Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Discovery Shark Week 2010 - Shark Attack Survival Guide

Well, it seems like Discovery Shark Week is back to the usual crap as the episodes are gradually moving from good to flat out unwatchable.  So bad was this episode that I was completely de-motivated to watch another one tonight - writing this post is as painful as my TV session last night.  Bring on the shark porn.
  • Hosted by former Green Beret Terry Schappert.  SF guys are resourceful and tough mothers with a 1,000 mile stare.  And I believe they can pretty much find a way to survive in any environment - lots of respect.  He was just dealt a bad script, bad special effects, and poor production.  I also saw him a few times hitting sharks and wrestling them in cages - WTF?
  • Co-host was a scientist whose name escapes me - seems like he memorized the script - sounded like he was reading it.
  • ABC4 was cameraman for this episode: 0-2
  • The survival tactics just seemed like a bunch of backyard experiments - don't think I would implement any of them, how many people will actually get stuck in a cage with a shark (which would be the dive operators fault in the first place by making the sharks come so close by flinging the bait by the cage)...here is some survival advice, when spearfishing and sharks come...give up the fish and leave.
I could write more but I feel like I am starting to bore myself and you...I dread the thought of having to watch another episode.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Discovery Shark Week 2010 - Into The Shark Bite

The second episode of Discovery’s Shark Week 2010 seems to be more applicable to last year’s lineup which is unfortunate as Ultimate Air Jaws was well done.  The network describes Into the Shark Bite as: “Go on a wild ride as we show you the last thing you'd ever want to see in real life: close up views of attacks by the world's most deadly sharks — from inside their mouths! Shark expert Mark Addison and underwater cameraman Andy Casagrande risk life and limb to get their special mini-HD cameras INTO THE SHARK BITE!”

  • Logo used had the usual blood streaks that Discovery loves so much 
  • Show was hosted by Andy Brandy Casagrande IV, A.K.A ABC4, and Mark Addison
  • ABC4 is known for his involvement as cameraman or producer for shows such as Deadly Waters, Great White Appetite, and Shark Attack Survival Guide.  Deadly Waters did nothing positive for sharks, nor did this one…and I will see what Shark Attack Survival Guide is all about tomorrow. These shows just seem to add to what has become known as shark porn.  Andy is also a singer – he wrote a song about white sharks.  Throughout the show, ABC4 reminds us how dangerous the situations are that Mark and he are in – he also screams too much.  I met Andy at a Shark Saver’s fundraiser event – he sang his song.  Mike wrote a bit about him as well – read post here
  • Mark Addison is an experienced shark diving operator in South Africa.  He was part of a phenomenal shark documentary called Deadly Stripes.  Surprised as to why he would participate in the production of this show, a show that refers to “his” Tiger Sharks as the second most deadly sharks.  Read their blog description, it tells a different story from this show. (It should be noted that all operators have been incident free).  
  • Mark is bumped by a black tip on the surface – why would they show this as part of the show?  A rhetorical question, of course. The bump made this look as a dangerous situation which it was not.
  • The HD GOPRO is a phenomenal product.
Overall, I did not find an educational value or any other meaningful purpose to this episode…I think it still feeds off the fear that people have being inside a sharks mouth.  If anything, it reinforces the message of angst.  You can watch some excerpts of the show here – of course it features the Black Tip bump.

Wonder what the next episode holds...

Bahamian sharks are facing mortal enemies

The archipelago of the Bahamas is one of the last paradises for sharks. Not any longer if a reckless seafood company will have it their way.

Who wants to imagine she might be killed for her fins?....
Photo: Wolfgang Leander (Bahamas, 2009)
Click to enlarge

Read this:

Shark finning article sparks outcry from conservationists

Published On:Friday, September 10, 2010


Tribune Staff Reporter


INTERNATIONAL organisations and local conservation groups are rallying to protect sharks in Bahamian waters following a Tribune article exposing the potential for shark finning in Andros.

Sunco Wholesale Seafood Ltd CEO James Mackey told The Tribune he would consider expanding his sea cucumber export operation in Mastic Point, North Andros, to include the export of shark fins to Hong Kong.

His comments sparked outcry from conservationists throughout the Bahamas and around the world as sharks are increasingly being fished to serve emerging markets for their meat and fins, which are used in soups and can fetch more than $200 per kilogram, and global shark populations have declined by as much as 80 per cent worldwide.

The Bahamas boasts the healthiest and most biologically diverse shark populations in the Atlantic as they have never been considered more than worthless bycatch, and the ban of long-line fishing following a BNT campaign 20 years ago greatly has decreased that risk.

