Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Update from Samuel Gruber and Lemon Sharks in Florida

Lemon Shark - Photo by: Wolf Leander

As per Samuel Gruber:

Dear All: Herewith is a summary version of the recent meeting in Fort Lauderdale where we presented testimony to the FWC. As Bill said, we have to keep up efforts as we move strongly in the conservation arena. Out goal will be to get the lemon shark on the prohibited list or at the very least extend its closed season. We will need to convince both the Florida Wildlife Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Commission and this will take data, effort and time as well as funding to get the job done. There are funding agencies in interested in helping us attain this goal.

Changes to Current Shark Fishing Rules on the Horizon--Our effort to get Florida’s

Lemon Shark, Negaprion brevirostris protected by the FWC

Walt Sterns and Samuel H. Gruber

Last week we attended one of five Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) public workshops held this month to receive comments on a plan to bring he Florida’s shark regulations into agreement with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks.

Attending last night’s meeting, held at International Game Fish Association headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale was Gary and Brenda Adkison for the Shark Foundation, Steve Stock for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Drs. Samuel Gruber and Bryan Franks for the Bimini Biological Field Station, Bill Parks for the Christine Baltzer Parks Environmental Foundation and members of Reef Rescue, a few dive operation representatives, some university graduate students and Walt Sterns, senior author of this report.

The series of meetings was to record public comment on various options for amending its shark management rules (68B-44, F.A.C.), with the possibility to modify them to comply with or go beyond the ASMFC shark management plan.

According to the introduction by FWC’s staff, the ASMFC’s management plan sharks includes a minimum size limit of 54” (4.5 feet)/137.2 cm, measured tip of nose to fork of the tail; a bag limit for lemon, bull, sandbar, dusky, hammerhead, tiger, etc., and other caveats designed to "achieve conformity" with the regulations agreed upon by the ASMFC.

Public comments were generally in agreement that instituting a blanket, minimum size limit (54”) without taking into account that species’ natural history, would be counterproductive and not protect or benefit the conservation and management of sharks.

Several informed comments were presented, based on the life history strategy of the large coastal species suggesting that it is more important to protect the young breeders than the juveniles. Thus the commercial and recreational take should reflect a minimum size that excludes sharks in their first years of maturity. Such a regulation will protect both the juveniles and first breeders. In the lemon shark, this is about 74” or 190 cm fork length. Other problems for large coastal shark include development or destruction of coastal nursery habitats required for juvenile development.

More specifically In the case of the lemon shark, several of the public spoke in favor of moving this species to prohibited status. The lemon shark’s life history pattern was discussed and it was pointed out that this shark has been reported by NMFS as THE most vulnerable of the large coastal species. Lemon sharks take from 12-15 years to reach sexual maturity equivalent to a length of approximately 92” (7.8”)/235 cm which is a lot bigger than the present suggested minimum length of the ASFMC.

From juvenile to adult, lemon sharks most of their lives in a coastal habitat from very shallow to 200 feet of water. This nearness to shore makes them highly vulnerable to both commercial and recreation fishers. But more recently it has been shown that adult lemon sharks from far and wide gather on large aggregations off Palm Beach and Martin counties. This greatly increases their exposure to targeted fishing. It would not be unreasonable to predict that if targeted the entire breeding population could be wiped out in a number of days or weeks. Based on the data we have been compiling over the past three years on the South Florida’s lemon shark aggregations, the “highly vulnerable” status could be taken as an understatement.

From a commercial standpoint, the lemon shark catch has historically been miniscule representing only 0.7 of the entire Atlantic coast long line fishery. Lemons rank # 7 in commercial landings at 62,000 lbs. vs. 1.5 Million pounds of sandbar shark taken annually. Further the value of the fins is relatively lows, being grade B on the world market. Thus the total value of the lemon shark take is very small and would not seriously impact the economy of the fishery if they were excluded.

Historically the lemon shark was not particularly targeted or under heavy fishing pressure. But recently that picture has changed as fishers are trying for larger individual sharks.

Our goal over the next several months will be to bring together all relevant information on the lemon shark to make the case that this species is highly vulnerable, has a relatively low abundance and could be extirpated from Florida waters unless protected. This applies to both federal and state regulation. We believe that elevating lemon sharks to a prohibited species for both commercial and recreational fishers is a goal that can be achieve with the help of the public at large.

