Monday, March 30, 2009

Tiger Shark debates continues

David over at Southern Fried Science has a new post on the Tiger Shark killing by Craig Clasen (David - for your entertainment only "murderer").  David's posts always create some interesting and intense debates / conversations - I am sure this one will be no different.  He is also a contributing blogger on Underwater Thrills: Swimming with Sharks.

David is (from his blog description): "a graduate student in South Carolina studying shark conservation. He is the author of the upcoming book “Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help”.  He is  also an amateur shark photographer and videographer, and is involved with online shark advocacy. His time is divided between educating the public about sharks, spending days at a time at sea playing with sharks, and eating horribly unhealthy foods.

In addition to sharks, he writes about fisheries issues, marine conservation, environmental activism, politics as applied to science, and space technology. He also knows quite a bit about the scientific applications of Google Earth software."

Hope you can tune in...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wolf out of surgery

Just spoke to my mother - Wolf is out of surgery and everything went well. Went a little longer than expected as there was some scarring that had to be dealt with from his last surgery. He will be in the ICU until tomorrow and moved to a room after - if anyone wants to call him in the next few days send me a message.

We are now waiting to see what the prognosis is once the cancer is analyzed.

I need to go diving...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Felix made headlines in Montevideo, and with it my day!!

Click on images to enlarge and read

There is not much I want to say except that I almost burst of parental pride when I saw Felix in the most important business publication of Uruguay ("El Empresario").

Felix is to be envied to be able to work for Burson-Marsteller, a top international communications firm.

Being one of the company´s regional digital media strategists he gets to train his colleagues in the field offices in Latin America, and assists them in advising corporate clients how to "become digital" to maintain and enhance relevance communicating with stakeholders and customers. That entails both establishing close human bonds with his overseas colleagues, and making on-the-spot client presentations.

When I was Felix´s age I also worked in PR - but as a press officer of an investment company, my work consisted mainly of writing, and placing, articles about mutual funds. Not boring but certainly not as exciting as Felix´s job with B-M.

This is the second time a Uruguayan publication reported about a member of the family. In 1936, a newspaper featured Felix´s grandfather, Wolfgang Julius Leander, after he performed much noticed aerobatic flights with a 80 HP Buecker-Jungmann biplane in Montevideo. Makes me feel good about both my dad and my son.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A tsunami of sympathy and concern has engulfed me, leaving me stunned.

Dozens of people are concerned about my health, many of those who expressed their sympathy even don´t know me.

I know myself, and can tell you that I do not deserve such over-whelming tokens of friendship and solidarity, not even from the many well-wishers who know me personally.

Although I am feeling very well, all the good vibes and the waves of energy that are reaching me give me additional strength, and at the same time deeply humble me.

I truly believed that only a few people care for me - my family, my good friends (I haven´t many), and perhaps - no: most definitely my dogs, Chiara and Lupi. I thought that to be normal.

But now, in an extreme situation, I discover that I do have so many unexpected friends who share my oceanic passions and my inexplicable love for sharks. Friends who are genuine. That I consider a very precious gift and a commitment to not let go.

So, my friends, wherever you are, whether or not our paths have crossed, here is to you, and my turn to return your sympathy, and your love:

I love you all, and I promise you that I will stick around - and if God allows me to keep that promise (I don´t believe in him or her - still, he or she IS the boss... :-) we will all go shark diving soon, tiger shark diving!!

Of all the countless messages I received during the last week, this one touched the core of my soul. The three little well-wishers are my newly found friends Russell (3), Michael (10), and Guy (7) Eustace.

They are the grand-children of my dear friend
Guy Meeker who died a few days before Christmas 2008.

The boys did not draw the cute shark just to please me; they drew the shark because after our brief encounter in Nassau, where Guy was laid to rest in the Bahamian Sea he so much loved, Michael and Guy became confirmed shark friends.

With friends like them, there is hope for the sharks....

