the West, and powdered shark fin is now sold as dietary supplement.

Full Story

When "One Shark" Becomes An Ambassador

You see it all the time. A large shark swimming on the other side of a public aquariums enclosure, an "ambassador shark". For those in the shark conservation world we have come to realize the positive effects of these solo animals on the public perception of sharks in general.

But what about dead sharks?

They too serve a purpose. Perhaps it is the sheer numbers of sharks that get taken for fins each year (25-75 million) that become the conservation movements hardest challenge.

How do you generate understanding and public sympathy for a number?

A single dead shark can generate understanding, sympathy and action. It was a single pregnant female Tiger taken in the Bahamas back in 2007 that spawned the Shark Free Marinas Initiative.

The public, no matter how jaded towards sharks, will respond to a single animal taken and killed for no obvious reason, and that is the heart of the shark conservation movement.

One shark, an ambassador for the entire species.

For a prime example of this look no further than a recent take in Ireland of an 18 foot Six Gill shark. This sport take of a single animal has managed to raise the ire and media bandwidth of many around the world including Ireland. This single animals death prompted a wave of conservation discussion - a feat that all the long liners off Ireland's coast could not.

We covered it too as it was quickly evident that this single shark was going to become the ambassador animal for the regions conservation news. Conservation change starts with the public understanding of sharks and "Sympathy for the Devil".

We can get there with these few unfortunate animals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shark Divers Announces New Great White Shark Location for Film and Television

===============================================================
SharkDivers.com -- Press Release Distribution 6/23/2009
===============================================================

--- [ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ] ---

CONTACT:
Patric Douglas, Shark Divers
1-888-328-7449
staff@sharkdivers.com
www.sharkdivers.com

Shark Divers Announces New Great White Shark Location for Film and Television


San Diego, Calif. -- Shark Divers CEO Patric Douglas will unveil the world’s newest white shark aggregation site exclusively for film and television productions on July 4th, 2009. “This new white shark site is a game changer,” says Douglas. “I have not seen anything as pristine, accessible, and ready made for television productions since the discovery of Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe in 2001”

A limited number of production companies will be introduced to the site in 2010 (January through April), in order to maintain the location's pristine, untamed nature, as well as for the benefit of the white sharks. Typically divers are encountering up to 10 animals a day in 100 foot visibility. The site enjoys deep conservation and research storylines."You only discover new sites like this once every 10 years," says Douglas. "Expect to be blown away.”

“As a production company looking for the next great shark show concept, you need a professional, shark-centric company to assist with the development of your ideas," says Douglas. “This is what we do: pro-shark productions with an emphasis on shark research." For the past 8 years Shark Divers parent company Shark Diver has been innovating and supporting Mexican lead shark research at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico with U.C Davis and CICIMAR.

About Shark Divers

As a film, television and tourism spin-off of the commercial shark diving company Shark Diver, Shark Divers provides access to unique shark sites worldwide in a cost-effective environment with an eye towards shark production values that go light years beyond "the man on the sand with the bait crate." Shark Divers' experienced crews not only know sharks, but also have extensive experience in film, television, current research and current trends in shark productions. Shark Divers' crews are a unique group of shark researchers and underwater-film experts who can show your production company shark sites and storylines that capture the public’s imagination. For more information, visit the Shark Divers website at
www.sharkdivers.com or contact Patric Douglas at staff@sharkdivers.com.



Shark Divers | “Changing the way the public sees white sharks…forever”


Shark Science - Run Over by Media

Last week we posted the Suns media hit on shark feeding behavior. The article likened all sharks on a general level to London's infamous "Jack the Ripper".

Typical shark media for the mainstream folks who often go to great lengths to instill a fear of sharks with the public.

What was not mentioned in our blog post was the origin of this media hit, a research paper by University of Miami's Neil Hammerschlag.