More information: To see the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks in its entirety - http://www.asmfc.org/speciesDocument...stalSharks.pdf

Of graceful tiger sharks and the irresistible lure of license plates

Photo: Wolfgang Leander (2008)
Click on image to enlarge

I wish I were eloquent enough to describe the grace of these voracious predators that won't even leave a peaceful rusty license plate alone.

A friend reminded me of ONE incident that happened decades ago when a license plate was found in the stomach of a tiger shark. The message is clear but wrong: If these ruthless killer sharks eat metallic objects they will also eat humans.

Such are most "Shark Week" fans - they are unforgiving and won't learn.

This same friend warned me of expressing too much love toward tiger sharks - otherwise I could find my end like that bear hugger who was killed and eaten by the very grizzly he tried to befriend.

That poor guy made a big mistake - he should have carried a honey pot to pacify his pet.

In the future I will only dive with a 'tiger shark treat' attached to my belt - an old license plate. You never know, it could save my life... :-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The dangers sharks face ARE real -

- no matter what ill-intentioned, hateful shark killers such as Bill Goldschmitt, Vic Hislop, "Mark the Shark" (that's how this professional shark hunter calls himself - I have no idea what his real name is), and many other primitive anti - 'tree-huggers' say.

Typically, these "shark experts" will tell their clients: "Don't believe the BS the goddamn' conservationists try to make us believe; there's still plenny o' dem man-eating sharks out there!"

Read this - it is a grim summary of what is in store for many shark species:

PARIS (AFP) – A third of the world's open water sharks -- including the great white and hammerhead -- face extinction, according to a major conservation survey released Thursday.

Species hunted on the high seas are particularly at risk, with more than half in danger of dying out, reported the Shark Specialist Group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Collapsing shark populations have already severely disrupted at least two coastal marine ecosystems, and could trigger even more severe consequences in the high seas, marine biologists warned at the same time.

The main culprit is overfishing. Sharks are prized for their meat, and in Asia especially for their fins, a prestige food thought to convey health benefits.

The survey of 64 species of open water, or pelagic, sharks -- the most comprehensive ever done -- comes days before an international meeting on high-seas tuna fisheries that could potentially play a role in shark conservation.

For decades, significant numbers of sharks -- including blue and mako -- have perished as "by-catch" in commercial tuna and swordfish operations.

More recently, the soaring value of shark meat has prompted some of these fisheries to target sharks as a lucrative sideline, said Sonja Forham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance, and co-author of the study.

The Spanish fleet of so-called surface longline fishing boats ostensibly targets swordfish, but 70 percent of its catch, by weight, from 2000 to 2004 were pelagic sharks.

"There are currently no restrictions on the number of sharks that these fisheries can harvest," Fordham told AFP by phone. "Despite mounting threats, sharks remain virtually unprotected on the high seas."

Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing because most species take many years to mature and have relatively few young.

Scientists are also set to meet in Denmark to issue recommendations on the Atlantic porbeagle which, despite dwindling numbers, failed to earn protection at the last meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in 2007.

Canada led the charge to block the protective measure, supported by Argentina, New Zealand and some Asian countries.

Europe is the fastest growing market for meat from the porbeagle and another species, the spiny dogfish.

The demand for shark fins, a traditional Chinese delicacy, has soared along with income levels in China over the last decade. Shark carcasses are often tossed back into the sea by fishermen after the fins are cut off.

Despite bans in international waters, this practice -- known as "finning" -- is largely unregulated, experts say.

The loss of sharks from the world's oceans could have unpredictable impacts, say marine scientists.

"Removing large predators would deprive ecosystems of players that have been around for more than 400 million years," said Francesco Ferretti, a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Recent studies have shown that sharp reductions of coastal shark populations along the US East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico caused major disruptions throughout the food chain, including on aquaculture.

"Pelagic sharks may have even bigger consequences due to their global distribution," Ferretti told AFP.

The report identified the great hammerhead and scalloped hammerhead sharks, as well as giant devil rays as globally endangered.

