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

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.