Here was the email we got today from Neil explaining how his research paper became the "shark topic de jour" this week:

Hi All,

This study is getting a lot of attention; however it is as misunderstood as sharks. Some media are sensationalizing/twisting the results of the study to sell papers. I hope readers will be more critical and seek out the real scientific paper.

In this study, a technique called geographic profiling (originally developed as a criminal investigation tool) was applied to analyze patterns of white shark predation on seals at Seal Island, in False Bay, South Africa.

Sharks hunt to eat. They are predators and seals are their prey. Serial killers have mental disorders and such disorders cannot be applied to animals. The study does not characterize sharks as serial killers in anyway, just that white sharks are more complex than we originally thought.

Sharks are constantly swimming, and unlike other animals they do not have the equivalent of a den, nest, or burrow. Therefore, establishing the existence (including location, size, and shape) of a search base or “centre of gravity” for a search pattern could provide important insight into their hunting behavior.

By applying geographic profiling, the study found that sharks are not mindless killers, but are in fact using sophisticated hunting strategies. The study found that sharks appeared to be hunting in an optimal manner geospatially. Sharks processed a well-defined anchor point or search base, but not where the chances of prey interception were greatest. This location may therefore represent a balance of prey detection, capture rates, and inter-shark competition.

The study also found that smaller sharks had more dispersed prey search patterns and lower kill success rates than larger sharks. This could mean that white sharks refine their search patterns with experience and learn to concentrate hunting efforts in locations with the highest probability of successful prey capture. It might also be that larger sharks competitively exclude smaller sharks from the best hunting areas.

The most important thing is conservation of these magnificent animals.

If you read the study published online today in the Journal of Zoology, I am sure you will find it very interesting.

For a better news story please visit:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8110000/8110246.stm

--

Neil Hammerschlag
University of Miami
Ph.D. Candidate, Marine Biology & Fisheries
Co-Director, South Florida Student Shark Program (SFSSP)
Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (RSMAS)
4600 Rickenbacker Cswy, Miami, Florida, 33149

E-mail: nhammerschlag@rsmas.miami.edu
O: 305.421.4356 F: 305.421.4600 C: 954.815.0920

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sharks Just Like Sea-rial Killers(?)

Leave it to the U.K's SUN to over hype the shark.

Next to eye catching headlines like "Grandma Explodes on Loo" and "UFO Crop Circles Invade Wembly" you really do not get any good shark reporting from this Fox NewsCorp media train wreck.

Case in point and ripped from today's headlines:

Researchers used methods copied from criminology to show that great whites pick their targets in a highly focused fashion.

Prolific killers such as the infamous 19th century beast who stalked London's East End and Peter Sutcliffe, the "Yorkshire Ripper", behave in much the same way.



Editors Note: Anyone wonder why close to 100 million sharks are finned each year and no one seems to care?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

OT - The Barnes Varmint Granade

You Tube is a remarkable place for interesting videos...and then there are days like today:

Six Gill Sharks - Sportfish or Tourism?

A few years ago I was in Honduras with our company looking for whale sharks. While the island of Utila turned out to be hit and miss for commercial shark diving I did get a chance to befriend Karl Stanley and his unique shark diving operation on Roatan.

Actually, to be fair, when I first met Karl he had no idea the sharks he was encountering at 2000' were to become one of the top shark destinations on the planet.

Karl and his submarine "Idabel" had stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove of simply titanic Six Gill sharks off the coast of Roatan. Soon divers, filmmakers, and television productions were seeking Karl out - for good reason.

Which makes this weeks news from Ireland unfortunate. The image you are looking at is a one time catch of a half ton Six Gill which of no commercial value which cannot be eaten.

Our sister company Shark Divers which offers commercial shark diving consulting services has this to say about one time takes vs sustainable tourism:

"A dead shark is worth a few dollars to a local economy. A live shark, many thousands of dollars and is a completely renewable resource. In the Maldives, divers spend US$2.3 million a year on shark dives - estimated at 100 times more than the export value of the shark meat".

