Saturday, October 24, 2009

When Shark Conservation Goes Bad...

Was reviewing my various feeds and came across this post from Patric over at Shark Divers.  Interesting post on shark conservation and once again forces coming into play that make me ask myself over and over again - "Do people really care about sharks?..." (Of course a lot of them do) - but a lot do not and are looking for a buck, fame, ego massages, and the list goes and point:

"Recently an apparent "Grand Shark Conservation Heist" happened within the shark community, and for the most part it went unnoticed and unchallenged.

It was a theft of intellectual property, the brazen day light robbery of ideas and a two year conservation plan that was not generated by, nor did belong to, those who subsumed it.

Intellectual property is as real as personal property. In the conservation world intellectual property is the currency of the entire movement. Conservation ideas that are unique, powerful, and visionary are what move others who lack long term vision, to conserve sharks..."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lemon Sharks Public Workshop Recap

Lemon Shark - Photo by: Wolfgang Leander

Tonight I attended the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) public workshop with a focus on Lemon Sharks - particularly on the banning of harvesting this shark species.  Back in June 2009, the FWC was presented with information regarding the vulnerability and status of the Lemon Shark.  

In August, a proposal was submitted to the commission to prohibit the take of lemon sharks, finally in September, the commission directed staff to investigate the proposal and return to the commission in December with a recommendation.

Some interesting data as to why the Lemon Shark fishing ban should be in place (as per the FWC):

  • Additional pressure on lemon sharks due to recent changes in shark management
  • NOAA Fisheries Service study found lemon sharks to be the most vulnerable of all 33 large coastal species
  • Sexual maturity at 12-15 years of age and at lengths of around 90 inches or greater, 6 to 18 pups per litter...
  • Tagging study found at least 7.5% mortality of adult population in one season.
Below are some of my observations and notes of what various people had to say - among them dive operators, commercial fishermen, scientists, divers, non-profits, and shark lovers:
  • Lots of questions and doubts on the numbers of sharks killed by anglers (recreational) between 2000-2007 – average per year
  • How fast people lose focus – look at trend
  • Coral reefs are dying as is – taking out more apex predators will increase process.  Use history of commercial fishing and collapsed industries as examples
  • It is in fishermen’s best interest to protect species that they are harvesting
  • Commercial fishermen being punished for recreational harvest
  • FWC has long history of waiting / failing to protect endangered species
  • 4/6 lemon sharks a day (breeding size) – now he does not see that many in a season
  • Ban at least during spawning months
  • Wolves removed from the mountains – mountains die (good comparison)
  • Wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone and vegetation came back
  • We need our predators…
  • Various non-profits represented and support the ban
  • Information overload – too many numbers and studies to remember – all boils down to sharks being in trouble
  • People started to become very repetitive…too much reading...speak
  • Data is flaw…but you need to focus on the trend
  • The shark is a resource…I think it is a living animal
  • Doc speaks directly to commercial fishermen who earlier mentioned that there is no reliable data
  • There is data – and it has been collected over 30-40 years – empirical data
  • And that he is the one individual that loves lemons – only likes them now since one bit him ;)
  • Lemon is the most vulnerable for many reasons – not just ease to catch.  They follow a long lifecycle similar to whales and even humans in the sense of development.  Not sexually mature until there are at least 12 years old
  • Lemon sharks go up to 15 miles into fresh water rivers
  • Protect the breeders – there should be an upper limit
In just sitting there and listening to the various people speak I could not help and think - we are deciding on the fate of a species based on $$$.  Many people speaking for or against the banning of harvesting lemon sharks have an economic agenda be it to take divers to see the sharks or those that catch and sell the meat.  The shark is a resource and nothing more - I sure hope not?

And while I completely support the ban of harvesting the Lemon Shark and any other species for that matter, I do hope that whatever plan is set in motion, contemplates the commercial fisherman as well.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

National Geographic, Three Freedivers, a World Record and White Sharks

Photo credit: Ryan McInnis

About three weeks ago I was in Amsterdam and able to connect with some old friends.  One of those being Claudio, a good friend and freediver from Brazil who now lives in Boston.  During the summer he ventures the cold waters of Rhode Island to dive and spear - I tried it once and after 10 mins I had enough.  Of course during our meet we spoke about freediving and he mentioned that he was actively participating on the spearo discussion board:

I usually tend to stay away from these boards - they are too charged with guys looking for the next big kill.  However, the story he forwarded intrigued me.

Three freedivers were on a trip together with National Geographic filming a documentary about white shark cognition.  During the three weeks, apparently they were able to have several interaction with them and even spear tuna (of which one may even be a world record) in their presence at depths of 100ft.  The sharks were described as curious yet cautions and "It seemed like the smaller sharks with scars all over them were the ones who always wanted a taste, and were more sketchy to be in the water with, whereas the bigger ones were more cautious and mellow."

Photo credit: Ryan McInnis

From reading the board it also came to my attention that one of the freedivers and cameramen was Ryan McInnis, who we all remember from the Tiger Shark killing debacle.  Hope he is doing better things these days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Help Beat Cancer

This has nothing to do with Sharks but everything to do with people that are close to me and friends that may be dealing with similar issues. 

