Thursday, July 30, 2009


What would you think of a child abuser who sponsored UNICEF - but then continued to abuse children?
Would one good deed make up for the other?

That's what comes to mind when observing Discovery's efforts at portraying themselves as Shark conservationists whilst celebrating an orgy of anti-Shark scaremongering.
Their Frenzied Waters campaign and website are horror pure and simple and their Shark Week and YouTube Channel pages are an obscene collage of teeth and gore, as are their promotion and actual programming. Yes I know, the horse was pretty much dead when I started beating it and has since been reduced to pulp - but it still pisses me off!

So, does stuff like this make up for their Shark porn?

Will anybody listen to, of all people, Deadly Waters' own Les Stroud after seeing him brave the various high fatality hot spots? Will they support protecting an animal that he has just demonized as a dangerous, treacherous killer?

Like in the case of the child abuser, it's just not a zero sum game: you can't just "compensate" for doing evil by doing something good.
As amply documented by Mr. Gasek and recently, Mr. Ford, Discovery just don't give a rat's ass about Shark conservation. Their much hailed joining of forces with John Kerry, their alliance with the Ocean Conservancy and their recruiting of National Aquarium's Andy Dehart as their "resident Shark expert" may look great - but in this specific context and against the backdrop of their unacceptable misrepresentation of Sharks, it is nothing but marketing bullshit aimed at greenwashing their tarnished brand.

Thankfully, Fiji seems to agree.
Following Discovery's reckless attempt at damaging Fiji's tourism industry, Tourism Fiji has just announced a lucrative deal with National Geographic, Discovery's direct competitor.
John: eat that!

Hat tip: The Dorsal Fin for their relentless beating of the same dead horse!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fiji's Sharks

The guys over at Underwater Thrills are up to something.

Having seen the results of their last initiative, I'm fully expecting something equally smart, out-of-the-box and of course, conservation-oriented! Leveraging our clients' images? I like it already!

So whilst we're waiting for more details, here's a nice video by one of our good friends and repeat clients, Lawrence Groth (with a "t"!) of Shark Diving International and the Shark Safe Project. This is he, "t" and all - very cool job by Annie Crawley!

Depicted are the two local Shark diving companies and two of our signature Tigers, big and mellow Scarface with her crooked mouth and the much smaller and assertive Adi, or Princess. There's also nice footage of Whitetail, our biggest Sicklefin Lemon and yes, she's got a white blotch on her tail!
The scenes with BAD are those showing Rusi with his signature yellow hood, and the metal crate and pole where we keep the bait. Great footage and also, great choice of soundtrack!
Hat tip: Tafa, equally a client, for having discovered the video.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Sharkitarian Video!

No I did not just invent a new word!
It's from this post on Underwater Thrills and I, too, found it charming.

As is this video.
Not that I fully agree with its portrayal of Sharks. I'm more of a pragmatist, situated somewhere in the middle between Sharkitarianism and the dispassionate analytical love of your average Shark scientist. But for once, it's something completely different - maybe a first valiant, and certainly poetic attempt at conveying to Sharks a set of attributes more frequently associated with furry cuteness.
Kudos to David Ulloa for a job very well done.


Stories here and here.

Hat tip to The Chum Slick for having spotted the rope on this one!

Please sign the petition.
Thank you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Answer to a Comment

The anglers are pissed off.

What was a short and noncommittal post mentioning Delray Beach has triggered a surprising response. At the same time, the usually irreproachable and intelligent Sharky has waded in knee-deep and is using the same unfortunate arguments.

Before I post my answer to that comment, here's where I stand on some of the issues raised.

I haven't met Jimmy Abernethy personally and am on record for being unconvinced by some of his apparent procedures (and never having dived with him, I'm also on record for reserving my final judgment on that) and for being disappointed that his signature dive site, Tiger Beach, is not being protected and is being thrashed by other operators.
These ad personam attacks are however totally uncalled for, especially the underhanded reference to the tragic accident of Markus Groh. Jimmy loves Sharks and together with Gary Adkison, he is without a doubt the one person that has single-handedly introduced the most people to Sharks and turned them into Shark lovers in the process. His fans and followers are legion and many of them have embarked on the path of Shark Conservation after having dived with him. This is his legacy - and not the accident, as an equally unfortunate comment has suggested.

Trophy hunting and trophy fishing have no possible justification, ethical or otherwise.
I'm all for hunting and fishing for food, as long as the species are not endangered and as long as the animals are dispatched humanely.
Yes I realize that some believe that the thrill of stalking a prey or of wrestling with a large Fish is "fun" - but this is the 21st century and we must all progress from our troglodyte origins towards being modern and civilized human beings with ethical imperatives. Killing (and also, torturing) animals for the thrill alone will never meet those prerequisites, ever. And I may be repeating myself - real men just don't do that!
This is an example of that kind of behavior - and yes, those were land-based anglers!

I believe that good conservation should be based on consensual and pragmatic solutions.
But not necessarily always. Sometimes, as in Ft. Myers, the anglers need to be shown the "stick" in order to agree to come to the negotiating table. Very rarely, the pro-Shark faction is just being dealt the better hand and if so, they should certainly play it. The good people of Delray Beach have every right to decide about what happens on their beach and if the decision is to ban Shark fishing, I can only applaud it. After all, my thing is Shark conservation, not diplomatic relations and universal peace and justice.