The smooth hammerhead, great white, basking, and oceanic whitetip sharks are listed as globally vulnerable to extinction, along with two species of makos and three types of threshers.

Some 100 million sharks are caught in commercial and sports fishing every year, and several species have declined by more than 80 percent in the past decade alone, according the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

The IUCN issues the Red List of Threatened Species, the most comprehensive and authoritative conservation inventory of the world?s plants and animals species.

Imagine this reef without sharks - it could become a reality soon.

Photo: Wolfgang Leander

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shark Management - Public Workshops - Florida

Today I attended a workshop put together by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on shark management in Florida (FWC).

Some background: The FWC has scheduled a series of public workshops this month to receive comments on the management of sharks. The FWC is seeking feedback on options for amending its shark management rules that would comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks.

The Commission wants to hear public comments regarding the recreational and commercial harvest of sharks in state waters of Florida, including possible changes to shark bag and size limits, the prohibited shark species list, and shark landing requirements and gear rules.

To date these meeting have been held in Panama City (no one attended), Coco Beach (predominantly commercial fishermen) and now Ft. Lauderdale / Miami with two more session in the Keys I believe. The two representatives of the FWC gave a presentation reviewing current statewide regulations, FWC managed species, prohibited species, and a number of statistics about recreational fishing (and the impact it has on sharks).

Issues covered throughout the night were:
  1. Prohibited species list
  2. Landing requirements
  3. Minimum size limits
  4. Allowable gear
  5. Bag limit
The last hour was open for attendees to give testimonies and raise concerns. The recurring themes were adding the lemon sharks to the prohibited species list, aligning state and federal water regulations, banning recreational shark fishing of certain species, size limitation (saving the breeding stock) among others.

The meeting was very amicable, I was expecting a lot more temper flares, must have been due to the fact that most people at the meetings were for sharks. And the commercial fishermen that were they understood the situation, many had worked hand-in-hand with various scientists and researchers who have actually shown and taught the scientific community a lot about sharks. I was pleasantly surprised at their understand and knowledge of sharks, would be great to see more collaboration between these and other parties.

And as always, it was great to run into some friends: Neil H, Brendal D, Mary O, Lupo D, Gary A, and the Gruber's (Doc and Mary) - all of which had great testimonies and comments...and a few laughs. Neil opened by saying that he is not as old as Doc (who has been researching sharks for 50 years).

Remains to be seen what the result of these workshops are, but I applaud the fact that the FWC is making this an issue.


O.K the summary ... Sharks were very well represented at the FWC Shark Management meeting in Dania Beach last night! Here's a partial list of attendees:

Doc Gruber + a few other scientists who work with him
Neil Hammerschlag + Leanne
Gary & Brenda Adkison
Jeff Finkus (also from the Shark Foundation)
Walt Stearns
Steve Stock
Jeff Torode - Ft Lauderdale Dive Assn
Brendal Davis
Felix Leander
2 former commercial shark fishermen - Mike Newman and Mike Fay - who now work with Doc Gruber to help him catch lemon sharks to tag.
Several other shark conservation people whose names I didn't get and a reporter from the Sun Sentinel. David Bingham, an FWC enforcement officer was also there. And Lupo and me.

Yes, 100% pro-shark comments!!!

The FWC representative told us that no one showed up for the meeting in Panama City and the meeting in Cocoa (Brevard County) was mainly commercial fishermen. There are two meetings left -- one tonight in Islamorada and then Punta Gorda on Thursday. Let's get some good representation at both of these meetings as well.

The main topics:

1. Overview of the ASMFC Plan Requirements -- Florida must comply with these rules, but may also be more restrictive
2. The ASMFC Plan applies to the Atlantic Coast of Florida -- should the same measures apply on the Gulf Coast?
3. Should Commercial and Recreational fisheries continue to be managed under the same rules?
4. Suggestions for alternative measures for shark management
5. Should FL rules be more restrictive than ASMFC?