Thank you, guys! I really hope to see you soon again, and maybe in two or three years you, your parents, your grand-ma Lyn, my son Felix, and I will go to the Bahamas to snorkel with tiger sharks.

Does that sound like a deal? Then gimme five!!! :-)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wolf Update

Operation date has been set for this coming Sunday - early in the morning.  The surgery will take about 8 hours.  Post treatment will be dependent on his recovery.  The whole stomach will be removed - diet will change - most importantly the portions - he will have to eat like a bird (not like a shark) - about eight portions a day.

At this point the only real next update I will be able to give is when he is out of surgery.

Until then - thanks to everyone that has shown their support - it has meant a lot to the Old Wolf and has motivated him to come back even more quickly.  I think it also made him realize some things about himself that he did not know before - but I will leave that up to him to share...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aidan Murray Medley kills bull shark

What "good" can come from bad parenting and a lack of education: Aidan Murray Medley - a 13 year old that ironically wants to become a marine biologist when he grows up - killed a bull shark, check - next on list Great Hammerhead - seriously, doesn´t he have someone close to stop him?? This is the second bull shark this little hero killed.

For the complete story go to Shark Diver's blog.

It is getting to be exhausting: First Craig Clausen kills a tiger shark, then NBC under the "expert" guidance of shark divers screw up sharks´ image even more, and now little Adrian adds another to the list... March has certainly been a bad month.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Tudo Bem?" (= Everything ok?)

Today we got the news we really did not want to hear - turns out Wolf has stomach cancer. I do not have the details as to when the surgery will be - likely in a few days. He will be discharged from the hospital during that time and have to make some preparations. Today he wrote a post on paper which I am adding below, he wrote this before he knew he had cancer, I asked him if wanted to change anything after I told him - he said no, leave it.

From the Wolf:

"When you are in Brazil, this is the question you will hear more often than any other one.

“Tudo bem?” is, thus, what everybody asks me in the “Albert Einstein Hospital” of Sao Paulo, probably the best Latin American medical center I am privileged to have been interned on March 14th due to an emergency.

Considering the unexpected circumstances that brought me into this hospital as I was en route to the sharks of South Africa, I am happy to say that, yes, relatively speaking: “Tudo bem!”

To suffer from massive internal bleeding while travelling is bad news, and in my case the tiger shark trip already started under a bad omen: the widely publicized killing of a tiger shark by this Craig Clasen, duly recorded by videographer Ryan McInnis and a still photographer. Reading about this despicable act of cowardice and brutality for the purpose of seeking easy fame and financial gain mad me sick – literally as I now know....

My gut feeling to denounce these two characters as outright liars did not mislead me. These fellows completely underestimated the general public’s reaction to their shameless deed: most viewers and readers were simply appalled by the senseless killing of an innocent creature. They were not gullible enough to buy Craig Clasen’s phony crap of a “moral obligation to save his friend’s life.”

Then, while being hooked on cables in the ICU of the hospital, I heard yesterday that NBC aired a controversial feature about sharks.

Apparently, and not at all surprisingly, that piece of cinematography must have been the type of sensationalistic garbage we know from Discovery’s Shark Week as it drew many negative responses from the views for its purported superficial and biased approach to the subject.

The media seems to need, and perpetuate, the image of the “villain of the oceans” as if reporters, cameramen, producers, script writers, and directors could not handle sharks the way they are: magnificent ancient creatures that deserve our deep respect and admiration, not our fear.

That news was bad in itself. However, what really enraged me was that it appears that friends of mine, all shark people, participated in, or facilitated, the making of this “documentary”. Should this be the case, it will not go unnoticed – just let me get well again, do some research, and if my friends were indeed involved in a movie that turned out to be bad for sharks, it wouldn’t be “Tudo bem” for them – the friends.... "

Wolfgang Leander

Sao Paulo

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another Voice

Jeff Schreiber was with us last November on our trip to Tiger was the first time he dove with tiger sharks.  I have seen him on a more regular basis and have only great things to say about Jeff - the only bad thing I can say about him - "you wear to much equipement underwater" - this is coming from a freediver talking about a cavediver :) )Below are his thoughts about what happened today in the media and in general.  I thought this would be a good voice to be heard while the old man is can also go to Amanda's blog to read it (which I encourage):

