Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Shark Baron on German TV

From left to right: Shark Baron Jupp, me, Folkart Schweizer
Photograph: Paul Spielvogel

Josef Clemens August Johannes Rudolf Antonius Hubertus Wendelin Pankratius Maria Baron von Kerckerinck zur Borg, aka Jupp Kerckerinck, is becoming a hot tip for German TV stations.

In April Shark Baron Jupp appeared in three shows in regional German TV channels, and yesterday he and my other buddy Folkart Schweizer were the special guests on one of Germany's most popular TV talkshows, the ZDF Markus Lanz Talk Show. The show usually attracts an audience of some two million viewers in Germany, and is subsequently transmitted via Deutsche Welle TV to all continents. I will be able to see the show next week in Bolivia.

The subject: Sharks, why people fear them, how "Jaws" negatively affected their image and, thus, contributed to their relentless decimation since 1975 which was when that fateful movie was released. Another subject for discussion was the alleged 'danger' sharks pose to humans.

Jupp eloquently described the perils these beautiful and still misunderstood animals face, mainly because of the ever rising demand for their fins, and the crucial role they play as apex predators in the marine food chain.

Both Jupp and Folkart emphasized that snorkeling / diving with sharks is perfectly safe, and that humans are not part of the sharks' diet. Specifically, they put the bad rap sharks get in perspective and said that the almost insignificant rate of fatalities word-wide vis a vis much more trivial dangers such as being killed by wasp stings has to be attributed in most cases to mere accidents where swimmers and surfers get bitten and bleed to death. We know all those arguments, but the TV viewers didn't.

Since Folkart once had the dubious privilege of actually having been in the mouth of a large shark, he competently explained the concept of a test bite, and told an incredulous talkshow host, that the shark's mouthing felt like a love bite and did not cause him the slightest harm. In fact, the sharp teeth of the shark left only 14 marks on his wetsuit and did not even perforate it.

Souvenir of a most gentle test bite

I was able to see the show online*) and felt very proud of my pals. They have performed like a duo of seasoned, telegenic professionals and were able to effectively transmit the message all shark conservation organizations call their principal mission statement: Creating awareness through education.

Folkart is a well known German entrepreneur, as are his wife and his sons. The origins of Folkart's family owned business with well over 500 employees both in Germany and overseas date back to the middle of the 19th century.

Folkart's business is rock solid "Mittelstand", medium
sized enterprises that are the backbone of the German economy. "Mittelstand" is what makes German high technology the almost legendary label of unsurpassed quality - "Made in Germany".

Folkart considers himself an adventurer, always hungry for new challenges. He was well over 60 when he decided to discover the Artic and the N
orth Pole for himself, and about two years ago he became a certified diver. When he dived for the first time with sharks "up close and personal" he did not expect that "up close and personal" could be just that, literally... :-)

Jupp, on the other hand, has a family background of which fairy tales are made of. He was born in a castle - yes, in a real castle that was his family's humble home since the 15th century.

Although Jupp is 'only' a baron, there is something exquisitively princely about him. At the same time this dashing aristocrat is surprisingly modest and just clean fun to be with, even if you happen to be a 'commoner' - hahahahahaha.....

But that is not the interesting part of Jupp's life as his noble birth was accidental. What is not accidental is what he made of his life. Read his own words

I really admire Jupp for his dedication to the cause of sharks. He became interested in sharks less than five years ago when he dived with white sharks in Guadalupe, Mexico. That experience gave his life yet a new dimension. As he faced those sharks he instinctively felt that to fight for their survival would ultimately mean to sa
ve the world.

*) First click: "Zur ZDF Mediathek", then, on the lower bar, right, click: "Hai Society".

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quiznos and ESPN

Both Quiznos and ESPN are sponsoring a sharking fishing tournament...MADFIND. Please send your emails to Quiznos and ESPN (owned by Disney). Thanks to Jason Heller for pointing out - read his open letter to Disney.

Montauk Shark Tournament update

Photo by: Jason Heller

Please take some time to read Jason Heller's account of the Montauk Shark Tournament.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jason Heller gives 'em Hell

Will the heartless killers ever see the difference between the ugliness of their deeds and the preciousness, and beauty, of life?

Jason Heller, friend and pro-photographer, went to the Montauk Shark Tournament last week - not to participate, but to expose the participants - he is spearheading this issue and hopefully put an end to the killing.

