Sunday, May 13, 2012

Paddling out for the Aliwal Shoal Sharks.

Click on image to enlarge

The event had the desired result; it received excellent media coverage, and most definitely created, perhaps even underscored, awareness about the recent fatal entanglement of five tiger sharks, one great white, and a black tip in the nets. 

To recapitualte: Fourteen (!!) medium sized tigers were caught within two days in the nets of which nine could be disentangled, and released, before suffocating. These are the "official" numbers as provided by the Natal Sharks Board, responsible for the maintenance of the controversial shark nets. Who knows how many of the nine tigers that were freed survived the ordeal of having been trapped in the gill nets.

This tragedy prompted the local shark dive operators and some shark enthusiasts  to organize the "Paddle out for sharks" happening.

Lesley Rochat, a Cape Town resident who flew to Durban to support the initiative with her presence, wrote a blog which I feel conveys everything about the anti shark net ceremony. 

Unfortunately, Lesley had to witness, again, that some of the supposedly "concerned" shark advocates who were out there could not refrain from showing how guileful and little bourgeois they are.

Here is what Lesley felt compelled to include in her blog:

"It was a truly special event, filled with hope, the dead ray reinforcing our motivation to come together. It was therefore disappointing to later hear that it was dampened by someone slinging a snide remark at me while out of earshot, which was cheered on by his supporters.

Clearly I had spoken too soon - slaves to their own issues, they were unable to be gracious and put down their weapons of difference at such a significant event.

I’m an activist so it doesn’t bother me what people say about me, and I actually thought the remark was very funny: “Is that Lesley? Didn’t recognize her with her clothes on!” LOL! It’s no surprise, however, that the hundreds of ‘like’s’ and ‘shares’ on the Facebook post of our CATCHES ANYTHING, KILLS EVERYTHING poster with me naked in the nets does not include a single one of these individuals, despite it being a powerful campaign against the nets.

But what does worry me is how we will ever win this battle while another battle against each other, the ones who care about the animals, exists. As much as I dislike the Sharks Board I am willing to sit with my enemy, engage with him, and find a way to save our animals. 

By the same token I extend a challenge to recognize that while we might not all like each other, we need each other to win this mammoth battle.  The longer I am a conservationist the more I become aware that the environmental battles we fight are nothing compared to the battles against human frailty we are up against. They are very often what prevent us from achieving our conservation goals.

It is sad, but I believe that this is one of the obstacles standing in our way from making progress to save our sharks and other marine life from dying in the shark nets. I do, however, believe that Sunday’s event was blessed by Hope’s presence, and was a positive move in the right direction toward a long road that still lies ahead."

The people Lesley refers to are the same self-centered, self-righteous, arrogant, and tribal shark dive operators I had a most regrettable "issue" with two years ago. 
What is it that folks like them cannot put their egos and selfish business interests behind them when an unequivocal demonstration of public consensus about shark conservation is of the essence?

Hard to understand.... 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cristina Zenato - Common Sense Shark Diving

Cristina Kissing a Caribbean Reef Shark - Photos: Eddy Raphael

Cristina Zenato has been diving with sharks for many years - more than most in the industry.  While her expertise is mostly with Caribbean Reef Sharks in The Bahamas, she has interacted with many different species.  She also brings a balanced point-of-view: on one hand she loves, hugs, and cuddles with sharks (strong connection and passion) and on the other, she is the head of diving at UNESXO (shark business, dive operator, protocols, etc.).  Most people discussing these topics are at either end of the spectrum.

I recently came across a great piece written by Cristina on shark diving and feeding - it seems like to me in the end it just boils down to common sense (unfortunately this is something that many people lack) and treating each situation and scenario as unique. 

Hope to be able to meet her one day...

In Cristina's words (link to complete post below): 

"I am a shark feeder: I have been feeding Caribbean reef sharks for the past 18 years. One might assume then that any discussion coming from me would always conclude that feeding is the only way to conduct a shark dive. Not so.