Those are easy numbers to understand and get behind for anyone interested in business opportunities that go beyond "one time takes". For guys like Karl Stanley in Honduras it's an elemental equation:



Patric Douglas CEO
www.sharkdiver.com
www.sharkdivers.com
www.sharkdivers.blogspot.com
www.guadalupefund.org
www.islandofthegreatwhiteshark.com
415.235.9410

Friday, June 19, 2009

Isla Guadalupe White Shark Diving

The red rocks of Isla Guadalupe blazed in the morning sun, a clear sky welcoming us after a stomach-churning 14-hour crossing from our home port of San Diego, California.

Lapping waves and the cries of fur seals on the nearby shore were the only sounds to be heard 150 miles from the mainland. The water roiled as foot-high fins sliced the surface like a knife through cerulean silk. It was a perfect day for a dive.

"We've got a 16-footer," announced Patric Douglas, CEO of Shark Diver at www.sharkdiver.com, the outfit leading our expedition. From beneath his shades, Douglas beamed like a proud papa as he pointed out the great white circling the cages. Not wanting to miss the action, I hustled to join the other divers, who had already scurried to squeeze themselves into wetsuits before the great white disappeared back into the cobalt depths.

Moments later, after almost getting thrown into the water by the surge, I was safe within the 100-square-foot cage, the hookah regulator looping from between my clamped teeth to the deck above. The current tossed the cage—and us—only slightly more gently than a washing machine on our first day.

And then it appeared. Like a phantom shadow, the shark approached from below, slowly swishing its massive tail side to side as if it had all the time in the world. This was nothing like spotting a shark confined in an aquarium's tank. With our cage dangling over the side of the 88-foot MV Islander, my cagemates and I were well aware that we were but visitors in the shark's domain.

As the behemoth approached, we determined it was a female, and as she glided past just inches from our cage, her length was so great it seemed forever before she passed. I'd heard that great whites could reach such lengths—and longer—and for better perspective, I'd told myself I'd be seeing creatures roughly the length of a VW bus. What I hadn't counted on was the girth. I'd joked to landlubber friends that I was going to ride a shark, but after seeing how wide a female could grow, there was no conceivable way I could have saddled one, even had I been suicidal enough to try such a ridiculous (and illegal) feat. The six-foot-wide creature slid past, her black eye so close we could see the pupil, which made the shark even eerier than when she appeared to have two black, unseeing orbs.

When I emerged 45 minutes later, I had a grin as toothy as a great white's. Douglas slapped me on the back after helping me out of the cage and back on deck. "Pretty boring, eh?" He guffawed at his own joke as I racked my brain for an appropriate adjective. What emerged from my mouth cannot be printed in most publications of repute.

Only in the last few years have these waters, under the jurisdiction of the Mexican state of Baja California del Norte, earned fame for its white shark population. Other locations around the globe—Australia's Great Barrier Reef, South Africa's notorious Shark Alley, and even San Francisco's Farallon Islands—have long been renowned for their notorious aquatic residents, but Isla Guadalupe has quickly become a favorite, as much for its convenient location (an overnight sail from San Diego) as for its warm waters and astounding visibility, which can reach up to 100 feet. Such ideal conditions attract not only adventure-seeking divers such as my shipmates but also scientists in search of primo research conditions.

During shark season (July through November), at least 50 white sharks—and possibly as many as 100—patrol the waters, estimates marine biologist Mauricio Hoyos, who spends several months a year camped out in a tin shack a couple yards away from a fragrant fur seal colony. He and a couple dozen lobster and abalone fisherman comprise the whole of the population of the island, a desolate red rock long since made devoid of vegetation by a marauding pack of abandoned goats.

After dinner our second night, Hoyos presented his most recent findings to a galley of rapt shark aficionados. We felt special, privileged even. Not only were we among an elite few—a couple hundred a year at most—to visit these waters, but we were getting a first-hand account with the most up-to-date information on sharks available.