That said, over to my response.
It got longer and longer and finally, Blogger refused to accept it in the comments section - so there.

Thank you for your comment.

I however disagree with your standpoint in so many ways.

a. Catch & release is not a "good thing" - not to fish for Sharks is.
Yes, catch & release is certainly better than killing - but it is cruel and unneccessary nevertheless.

Look, I'm an angler myself and although I don't target them, I sometimes hook a Billfish.
Like any responsible catch & release angler, I will try and get the Fish to the boat in the shortest time possible and with the minimum of stress to the animal.
That involves maneuvering the boat in such a way that the Fish is not being muscled in during a protracted fight, to the point where it may even die of exhaustion. The release is then effected immediately whilst the animal is submerged and often, it involves "walking" the animal in order to aerate its gills until it can then swim away under its own power.

All evidence suggests that often, land-based Shark fishermen do not act that way, especially when they hook big animals.
The Sharks can only be landed once they are completely exhausted. Often, they get dragged onto the beach where considerable time is spent taking measurements and posing for pictures.
This is certainly extremely stressful for the animals and it is only fair to assume that some will not survive that treatment.
This is not cool.

If they want to gain any "credibility",
the land-based anglers must be asked to review their procedures when catching and releasing Sharks.

b. Jim Abernethy (with an "e") is uniquely positioned to comment about the dangers of baiting for Sharks ("chumming" is something else - and I sure hope the Shark anglers don't do that!) precisely BECAUSE he operates baited Shark dives and thus knows intimately how the animals behave in those conditions.

Like us here in Fiji, he does it well away from any beaches and surface oriented aquatic recreationists. And like us, he does not allow any snorkelers, swimmers, nor even free divers on those trips.
And for good reason!
Once you bait for Sharks, they behave differently - even smaller piscivorous species like Blacktips and Carribean Reefs. Whereas divers can minimize risks by displaying adequate behavior, people at the surface become particularly vulnerable to the threat of attracting the Sharks' attention and being bitten as a consequence.

To cut to the chase, fishing (for Sharks but also for other Fishes) and surface-oriented beach activities like swimming and body surfing just don't go together.
Would you feel safe to go and have a dip right next to where some anglers deploy bait or drag in struggling Fish? Really? I for sure would not!

I've said it before: the chicken have come home to roost.
Jimmy and other Shark operators have been chased out of Florida by people claiming that his "chumming" (mind you - way offshore) was a public safety hazard - and now some of the very same groups are claiming that doing the precise same thing directly on the beach is unproblematic!
If there's an issue of credibility, it certainly does not reside with Jim.

c. I was not at the meeting (were you?) and don't know if and what pictures were presented, and how.
But one has only to surf the website of the South Florida Shark Club and view the many YouTube clips featuring land based fishing to see that the behavior displayed is sometimes problematic (and I'm being polite).
In that light, it is really of no importance where the pictures presented were taken - it's pretty obvious that there is no common code of conduct and that the allegations of rowdy behavior, littering, Shark kills, daytime fishing and chumming are certainly plausible.
In fact, I just happen to know somebody completely and utterly un-involved in this matter who lives there - and having asked, that person has confirmed some of the above grievances.

To sum it up, dragging in Fish and Sharks from a beach in a residential area is problematic.
There's a reason why hunters go hunting in the wilderness and not in city parks - and this is not much different.

If the land-based anglers want to pursue their activities in Delray Beach, they will have to assuage the reservations of the residents, the more since many of the anglers don't live there. It is for them, not the residents of Delray Beach, to do the convincing, to come up with viable solutions and compromises and to have their members stick to some acceptable code of conduct.
Barring that, they will need to go fishing somewhere else.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Delray Beach - Shark Attack?

Watch this.

Did I really read "Shark Attack Victim" in one of the captions?
Anyway: small Blacktip 1 - Idiot 0!

Buddy: next time you want to look at a Shark, grab a mask!

More about Delray Beach soon!
There has been progress - but the details so far are somewhat fuzzy and everyone is waiting for the Mayor's office to publish the exact wording of the ordinance.
Fingers crossed!

Hobo Catch & Release?

Story here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thou shalt not...

..deceive the Audience!

This is one of the three main commandments famed BBC Natural History Unit producer Jeffery Boswall has postulated when shaping the approach to ethics in Natural History broadcasting.

One would think this is pretty much self evident and certainly laudable.
After all, according to this interesting paper

In developed countries, natural history documentaries are the most important source of information about animal life.
Although naturalistic tourism seems to be increasing, for the great majority of people in the affluent societies real-life interactions with animals are mostly limited to pets and to the species living in urbanized environments. Therefore, for lay people not trained in biological science, documentaries are likely to be the main source of knowledge about many species (such as animals living outside western countries or living inside these countries in the wild). From this fact, it can be argued that many humans have an interest in the production of natural history documentaries.