Believe it or not, there is a annual tournament in Long Island to kill sharks. The bodies are then showed off on the docks, but what likely are drunk hicks - I mean 'recreational' fishermen. Have a look at what Jason's wife wrote - Jason himself will have an update and photos soon...


Friday, June 13, 2008

Leander Family Photographs - how BORING!!!!

I still thought some of you might enjoy this pictorial journey into our private past. More than that, it it a tribute to Karin and Felix - my family. What and where would I be without them?

Karin and I met in May 1975 - and we are still together. Need I say more? Well, yes, as any good marriage ours was hell at times.

Because of Felix, divorce was never a real issue although we both had to toy with the idea to keep our sanity when the going got rough. So, in a way it was Felix who saved our marriage. For that I thank him.

God does not exist for me, yet, Felix was his (or her?) greatest gift to me. Felix has taught me more about life and myself than all the books I have read.

Karin had (and still has) much patience putting up with me. She often said to me that no other woman on earth would have stayed with 'ze Wulf' longer than a couple of short years. I know she is right.

Schoenes Karinchen, let me then also say 'thank you' to you. Thank you for sticking around, I do appreciate it a lot. As prosaic as that may sound, it comes from that part of my heart that is off limits for everybody except you and Felix - and Tibu, our granddog... :-)

I will start the show with two pictures that say more than 2000 words:

(click on the images to enlarge them)

Karinchen a few months before we got married...

Karinchen a few months after we were married.....

Was Felix a schnuffel or was he not?? As a matter of fact, he still is my schnuffel ('Schnuffel' is one of those German words you don't have to look up in a dictionary to know what they mean).

Yeap - that's my family - nice, huh?


Aren't they gorgeous? (Forgive me for being so biased!!)

That's how this boy was / is - warm and plain friendly.

Poor Felixchen - adolescence has got to be the worst stage in life for men (not so sure about women although I would think they must feel pretty much the same).

Going to cocktail parties was part of our lives when I was a bank worker. Bankers and small talk, and I mean: small .......... what a drag!

Diving made up for the rigors of toiling and moiling for a very traditional German banking institution....

This was back some 20 years ago - Gosh, I can't believe it: have I changed that much??.....

Well, that looks more like us - as we are now... Charming, huh?

Here is the story that goes with this image. When Felix told us he had met Carmen, and wanted to marry her, we gave him this photograph to show it to her so she could get ready to meet the Fockers ----- errrrr, the Leanders.

And so it goes. :-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My first Great Hammerhead Shark

Photo: Lyn Nelson

... I was going through some old Nassau pics tonight, and came across this one, taken back in April 1975.

I remember I had just speared a fish when this great hammerhead zoomed in out of nowhere and scared the you know what out of me. At that time even hammerhead sharks were considered to be dangerous to man, and I had no reason not to believe it.

Incidentally, this was the year "Jaws", that most disastrous Benchley / Spielberg blockbuster movie was shown in the Bahamas.

Those were the times when freedivers were called 'skin divers', an appropriate term considering that when we dove, we were indeed all skin, except for a tiny swimming trunk we wore. Kind of like today's sexy Speedos that just have to hide the "boongie" (= Bahamian for butt) and the more important "family jewels"... :-)

My dive companion, Lyn Nelson, shot the pic from the dinghy we rented to dive in the greater Nassau area. Lyn would not dare to come in, and she he thought I was 'crazy ' to dive down to get closer to the shark. Mind you, she was a qualified dive instructor... Well, as I said - what we knew about sharks back then was rudimentary at best.

By the way: Look at the 'Oceanicdreams' logo, and look at me diving down - get it?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hanli Prinsloo: "I am Water"

Hanli Prinsloo in her element

Photo: Roger Horrocks

When I saw Hanli diving for the first time, I was almost awestruck - I have never seen a human blending so gracefully with the liquid element. Hanli was gliding, floating, flowing in the water.

Have you ever dreamt about a diving angel? No? OK, but you have seen seals or dolphins, right? Well, then all you have to imagine now is a beautiful young woman swimming like a seal or a dolphin. THAT is Hanlin in the water - when she dives she IS water....

Only true mermaids can sleep on the bottom of the ocean....