However, there is also no legislation in place to prevent the taking of shark fins or catching and killing of sharks, and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), in partnership with the Pew Environment Group, is launching a campaign to put such legislation in place.

Shark campaign manager Shelley Cant said: "The BNT wants to further secure the future of all shark populations in the Bahamas by establishing legislation that fully protects these important species and make Bahamian waters a shark sanctuary."

The blossoming shark campaign has already won support from The Nature Conservancy, BREEF, Friends of the Environment, Earthcare, The Bahamas Sea Turtle Conservation Group, the Bahamas Humane Society, ReEarth, Tropic Sea Food and Envirologic Bahamas - all of which have vowed to lobby the government for legislation to protect the ocean's top predator.

International shark protection organisations Stop Shark Finning and Shark Advocates International have also stepped up to support the fight.

Duncan Carson, of Stop Shark Finning, called on Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Larry Cartwright to state the government's position on the issue following Monday's Tribune article, which he has distributed to around 22,000 readers of the group's website.

"Aside from being a barbaric practice, if it were allowed in the Bahamas, shark finning would soon decimate shark populations," Mr Carson wrote to Mr Cartwright.

"I can understand the desire to increase employment in the area, but this employment would be short lived, and would cease once the sharks had been killed."

Mr Carson and others have called on the government to recognise the economic benefits sharks can generate for marine ecotourism instead, such as recreational diving, shark feeding and shark watching.

As a former fisherman, Mr Cartwright agreed the country's healthy shark populations should be protected.

"We don't have a position on it yet, or any legislation to govern that right now," the Minister stated.

"But as a former fisherman, I think sharks need to be protected; all marine species do, they all serve a purpose.

"I wouldn't say shark finning is not going to happen here because what's happening elsewhere I am sure will come this way eventually, and when the time comes we will look into legislation."

BNT executive director Eric Carey said: "Shark fisheries are not sustainable and as such, all shark fishery, except for catch and release sports fishing, should be discouraged.

"Permanent protections for sharks should be considered by the relevant government agency now, especially in light of recent developments."

***FACT BOX: (maybe for turn page)

- Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year to supply the shark fin trade

- Of the 1,045 shark and ray species assessed by scientists for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 17 per cent are threatened with extinction and another 13 per cent have near-threatened status

- For 47 per cent of species scientists lack enough data to properly assess their population status

- There are 315 shark and ray species currently classified as threatened or near threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN including the great, scalloped, and smooth hammerhead sharks, whale shark, great white shark, oceanic whitetip shark and the shortfin mako shark.

- Declines in populations of sharks by as much to 70-80 per cent have been reported globally

- Some populations such as the porbeagle sharks int he northwestern Atlantic, have been reduced by 90 per cent or more

- Shark bycatch is frequently reported pelagic long-line fisheries targetting tuna and swordfish and can represent as much as 25 per cent of the total catch.

- The value of shark fins has increased with economic growth in Asia and this increased value is a major factor in the commercial exploitation of sharks worldwide.

- The removal of large sharks can negatively impact whole ecosystems by allowing an increase in the abundance of their prey, or influencing prey species through non-lethal means by causing behavioural changes to prey habitat use, activity level and diet

- Live sharks have a significant value for marine ecotourism such as recreational diving, shark feeding and shark watching

Now that you have read the article, and believe that the Bahamian sharks have to be fully protected, please sign this petition. Thank you very much.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Collateral Damage

Before reading this post, it is important to know some background on the tiger shark baiting situation in South Africa.  Since the post there have been various emails going back and forth from different parties - it has been very interesting to see the true colors of people - and how vocal they all have decided to become after three months of utter silence and private one-way communications.

The initial message was very simple: Is there an alternative baiting method to avoid hurting sharks?...that was, and still is, what needs to be fixed.  The current baiting methods are BROKEN.

One email referred to the injuries the to sharks as "collateral damage" (not referring to the collateral damage mentioned below) - WHAT?? That makes it okay??

Shark Diver just posted a great summary and the core problem...

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

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

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

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

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

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

The friendships within our industry are legendary but all too often cloud the greater good. When websites like the recent Ban Shark Cage Diving SA get media attention I want to know, as an industry member, that the allegations contained are absolutely false. I want to be certain that we are doing our level best for the sharks on a commercial level.

Are we?

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

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

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

What Next?
How about we consider change for a moment?

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

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

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

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

Have we been here before? You bet we have.