Shark Diver provides a great deal of aid—both financial and practical—to Hoyos and his project. The crew has provided almost all of the research photos of the sharks, duplicates of which exist in a massive binder in the ship's galley, each labeled with the shark's name and distinguishable markings so that passengers can identify underwater visitors. Divers, inspired by Hoyos' shipboard stopovers, often go on to send donations or even specifically requested equipment. Shark Trust Wines, which has graced the table of many a Shark Diver meal, donates a portion of its profits to both shark conservation and research. The combination of first-hand encounters, freshly caught scientific knowledge, and cultured respect for the creatures we came to visit was but one of the many aspects of the trip that made it unique.

As we entered the galley our final night at Guadalupe, we did so solemnly, well aware that our once-in-a-lifetime experience was drawing to a close. It was then we discovered that our congenial chefs had taken it upon themselves to whip up a farewell meal we wouldn't forget, which included the 60-pound yellowfin tuna that had been caught by local fishermen. Divers and crew retold the tale of how we'd almost had two such tuna on our tables that night, and those who’d had the good fortune to be in the cages at the time shared their photos and video.


Jenna Rose Robbins is a freelance writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area who loves shark diving. She can be reached via e-mail at jenna@jennarobbins.com.

Shark Free Marinas - Shark Interview

We are pleased to announce that Luke Tipple, Director of SFMI, will be interviewed on the The Captain Mel Show, Saturday Jun 20th.

From the Captain Mel Website

Along with a full open hour a 6 AM — and the next two hours our special guests include Mote Marine’s shark expert Dr. Bob Hueter and — Luke Tipple, Director of the Shark-Free Marina Initiative – plus lots of your phone calls – 6 to 9 AM every Saturday on Florida’s most popular radio fishing program — The 970-WFLA “Capt. Mel Show.” Call in – Listen in!

You can listen in by following this link

Captain Mel has been promoting Shark Conservation and catch and release for almost 20 years, here’s what he has to say on the issue:

Catch & Release: What a Concept!


By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA


You would think that me, “a reformed meat fisherman” would take these things in stride – go with the flow. But I gotta tell you – seeing a beautiful, hapless big tiger shark dragged in dead off the New England coast a few years back by a group of guys hoping to win a prize– really turned me off. And to compound the matter, many of the “no-nothing about fish and fishing” TV media hailed these men as “conquering heroes”

”Wow, that was some catch,” mused one lame TV interviewer. “How big was that baby.” “1100 pounds” said one of the anglers. The sad part is that a magnificent animal was killed – and those guys were six minutes late. So they didn’t even cash in on their ill begotten spoils.

I know, I know. Many reading this could be thinking “what a shark hugger!” But the more I see the destruction of some of nature’s most impressive creatures for such mundane reasons, the more I realize that kill tournaments have to go the way of the horse-drawn carriage and Hula Hoops. It’s just plain sad.

As a 40-year resident of the Sunshine Sate, I can recall the common sight of massive sharks, tarpon, amberjack and other leviathans of the deep hung unceremoniously to rot in the sun. Even then I felt twinges of anguish of the fate of these creatures.

Many of these great denizens of the sea had their lives terminated because of the proliferation of so-called kill tournaments throughout the state at that time.

These days, most of us have concluded that there is no valid reason for kill tournaments – especially since we have such great new tools like digital cameras and other new age devices for recording and reporting one’s catch.

This great concept was pioneered several years ago by Capt. Richard Seward and his colleagues of the Tampa Bay CCA Chapter. These days, catch and photo release contests are the norm with the great majority of tournaments and organizations<

In the more than 20 years that I have been hosting my 970-WFLA radio show, it’s been an inspiration to see the trend — “Catch and release.” That’s the mantra of many, if not most Florida sportfishers. Basically, these folks want to make sure that their “fishing partners” – the fish — are happy, healthy and multiply.

Does this mean that I think we shouldn’t take an occasional fillet or two – or even three home for dinner? Absolutely not. I personally enjoy a nice fillet or two on frequent occasion. Yet, is it my job to feed the neighborhood? Do I need the “gee-whiz” experience of laying out dozens of dead fish on the dock? Why would you?

