Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shark Diving Industry Trends - Black and White

Coming home from a shark shoot in the Bahamas this morning I have been mulling over the series of emails and phone calls that I received over the past few days.

At hand a recent expose of a well known SA shark diving operator/conservationist and images that depict sharks being mauled over baiting practices that are inconsistent with the words “shark diving operator” or even “conservation.”

The expected blow back has been heated even by industry standards with counter allegations and straw man defenses put forward by those whose friendships with the SA operator seek grey areas in what is a glaring black and white issue.

Collateral Damage

After seeing images that Wolfgang “sat on” for many months while he tried to affect SA baiting changes quietly, the response to his expose reveals an industry disconnect that needs to be remedied. Every time a shark is mauled by poor baiting practices, a shark becomes stuck in a cage, a shark is teased into tearing into a baited wetsuit for film and television, or baited into all manner of situations for film and television that further “the vicious shark” scenario - our entire industry is diminished.

We are, supposedly, the industry leaders, the conservationists, the ones who are on the front lines for sharks. So why is it o.k. to allow them to be tangled in ropes, crash into cages, or be filmed in the worst case scenario for productions time and again?

Honest mistakes in any wildlife industry can be tolerated and even understood with industry leaders, but brushed aside, enabled, and even apologized for?

Friendships within our industry are legendary but all too often cloud the greater good.

When websites like the recent STOP Shark Cage Diving SA attract media attention I want to know, as an industry member, that the allegations contained are absolutely false. I want to be certain that we are doing our level best for the sharks on a commercial level.

Are we?

Personal Attacks

Changes within any industry are painful but oftentimes necessary. When wildlife is at stake any expose is painful. Wolfgang was not personally attacking anyone with his images; he was trying to effect change. Testifying to what he witnessed firsthand as a potential catalyst. Those who came to the defense of his graphic black and white images of a tangled shark with a bloodied face and missing teeth missed a point, and in turn have diminished their ability to speak effectively on shark conservation issues. Putting friendship ahead of the very thing they profess to care about, the sharks.

You cannot have it both ways. There is no such thing as a Judas Shark in our industry, or at least there never should be.

Every industry negative Shark Week show, You Tube video, still image and media report resonates on for years, affecting our ability to speak for sharks in a credible manner. Better an industry insider take the reins to try and change practices then a main stream media outlet or even a complete industry outsider with an agenda.

What Next?

How about we consider change for a moment?

What harm would it be for the SA operator to come forward and say “Yes, as frontline resource users who have long advocated for the removal of sharks nets, we will change what we do…for the sharks.”

As a media guy allow me to suggest this course of action would be a huge win and media worthy. SA shark operators modifying shark diving operations to make a broader point about shark conservation and improved animal husbandry in the region.

What harm would come from the media, and the world, understanding that our industry is adaptable, flexible, and has the very best interests of sharks and the environment in mind.

Instead? The last 72 hours has seen a circled wagon mentality, base accusations flying back and forth, and all manner of simian grunting and chest beating under the banner of “mind your own damn business.”

Have we been here before? You bet we have.

Someone even suggested the tangled sharks were the fault of the photographer. Shooting the messenger, in the face of stark and graphic images in this case, is as productive as shooting yourself in the foot revealing the true face of this ugly industry disconnect.

This is not leadership. This is not our industry, and those who saw Wolf’s images and who can find a way to defend them need to take a serious look in the mirror, it is gut check time. We all profess to love sharks but that love for sharks starts at home - with our industry.

For Want of a Few Leaders

Industry leadership is conferred by doing. We cannot self anoint a leadership mantel upon friends and industry cohorts in the hopes the broader community will go along. There is also no grey area when stark black and white images, video or negative media reports about our industry come forward. Real leadership requires those in the crosshairs of either unfortunate circumstance or self inflicted wounds to stand and be counted - to be leaders.

This is one of those moments. So let’s get busy and leave the old school dive industry “I just want a pat on the back at DEMA this year,” garbage behind.

Postscript: Just finished reading an open letter to operators in SA addressing this issue head on. Kudos to the operator in question who initiated this email. Leadership.

Note: This blog has featured the dive site and operator positively in the past. Here, here, here and here .

That Travel Chick Joins Shark Diver 2010

That Travel Chick aka Fort Lauderdale's Amanda joined us at Guadalupe Island in 2010 for the ultimate shark encounter.

Her site series is a must read for budding shark fans worldwide:

Countdown to the Great White Shark dive

It all started when I was 7 years old. My pop-pop (grandpa) would take me to the beach every week to collect shells. Thats what you do when you grow up in south Florida. One day I came across a shark’s tooth. I asked my mom to take me to the library (no internet back then) to see what type of tooth it was. I quickly learned it was a Tiger Shark. Gorgeous creatures by the way. In no time, I came home with every shark book I could find to learn more. I became a bit obsessed with sharks. Not much has changed since then. I started to read more and more about Great Whites. As a kid, I had a big love of dinosaurs and of course the T-Rex was my favorite, so it wasn’t hard for me to quickly fall in love with both the Tiger and Great White shark.

Since then, I’ve had dreams of swimming with a Great White. More occasions then not, being told I’m out of my mind, crazy, nuts, stupid. You name it, I’ve been told I am. I am stubborn and never listen. I constantly in the ocean swimming with nurse sharks and touching them when people swim the other way. I can’t help it. I just love all sharks. The way the move is so beautiful and graceful and so powerful. They feel amazing and to feel their muscles as they move is even more breath-taking.

I’ve been wanting to do a Great White shark dive for years but the trip to South Africa or Australia is loooong. Being a Shark Week geek, I never miss an episode and have seen many taking place in Mexico at Guadalupe Islands. I did some research and came across Shark Diver among a few others. I ended up with Shark Diver because the owner, Patrick, was a lot of fun to chat with, actually takes action on helping save the sharks and his package is all-inclusive. I also saw them on Shark Week. I decided that this was the year. I wasn’t going to wait any longer. What better way then to go for my birthday. I couldn’t have thought of a better gift to myself.

Complete series post.

Image Christy Fisher

At the start line - Tracking sharks

Off the coast of Ireland Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) come under scrutiny:

THE ODYSSEY undertaken by two female blue sharks from Irish waters around the north Atlantic this winter is being tracked by University College Cork (UCC) scientists, following a successful tagging project off the south coast.

The two sharks were named Granuaile and Queen Méabh by the UCC team during the encounter off Cork’s Old Head of Kinsale a week ago.

While blue sharks have been tagged here before, this marks the first satellite-tracking of the fish with archival “pop-up” tags. Such tags detach after a specific time period, having collected and stored data on temperature, depth and light as the sharks migrate.

UCC scientist Dr Tom Doyle of the university’s Coastal and Marine Resources Centre hopes that the two sharks will “capture the imagination of Irish school children” during their voyage and will also raise awareness about the need for conservation.

Dr Doyle, who is an expert in tracking marine species including leatherback sea turtles and oceanic sunfish, says both sharks face a “real challenge to survive and reproduce in the coming years”, as blue sharks were caught for their fins.

Complete Story.