It is unfortunate that in this day and age, the majority of the population gain their opinions from what is packaged up and presented to them with absolutely no objectivity. Opinions are formed from what is fed to them via major media outlets. Sadly these outlets are businesses; their motivation is sensationalism to raise ratings and earn more in advertising dollars. How many times have you seen, or read, a report on something that you are truly experienced in; something where you've seen first hand, or experienced, or are on the 'inside'? In those situations, how many times have you been left horrified by the mistakes, errors and downright misinformation that is presented to supplant an opinion on the subject in the audience?

Recently a national media outlet aired a segment on shark diving, featuring a charter boat that I had been on last November. From the very start of the segment I knew where it was going, and I had to fight my way through the whole thing; absolutely disgusted by the spin that they chose to try and portray. I have no desire to name the outlet, nor post a link to the story; as it, like so many other stories, only serves to vilify sharks; to cast them in a vicious light and to paint everyone that interacts with them to be thrill seeking adrenaline junkies.

Instead, let me express a little of my experience. Yes; I am doing just what these media outlets are doing... telling a story in a way that intends to cause the audience to form an opinion. However my motivations have nothing to do with money, or fame, or advertising. My motivations are only to provide a contrary opinion to the common misconceptions that are constantly being reinforced. A small scream of disgust likely to fall on deaf ears in a overwhelming ocean of misinformation.

The fact of the matter is, as I embarked on my trip a number of months ago, I too had preconceived notions about what I was going to experience. I was nervous about being in the water with sharks because I was brainwashed by the misinformation that prevails. Even with the experiences I've already had from diving the shipwrecks in the waters off North Carolina, wrecks that are frequently populated by dozens of Sand Tiger sharks, I had managed to compartmentalize those. I convinced myself that Sand Tigers were an exception, they are just lazy lumbering creatures of no danger or concern. Not like other types of sharks, oh no... they are different, they are animals that should be feared.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Sharks aren't to be feared; it's the fear that causes the hatred and vilification which grows to action in the way of downright genocide. They are truly magnificent creatures that deserve our respect, our care, and an understanding that they are a key element in a delicate ecosystem that is being systematically destroyed by the true apex predator on earth... 

Over a period of 5 days, I spent more than 24 hours underwater with no less than a dozen sharks at any given moment, every single one of them significantly larger than I. It only took a few minutes before I was able to gaze at them with an open mind. To watch them move, feed, and interact with one another was eye opening. I watched remoras hanging on for a ride, only to break off long enough to grab their own scrap of food. I watched schools of fish use the sharks for shelter. These fish weren't frightened of the shark, they were frightened of 
me. They used the sharks for protection from the humans, in hopes that the intimidating size of their graceful friend would keep them safe.

My experiences opened my eyes and mind dramatically. I was blessed with the opportunity to form my own opinion, one based on experiences rather than force fed to me as I 'witness' the world from the confines of my couch. 

The fact of the matter is that survival instincts are common among animals. Without survival instincts, a species would long be extinct. You are much safer fearing the unknown and be incorrect, then feeling safe and being incorrect. Will sharks defend themselves when threatened? Sure. So will we. Will sharks systematically eradicate every human they see? Absolutely not, but look at a human's reaction to seeing a mosquito. Will sharks exit their natural environment in order to seek vengeance for the death of one of their own? Obviously not, but I'll give you one guess as to what species on this earth does this time and time and time again, regardless of what caused the initial event.

Painting sharks out to be man-eating, or those interacting with them to be thrill seeking; does absolutely nothing but perpetrate the fear that is already present.

Special thanks should go to 
David Ulloa, who filmed and edited the following video, and to Amanda Cotton for the images included at the end of the video, and their attempts to raise awareness through the experiences that we've had first hand. If you want to see sharks being sharks; as opposed to sharks being used as theatrical props, this video, and those like it, are what you should be keeping in mind when you form your opinions.