Items covered under the ASMFC Plan:

1. Addition of Silky, Sandbar and Caribbean Sharpnose sharks to the prohibited species list. Should any other species be added?
2. Landing requirements - Currently sharks must be landed with fins intact. ASMFC plan calls for sharks to be landed with the head, tail and fins intact.
3. Min. size limit of 54 inches (fork length) excluding Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, blacknose, finetooth and smooth dogfish.
4. Gear - only hook and line for sharks
5. Bag limit -- currently 1 max per person or 2 max per vessel per day. ASMFC plan calls for 1 max per vessel per day plus one each of the small sharks excluded from the min size limit. Option for FL would be to keep the same current bag limit of 1 max per person or 2 max per vessel, but require that then second shark (per vessel) be a bonnethead, blacknose, etc.


Aaron Podey, Fisheries Management Analyst with FWC, gave a short presentation (I will scan and send), then took questions, and then gave the opportunity for attendees to provide testimony. Everyone who wanted to speak filled out a card and had a chance to speak. Very organized and easy for everyone to make a comment. Aaron and the other FWC analyst there took notes and will put together a staff recommendation based on the public comments received. In September there will be a draft rule hearing, then in December more public comments will be taken and the Commission will vote on it. Any new rules passed will go into effect in January 2010.

Summary of Comments:

1. Several people suggested banning "live mounts" for taxidermy -- should require that mounts be made from photo / measurement as with billfish. Currently incentives from taxidermy companies to charter boat captains encourage customers to kill the shark just for the sake of the mount. The reasoning is that once they've killed the shark, the client can't back out. One of the fishermen commented that it would be difficult to legislate what people do with their catch once they've killed it, and it would make more sense to just regulate which and how many sharks can be taken.

2. Much discussion about adding shark species to the prohibited list -- especially lemon sharks and great hammerheads.

3. Much discussion about instituting maximum size limits to protect breeding female sharks. Seasonal and area closures were also proposed with a great deal of scientific justification to illustrate how entire populations can be quickly wiped out -- even with the small bag limits in place -- since the aggregations of productive breeding females are being targeted.

4. A maximum seasonal limit was also proposed.

5. Catch and release only for all large coastal sharks was proposed.

6. Need for more enforcement and manpower was discussed. The FWC enforcement officer agreed that this has been a problem, since they have been short staffed. They have been filling positions and will soon have all positions filled.

7. One of the fishermen stated definitively that the meat from any large shark is inedible by the time it's brought back to shore by a recreational boat. A few other people brought up the FL DOH advisory against eating meat from any sharks over 43 inches. The other fisherman suggested that if you're going to allow recreational fishermen to "harvest" large coastal sharks, they should be allowed to filet at sea, so that the meat can at least be used and not discarded.

8. The only representation from the recreational fishing side was Steve Stock, and he was completely in favor of everything that was proposed. He also brought up the Shark Free Marinas concept of putting pressure on marinas to not allow landing of sharks on their docks.

9. Neil suggested that FWC take a precautionary approach to management of species on which there is insufficient information --- if there's not sufficient information, then protect unless you have data to show that the species is not overfished. This is an excellent suggestion and we should get more people to press FWC on this point. Basically the only sharks that they do have sufficient information on are the ones that are relatively plentiful, since they're getting their data from fishing numbers. The ones that need the most protection in many cases are being ignored because of lack of data.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Save Our Seas Foundation has done it again, with the help of Saatchi & Saatchi in South Africa.

Together they developed a campaign in aquariums with stickers that "inside out" on shark tanks - so the message was actually to the sharks and read: "Warning - Predators beyond this point - Humans kill over 100 million sharks each year"

Absolutely brilliant...

Thanks to Buzz News Blog.

Pure Shark Love

Wolf and Tiger Shark - Photo by Fiona Ayerst

Wolf - love you old man...you don't know how much I am looking forward to diving with you and the "family" again.

You will be over the hump soon...the 50 IS NOTHING MAN!

Wolf and Tiger Shark - Photo by Amanda Cotton

Photography in Latin America -

- I almost forgot how passionate I was about it.

e than the incredible diversity of landscapes, which are breath-taking in this continent, it was the human side, especially children, that attracted me most.

Here is a small selection of the images I took in the eighties and nineties:

Click on pics to enlarge












Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mexican navy uncovers drugs inside frozen sharks

A bit of a crazy story...from CNN:

-- The Mexican navy smelled something fishy and their intuition paid off. They found nearly a ton of cocaine hidden inside a shipment of frozen sharks.

