Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jack Kearns Classic 2010

Every year (three so far) the South Florida Freediving club organizes the Jack Kearns Classic spearfishing competition.  This December I went out with friends Manuel Menendez, Manny Chica, and Eddie Aixala armed with a Nikonos and video camera.  Conditions were beyond horrible and visibility was minimal, making taking pictures or video impossible.  But the bad weather did not stop Manny and Manuel from taking first and second prize in the men's gun division individual and team.  I spent most of the time on the boat giving directions to the captain (Eddie) as he was having difficulties dealing with the currents, waves, and vegan sandwiches (all an inside joke, he did fine).  We all did have our wet-suits on to deal with the cold and rain.  While the weather was not cooperating, having good company and laughs made up for it.

The same week of the competition, Manuel was featured in the Miami Herald on a story about lobstering - read here (not sure why he did not take the team ;) ).  We go out often to catch stones crabs and lobster while in season - undisclosed location.  Catching and eating your own food just makes it always taste so much better.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Important follow-up on my last blog re: Tiger Shark baiting in South Africa

This is what I said in my previous post:

"Congratulations to you, Allen, and all those who have been actively involved in creating the new baiting tools!"

"A big compliment also to Walter Bernardis of African Watersports who took a keen interest in the matter, and drummed up the other shark operators to discuss ways to replace the hitherto used baiting tools, i.e. steel cables, old washing machine drums, edgy nuts and bolts."

And here is a very important comment made by Debbie Smith, President of ASCBOA (Aliwal Shoal charter boat owners association).

Hi Wolfgang:

This is indeed great news from your angle and your long standing issues with Blue Wilderness.

However, there are unmentioned facts here too, that people need to be aware of, one of which is that Walter Bernadis (A
frican Watersports) and Rob Nettleton (Offshore Africa dive charters) collaborated on all of the initial aspects of this system with the polycop piping and Offshore Africa in purchasing, designing and modifying of mooring buoys into a workable product, which has no purchase points and all of the products used being of great long term benefit from a wear and tear aspect and shark friendly aspect.

It is highly important, from a S.A. point of view, that the above operators are highly commended on their pioneering input into this and their subsequent dialogue with Allen, who assists Blue Wilderness in many aspects and in a nutshell, for this overall product now being i
n place.

All the above operators have financed these modifications personally and there are other operators, within the Aliwal Shoal dive association, that are undergoing their own modifications where required, based on discussions at our monthly meetings.

It is fair to include all these operators in the changes to tiger shark baiting methods in S.A. and without "all" of them, the modifications would not have happened in the first place. It would be unfair to single out a single operator as each operator mentioned above has brought something unique to the system, thus formulating the final product that now exists here.

Debbie Smith
Chair person

ASCBOA (Aliwal Shoal charter boat owners association)

Debbie - Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.

While I knew about Walter Bernardi's and Rob Nettleton's early involvement in the initial stage of the discussions by bringing in some very valuable and highly commendable in-put, I was not aware that there was a subsequent dialogue with
Allen who is not a shark dive operator.

Quite obviously, and very tellingly, the Addisons never felt the need to personally participate in these group discussions....

Anyway: Allen just sent me a note to say that Walter and Rob were indeed highly influential
in bringing about change, designing the new equipment - they deserve due credit, as Allen put it, "....for being instrumental in trying to get the changes done (....). I just made something that will work, and the dive operators are the ones that will have to implement it if the feel they need to (....). Both Rob and Walter effected change and deserve a lot of credit, I think they maybe made me more adamant to find a damn good solution."

Fair enough, Allen.

This is what caused me a sleepless night (literally!!) when I first experienced it:

Photo by Wolfgang Leander (Aliwal Shoal 2010)
Click to enlarge

After all the "rabble-rousing" I was accused of by a certain individual, we can now be confident that these incidents won't happen again -
thanks to Allen, Walter, Rob, Debbie, and all those other folks who also took an interest in this matter, and contributed in one way or another to the happy end that will ultimately benefit the South African shark diving industry as a whole.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tiger Shark baiting in South Africa - now the good news!!

Actually, not just "good" news - EXCELLENT news!!!

This is the message I received today from Allen Walker, Scottburgh:

"We have completed everything now and I am very happy with the outcome. A solution that works 100% and is maintainable and sustainable, this was important for me, I wanted a solution that will not deteriorate over time resulting in the continuous use of raw materials to sustain a so called "Shark Friendly" baiting method but not environmentally friendly one."

"The bait stem should last 15 years, if not a lifetime making it a viable solution to the other operators even though it is a rather costly solution."

"Bait Ball" is 850 mm in diameter and perfectly round, therefore no purchase points, with a hinge mechanism made from strapping (weight belt). Has rounded shackle for connection to the bait stem."