Wolf - radio silence

My dad was on his way to South Africa to dive with the tigers and whites.  During his layover in Sao Paulo he had to be hospitalized as he was vomiting blood.

After an endoscopy there are two possible diagnosis, an ulcer or stomach cancer.  Biopsies have been taken and we are now waiting on the results.  Today he received a CAT scan and we had the good news that nothing has spread beyond the stomach area.

By coincidence, I am here is Sao Paulo for work so I am able to spend time with him. He is great spirits and is ready for either outcome...he has had two cancers in the past of which one he was only given a 20% survival chance.  I don't doubt that he would take this one on the same way.

The only thing he is really concerned about is not being able to dive with his friends with fins and getting back into the water as soon as possible.  It will be the sharks and him wanting to be with them that will give him the right attitude and energy to put this behind him.

David sent me a note and said it best: he has the strength of a shark and love of a dolphin...I told David he got it wrong...strength AND LOVE of a shark.

I will keep updating the blog to share any news with you all.

On a side note I have already heard the bad news in reference to the NBC show...while I have not seen it, I can well image what was done...what part do the people in the diving and shark industry not get???

Friday, March 13, 2009

Diver grapples (Murders) with 12ft tiger shark

Overkill - three spears visible and stabbing a Tiger Shark - Spearo Craig Clasen

There are two type of spearos, the good and the bad.  Let's start with the good: environmentally (specifically the ocean) conscious, respectful, harmonious, humble, smart, and above all an incredible love for the ocean and ALL its creatures.   They have no fear of sharks...

Then there are the bad: show off, consider sharks either a nuisance or a scared of them, spear for the photo or coverage, have no respect towards the ocean, pillage it as they please...

Craig Clasen and Ryan McInnis (and the others present) are bad spearos.  Given a choice to kill or let live a large tiger shark (that supposedly put them in a life or death situation) they decided to kill it...a process that took over two hours and various spears, stabbing, and drowning...a slow and painful is obvious from their photos and quotes that these guys were very afraid of sharks.  In the video you will notice that shark approaches the cameraman in a non-aggressive, but curious manner.  

From one of Ryan's webisodes on his site he mentions "Come face to face with a 12’ Tiger Shark that snuck up on me this summer in Louisiana, clean out your wetsuit" - in the episode Ryan also mentions that "he saw the last thing a freediver ever wants to see" referring to the Tiger Shark... 

Craig looks pretty happy here with Tiger Sharks tail and jaws - no remorse as he stated

And if you truly respect sharks, as they say they did, they would have never let this get out to the media...they were looking for their 15mins of fame, media coverage, money and status among the spearo community...they have done the opposite, not only giving spearos around the world a negative image, but more importantly the chance for the media to take a stab at sharks once again.

I am sure you will see another post on this very soon from my old man - he is on way to South Africa at the moment.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Costa Rica Leads Call at UN to Increase Shark Protection

A ray of hope for them?.....
Photograph: Wolfgang Leander

There seems to be more and more good news coming out for sharks: the latest from Rome, Italy, at a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Fisheries meeting.

"ROME - HSI experts participated in a meeting of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Fisheries this week where Costa Rica led the call for a global “fins-attached” shark conservation strategy.

Joined by 10 other Latin American countries, Costa Rica formally requested a U.N. workshop to address the barbaric and wasteful practice of shark finning.
Each year, around the world, tens of millions of sharks are hauled up on deck, where their fins and tails are sliced off and the (often still-living) sharks are then thrown back overboard to die a lingering and painful death.
The reason for this shameful waste is the demand for shark fin soup. The effect has been the devastation of shark populations worldwide. Some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent in the past 20 years. Some may never recover.

“Costa Rica has got it right”, says Patricia Forkan, president of Humane Society International, which has worked extensively on the issue of shark finning.