The cargo, which was aboard the freight ship Dover Strait, had been loaded in Costa Rica, Mexican navy says.

Navy inspectors at the southeastern port of Progreso, in Yucatan state, on Tuesday detected an anomaly in two shipping containers during a routine X-ray, according to a navy news release.

The inspectors zeroed in on a shipment of sharks. Upon slitting one of the frozen fish open, they found black bags containing rectangular packets filled with cocaine."

Complete article here

Call for questions for Discovery Channel Executive Paul Gasek Shark Week

David Shiffman, of Why Sharks Matter blog is asking our community for a "few good questions" to ask / interview Discovery Channel executive Paul Gasek:

As per David's post:

"The shark blog-o-sphere has been buzzing lately with calls for a boycott of the Discovery Channel over its portrayal of sharks in the famous “Shark Week” series. People are concerned that the sensationalized shark films gives sharks a bad name at a time when they most need our help.

Nearly every shark blogger I know has gotten involved"

As Wolfgang Leander at Oceanic Dreams says,

"sensationalistic portrayal of sharks on the yearly “Shark Week” programs is not to educate but to irrationally frighten the general public by using the “Jaws” stereotype presented as the true nature of these fabulous creatures of the oceans”

Patric at Underwater Thrills refers to falsely portraying sharks as violent and dangerous as “shark porn” , and proposes that he and other professional shark diving operators adopt a “contract for sharks” that stops these kinds of films from being made in the first place.

The Shark Safe Project posted a letter from one of their members calling on the Discovery channel to “Educate their viewers and not (B.S.) them”

Ila Porcher, another shark advocate, has even started an entire new blog just dedicated to this controversy called “Discovery’s Shame”.There is also a petition, which you can sign here if you’re interested. Her manifesto, which everyone else is circulating, can be found here.


Please post questions as comments on David's blog here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another Sharkman: Captain Bill Goldschmitt

Last week Captain Bill Goldschmitt commented on my blog - see the conversation here (scroll down to "comments").

Today I saw a post from The Shark Safe Project featuring a video of an interview with Captain Bill Goldschmitt at a Sarasota shark fishing tournament:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Discovery Shark Week Blog Update

Ila France Porcher, French Polynesia, being interviewed by
Mike DeGruy for "Shark Week" (2004)

From Ila France Porcher:

Dear Friends,

Just a brief note to let you know that I created a blog devoted to our interchange with the Discovery Channel. It outlines briefly events so far, including Shark L's original letter, and presents the Manifesto.

Its at:


Please have a look--I look forward to exchanging links with whoever is interested.

With good wishes,


Friday, June 12, 2009

Boycott Discovery Channel Shark Week Part 2

Here is the 2009 "Shark Week" program; we discovered it today in the Internet.

Now you will understand why Ila France Porcher, the author of the
Manifesto, and the backers of the petition against the tabloid type of depiction of sharks as practiced by the Discovery Channel, believe that it is high time for them to properly educate the public about the true nature of these misunderstood creatures in a way that is both informative and interesting enough so as to obtain high ratings for their shows.

The titles of this year's "Shark Week" features could not be more telling. Have a look, and decide for yourself whether this is responsible journalism or sub-standard and sensationalistic inveiglement of the "Shark Week" viewers into the conviction that sharks are not to be trusted after all:



SHARK WEEK premieres Sunday, August 2, 2009, and features six all-new programs:


This gripping drama brings to life the true story that inspired Jaws. In 1916, the New Jersey shore became a feeding ground as five people were attacked in 12 days, triggering a nationwide panic. It was the first multiple shark attack in American history, and the reason we fear sharks to this day.


In this harrowing hour, see what happens when a great white breaks through a 300-pound aluminum shark cage and traps the divers inside; when another tackles a former Navy Seal in shallow waters in the early evening off St. Petersburg, Florida; and when a bull shark invades a spearfishing trip in the Bahamas. When you’re a visitor in the vast and complex ocean, any day could be the “Day of the Shark.”