Simply defining the interaction with all sharks as a feeding or a non-feeding situation is too simplistic. It would collect approximately 400 species of sharks under the single umbrella of generalized gray, tubular, finned, toothed creatures who just swim around the oceans behaving as we would want them to behave. Instead we can, and should, take the time to learn how each and every shark species behaves. This can be a controversial and difficult topic to present -- please understand that there will always be unique situations and habitat niches. As with any complex issue, knowledge and understanding are key...."  

Complete post here on the Shark Saver's website.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Lesley Rochat, courageous Shark Warrior, goes naked to get attention........for the sharks' plight.

It certainly takes a lot of guts to overcome the natural sense of shame to exhibit your body as created by God in public - even if you are a good-looking guy or gal. 

Lesley Rochat, South Africa's foremost shark activist, has no problems with her nudity when it comes to making herself heard - or seen - in her campaign to draw the public's attention to the plight of the sharks in her country. 

The latest tiger shark deaths in the Shark Board's gill nets in the Marine Protected Area of Aliwal Shoal prompted her to find out for herself what it could be like for a human to get entangled in a shark net and drown miserably. Her experiment drew her even closer to the animals she fights for with all her might.

Lesley has published a passionate plea in her blogspot to protect the sharks of South Africa from being killed senselessly by commercial and recreational fishermen, poachers, finners, and the lethal shark nets put up decades ago in the beaches of Scottburgh (about 40 miles South of Durban) to supposedly keep bathers and swimmers safe.

People who are acquainted with Lesley know that she is a multi-talented individual with an impressive personal history of professional achievements. Whatever she does, she puts all she is, and all she can, in her undertakings which is why I always thought she should be leading a concerted campaign with the active support of world-renowned shark scientist Dr. Leonard Compagno to make the authorities realize that the controversial shark nets have proven to be ineffective and, indeed, unnecessary to achieve their purported objective.

With a view of last week's large-scale deaths of as many as 17 (!!!) tiger sharks in Scottburgh I would think that those most affected, namely the Aliwal Shoal shark dive operators, will now join forces with Lesley to try to convince the local government that the shark nets are neither good for the marine life in the MPA nor for the ever growing dive tourism that creates jobs and brings in much collateral business such as land safaris.

Enough said. 

Read now what Lesley posted in her latest blog, and if you can help disseminating her message, please do so. All those already involved in the campaign, and the sharks, would love you to be part of this worthy endeavor.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Good news from South Africa - for a change!

Thomas Peschak photographing "Dartboard / Karin"
Photo: Wolfgang Leander (2007)
Click to enlarge

The Umkomaas / Scottburgh shark dive operators finally got their act together, and have decided to "paddle out for sharks" on May 6th to pay their last respects to the sharks that were killed en masse entangled in the shark nets toward the end of April. 

Is this perhaps "Dartboard / Karin", pregnant as she appears to be ??
Photo: Blue Wilderness (April 2012)
Click to enlarge

While this will be a "soft" event, lasting no more than some 15 minutes,  it certainly could, and hopefully will, with the appropriate media coverage, leave an initial mark and trigger more forceful protests against the shark nets that have been put up on the beaches facing Aliwal Shoal.

Everybody knows, including the people who run the Natal Sharks Board, that the nets are the problem; they simply have to come down if world-famous Aliwal Shoal and its sharks are to be preserved as an international top shark dive destination. 

Without sharks, Aliwal Shoal will lose its appeal COMPLETELY. The sharks are the ONLY attraction of that place. Period.

It is not too late to try to repair the huge damage the nets and the illegal fishing in the area have already caused in the last few years. 

However, time is of the essence!

Here is the report from Amanda Barratt with all the details:


I am pleased to announce that in a collective motion, KZN dive
operators and concerned shark enthusiasts will meet at the nets on 6th
May at Scottburgh, as a symbolic gesture in remembrance of the large
harvest of predatory sharks in the shark nets at Aliwal Shoal this

Everyone is welcome. Please see the email below from host Cormac
McCreesh for details and respond to either Cormac or me for further

Amanda Barratt

Oceans Society
Programme Coordinator - Humanities Extended Curriculum
College of Humanities
University of KwaZulu-Natal


Dear all

On Sunday 6 May, the Aliwal Shoal dive operators will have a "paddle
out" in memory of the tiger sharks, great white sharks and black tip
sharks  caught in the Scottburgh nets in the past 10 days. While the
death of these sharks is the catalyst for the paddle out, it really is
about all the marine life that gets caught up in these nets and the
impact on marine life all along the KZN coast line.