“The Costa Rican proposal promotes the idea that sharks should be landed with fins partially or wholly attached to the carcasses, a practice that is required by law in Costa Rica and is the most simple and sure way to prevent shark finning.”

The FAO was the first multilateral body to address the problem of shark finning.

However, the agreement that suggests a prohibition on finning is voluntary and open to interpretation, with the result that the FAO has achieved little in the way of shark protection to date.

Sharks are in serious trouble. Strong finning bans combined with limits or bans on shark fishing must be implemented fully around the world to curb the rapid decline of shark populations.


• Recent studies in the Northwest Atlantic have shown steep declines in shark populations, particularly among highly migratory species. Since 1986, hammerheads have declined by 89 percent, thresher sharks by 80 percent, white sharks by 79 percent and tiger sharks by 65 percent. All recorded shark species in the region, with one exception, have declined by more than 50 percent in the past eight to 15 years. It is highly likely that similar results will be seen across the world's oceans.

• Reported global trade in shark fins increased from 3,011 metric tons in 1980 to 11,732 metric tons in 2000. Much of the trade is unreported because many fins do not pass through normal landing channels and because most of the fin trade is conducted in cash to avoid tax and duties.

• Research in Hong Kong found that dried fins sold for as much as $744 per kilogram in 2002. In 2003 dried shark fins in China retailed for $200 – 300 (per kilogram. In ”producer“ countries such as Costa Rica and Colombia, fishers make $12 – 17 per kilogram for their fins.

• Shark fin soup can cost up to $150 per serving in Hong Kong, but there are worrying signs of a new market opening up for lower-quality fins, allowing millions more people to buy products such as shark fin sushi, shark fin cookies, shark fin cat food and canned shark fin soup.

• Shark fin consists of collagen fiber and has no taste. Flavor is added to the soup by the addition of chicken or fish stock.

• Unlike other fish, sharks take many years to mature, they have long gestation periods and they give birth to live young – or they lay eggs – in very small numbers. In some cases of severe overfishing, recovery of the stock, if possible at all, will take decades. The ”boom and bust“ pattern of shark fisheries has been repeated all over the world wherever sharks have been targeted.

Media Contact:
Kristen Everett, 301-721-6440,"

Thursday, March 05, 2009

David Ulloa: Filming Sharks with the Power and Beauty of Poetry

David Ulloa

It took me about ten minutes to come up with this title, and without wanting to praise myself, it couldn't have been more accurate to describe David Ulloa in a nutshell.

I met David last fall when we both signed up for a dive trip to Tiger Beach. David is a professional film producer, cameraman, technical diver, script-writer, director, and above all a warm and compassionate human being. We felt at once the bond of friendship that comes from the heart. A platonic coup de foudre as it were.

Felix and David had the same going between them. Thus, one could also say ours is a platonic
menage a trois - to stay in French... :-)

David in full gear - he must love what he does otherwise he couldn't put up with all that stuff

David's love of animals, and his ability to speak, whisper, sing silently to them in their language, be they horses, dogs, birds or sharks is absolutely stunning. He connects with animals on a level that is almost magical as you feel immediately, actually can see, how they respond to the communicative energy he emanates.

I have learned from David in thirty minutes just watching him handling horses more than I could have gathered from a scholarly treatise on man-horse interaction.

"Doc" Gruber and I were in Nassau last week to meet with some government people in shark protection related matters. As a "sales" tool I had requested David to furnish me with a short video clip of our friendly shark encounters at Tiger Beach.

This is what David put together - have a look, and you will agree with me that when David films underwater, it is the poet who writes, not the sophisticated camera technician who records.

David Ulloa's shark films are not documentaries about sharks - they are odes to them.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Shift in Paradigm

Not just 'a' tiger shark - this female tiger shark is "Olga"
Photograph: Wolfgang Leander, Tiger Beach 2007

We fear what we don't know; we fear what we don't see; we fear being devoured alive by a marine monster of our archaic collective subconscious. Add to that the movie "Jaws" and the media's usual coverage of sharks, and you have an engrained perception of these magnificent creatures in the mind of the masses that is completely undeserved.