"A complete solution to all concerns raised i.e. teeth, cuts, scratches, entanglement etc."

You've done it, Allen, you've done it!!

If we were together now, I would kiss you, man!! Guess you are glad that some 12.000 km separate us, huh?..... :-) :-)

I really don't know what to say other than this: Allen Walker was instrumental in working out a viable solution of the problem I had already drawn to Blue Wilderness' attention, unsuccessfully I am afraid to say, back in the early months of 2008.

While the Addisons did not even feel like discussing my more recent concern about tiger sharks getting hurt and sometimes very seriously entangled with the baiting tools they and most other shark operators use in Aliwal Shoal, it was their friend Allen who finally convinced them to think about more shark-friendly baiting techniques.

So Allen and Mark Addison then worked together, along with friends of Allen who were also very much interested in the matter, to develop and test baiting tools that would do the job.

What they have come up with is absolutely perfect, and now Blue Wilderness can boast, thanks to Allen's relentless commitment, to have the best equipment to attract sharks efficiently and in an eco-friendly manner.

I might also mention that Allen and his wife Ronelle bore most of the financial burden and invested a lot of time in looking for, and eventually finding, a viable solution of the problem.

Congratulations to you, Allen, and all those who have been actively involved in creating the new baiting tools!

This fantastic equipment should now be acquired by ALL shark dive operators to ensure that no Aliwal Shoal tiger shark will ever get hurt again in the baiting process.

A big compliment also to Walter Bernardis of African Watersports who took a keen interest in the matter, and drummed up the other shark operators to discuss ways to replace the hitherto used baiting tools, i.e. steel cables, old washing machine drums, edgy nuts and bolts.

On a personal note, and to conclude this regrettable controversy, I would like to state with some sadness that because most of my South African friends (also one Belgian and one Canadian)
turned their backs on me for stubbornly insisting that it was absolutely necessary to introduce better baiting tools, I found out what these friendships were really worth - not much, to put it mildly.

Even though I was quite disappointed to see so little support, and what we call in German Zivilcourage, I could deal with it. These folks who all seemed, or at least pretended, to like "da old Wolf", simply did not understand what drives me, and preferred to be "politically correct" so as to not to antagonize their Blueish friends...

Well, now my ex-friends know that when it comes to testing my convictions, I am quite stiff-necked, and that I put the welfare of sharks above friendships, if circumstances force me to make such a choice.


Here are two of the very few pics I took in four weeks - am I getting tired of photographing sharks?....

Not at all.

I simply don't photograph like crazy anymore.

Definitely pregnant - definitely good news!!
Photo: Wolfgang Leander

Tiger Beach girl - as graceful as sharks can be.
Photo: Wolfgang Leander

Also, since I still stick to film (yes: F I L M - remember???), I can't do (would never do) what many digital shark photographers do most of the time: Hold the camera against the sharks with outstretched arms and shoot 4-5 frames per second.

My camera, the good old Nikonos V, a manual instrument, is an extension of my eye, not of my arms - or a pole. No offense, my dear digital friends - let's just say that I am a "traditional" photographer, "old school", or, perhaps more fittingly, an "old fart" who is unable to adjust to the new modernity... :-)

I have dived several times, even days, with one roll of film (36 images); the digital colleagues typically took as many as 200 images
per dive.

So, I came back from Tiger Beach with a total of not even 30 tiger shark images of which I have scanned and uploaded only a few - have a look:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Smiley", as we will call her, once again....

Two close-ups to show the injury that has disfigured our Tiger Beach girl:

Photo: Paul Woodburn *)

Photo: Wolfgang Leander

*) Paul Woodburn is a fine photographer and a seasoned diver, and as such he's got some very professional equipment - except for his fins: Force Fins some of which might be good for Navy divers but the ones Paul used are ABSOLUTELY terrible for stalking sharks and other shy creatures!!! Paul knows what I mean...... :-) :-)

Paul: Get yourself some sleek free-diving fins; more and more SCUBA divers are discovering that they are the most effective extension of their legs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A close-up of the deformed tiger jaw.

We need a name for her - any suggestions?

My good friend Paul Spielvogel took this pic one week after I left Tiger Beach. The jaw injury is permanent, as you can see, but I trust that she will still be able to feed herself properly.

"Scarface", the 17ft tiger shark lady of Beqa Lagoon (Fiji Islands)
Photo: Terry Goss

"Scarface", the famous resident tiger shark of Beqa Lagoon, has lived with an injured lower jaw for a long time, and seems to have adjusted perfectly to the deformation of her mouth. Every diver who has met her, fell in love with her.