Fish are most attractive and fun when they are alive and vibrant. So why not take a quick picture — and put that critter back so it can rejoin its kinfolk in the deep.

And please, take the time to learn how to best release all target species so that they survive the experience.

Experts recommend that it’s best to leave the fish in the water and use some kind of needle nose pliers or release device to let them go. And if you must lift a fish out of the water to pose for a picture, remember — that creature was designed to spend its entire life in a horizontal position. So when taking pictures, hold the fish horizontally with wet hands – avoid using a towel or rag – take you pictures and return that baby to the water as quickly as possible.

My pal “The Mad Snooker” (Capt. Dave Pomerleau) often says, “try holding your own breath for the entire time you have a fish out of the water. Then you will have some idea of how the fish feels.”

Now if only we could somehow bottle that “Florida catch and release spirit” and export it to other parts of the U. S. and the world.

Guadalupe Conservation Fund - Shark Operators

In 2006 the idea of the Isla Guadalupe Conservation Fund was hatched by a group of forward thinking shark diving operators, and shortly after Shark Diver created and launched the non profit website and outreach efforts at Guadalupefund.org

Today the fund continues to generate much needed money for new and ongoing Mexican lead shark research.

Support shark diving operations that support shark research.

Your dollars go towards shark conservation and detailed understanding of local shark populations through science.

The operators on the front lines of tagging and tracking shark research and support for the past 7 years at Isla Guadalupe are the following. These are the operations who have consistently donated time, money, and energy towards local sharks well beyond their commercial side:

Shark Diver
Islander Charters
Horizon Charters
Nautilus Explorer

Shark Conservation Messaging - Homerun

Found on Felix and Wolfs blog this morning. We would have to concur their assessment of this shark conservation campaign:

Save Our Seas Foundation has done it again, with the help of Saatchi & Saatchi in South Africa.

Together they developed a campaign in aquariums with stickers that "inside out" on shark tanks - so the message was actually to the sharks and read: "Warning - Predators beyond this point - Humans kill over 100 million sharks each year"

Editors Note: Brilliant, kudos to all for the idea.

Task Force Created To Ban Shark Feeding Tours

New efforts are under way to ban commercial shark feeding tours on the Islands.Hawaii Kai lawmaker Gene Ward on Wednesday announced the formation of a shark task force to eliminate commercial operations except those with educational and scientific purposes.

The group wants to enforce a state law that makes it illegal to feed sharks within three miles of shore.

The formation of the task force comes about two months after Hawaii Kai community members strongly opposed a shark tour in their area, which ultimately caused a planned operation in Maunalua Bay to be called off.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Op Ed - Wade Osborne Shark Free Marinas

Captain Wade Osborne has been fishing Tampa Bay and the Pinellas Suncoast for over 30 years. He also hosts "Afishionado Radio" airing Saturdays from 8-10 a.m. (EDT) on Tampa Bay’s AM 1340 WTAN, Dade City’s AM 1350 WDCF and streaming at www.afishionadoradio.com.

The Shark-Free Marina Initiative has my full support.

Why? Because during the last few months Florida has experienced numerous highly publicized shark kills. Some for world record status, others for bragging rights. Then the lifeless carcass, many pregnant females are dumped back to sea.

The commercial fishing industry takes the biggest toll on the shark populations and there’s little that can be done in the short term to stop it, but we must press lawmakers for more legislation. This huge waste of a precious resource is having a detrimental effect on the Maine ecosystem and the negative effects are beginning to take hold on the marine environment.

With this I mind, I’ve often wondered what I and other concerned citizens can do to protect these large apex predators. Changing state and federal laws takes years, and more protection is something that needs to be addressed. Meanwhile by supporting The Shark-Free Marina Initiative all of us can start to make a positive impact now.