Generally speaking, viewers look at documentaries as a reliable source of information about animals. They trust documentaries to present true facts and they have a basic moral interest in not being deceived (and in some cases such interest is also protected by a right). Producers and film-makers have a responsibility not to deceive the viewer (Mittermeier & Relanzon 2008).

Even if natural history documentaries are perceived as depicting reality, in general it must be acknowledged that they do not show ‘plain facts’. It is very likely that what is depicted is not free of the film-makers’ opinions and values.
Therefore, the interest of viewers not to be deceived cannot be interpreted as the interest to see ‘plain facts’. Watching a natural history documentary (like a news reportage) entails the viewer accepting the facts as seen from the film-maker’s point of view.

When does this mediation threaten the viewers’ interest in not being deceived?
Generally speaking, it could be said that the viewers’ interest is protected if the information they get is in agreement with data produced by the scientific community (or, at least, if they are informed that the documentary disagrees with the currently accepted scientific point of view). When documentaries give explanations of animal behaviour in agreement with ethological research, then viewers have the chance to get the ‘state of the art’ of human knowledge about animal life. None the less, given the popular nature of documentaries, scientific explanations must be translated into terms understandable by lay people...

A more realistic goal would be to start a process of elaboration of international guidelines shared among the different professionals involved in the making of documentaries. To start this process, public debate and discussion of ideas are essential.

As I said: laudable!
But what happens in reality?

Chris Palmer has published a remarkable opinion piece which I invite everybody to read in its totality. His take on Ethical Issues is so important that I feel the need to cite it in its entirety, together with some excerpts from his thoughts about Presenter-Led Programs.
Please bear with me and continue reading - it is truly remarkable!

Issues about how animals are filmed in the wild have become increasingly controversial.
While many wildlife filmmakers behave responsibly, the industry has its share of producers, directors and camera operators who continue to put a great shot ahead of the welfare of the animals they are filming. Some filmmakers "stress" an animal by getting too close. Others stage phony scenes to make wildlife seem more dangerous than it really is. Networks and corporate sponsors may exert undue influence on film content as they try to "get their money's worth" from every scene.
Because of this, animals are being endangered and audiences are being deceived.

The proliferation of wildlife shows and the ubiquity of cameras have created a kind of "wildlife paparazzi" that harass and endanger animals to capture "money shots."
Amateur videographers, influenced by wildlife documentaries, venture too close to their subjects. The aggressive tactics filmmakers use to draw animals to a film site and capture dramatic, sometimes even unnatural scenes on tape - think man-made feeding frenzies - have created "wildlife pornography." Animals are exploited for viewers' pleasure.

Viewers often assume that everything in wildlife films is natural, which often isn't the case.
Sometimes scenes are contrived, animals are captive and stories are invented. Pressures are put on filmmakers by networks to obtain eye-popping footage, whatever the cost. This encourages them to "stage" behavior in order to obtain the breathtaking action scenes that viewers have come to expect.

Wildlife films feed a strong curiosity people have about the natural world, and audiences want the portrayals to be authentic.
They want to see wildlife and wilderness untainted by the hand of man. Audiences don't want filmmakers to do any harm to those beloved animals or their environment. When audiences discover that something they see in a natural history film is packaged, inauthentic or contrived, they feel cheated, misled and fooled. But the line between authenticity and artifact is thin and easily crossed. Filmmakers debate where the line is and where unethical behavior begins.

On location, there is often little time or inclination to focus on ethical issues, such as whether wild animals are being unfairly harassed.
Looming deadlines, bad weather, budget problems, equipment breakdowns, contract disputes and logistic crises often take precedence. Nevertheless, ethical issues are important and can be grouped into four categories:

  • Getting too close
  • Staging
  • Misleading and lying to audiences
  • Animal harassment.

Examples of irresponsible filmmaking in recent prime time wildlife films include television hosts taking hot spring baths with snow monkeys, scientists sticking their hands into snake holes and then bragging about their wounds, and a television host plunging around in dense brush along a river bank while attempting to get close to a grizzly bear.

These shots are a desperate attempt by networks and filmmakers to attract viewers and get good ratings. If a show receives a low rating, it will likely be cut from the schedule and the film producer's income will take a beating. The pressure for ratings explains the emphasis in wildlife films on predation, sex, aggression and violence; and the lack of airtime focusing on cooperative and nurturing behaviors, habitat preservation and conservation. To be heard above the noise and to win big audiences, networks feel they need to shock and surprise their audiences.

Television wildlife host and scientist, Brady Barr, from the National Geographic Society says scornfully that all audiences and networks seem to want today is a "highlight" reel. By that, he means a program with relentless and supercharged excitement. The intense competition for ratings pushes hosts and filmmakers to go to extremes in the quest for bigger audience shares.

Today television has become intensely ratings driven.
As a result, there has been an increase in sensationalism in wildlife television programs as producers feverishly compete for ratings. Many presenter-led programs have gotten out-of-hand as hosts will seemingly do anything to try to achieve high ratings with super-charged and constant excitement. They often goad dangerous animals into dangerous confrontations, which are extremely stressful for both parties, even if highly entertaining.