This email is about the logistics for the paddle out.

The plan is for the dive operators to assemble at the Scottburgh nets
at 7am on Sunday 6 May, which means launching at 630 in order to
arrive at the nets on time, and arrange themselves in a circle (as
best as can be done in the circumstances). 
Once at the nets, everyone
will have an opportunity to say something in memory of the animals
that died (and have died and will die until the nets are removed) in
the nets and "toss" flowers or whatever they deem appropriate into the
centre of the circle. The "ceremony" is expected to be no longer than
15 minutes after which everyone will likely head off to dive -
effectively enjoying the diversity, beauty and experience of diving
Aliwal Shoal.

Thus far commitments are as follows:

Agulhas House - Brett - committed 2 boats (1 boat will likely be used
as a platform for filming and taking of photos,  press and non-divers)
Oceanworx - Carl and Juan - committed 1 boat
Blue Vision - Carol and Ferdi - committed 1 boat
Umkomaas Lodge - Bryan and Lelanie - committed 1 boat
Blue Wilderness - Mark Addison, via Allen Walker - committed 1 boat
Aliwal Shaol Adventures - Emil and Michelle - committed 1 boat
Diving in Africa - Kevin Graham - committed 1 boat

I have not been able to confirm Marc Bernardis from the Shoal nor
Walter Bernardis from African Watersports but am certain they will
confirm their support in the next few days.

All in all, we should have between 6 and 10 boats representing the
dive operators.  To the dive operators - thank you for your support.

Allen Walker has committed to getting images from the water - either
from underneath, half-in-half-out, surface etc ... the potential for
emotive images is huge.

Dori Moreno has committed to getting topside images.

Gordon Hiles has committed to filming the entire event, including what
is said by each operator or person there.

Beth Neale has committed to editing the footage such that it can be
used to promote the problem, the commitment and resolve to find a
solution. The edited footage will be made available online for use by
whomever wants to use it.

Images will also be made available online for use by whomever wants to use it.

Similarly a press release(s) will be made available for use by
whomever wants to use it.

Trevor Hutton will be in KZN on that day as part of his and Lesley
Rochat's "freediveforsharks" campaign, and has committed to being at
the paddle out with his team.

Other committed individuals (and/or the organisations they represent)
so far are:

Fiona Ayerst
Amanda Barrett
Lesley Rochat
Ben Hodgson
Ivan van Heerden
Debbie Smith
Paul hunter
with more to follow ...

Work is ongoing on getting press and media coverage as well as support
and will be communicated as and when commitments are made. Also work
is ongoing in getting other users of the sea (in particular Scottburgh
and Aliwal Shoal) to be present.

I will also invite KZN Sharks Board to participate in the event plus
representatives from the Scottburgh municipality .

Thank you for your time in reading this mail.


feel free to mail me or anyone else on the list with ideas, assistance
and so on.

mail me your logo, preferred contact details and website information
so that I can include these on any public releases (I already have
Agulhas House, The Shoal and Oceanworx's logos).

Mail me with any links to websites that we can include in press
releases in order to educate the general public too.
feel free to mail this to anyone whom you think may wish to attend the
paddle out.

To everyone involved - thank you for your support, commitment and involvement.


Cormac McCree


Let's see what comes out of this. I can do no more than wishing the 'paddlers for sharks' all the best.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Freediving with Sharks

Last November I had the opportunity to go back to the Bahamas to freedive with my old man - something I have come to cherish particularly since overcoming his third cancer.  While we do not always talk that much (snorkel in mouth) - we definitely know what is going on in our minds.

The visibility and conditions were not always perfect -but the time we were able to spend in the water was just that - perfect.  I hope to have captured some of those moments in the video below.  By no means is this a short film / documentary - just memories that run over and over in our heads.

All video shot with GoPro while freediving.  Photo credit Wolf with Caribbean Reef Shark: Michel Lonfat