SURVIVORMAN’s Les Stroud is back for more shark action — this time venturing to five of the most notorious shark infested waters in the world to find out which is the most dangerous. Les will initiate a series of immersive tests in these high-fatality “hot spots” to determine what makes these waters so deadly.


One of the most feared predators on earth, the great white shark patrols the shores of more than 50 percent of the world’s inhabited coastlines. And yet, scientists still don’t have accurate data on their population, mating practices, traveling patterns or even what drives their feeding behavior. Former Force Recon Marine Charles Ingram travels the globe with shark experts, seeking out answers to these and additional fascinating questions.


We know that sharks are active and can be quite aggressive during the day, but we know little about what they do at night. Now, armed with the latest in infrared heat-sensing cameras and night vision technology, a team of divers descends into the dark abyss on a mission to learn more about shark behavior after the sun goes down.


This is the definitive account of America’s 2001 “Summer of the Shark,” when the ocean’s apex predators attacked more than 50 swimmers off U.S. beaches. SHARKBITE SUMMER returns to the attack sites and — using news footage,
interviews with victims, witnesses, surgeons, family members and shark experts — builds a clear picture of what happened that summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tiger Beach - hard to beat.

Copyright: Fiona Ayerst

I was going through my album and found this image, taken by talented South African photographer Fiona Ayerst last November at Tiger Beach.

This is Tiger Beach at its best: Clear water, a vast underwater beach (no corals, no rocks - just white sand), and friendly sharks; where else do you find that? Nowhere, trust me!

I can hardly wait to go back, and since I need to pamper myself a bit, I booked two weeks with the Dolphin Dream
in November 2009.

I understand that there are three spots left - if you feel like joining me and a bunch of hand-picked fellow shark divers, send me an e-mail (wolf@oceanicdreams.com), and I will put you in touch with Dominick Macan of DiveAdvice
who is the arranger of these trips.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Boycott Discovery Channel Shark Week

We feel that a media enterprise as prestigious as Discovery Communications should live up to their high standards of journalism ("Educate and Entertain").

Unfortunately, their sensationalistic portrayal of sharks on the yearly
"Shark Week" programs is not to educate but to irrationally frighten the general public by using the "Jaws" stereotype presented as the true nature of these fabulous creatures of the oceans.

By doing so, DC probably pretends that this is "what people want to see" which is absolutely wrong. Sure, many viewers like horror movies and find them entertaining, not only when it comes to the "monsters of the deep".

Most people do not want to be manipulated, however subtly, but have a hunger for education and a truthful presentation of facts - they consider the excitement of learning as the more genuine form of entertainment.

To be sure, some of the past
"Shark Week" programs had a relatively high educational value, and it would be unfair to deny that they induced many people to develop a healthy interest in sharks. However, the sensationalistic shows clearly outweigh the informative ones.

The DC people need to be told that what they are doing is irresponsible journalism, and that their viewers are more mature and discerning than they assume.

They cannot ignore 10.000 petitioners.


Thank you.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Call your Senator about the Shark Conservation Act

Just saw this post over at Southern Fried Science by WhySharksMatter.

As written by David:

"On Tuesday, the Senate Committee that deals with these type of things (the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee) will be meeting to discuss the “role of the oceans in our nation’s economic future”.

As a reminder of how the U.S. government works, the committee needs to support this bill before it can be voted on by the full Senate and become law.

Please call your Senator on Monday! If he or she is on the committee, tell them to support the bill! If he or she is not on the committee, tell them to tell their colleagues on the committee to support the bill. For a brief list of talking points, please click here."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ocean Men - Extreme Dive

Felix L. freediving with Lemon Sharks
Photo by Fiona Ayerst

One of the best ocean documentaries that I have seen is "Ocean Men - Extreme Dive" by Bob Talbot featuring freedivers Pipin Ferreras and Umberto Pelizzari. The movie tells the story of each and marks the clear differences in style - Pipin was all about power while Umberto was elegance - both attain records (at the time) in different disciplines.

The cinematography is absolutely phenomenal coupled with a great musical score - all elements make for an exceptional experience. I saw the movie twice at an IMAX theater - wish I could get my hands on a DVD - although it seems like it was never released.