There is clearly a dark side to this kind of entertainment-cum-education.
Animals and presenters are put at risk while also provoking "copycat" harassment of animals by members of the public. Viewers watch charismatic personalities on television get close to wild animals and are tempted to try to do the same themselves.

We have reached a state in the wildlife filmmaking industry in which the very animals we mean to protect may be compromised or hurt in the process of capturing them on film.

When we look at the early years of the wildlife filmmaking industry, we can see there has always been temptation toward exploitation.
Yet, the modern explosion of reality television has only increased this temptation, making it more appealing for broadcasters to air reality shows with questionable and ill-advised content. Hosts today manhandle animals for the sake of ratings rather than education.

Just amazing: so true and so insightful!
Alongside Boswalls Thou shalt not deceive the Audience, Thou shalt not harm the Animals and Thou shalt be willing to disclose how the Film was made, Palmer postulates a further commandment: Thou shalt not meaninglessly sensationalize an Animal.

As Derek Bousé explains in his fascinating contribution Computer Generated Images: Wildlife and Natural History Films (please read it!), this is not a new phenomenon. Scientists and conservationists have always voiced their concerns and have often been regarded as interlopers seeking to enforce constraints on creativity, if not to drag down ratings and sales.

"We are in the entertainment business", the producers and distributors protested, "and must sell to the global market".

Still, there was something to the scientists' and conservationists' arguments that wildlife films are a special category of images and that they carry a heavier burden than most other forms of art or entertainment to be accurate and truthful.
In an age when so many people received most of their information about nature from television, there were legitimate concerns about nature television's influence on public attitudes, especially given that audiences, in their role as consumers and voters, might make decisions that could affect the fate of species and habitats...

Could the ratings-driven emphasis on scenes of predation, conflict and danger in wildlife films lead to trepidation, fear and loathing (at least toward some species) among viewers?
"How we treat others" film critic Richard Dyer (1993) has argued, "is based on how we see them".

Thus, if an animal were widely portrayed (and therefore seen) as a treacherous, dangerous killer, would there be popular support for its protection if it faced extinction?

Sound familiar?
The debate continues.
We've posted our opinion about the portrayal of Sharks and our role as gatekeepers time after time again. And together with others, we've even come up with what we think are equitable solutions.

At first glance, we've clamored in vain: this year's Shark Week is worse than ever before and what is even worse, some from within our community have willingly and knowingly aided and abetted that despicable anti-Shark rubbish.
And yet, I'm discerning a change of perception and I am optimistic about the future.

We're all in this together.
And as Patric says: we can, and have to do better!
And we will!

Fiji: Pro-Shark!

Matava Resort
Matava organises Fiji to be the first COUNTRY to fully participate in the Shark Free Marina Initiative

Matava - Fiji's Premier Eco Adventure Resort and Bite Me Gamefishing Charters take the leading role in the world with a major shark conservation initiative in the gamefishing community

KADAVU, FIJI ISLANDS - 14 July 2009 - Matava - Fiji's Premier Eco-Adventure Resort and Bite Me Gamefishing Charters are proud to take a world wide leading role in the the international Shark-Free Marina Initiative.
Shark Free Marina Initiative

The international Shark-Free Marina Initiative works with marinas, boaters and fishermen to develop policy designed to protect a vital component of the oceans health, our sharks.

Matava Director Stuart Gow said "We have worked hard over the past few months in Fiji at certifying many marinas and charter fishing boats as 'Shark-Free Marinas' and so far have more than any other country worldwide."

"Matava and Bite Me Gamefishing Charters was the first in Fiji to sign up and is actively promoting, coordinating and distributing information about the Initiative. We are working towards when Fiji can be the first country to be proud to announce itself as a 'Shark-Free Marinas' Country!" he continued.

The majority of shark species caught by recreational and sport anglers are currently listed by the IUCN as 'Threatened' (or worse) and each year an average of a ½ Million of these sharks are killed in the United States alone. It is estimated that 70-100 million sharks are killed yearly world wide!

Bite Me Gamefishing Charters actively avoids fishing for any species of shark and encourages this practice to be followed by all. By encouraging non-lethal 'catch-and-release' shark fishing fishermen and those sharks inevitably caught accidentally can enjoy their sport while ensuring that shark populations are not further diminished. By promoting sustainable practices of ocean management we hope that sharks will be around to keep our oceans healthy for generations to come.

Many Fiji marinas and charter operations are already listed on the Shark-Free Marina website as well as having the right to use the SFMI logo and signs for their own publicity. We are now in the process of distributing the stickers, posters and metal dock signs to registered businesses, charter boats and marinas.

The SFMI website also has an education centre that we hope everyone will find useful, it includes tips on how to catch and release shark, a list of Endangered and Threatened species plus information on how they can help protect the ocean.

Shark Free Marina Initative"At Matava, and Bite Me Gamefishing Charters we are of course both happy and proud to be spearheading this initiative in the South Pacific and indeed the World" said Matava Director and Bite Me Gamefishing Charter Captain, Captain Adrian Watt.

"We also see this as a great step forward and opportunity for all gamefishing and sportfishing charter boats, both on Kadavu and in the Fiji Islands, to move forward in their standards to achieve truly world class levels of service and capabilities demonstrated by the 'catch and release' programs."