"Scarface" ain't no toy shark! Here is my friend Mike Neumann filming her.
Photo: Tim Rock

May "Scarface" and her smaller cousin of Tiger Beach live many more happy tiger shark years, and not fall into an angler's trap once again!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Here are more pictures of "her" - taken two and three years ago.

She used to be relaxed before she was hooked, and wouldn't mind letting me play with her.
Photo by Amanda Cotton (2008)

After her trauma her personality changed - she is now afraid of humans.
Photo by Wolfgang Leander (2010)

She can be easily recognized by the pigmentation marks on her belly.

Back in 2008 she had been already hooked with light fishing gear. The small hook that was embedded in the left corner of her mouth didn't really do much damage to her. I tried to free her from the hook but
couldn't get it out with my bare hands.

Look closely, and you will see the hook and a piece of nylon.
Photo by Wolfgang Leander (2008)

In March 2007 she was featured in National Geographic - she was a star then; she still is!!

Photo by Brian Skerry (National Geographic)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Look what recreational fishermen have done to her:

Same shark: November 2009 (below) and 2010 (above)
Photos: Wolfgang Leander (Tiger Beach)
Click to enlarge

We are seeing every year more sharks with hooks in their mouths and jaw injuries, some as severe as the one this tiger girl suffered recently. Her jaws were strong enough to cut through bones and tortoise shells. Not anymore.

Just imagine the brute force the responsible fisherman must have applied that he (maybe she?) actually cracked the lower jaw trying to land this medium sized shark.

Fortunately, the shark was strong enough to survive the ordeal. Many others don't which is why it is so important that the Bahamian authorities declare their archipelago a shark sanctuary soonest.

A much bigger threat than sport fishermen are the professional shark hunters (e.g. the Bahamian seafood company SUNCO) that are in the starting holes, ready to go after the Bahamian sharks solely for their fins so they can be sold to Hong Kong traders.

SUNCO and possible others must be stopped "harvesting" the Bahamian sharks so that wealthy Chinese can enjoy a costly shark fin soup they consider an aphrodisiac or some "cultural" dish.

Back to "our" shark girl. Before she was hooked we all remembered her as a playful, almost sociable shark; now she is very shy and distrustful of humans. Can you blame her?

Shy and distrustful of humans
Photo: Wolfgang Leander (Tiger Beach)
Click to enlarge

This female shark is what all sharks are: Highly sensitive and surprisingly intelligent animals with a memory that has ben tested to go back as far as one year, approximately.

My memory? Better don't test me, not about things that happened yesterday or the day before yesterday, let alone one year ago...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sharm-el-Sheikh: Neither the Mossad nor the Sheep Carcasses....

At any rate: Don't blame the Sharks!
Tiger and Wolf - Image by Manuel Lazcano

All we have are opinions based on unprovable theories and assumptions. Even if a shark would be caught with some human tissue found in its stomach, we wouldn't have the answer as to why it bit the swimmers and divers.

The Sharm-el-Sheikh accidents were very unusual, hence the speculations - some wild, some reasonable.

To say it was a fateful combination of several factors, some of which appear to be plausible wouldn't be too bad an explanation for what happened.

It will be interesting to read the final report of Collier, Levine and Burgess.

Meanwhile, here is an article by Michael Scholl I found quite objective and informative.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Not the Mossad after all

There have been many theories as to why there have been so many shark incidents in Sharm El-Sheikh, there were even stories that the Mossad had been training / introducing sharks close to the tourist resorts.

Turns out that sheep carcasses has been the cause of sharks coming in closer...

Complete story here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Red Sea and the Shark "Experts"

I am sure that by now you have all heard about the unfortunate shark incidents in Egypt (Red Sea).  The shark species responsible for the death of a German tourist has yet to be identified and so a team of shark "experts" have been summoned to join forces - think of the fantastic four.

The real conversation needs to be around the operators that are enabling these interactions...

Mike and Patric have been covering the subject in detail - recommend to give their posts a read here and here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Shark Savers launches new Shark Fin Soup campaign

Shark Savers have launched a new shark fin soup campaign which includes the video below, apparently it is also available in Cantonese but I have not been able to find it.  The video has a good message and is the first installment of what is to come...

As per Shark Savers: "We believe the most effective way to reduce demand for shark fin soup is to educate consumers. Research has shown that when consumers learn more about shark fin soup, a majority of them will reject it."

For the complete campaign go here.

This is a great initiative, and we hope that it will continue to have a positive reaction among people that are exposed to it.

On a separate note, it would have been nice if some of the Shark Savers' board of directors would have been more supportive of the South Africa baiting debate.

"Success is the sum of small efforts..." - Robert Collier