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

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

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

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

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

R & G Lounge Sells Shark Fin Soup

My wife is in San Francisco and she sent me a photo of a menu - already had a hunch of what it would have - shark fin soup.  The name of this establishment is R & B Lounge located in Chinatown, San Francisco.  While it is not surprising to find restaurants serving shark fin soup in the US, I must say I was surprised that it was Michelin recommended - in fact, this is what they said:

San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country 2007 Restaurants & Hotels 
This well-run, classically Chinese place on the edge of Chinatown (within two blocks of 
the Transamerica Pyramid) is popular with business types at lunch. At dinner, groups and 
families add to the mix in the boisterous, low ceiling downstairs dining room with its wall 
if aquarium tanks. If you prefer a quieter dining atmosphere, the airy and refined space 
upstairs better accommodates private conversations. 

Signature dishes are illustrated on the menu to unravel any mystery concerning the 
Cantonese cuisine. Spend some time leafing through the wide selection before you 
narrow your choices. You won’t go wrong with a house specialty like the fresh-from-thetank salt-and-pepper crab, of chef’s specials such as stir-fried minced seafood in lettuce cups, shark fin soup, and Peking Duck

What's the point...Michelin is the same company that states on its website:

"For over 110 years, Michelin has been driven by a set of core values centered on respect. These values are: 
  • Respect for people

  • Respect for customers

  • Respect for shareholders

  • Respect for the environment (REALLY???)

  • Respect for facts
    Our Community Relations programs illustrate how we apply these values on a daily basis."

  • You can email the restaurant at info@rnglounge.com

    Discovery Shark Week 2010 - Ultimate Air Jaws

    So, I have finally decided to start watching Discovery's Shark Week 2010 and will look at one episode a day and write about it.  This year seemed to have lacked the fan-fair of  2009 - when the whole show was really promoted as (if I could use one word to describe it) - blood.  Some very good shark porn...

    I have to admit, that the first episode was good - especially compared to previous episodes...
    • The logo used this year had a positive feel to it...there were no blood spots, no bite marks, had neutral / "good" colors and even included the word HAPPY - baby steps, but it works...small changes  
    • Absolutely amazing images produced by a Phantom Camera.  Shoots 1,000 frames per second, possible to slowdown action 40 times.  The details of the sharks breaching were phenomenal.  The slow motion effects captured the beauty of these animals in such a "violent" moment.  The music was well applied - minus the kayaking scene - became too dramatic
    • Narration was very balanced, not sensational
    • Hosted by Chris Fallows - pioneer of Air Jaws photography
    • White sharks eat 1% of seal colony (total colony: 60,000) each year
    • Juvenile white sharks in Mossel Bay swim close to shore - very close to shore, yet there are hardly any incidents.  Reasons are still unknown, may be for mating, feeding of fish, oxygen levels of water...
    • Seal Eye camera and sled were interesting and innovative to get a closer look at sharks while in predatory mode
    • Bruce (from Nemo) came to mind often during breaches...
    • Must suck to be a seal in South Africa - 20-30 patrolling sharks around the island make the commute a bitch.
    First impressions of shark week are very good thus far.  The next episode promoted was Into the Shark Bite...unfortunately it already had already lines like "Risk life and limb..." - we'll see tomorrow. 

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Shark Diving: To bait or not to bait - that is NOT the question.

    The question is HOW to bait sharks without causing them harm.

    The Aliwal Shoal shark dive operators (South Africa) use steel cables and heavy chains to attach a perforated stainless steel bait drum.

    I always found it quite upsetting to see the tiger sharks taking the cables, sharp nut screws, and the rusty chains into their mouths, and shake them violently.

    Not surprisingly, given the strength of these massive sharks, their teeth get knocked out. Sometimes you can even see their jaws slightly bleeding.

    All the teeth of the lower jaw are gone
    Photograph: Wolfgang Leander (2008)
    Click to enlarge

    I suggested to adopt the method used at Tiger Beach: Thick nylon ropes, and plastic crates for the fish parts.

    It's always a delicate matter to tell people, no matter how open-minded they pretend to be, or are, that things can be done differently, better.... "That won't work here; the tigers would cut the ropes and smash the plastic containers in no time." That was the comment of "my" former shark operator in a nutshell.

    I argued that the Bahamian tigers never bite the nylon ropes and rarely, if ever, take the crates away or crack them.

    Biting the chain - not the fish part attached to it
    Photograph: Wolfgang Leander (2008)
    Click to enlarge

    Unfortunately, I could not convince the operator - he keeps using metal, as all other Aliwal Shoal shark dive operators, not caring about the problem, and the tigers keep losing their teeth and hurting their mouths.