Matava - Fiji's Premier Eco-Adventure Resort Captain Watt finished by saying "We would like to thank all friends and clients of Matava and Bite Me Gamefishing Charters past and present who have contributed to the success of our ecotouirsm principles and the resort and we look forward to exciting times ahead."
The Shark-Free Marina Initiative has a singular purpose, to reduce worldwide shark mortality. We encourage shark conservation at sport fishing and resort marinas by prohibiting the landing of any shark at the participating marina. The SFMI works with marinas, fishermen and like minded non-profit groups to form community conscious policy and increase awareness of the need to protect our sharks, our ocean and our legacy.

Matava - Fiji's Premier Eco Adventure Resort, is an eco adventure getaway offering you a fun and unique blend of cultural experiences and adventure activities in the environmentally pristine and remote island of Kadavu in the Fiji Islands. Matava - Fiji Premier Eco Adventure Resort is a PADI Dive Resort as well as a Project AWARE GoEco Operator. With more than 12 years experience in the Fiji Islands, Matava is recognized as a leading educational dive centre. Matava offers accommodation for up to 22 guests in lush tropical surroundings in traditional thatched Fijian 'bures' with hardwood polished floors, louvre windows and private decks offering privacy, comfort and superb ocean views.

Bite-Me Gamefishing Charters is our on-site IGFA game fishing specialists offering the best of superb record breaking blue water game fishing for tuna, wahoo, sailfish and marlin. As an active member of IGFA and The Billfish Association we advocate tag and release of all billfish and Trevally not deemed to be a National or World Record.

# # #
IGFA Banner

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yum-Yum Yellow!

No, not Rusis world-famous hood!

But that's certainly what unites the two: a predilection for yellow dive gear and a profound love, understanding and respect of Sharks! I'm of course talking about my friend Douglas David Seifert, unrepentant Shark feeding green-washer (which in my book equates to being a good guy!) and according to many, one of the world's best Shark photographers.

Case in point: the picture on top!
Click on it, it's a feast for the eyes! I've seen literally hundreds of pics from Shark Reef , many of which excellent - but this one is really special! Talk about powerful!
And then, there's the words and yes, they're finally online!
Nobody has ever captured "that" moment like he has!

A man in all-black scuba gear - with the notable exception of a bright yellow hood - crouches next to a metal box placed at a depth of 20m on the slope of a rubble-strewn coral reef. The yellow hood is a deliberate choice, to separate this diver from all others in the perspective of the gathering sharks.
He is the Feeder.

With the grace of a matador, the Feeder - his name is Rusi - removes some bait from the metal box and presents a tuna head to a bull shark approaching from the depths.
Rusi watches the shark attentively but without fear; he has done this many, many times. The shark approaches, its yellow eyes locked on the bait. Rusi releases his grip and the tuna head tumbles forward, completing a few slow rotations in the water; he then withdraws his hand and arm, and the shark closes the distance to the tuna head. It opens its mouth wide and its jaws gape outwards to their maximum extension, finally exposing the big teeth in its upper and lower jaws. It inhales the tuna head and closes its mouth, the teeth hidden from view once again as it swallows the bait with a slight shudder and a pronounced gulp.

Douglas: thank you!
Not only for the kind words in the article - I know this has been a challenging assignment and you have earned my respect and my gratitude for having seen it through as gracefully and humbly as you have. And for having agreed to wearing a dark wetsuit! (:

The staff send their love - come back soon!

A Confession and a Demand

Yes this GW is smiling!

Would you believe this!

From the website of none other than the much-maligned South Florida Shark Club!

As many of you know me on here, my name is Shannon Bustamante , and i have a confession and a demand to share with anyone willing to listen.
In the past I was as stubborn, immature, and ruthless as every other idiot out there that kills every shark they come in to contact with!!!!! I would slaughter them in cold blood and sell them to pay for my fishing trips, and even save up money, because i would catch so many.

But all of a sudden a close friend of mines for years (William Fundora) started Harassing me every chance he got about how wrong it was for me to be killing every shark i caught. At first i was in denial and very hard headed, as i would brush him off every time he would start. But as time went by i started educating myself more and more about sharks and the whole echo system, and the more i learned the more i changed.

Today i can honestly and proudly say that me and everyone fishing with me release every shark that we catch, which is a huge milestone, however it is not quite enough!!!!!! Not at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Full post -and comments- here !
Now is this cool, or what?

Bravo Shannon!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Horror and Terror

From Creativity Online.

Discovery Channel seeks to bring the fear back into Shark Week in a promotional game created by Campfire, along with N.Y. and Stockholm-based interactive shop Your Majesty...
Campfire Co-Founder/ECD Mike Monello says he and team returned to their horror roots in conceiving this game. "Discovery Channel had a great brief," he explains. "Shark Week is 22 years old, and a lot of people think of it as a known quantity. They wanted to tap into people's fear of Sharks and bring back the fear of Shark Week.

Just great isn't it.
I found the above link on The Dorsal Fin, an interesting "Shark conservation-minded blog that will deal with Shark news and promotion of Shark conservation".