Here’s how you can get involved. If you keep your boat at a municipal or private marina, ask if they would like make their facility a shark free kill zone by supporting The Shark-Free Marina Initiative. Lecturers can mention the initiative during appearances at fishing clubs and events. And most importantly we can all make shark anglers aware of the value in releasing their catch live and well.

Please join me and show your support for The Shark-Free Marina Initiative.

For charter information call 813-286-3474 or visit www.afishionado.com.

Sharks

White Mike - Shark Conservation

Artists? Urban tagger? Protester? Conservationist?

White Mike was known to a very small community of hard core folks in and around L.A putting up posters for conservation.

That was until Jessica Alba...let's stop right there and just savor that name for a moment...ahhh, moving on.

Until Jessica and Mike blew up in Oklahoma with a poster pasting gone bad.

Or did it?

We have said it before and we'll say it again. Shark conservation is like a million ants taking down an elephant. White Mike is now a household name, and his conservation message on target.

Welcome to White Mike and his ant army. Cool idea, wonder where he shot that shark image?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shark


Destin Florida - Shark Tournament Poll

Shark conservation efforts often come from unusual sources. This month the Destin Log in Destin, Florida

Last week Shark Free Marinas Initiative Director, Luke Tipple was asked to write an Op Ed concerning Destins planned shark kill tournament in October.

The editors of the Destin Log published an online poll today to determine regional and national views of this event.

To add your opinion click on the poll down on the lower right hand side.

Change begins with "One". Opinions count.

Shark Conservation Film - Requiem

Kudos!

We have been waiting for a shark film to come along that balances the horrors of shark finning, loss of shark populations, and the public's ongoing negative perception of sharks...without a hidden eco agenda or media hype.

The wait is over, welcome to Requiem a shark conservation film launched in 2007.

"Recent research using computer modeling has shown that the removal of sharks from their ecosystems could have devastating and unpredictable consequences for the abundance of commercially important fish stocks. Sharks, as apex predators, regulate the abundance of other fish and are therefore keystone species in the health of our ocean ecosystems. The practice of shark finning is capable of removing entire stocks of sharks in a very short space of time"

Captain Wade Osborne - Afishionado Radio on Shark Free Marinas

In a recent conversation with Captain Wade Osborne, host of the radio show Afishionado and supporter of the Shark-Free Marinas, SFMI Director Luke Tipple discussed the role of the media in ‘hyping’ shark kills.

Of note was the recent Bull shark killed on St Petersburg Pier, Bucky Denis’ Hammerhead and ‘Mark the Sharks’ Tiger shark kill. All three of these events have one thing in common, savvy media who questioned the sense of killing breeding age animals.

Wade gave us this example of ecological impacts from his local region:

"Tampa Bay is one of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest estuaries covering 398 square miles and is home to many species of shark. Most sharks that inhabit the bay are small coastal sharks such as Blacktip, Bonnethead, and Lemon sharks. In the warmer months, migrations of large Bull and Hammerhead sharks move into the bay to give birth to their pups.

Now, I’m not a marine biologist, but I’ve noticed there have been fewer large sharks in Tampa Bay over the past decade and an increase in stingrays. I believe the major reason for the boom in the stingray population is the decrease in their number one predator, the shark.

A healthy marine ecosystem needs sharks for a stable environment. It’s time anglers are educated on the role sharks play and the importance of not needlessly killing sharks, especially large sharks.

There have been numerous local and national media hyped shark kills of late in Florida. The parties involved should forego the world records, swallow their egos and think of the negative impact they’re having on this magnificent species.

Media outlets can also play a major role in getting the message out. Instead of sensationalizing the story by touting the “Thrill of the Kill,” try reporting how beneficial it would be to release their trophy to live another day, particularly pregnant females.

All concerned anglers, municipal marinas and private marina owners unite; support the Shark Free Marina Initiative. I do!"

Captain Wade Osborne
Afishionado Guide Services

Shark Free Marinas - Op Ed Luke Tipple

The Destin Log asked Shark Free Marinas Initiative Director, Luke Tipple to weigh in on Destin, Florida's Shark Saturday events.