    This year I could see in various opportunities tigers sharks getting completely entangled in the cables after chewing on them. In order to not lose their grip on the lines the tigers started to roll which got them all twisted up in the steel cables and chains.

    Unable to move or breathe, the tigers were getting dangerously close to asphyxiating hadn't some divers freed the hapless creatures from their ordeal. The sight was absolutely gruesome.

    As a photo journalist I have fully documented the entanglements. The images are so disturbing and graphic that I decided not to post them in this blog.

    Again, I brought this to the attention of my ex-shark operator. However, he was not interested in remedying these totally unacceptable incidents, and simply ignored my countless pleas to change the cables and chains for nylon ropes.

    To build up an international image of a shark expert for oneself, and regularly contribute to "Shark Week", is one thing nobody, or few, would seriously challenge but to not show what I consider basic respect for the creatures one pretends to care for, sadly made me realize me that this operator is not at all what he wants others to believe he was: a committed shark lover.

    Oh, well, insider views into the micro cosmos of the shark world have taught me that one should not expect much from its protagonists. The greed for money and ego satisfaction is often so much stronger than eloquently worded mission statements...

    Back to the issue:

    Comparing the behavior of the Tiger Beach tigers with that of their South African cousins, and after giving this some thought, I came up with an amateurish explanation that seemed to be logical: I figured that it must be the metal, perhaps a magnetic field around it, that attracts the sharks and incites them to munch on it.

    Effectively, this is the reason why the Aliwal Shoal tigers bite the metal parts, especially the long steel cables, and thus run the risk of getting all twisted up in them.

    While shark dive operators are generally proficient shark dive operators, they don't know everything about sharks. And since my knowledge about sharks is limited, too, I decided to ask my friend Dr. Samuel Gruber ("Doc"), one of the world's leading shark scientists, to enlighten me.

    Here is what the "Doc" wrote back:


    No brainer! Metal in sea water produces corrosion or galvanic currents which stimulate the tiger shark's ampullary system. They need not deal with induction of the electric field to magnetic field since they can directly respond to electric fields on the order of a ten-billionth of a volt per cm.

    This is why we see white sharks on TV bite metal cages and dive platforms, and why bull sharks keep biting our props!"

    It was Walter Bernardis of African Watersports who shared my concern and reacted promptly and constructively.

    Walter runs a very successful tiger shark operation in Umkomaas, and is open-minded when it comes to improving procedures to ensure client satisfaction and the well-being of the sharks which are, after all, the dive operators' most valuable asset.

    His suggestion how to keep the tigers from biting the cables and chains is brilliantly simple:

    Hi Wolf -

    I've come up with the perfect solution.

    I've been thinking flexible hose all along but the answer is heavy duty water pipe - polycop - that won't just bend.

    So if you've got a 9 m cable length you just slide 3 m length on, so that it can still fold up and fit on the boat but the tigers won't be able to get twisted up in it...

    Will let you know when the next brain wave hits. :-)


    OK, Walter, the next steps are rather simple, or so they seem. Test the tubing of the cables and chains as suggested, and get ALL the Aliwal Shoal shark dive operators to follow suit so as to effectively, and collectively, protect your sharks from being hurt unnecessarily while baiting them.

    Go, Walter, go!!!!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    It’s Better in the Bahamas – even if it is just for a day…

    One of the perks of living in Miami is that you can take a day trip by boat to The Bahamas – depending on the conditions and the boat you could be there in about 1.5 hours.  Crystal clear waters and an abundance of fish that you just don’t find in Miami anymore.

    One of my diving buddies and friend, Manuel M was able to secure two spots for us on his friend's (Pedro Q) power boat – a 24ft cata.  The purpose of the trip was to go spearing and hopefully bring home some dinner.  I am referred to as “Greenpeace” – I was armed with my camera – although I did spear some dinner as well.

    We met at 5:30AM at Pedro’s house and moved our gear to his truck and were off to the marina.  The boat had been readied the night before, so by 0600 we were east bound.  It was a close to perfect crossing, conditions were calm and we were able to cruise at 30 knots.

    We explored several spots, some better than others.  From the good ones we were able to get a few hogfish, lobster, snappers, and groupers.  Of course we were also greeted by the Bahamian sharks (six at once) – who were extremely excited at the notion of wounded hogfish in the water…one took off with fish and spear, chased by three other sharks.

    As the spearing continued, the sharks became more curious and bold, coming to the surface and standing their ground…we decided to move on…it’s their reef.

    Was able to get some decent video sequences of the trip which I will have to put together over the weekend…that is of course unless there is diving to be done.