I will never forget the last words spoken in the movie:

"A true diver knows that the essence of freediving is not to challenge others but to dive deep within himself and for a few precious moments become one with the sea"

Becoming one...
Photo by: Fiona Ayerst

If you do not freedive - you will never understand the quote above - but anyone that does will know exactly what it means...and in becoming one with the sea you will respect, love, and yearn for it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Steven Benjamin's Account of the False Killer Whale strandings

I first met Steven in South Africa - the day we were going out to dive with the Tigers was his first day working with Blue Wilderness - he must be good as he is still there ;). Steven studied marine biology and has a definite love for the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Recently about 50-60 whales beached themselves in South Africa - below is Steven's account of the event:

"This is a brief account of the False Killer Whale mass stranding. I have tried to keep it factual and simply describe three days of events from the beaching to their burial.

On the 30th of May 45-55 false killer whales beached themselves on long beach Kommitjie, a small coastal suburb on the west coast of the cape peninsular. The whales were initially in close proximity in the centre of the beach. By 9am, when we arrived, there were roughly1000 people on the beach; many in wetsuits frantically trying to push the whales back out to sea. I watched many groups celebrate as their whale was push past the shore break only to watch the same whale swim 100m down the beach and come ashore again. The whales seemed determined to come ashore. By this stage the pod had been spread along the length of the 1.5km beach.

There was general confusion on the beach and no leadership. The National Sea Rescue Institute were tending to the injured people (cracked ribs, near drowning and hypothermia) while the Police were trying to control the crowds. No guidance was given regarding the animals.

The only decision that I clearly heard was the command to bring the whales onto the beach. This decision was made by the SPCA, Marine and Coastal management (MCM) and Mammal Research Institute (MRI). People were not happy but the animals were slowly brought ashore. At roughly 2pm the authorities started amassing at one end of the beach. They formed a human wall, to clear bystanders, as a convoy of cars and officials worked behind.

Behind them walked Mike Mayer, Head of MCM, the MRI team as well as various Two Oceans Aquarium staff and Sea Rescue staff.

This was the first clear demonstration of coherence amongst the authorities. They started putting animals down with a single gun shot to the cranium. Death was swift and very few animals needed a second shot. The general public was still present on the beach and witnessed the deaths. The authorities did not want images taken. Bulldozers quickly moved the bodies to the base of the sand dunes and above the high tide line.

The next morning the bodies were loaded onto 6 dump trucks and moved to Vissserhok landfill where the autopsies would take place. At 3pm 41 animals were spread out on top of the highest point of the landfill site. One animal had its left rib cage removed which must have been cut out during the night. The team consisting of MCM and MRI staff worked to collect stomachs, reproductive organs, skin and blubber samples, jaws and tissue samples. This information would be critical to furthering our knowledge on the species and to perhaps try understanding why they beached them selves. Autopsies continued till 4:30 on the 1 of June.

The pod consisted of calves, males and females. At least 6 of the females were pregnant, with foetuses in various stages of development. Most of the animals did have food in their stomachs. One large individual had a severely disfigured lower jaw with goose neck barnacles growing off the teeth and bone. This appeared to be a very old wound but had not killed the animal which appeared in good health and had food in its stomach.

There were some requests for animals parts for traditional healing but the Visserhok authorities were very strict and nothing, but our samples, were removed.

The final resting place of the animals was deep inside the landfill." - Steve Benjamin

Monday, June 01, 2009

Carlos Eyles - Waterman

Any freediver / spear-fisher should know of Carlos Eyles - he is old school and really one of the first of few to venture into what now is called blue-water hunting. He was part of a tribe, a select few that dove in the Sea of Cortez in the 1960s.

As with most people of that generation, they were drawn to the sea to hunt - but they always had a deep respect for the Ocean and a real code of ethics that so many have lost today.

As Carlos Eyles became older, he eventually switched the spear gun for a camera (sounds like a familiar story - come to think of it, he even looks like my old man)...I am sure once in a while he still gets his own dinner.

Eyles wrote several books about his experience - most excellent reads, beautifully written - anyone with any draw to the ocean will relate immediately to his work.

As I was telling my friend Nico about him he told me that there was a movie coming out about him: Waterman. Below is the trailer - it is definitely worth a watch.