Here's what they have to say about Discovery's idiotic Frenzied Waters.

Now, why would I give a free-pass to Campfire for creating a horror-based entertainment vehicle, but then turn-around and call out Discovery Channel over it?

It’s simple, I expect more/better from Discovery Channel, because it is the worldwide leader in non-fiction programming.
Discovery Channel is marketed as a learning/educational themed channel, while Campfire’s philosophy is quite a bit different. According to Discovery’s corporate site, “John Hendricks launched Discovery Channel in 1985 with a mission to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest-quality, nonfiction content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.”

Is creating an unnecessary sense of fear towards Sharks really “enlightening” the audience?
People who watch programs on Discovery Channel do so under the assumption that they are watching an educational work of non-fiction. Focusing a marketing campaign around Sharks attacking humans for programming that is expected to be educational is just plain irresponsible and seems to go against their Corporate Social Responsibility statement, in my opinion.

While I won’t be see ignorant as to not understand the fascination of people with the predatory aspect of Sharks, I still do not understand why Discovery Channel feels the need to perpetuate fear rather than respect of this aspect of Sharks.

At the end of the day, I guess the marketing experts at the Discovery Channel concluded that tapping into fear could earn them more advertising dollars than educating viewers would. At the rate that worldwide shark populations are decreasing, I would think that Discovery Channel would see that their “cash cow” is at risk of running dry.

Perhaps, it might be a good idea to focus on conservation rather than fear.
Apparently, that wasn’t in the marketing plan for Shark Week this year.

Whoever you are, well said!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Different Ocean, same controversy - and same perpetrators!

The opponents of Hawaii's "Shark dives" (they're actually totally harmless and educative snorkeling tours) try to make the case that baiting for Sharks three miles offshore may induce the Sharks to follow the boats back to shore where they then pose a hazard to the beach goers and aquatic recreationists.

Absolute Humbug!, says this study by Meyer and others of the UH Mānoa Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology:

The public safety implications of shark cage diving operations are arguably the most contentious aspect of these activities.
A recent study of the white shark cage diving industry in South Africa concluded that specific conditioning associated with these activities makes them unlikely to increase the risk of shark attacks on recreational ocean users in adjacent areas (Johnson & Kock 2006).
This is despite the fact that white sharks are the species most frequently implicated in shark attacks on people (430 attacks worldwide; G. Burgess, International Shark Attack File, personal communication 2007).

Our study indicates that current Hawaii shark diving operations also pose little risk to public safety.
The shark assemblage associated with these activities was numerically dominated (> 98%) by Galapagos and sandbar sharks, which rarely bite people. Worldwide, there have only been five confirmed unprovoked attacks attributed to sandbar sharks and only one attack attributed to a Galapagos shark (G. Burgess, International Shark Attack File, personal communication 2009). Other potentially dangerous species (tiger shark, hammerhead spp. or white shark), occasionally visit Hawaii shark cage diving sites, but there is no evidence that the rate of shark attacks along the adjacent coast has increased significantly since the advent of shark cage diving operations in 2001. There were five confirmed shark attacks along the north coast of Oahu (38 km stretch of coastline between Kaena Point and Kahuku Point) during the 1990s (Global Shark Attack File [GSAF] 2009) and five confirmed shark bites in this area between 2000 and 2008 (GSAF 2009, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources 2009).

Negligible impact on public safety is also supported by:
(1) the remoteness of the sites,
(2) the fact that the shark tours mimic activities of crab fishing vessels which have been operating in the same area for over 40 years and
(3) inshore recreational stimuli (such as a surfer paddling on a 3msurfboard) substantially differ from the conditioning stimuli associated with tour operations (c. 10 m diesel powered vessels operating several km offshore), and hence are unlikely to stimulate a conditioned feeding response (Johnson & Kock 2006).

Seriously, does anybody really think this is anything but good, safe and harmless fun?

Incidentally, I was just sent the following by "somebody" very prominent who lives in Hawaii and is intimately acquainted with local circumstances. I can categorically state that he's generally as pragmatic, impartial and well reasoned as they come and not at all an exponent of the tree-hugging activist faction of Shark Conservation.

Did you catch Jim Rizzuto's column in West Hawaii Today on Monday?
It seems that a charter sportfishing boat was on its way into Honokohau Harbor and decided to try for some fun near the harbor entrance. They hooked up a Whitetip, which was then bitten in half by a Tiger Shark. When a fisherman feeds a Shark (even one that belongs to a species that has declined drastically in population over the last decade) to another Shark, it's GOOD FUN!
If you go out to look at a Shark to appreciate it and learn about it, it's a statewide threat.

A diver was circled by two Tiger Sharks for 20 minutes recently at the entrance to Honokohau Harbor.
Every knows why the Sharks are there: because the sportfishing boats dump their carcasses there on their way back into the harbor (or in many cases, dump the carcasses in the harbor, with the smell and sometimes the carcasses themselves going back out with the tide). When fishermen pollute the harbor and attract the only dangerous species of Shark we have here into an area that is one of the island's most popular spots for snorkeling, diving, and surfing, and home to endangered Sea Turtles, Dolphins, and (seasonally) Humpback Whales with calves, it's NO PROBLEM.