SFMI is currently working in three regions in the USA, the Bahamas and in Fiji to enact shark conservation change. That change will ultimately save sharks:

COLUMN: 'Shark Saturdays' promote ‘species eradication'

Shark fishing tournaments are a primal spectacle and tourist attraction that play on our innate awe of the “monster fish.” However, as more is learned about the imminent demise of many shark species, a more educated public is starting to emerge.

Destin’s Shark Saturdays is one such example of questionable promotion.

The event, scheduled for October, is actually four individual Saturdays which are part of a month-long fishing tournament. Helen Donaldson, the event’s executive director, states the purpose of the event is to “get more people fishing in Destin,” and here’s where the real problem lies.

While a shark being brought to the docks is unquestionably a crowd pleaser, the public is becoming more aware that they are witness to the decline of an already threatened species. Take for example, the Rodeo record-breaking mako that the event caught in 2007, which attracted criticism from around the world. According to event organizers the targeted species include bull sharks, hammerheads and tiger sharks, all of which appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s threatened species list.

The United States does not currently have any shark species listed as “endangered,” however, to be declared ‘threatened’ a species must be in danger of imminent population decline.

While recreational shark fishing regulations do exist, they are tough to monitor and therefore seldom enforced. If the objective of Shark Saturdays is to increase the number of people fishing for “threatened” species, then we have to ask the obvious question: Should we really be promoting species eradication?

Somewhere along the line, there has to be a change in how we view the ocean and the animals that make up a healthy ecosystem.

Specifically targeting breeding-age sharks for slaughter is ecologically unsafe. This action contributes significantly to overall population decline as competitors inevitably wait to catch the largest sharks, which are usually female and quite often pregnant.

Despite all this, the industry and economy of shark fishing tournaments cannot be ignored.

So what is the solution?

Our new resource management group believes we have the answer.

The Shark-Free Marina Initiative was established as an answer to the culture of “mature shark harvests.”

There is nothing wrong with catch and release shark fishing. When proper standards are followed, the animal can be released back into the breeding population. Fishermen can still enjoy the thrill of the hunt and be rewarded for their catch.

All it takes is for officials to switch their reward structure from weighing the animal, to measuring the animal in the water.

Shark-free Marinas promises to reduce worldwide shark mortality by prohibiting fishermen from bringing dead sharks to the dock. Instead they aim to work with marinas and fishing groups to develop events that will draw a crowd but don’t allow the mortal take of these “threatened” species.

Points and prizes will be awarded for sharks tagged, measured and released while the crowd remain entertained on the docks by interactive attractions and the usual fare that accompanies these events.

Already the SFMI is gaining supporters, and they are currently working with events such as the “Are You Man Enough?” fishing tournament to set a new standard in fishing competition. SFMI commends the Destin Fishing Rodeo for their shark tagging division but questions the sense in killing these animals for the top awarded prize of a mere $250.

All we are talking about is sensible management of ocean resources — particularly in relation to sharks.

It’s time that we drop the “Jaws” rhetoric and accept that we need these animals in the ocean. Events such as Shark Saturday make money by killing dwindling populations of sharks, and this kind of "family" event just perpetuates this culture in the kids who should be taught environmental responsibility.

With a little restructuring, we can help tournament organizers create a positive community event while still entertaining their hard core fishing audience.

Visit the Shark-Free Marinas website at www.sharkfreemarinas.com for more information.

Luke Tipple is Director of the Shark-Free Marina Initiative

Image:Todd Cameron

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sharks

Florida's Largest Sharks Fin Dealer - Guilty

Southport resident Mark L. Harrison had it good for a while. Reportedly since 1989 he's been buying and drying sharks fin on his property for International resale.

A small mom and pop operation this was not as Mr. Harrison recently confessed to selling "millions of Florida caught sharks fin" over the years. The trick is, in the state of Florida you need to report your catches and Mr. Harrison did not leading to a recent bust, arrest and guilty pleading this week.