Last weekend my dad and I were in West Palm Beach to see David, Dee, and Brendal (there will be a separate blog on who they are - enough to say that they are some great people, and true shark lovers). As we started talking about sharks - "a shift in paradigm" came up as a topic. How do you change the way people perceive sharks?

Dolphins, seals, dogs, cats, and most other furry animals (rats?, skunks? :-) can connect with people; they are cute, have "human traits", and are just adorable - everyone wants to save them.

Dolphins can be dangerous if they are in the wrong mood, never mind the smile on their faces. I have once been charged by a protective seal bull in the Galapagos - and let me tell you, there was nothing cute about him - he had an angry face, HUGE conical teeth, a body size as intimidating as that of a real fighting bull. On the flip side, one has also protected me from a shark.

The point I am trying to make is that we have to change the bad image sharks have, perhaps by playing a word association game: shark = love, endangered, beautiful ... not fear, scary, death, killing machine, Jaws.

And while I know many readers will disagree with me on this, I do think we actually need to humanize sharks, we need people to be able to relate to, and care for them in some form or shape.

It is a human trait to humanize our fellow creatures - we do that as we spend more time with animals. Disney has been doing this for some 80 years. It is amazing to see how accurately these cartoonists capture the animal characteristics / behavior and combine them with human expressions - who will forget Bruce in "Finding Nemo"?

Sharks can be presented in a different light, not necessarily as cartoons... Give them faces, give them names.

As most creatures sharks have unique personalities; divers who have had the privilege of seeing the same sharks in one given spot year after year will not only recognize them by some dents on their fins or distinctive body marks but also by their individual character. Thus, it would almost seem normal that these divers give their shark buddies names.

Ask divers who went with Jim Abernethy to Tiger Beach to tell you about "Emma” a 12-13 ft tiger shark - and they will most likely show you a picture they took of her, a lovely, most serene shark everybody falls in love with.

Those who went to Tiger Beach with Scottie Smith will know immediately who you mean if you mention "Olga", another striped beauty as large as "Emma". Then there is "Julia" - "Julia" is a lovely Great Hammerhead Shark girl, shy and curious at the same time.

"Dartboard", "Mathilde", "Ella" are some of the large, awesome tiger shark babes you will most likely meet on dive trips with Mark Addison in Aliwal Shoal (South Africa).

An almost legendary tiger shark is "Scarface" of Beqa Lagoon; she is a resident tiger lady measuring some very impressive 15-16ft.

Should these sharks ever get caught and killed by mindless fishermen, or netted by the infamous Natal Sharks Board shark nets in South Africa, you could be sure that their loss will be mourned by countless divers from all over the world who found them to be dear aquatic friends.

The 'shift in paradigm' we meant is precisely this: If you don't consider sharks a menace or a nuisance but can instead shed tears about the death of a shark you have become close to, either directly or through a filmed story or photographs, you will be able to cry for all those anonymous sharks who are being slaughtered brutally because of their fins, and are slowly vanishing into the mist of extinction...

A word of caution lest some readers get this all wrong: Sharks are NOT pets, even if they have friendly sounding names such as "Emma" or "Julia"; sharks are very efficient predators, and as such potentially dangerous, at least those you are likely to encounter in the wild.

Sharks deserve our admiration, our protection, and our respect. Do NOT engage in close interaction with sharks, no matter what size, unless you have acquired sufficient experience in understanding their body language.

Needless to say, interacting with sharks requires much sensitivity for animals in general, and a high degree of "oceanic emotional intelligence" when it comes to them.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

House Passes Shark Finning Ban

Some very good news coming out of Washington D.C today..."The House of Representatives passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 81) yesterday. This bill would require sharks to be landed with their fins still naturally attached, which allows for better enforcement and data collection in stock assessments and quota monitoring."

For more information please read Oceana's press release (who also happened to be a driving force behind this initiative) and visit their website - specifically their shark section.