If divers maintain a population of small Sharks, never implicated in attacks on humans here, at a location over 3 miles offshore and far from any other recreational water activities, it's a CRISIS! Of course, when that same population of Sharks was being maintained in that same area by fishermen it was NO PROBLEM.
Hmm - must be a simple rule in here somewhere that could explain this logic....


Shark-Free Beaches?

Back to the controversy.

I got quite a bit of flak for having posted my take on the land-based Shark fishing in Delray Beach.
The organizers of the anti-fishing movement are excellent and passionate people who love Sharks with a vengeance, and the post was seen as a stupid and unnecessary contribution that would ultimately weaken their case. If so, I hope they'll accept my sincere apologies.

Of course, it wasn't meant that way.
Where I'm coming from is that I believe that Conservation must be pragmatic, smart, whenever possible consensual and fact-based. The Shark-Free Marinas Initiative is an excellent example of how that can be achieved.

Surely, nobody is seriously contemplating to ban all land-based fishing (for Sharks and "regular" Fishes) in Florida.
Anglers are a passionate and powerful group and their hobby is just another -albeit for some disturbing- way of enjoying the outdoors. From a Conservation point of view, they are certainly entitled to pursue it as long as they don't kill endangered species.

Here's an example from Australia.

Once again, the way to go is to sit at one table and agree on a compromise, whereby the anglers are allowed to fish provided that they do so sustainably.
In the case of game fishing for Sharks, all of which are endangered to some degree, that really boils down to practicing catch and release, very much in line with what the IGFA is already doing with Billfish. I understand that some anglers do kill the Sharks and eat the contaminated meat - but from what I can discern, many don't, so it should not be mission impossible to convince the recalcitrant rest.

Incidentally, Sean Paxton & Brooks Paxton II are already working on certifying released Sharks as part of the Int'l Land-Based Shark Fishing Association. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as they will also certify dead Sharks and also, because some of the Sharks on their list should be fully protected - but certainly a step in the right direction.
Also, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is presently reviewing its Shark management rules and it very much looks like they are willing to take aboard the above reservations, along with measures aimed at protecting juveniles, pregnant females and banning Shark kill tournaments.

But what about the argument that land-based fishing is endangering the other aquatic recreationists by drawing in Sharks?

I've actually been totally sold on that one for quite a while - but maybe contrary to the proponents of a ban on Shark fishing, I intuitively believe that the worst perpetrators may well be the "regular" fishermen that use chum and then drag in struggling fish that send out distress signals which are irresistible to Sharks. Incidentally, that's what the Shark fishermen claim, too!
On top of that, many anglers will then clean their catch right on the shore and thus create a further Shark attractant. I've personally witnessed it in French Polynesia and the next blog post will mention a glaring example from Hawaii. And there's the famous case of Walker's Cay where the regular dumping of carcasses by a game fishing operation established a resident population of Bull Sharks.

If the above is true, the only solution would be to establish mutually exclusive zones: no fishing where people swim and no swimming where people fish.
Yes Delray Beach may resolve to chase away the anglers (but it should really be all of them, not only those who target Sharks) citing that the area is just to small to support both activities - but in the big scheme of things, anglers certainly deserve their own space where the other users agree to take a step back.

Bottom line: talk to each other!
It's really always the same: the best and most enduring Conservation is the result of negotiations - and yes, sometimes the parties will only agree to talk after having been shown the "stick", like in Ft. Myers. The result of those talks will likely be a compromise, meaning that some Sharks will be killed - but in exchange, we could have a say about what species, how many, where, when and how and be reasonably confident that the anglers will abide by those rules. And maybe export the concept to other states where land-based Shark fishing is equally popular.
To me, that would be quite an achievement!

Anyway, as I said, just a thought.

PS: I just found this poll on the Orlando Sentinel website - please cast your vote.

Shark-Free Marinas in Fiji!

Huge kudos to Stuart and Adrian of Matava!

Fiji's Premier Eco Adventure Resort and Bite Me Gamefishing Charters have partnered in spearheading the nation-wide roll-out of The Shark-Free Marinas Initiative to all marinas and charter fishing boats across the country. It's a great undertaking: smart, cheap, effective - Conservation bootstrapping at its very best.
A first push directed at their peers in the game fishing community has already resulted in the certification of nine proudly Fijian Shark-Free marinas and operators - more than in the USA and the Bahamas combined!

Now, it's the turn of the other Supporters of the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project, Fiji's contribution to the International Year of the Shark - and of you, the Fijian readers of this blog!

Whether you are a Dive Operator, a Resort, an Org promoting Conservation or just an individual: please get active in your area and Fiji-wide. Do you own or operate out of a marina or harbor? Are there any marinas, fishing charter operators, or avid fishermen in your area?

Then, please approach them and help them getting certified as Shark-Free Marinas and Operators!
Should you have any questions about how to go about it, please consult the information and support pages on the SFMI website where you will also find the downloadable "Invitation to register as a Shark-Free Marina". Please also consult Matava's exhaustive explanations right here. Finally, always feel free to write to Eroni Rasalato, the coordinator of the FSCAP at for any further assistance you may require.
Want to contribute more or get personal recognition for your efforts? Please consult this page!