Photo: Annelie Pompe

A few blogs ago I wrote that my South African friends of Blue Wilderness, Gail and Mark Addison, will introduce Shark Freediving courses in Umkomaas / Scottburgh. In all humility, that idea was mine. I told the Addisons last year that they should make 'Freediving with Sharks' one of their specialties. It was not hard to convince them; Mark is a freediver himself.

Freediving with sharks allows you to interact with these intelligent and responsive creatures in a way you will never experience as a scuba diver.

Hanli playing with one of the beautiful striped girls of Aliwal Shoal

Photo: Roger Horrocks

What I did not know then was: Who could teach scuba tourists the joys of freediving professionally in the shortest time possible? But that was not my problem. Gail and Mark would have to find an adequate person to run the courses. When I heard that they were lucky enough to engage Hanli Prinsloo, I felt like exclaiming: "Guys, you've got the best and most passionate freediving instructor in Africa, not just South Africa!!"

I have to tell you how I got to know Hanli. I was at the southern tip of South Africa toward the middle of March to freedive with white sharks, but we had the most adverse weather conditions imaginable: rough seas, cold winds, and a visibility that was worse than that of a German flooded gravel pit.

Apart from a brief and intense, and at the same time rather insignificant (well, sort of 'insignificant'...) encounter with a 4 m female white shark, it was an absolutely frustrating week in terms of diving. And I had come all the way from Cochabamba to see, and photograph, whities...... :-(

But as we in the Spanish speaking world say: "No hay bien que por mal no venga" (= There is not bad from which good doesn't come). So, no white sharks, however, I was fortunate to meet Hanli - and that was more than a mere compensation.

After my buddy Roger Horrocks introduced me to Hanli there was an immediate exchange of some basic stuff of the kind you find in the periodic table of elements - don't ask me which ones; all I can tell you is that the chemistry between us was excellent right away! Hanli is a sophisticated, spiritual woman with a truly infectious personality. She radiates a passion for whatever she does that comes from the depth of her soul.

Hanli Prinsloo

Photo: Self-Portait

Now it's my turn to introduce you to Hanli by way of letting her speak in her own words. I requested her to describe how she could make a competent freediver out of you in one day:

I really believe that everybody, whether they consider themselves aquatic or not, can be taught to freedive. It's in your head mainly, your body will follow.

In one or two days, one can significantly increase a person's knowledge about their body an their inherent apneic ability to such a degree, that they will achieve depths and times they never could've imagined.

I have people coming onto my one-day courses loudly proclaiming that they could never hold their breath for more than 30 sec, and by the end of one static session they are comfortably doing between 2 and 5 minutes.

You may never have been deeper than a two meter reef, but with the proper coaching, within a day you could dive to anywhere between 5 and 20 meters.

The human body is beautifully adapted for freediving, for breath-hold, for depth, and once you know this, you will dare to trust it to take you where you've never been before.

Hanli has a fantastic website that is worth reading from the beginning to the end. After going through the pages and the images you will know more about her - but wait until you meet Hanli in person, in Umkomaas, to let her coach you when you feel ready for the very best type of diving in the world: Freediving with tiger sharks!

PS: Click on the images to enlarge them.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Master Shot

........ what else is there to say?

Sounds conceited? Well, it's not because this image is not mine :-)

Felix was the lucky one to get this stunning composition in his frame.

Look closely: The big tiger mama is swimming toward a large jelly fish, not minding the freediving photographer at her left.

I retired from my banking job five years ago; maybe it's time for me to retire from my "job" as shark photographer....

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tiger Shark and "Tibu" - Sister and Brother

I went through my most recent negatives today and found this pic I had sort of overlooked before.

Being an obsessive perfectionist (my German heritage combined with a psychic defect my son Felix correctly diagnosed long ago as some pathological variation of "anal retentiveness"... :-), I am normally very critical with my photographs - but when I saw this one, I thought: Old Wolf, here you have a perfect image. I don't mean the composition or other aesthetic criteria.

What I love about this picture is its deep symbolism: Man finally reaching out at the misunderstood, still vilified creature that is facing the nightmare of extinction.

Apart from that I realized that caressing a shark is not unlike petting a dog: Both look at you full of trust, even affection.... I know, I know, now I am getting carried away by my emotions... :-)

But you can believe me - when I pet "Tibu", Felix's and Carmen's dog*), I get the same reaction from him as from a big tiger girl.

Dogs and sharks must be soul brothers and sisters....

*) Carmen is my daughter-in-law, and Tibu is, thus, my granddog.