Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guadalupe Island Sharks - Last of Their Kind?

This is a post that I have wanted to write for many months, but lacked the desire to actually put the words down for fear that I might be right.

For the almost the past decade I have been wondering about the state of Isla Guadalupe's white shark population.

What started as an exciting race in the early years of operations here to count and name as many animals as we could, Shredder, Mau, Fat Tony, Bruce, has now become something that I never envisioned it would back in 2002.

A grim watch.

We now know, thanks to the efforts of a few researchers, that Guadalupe Island white sharks migrate many thousands of miles each year, and return to this island to fatten up on seals, and to most likely find a mate.

Not every shark returns, for instance Fat Tony has never come back, and that's a scary proposition as we also know the population of white sharks here remains about 133 animals, give or take a precious few who return on off years or sharks that vanish into the vast Pacific never to been seen again.

Which makes the news coming out of the Farallons even more poignant this week. Researchers at U.C Davis are estimating the total white shark population off the coast of California to be a paltry 219 animals.

Added up that makes a unified breeding and circulating population of 352 animals.

It's also not the case that white sharks are not breeding, they are, but there's a big question about the survivability of the young. As science and researchers are discovering, young of the year, often find themselves on California hooks, or killed in Mexico as a by product of long lining.

Our own investigations in Ensenada have uncovered 6-10 animals a week brought into the Ensenada fish market and sold as swordfish. One fish market.

It's evident that the population at Isla Guadalupe is not replenishing, one might expect to see 4-10 new animals a year arriving at the island if the population was stable and growing. Instead we have come to an almost standstill in the naming rights to these animals as more often than not sharks we think are new are in fact already identified.

I am not a scientist, just a guy who observes things, and if you ask me, I think the population of whites at Isla Guadalupe if not in decline is at a standstill. That revelation, which started a few years ago as a nagging thought is now a piercing scream, made manifest by the actual researchers who have been doing the hard work and have come home with these shocking numbers.

Kudos to Pete Thomas for breaking the news.

Patric Douglas CEO

Fiji on Predation - Great Stuff

Recently Da Shark was filming his favorite subjects - sharks, when an offscreen actor snuck in and displayed some canny predation moves on a tiny ramora.

The critter in question was a GT or Giant trevally, according to Da Shark these animals are quite the predators in their own right.

Kudos to Da Shark for this Nat Geo quality underwater series.

If you want to shoot something similar you're in luck, Da Shark is one of the owners behind Beqa Adventure Divers and this is his back yard, filled with sharks;)

More here.

Deserving of some Major Credit - Stefanie Brendl

For the past three years Stefanie Brendl has been in the "eye of the hurricane" for sharks.

As a shark conservationist who began her voyage to save sharks having owned a shark tourism operation on Oahu, she's become the embodiment of determination, grit, and political conservation savvy.

Haven't heard of her yet? Watch this video:

Direct Action Failure? Sea Shepherds Next Act

While Sea Shepherd congratulates it's self on an eco win this year, the second act of it's direct action policy is playing out in Japan.

There's always a second act.

As was the case last year, Japan is considering moving whaling operations to fragile coastal waters targeting whale and dolphin populations within Japans territorial limits.

"Jun Morikawa, an academic at Rakuno Gakuen University and the author of a book about Japanese whaling, says he is concerned that because fewer whales were killed in the Southern Ocean, Japan may want to hunt more whales and dolphins in its own waters."

This is Japans ultimate trump card, regional whaling pressure on a scale not seen since the end of WW2, and a disaster for coastal whale populations.

Does Sea Shepherd have a plan for this outcome?

Probably not, as their thin veneer of legitimacy and argument against scientific whaling would all but disappear in the face of Japans navy and coast guard vessels. A similar Catch 22 to Sea Shepherds now completely failed 30 year anti-sealing effort in Canada, which culminated in the loss of a two million dollar vessel, impounded and then sold off by the Canadian Coast Guard in 2008.

Canada has recently signed a multi-million dollar trade agreement for seal products with China, the largest trade agreement of it's kind for seals, and a complete repudiation of 30 years worth of direct action policy on the part of Sea Shepherd.

Whaling must end, but is direct action the method in which long term success can be achieved, or like a water balloon, are Sea Shepherds actions just putting pressure on other animals that, until now, have enjoyed relative safety and security off the coast of Japan?

Story here.

"It's like a fishbowl full of whale sharks"

ISLA MUJERES, MEXICO - U.S. and Mexican scientists believe they are close to solving one of the shark world's great mysteries.

They want to know why whale sharks, the largest shark species, gather each year by the hundreds in the teal-blue waters off this Yucatan Peninsula barrier island.

"It's like a fishbowl full of whale sharks," said Robert Hueter, director of the shark research center at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. "We are witnessing a spectacle of nature down there that we don't fully understand."

Hueter, Mexican biologist Rafael de la Parra and a group of other marine scientists are trying to make sense of the big shark reunion, an event dubbed the "afuera." The word means "outside" in Spanish, and it was the name de la Parra initially used to describe to the phenomenon.

"They are showing up in an area outside the area the Mexican government set up for their protection and outside the area we had normally studied them," de la Parra said.

Complete Story.