WASHINGTON, June 12 -- Mark L. Harrison, a resident of Southport, Fla., and Harrison International LLC, a Florida corporation, today pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta to violating the Lacey Act, a federal fish and wildlife trafficking law, by dealing in shark fins, the landing of which was not reported as required by law, the Justice Department announced today.

In addition, Mark Harrison pleaded guilty to a second charge related to his attempted export of shark fins of species that are prohibited to harvest under laws of the state of Florida. Harrison also pleaded guilty to a third charge related to trading in shark fins that had been prepared, packed or held under unsanitary conditions.

According to the charges and other information presented in court, Harrison allegedly represented himself to be the nation's largest shark fin buyer, purchasing "millions" of shark fins since he had been in the business, beginning in 1989. According to the plea agreements, in February 2005, Harrison purchased shark fins in Florida from an individual fisherman and later resold them in interstate commerce. No report of the landing or sale of those fins was filed with any Florida authorities, as required by law. Accurate reporting statistics of shark harvests are crucial for managing and regulating the populations of the various shark species that occur in U.S. waters.

In August 2007, Harrison attempted to export through Atlanta a shipment of shark fins that included at least 211 fins from Caribbean sharp-nosed sharks, two fins from bignose sharks, and two fins from night sharks, all of which are protected by Florida and/or federal laws due to their low population levels.

Finally, the plea agreements reveal that for almost four years Harrison processed shark fins by drying them on open air racks and/or tarpaulins laid on the ground, outdoors, on his property in Southport. The fins were left out at all times until dry and were exposed to bird droppings and insects. Dogs ran freely among the drying racks. Harrison would then sell the dried fins and ship them in interstate commerce through the Northern District of Georgia.

"Trafficking the fins of these shark species is not a harmless offense," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "These species are protected in order to ensure their continued sustainability. The Justice Department, along with our partner agencies, will continue to prosecute those who illegally trade in protected shark or other wildlife species."

"We will not tolerate the illegal harvest and sale of protected shark species whose populations continue to diminish in our oceans," said Hal Robbins, Special Agent in Charge for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast Region. "We are pleased with the apprehension of Mr. Harrison, who is one of the country's largest commercial shark fin buyers and I applaud the efforts of the prosecutors and Agents involved in this multi-agency federal investigation."

The Lacey Act, enacted in 1900, is the first national wildlife law, and was passed to assist states in enforcing wildlife laws. It provides additional protection to fish, wildlife and plants that were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of state, tribal, foreign or U.S. law.

Since 1993, the NOAA Fisheries Service has managed, via federal fishery management plans, the commercial harvest and sale of sharks in or from federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. In 1998, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization finalized and adopted an "International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks," recognizing the worldwide pressure being placed on declining shark populations by commercial fishing and the demand for shark fin soup. U.S. management of sharks has included prohibitions against retaining and/or selling particular species, including some in which Harrison was dealing, the populations of which are so reduced that further harvesting cannot be sustained.. There are currently 19 federally protected species of sharks.

David E. Nahmias, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia said, "There is an immense trade in wildlife products. Those who trade in wildlife must comply with federal and state wildlife statutes and regulations. We will support the investigative work of those agencies who identify violations of these laws, and commend the teamwork of the investigators who brought these wildlife violations to our attention."

"We are proud of the coordinated investigative work of our agents with their colleagues from NOAA, Office of Law Enforcement and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations," said James Gale, Special Agent in Charge, Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. "This case is an excellent example of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's commitment to investigate and interdict the commercialization of protected wildlife species."

Harrison is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 19, 2009, at 9:30 a.m., before U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell Vineyard of the Northern District of Georgia. Harrison faces up to one year in federal prison and a fine of up to $100,000. His company faces a fine of $200,000.

This case was investigated by Special Agents of the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations.

The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Georgia and the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section.



Editors Note: Huge kudos to all gov agencies involved.