Registering online is really very easy and absolutely free of charge.
Apart from being a direct and tangible contribution to the immediate conservation of Sharks in Fiji, this will help making a better Fiji by once again contributing to the Country's reputation of being at the forefront of Conservation and Eco-Tourism. It will also allow the registered participants to add valuable "green" credentials to their marketing. Dock signs and other support materials are currently being sourced and will be "in country" shortly.

Let's go for it and make Fiji proud!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who's more anti-Shark?

Fox News or Discovery Channel?

Easy question!
The answer? You be the judge!
Here's Fox News: Final Fin? and Predators in Danger.
And here are Discovery's remarkable newest release, Frenzied Waters and its equally remarkable PR kit.

Still unconvinced?
Maybe you should take the time to read this post on Deep-Sea News.
Then, please sign the petition!

Hat tip: The Dorsal Fin and Underwater Thrills.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Abomination 3.2.

Contrary to what the title suggests, this is actually about some good news.
For once!

Remember the drunken Shark fishermen of Delray Beach?
According to this interesting article in the Sun Sentinel, the Authorities are planning to shut them down. However, this is not quite a done deal. Land based fishing is a very popular pastime in Florida where it is being viewed as a relatively inexpensive alternative to boat-based fishing and the fishermen are planning to vigorously defend their right to pursue their hobby.

I was initially all gung-ho about putting them out of business - but like always, it may not quite be as clear cut as it may appear at first glance. After all, these guys seem to practice catch and release, and some of the arguments they field do make a lot of sense.

Let me cite them as I've also posted the arguments of the proponents of a ban.

1) Shark fishing from a beach does not put at risk swimmers.
2) Most shark attacks occur in murky water when a shark mistakes a surfer for a thrashing fish
3) A hooked shark has never attacked a swimmer
4) Shark fishing takes place in the evening mostly when bathers are out of the water
5) We do not chum sharks to a beach (that would be absurd), we drop our baits 200 to 500 yards away from the beach.
6) We do not attract sharks to the beach , they already live and thrive there.
7) Dead fish often wash up on the beach ,,,,,,it is the ocean after all .
Why ban shark fishing ? Why not ban all fishing from the beach ?
Truth be told Tarpon fishing or fishing for any other type of fish attracts more sharks to the shoreline then land-based shark fishing.When a hooked fish is struggling on a fishing line it sends out distress signals that sharks home in on. A shark is attracted to our shark bait that sits well away from shore, those sharks naturally feed in those areas and also come in at night to mate. In all actuality sharks are drawn in toward the shoreline to chase the hooked fish a fisherman reels in. The simple TRUTH!!!
We are unfairly being targeted and discriminated based on people's fear of sharks and the desire to keep regular folks out of the rich seaside towns.

I'm particularly sold on the argument that chumming for and catching regular Fish may well be a stronger attractant of Sharks than Shark fishing itself. I also believe those voices that claim that Sharks frequent the beaches at night as part of their natural hunting, and maybe also breeding cycles.

From what I can discern, the pro-ban proponents are pursuing the following aims:
  • Shark Conservation - and if so, enforcing strict catch and release regulations should do the job. This was the compromise reached in Ft. Myers and this is what the Shark Free Marinas Project is aiming at. Yes game fishing for Sharks, like all hobby fishing and hunting is somewhat disturbing - but that's am ethical, not a legal question. One has to pick one's fights and trying to ban fishing per se is neither achievable nor quite frankly necessary as long as threatened animals (endangered Sharks but also all other endangered Fish species) are being released.
  • Safety - and if so, one must be very very careful not to speculate but to be well documented about the causalities. Otherwise, one ends up doing exactly the same as the proponents of a Shark viewing ban in Hawaii. Maybe the most effective way of ensuring the safety of the beaches would indeed be a total fishing ban. Maybe the Sharks are really always there, fishing or no fishing. Maybe, there could be mutually exclusive recreational and fishing zones.
  • Law and Order - and if so, the police should ensure everybody's orderly conduct.
Yes coming from a Shark conservationist, all of the above may sound bizarre indeed!
My concern is that despite of our passion, we must always remain and thus be perceived as fact-based and credible. We must also be solution-oriented and sometimes, we must be willing to reach a compromise (where each side makes concessions) in order to reach our aims.
And finally, using the fear of Shark attacks to promote Shark Conservation makes me cringe.

Anyway, just a thought.

But if the situation in Delray may be nuanced, here's some unequivocally good news: a local taxidermist is flatly refusing to mount any more Sharks and this is prompting some local game fishermen to exclusively practice catch & release.

And Guy Harvey, himself an avid fisherman, is working on having the IGFA scrap keeping world records for some specially endangered Sharks like Great Hammerheads and Tigers, where all record animals are undoubtedly pregnant females, i.e. the specially valuable breeding stock. It's about time those guys adopted the same rules that have long been accepted by the hunters.
Fingers crossed, that would be such an important step in the right direction!

Slowly slowly, bit-by-bit, Florida seems to be inching towards a substantially more pro-Shark attitude.
Just great!