#Beatcancer is raising money and doing it only for 24hours.  And they are trying to set a new world record of the most social media please go to 

Tweet it, Facebook it, Blog it...JUST DO IT!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Florida Lemon Sharks Need Your Help

Lemon Shark
Photo by: Wolf Leander

Click on image to enlarge 

I have been receiving various emails, Facebook messages, etc. regarding the Florida Lemon Shark petition...please see below:

"For those of you who are not aware, the situation with lemon sharks is very critical and time sensitive.  Please sign this petition -- it takes two seconds!  These animals are in real danger of getting wiped out very quickly.  Fishing regulations have changed and lemon sharks will now be targeted.  And they can't handle the fishing pressure.

And if you're in Florida, please, please come to one of the FWC Public Lemon Shark Workshops.  There will be a lot of interesting shark people and divers there, so besides doing something really good, it will be fun!  

Oct. 19th - Fort Myers, FL - 6pm - 8pm - Joseph P. D'Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Ave.
Oct. 20th - Dania Beach, FL - 6pm -8pm - IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, 300 Gulf Stream Way."

I will go to the Oct. 20th meeting, hope to see some of you there.

Overfishing - a video from Green Forum

Great video - first saw it on The Best Shark Dive in the World - who in turn saw it on The Dorsal Fin...

Simple and to the point:

Overfishing from greenforum on Vimeo.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hello, Mr. Anonymous

There are basically two reasons why people choose to withhold their identity by writing under a false name: They either fear potentially dangerous repercussions when going public - or they have a personal agenda, and don't have the guts to fight out their position in the open.

Under normal circumstances I would simply ignore anonymous letters, but here I have a case I feel I should share with you. It is about a rather clumsy diatribe against shark divers and shark operators quoting a blog Felix posted after he first dove with tiger sharks to make his weak point.

The Hawaiian authorities are considering to ban all shark diving operations, and the individual who wrote them a supporting mail signed his message with "Year of the Sharks" - as if he were some sort of a spokesman of the pro-shark initiative to which I and countless other shark protectors belong.

The author has got to be a man (no woman could have written such utter non-sense), and I have a suspicion who that person could be. He is in all likelihood a member of an online shark discussion group (SHARK-L), and his diction sounds rather familiar to me.

However, since I don't want to expose him publicly, I won't reveal his name - I am sure AB will appreciate my tact for treating him so delicately...... :-)

OK, here is the letter Mr. Anonymous sent to the Hawaiian authorities:

Dear Council Member,

Re: Shark Diving

I’m sure you have heard about how shark operators are so very responsible in regards to shark and human safety. What happens behind the scenes is much different than what you hear from the shark diving community.

I have attached a personal blog of a diver participating in his first shark dive. I think it speaks for itself as to how Hawaii sharks will be treated and how responsible these money-driven shark diving operators are.

BAN, BAN, BAN all shark diving in Hawaii it is a disaster in the making if you don’t, with these “yahoo harass the shark’s divers”.

Me "yahoo harass the shark's divers" (sic!) ?? ... Interacting with a playful female tiger shark in Aliwal Shoal (South Africa)
Photo: Roger Horrocks

Click on image to enlarge

Fear (less)

Over a time period of about three months I was completely undecided about coming to South Africa to dive with the tigers. On one hand (and being completely honest) I was afraid. On the other hand I did not want to miss the opportunity of a lifetime to interact with these sharks.

Last night I was up until 3AM thinking about what to expect today, talking to my dad trying to clear my mind of all "negative" thoughts (don't mean to sound dramatic).

With only about three hours of sleep, I made my way to the launch site.

Getting out to the site is half the fun - boat needs to clear breakers crashing into the beach - I guess it was the closest thing I ever felt to being a Navy SEAL.

Upon arrival my dad and Steve (Blue Wilderness Team) went in first, I followed only to be disappointed by the visibility. The first two sharks to show up were black fins. My eyes were scanning the whole time for the big ones - nothing.

So we moved to another location and from topside we saw the first tiger on the bait. Again, Steve and Wolf went in first followed by Russel and then me.

At first I was cautious, holding on to my dad and observing the majestic animals - truly amazing.

As I watched the others interact with the sharks, it became apparent that I had worried for nothing, but I was still apprehensive to interact. Then, without choice, I had to - one large shark (14ft) approached me head on, I slowly moved her out of the way by pushing down her head.

About 2 mins later I was riding my first tiger shark (Steve took a picture which I will upload soon) - it is impossible to explain the feeling. While some say it is a rush, I say it is being in a state of nirvana - complete harmony with the ocean.

While I would never claim that sharks are harmless (as any wild animal - have you ever had a turtle snap at you?), I would describe them as curious, intelligent, aware, relaxed, and confident.


That’s right after two minutes this super responsible dive operator had this person riding Tiger sharks. The operator claims they would never allow anyone to ride, pet, hand feed Tiger sharks on the surface, but behind the scenes, pay enough money and you can do whatever you want to sharks.

This is only one of hundreds of personal blogs of shark
divers and the responsible shark diving operators doing things they say they never do.

Save Hawaii’s sharks in this our year of the shark,

Year of the sharks

and here is my letter of October 6, 2009, addressed to Mr. "Year of the Sharks":

Dear "Year of the Sharks":

I have seen the letter you wrote to the Hawaiian authorities "on behalf of their sharks" wherein you quoted a blog posted by my son Felix.

While I am not at all interested in starting an "in-house fight" (I also strongly support the Year of the Shark initiative, and thus feel that we are in the same boat, both you and us), I believe we should discuss this issue in an open and fair manner.

Your letter creates the impression that

- Felix has had no previous experience diving with sharks which is NOT the case; he referred to his first tiger shark dive. At that time we were both in the water, and when he saw me interacting with large tigers, he quickly realized that these sharks are not at all how the media and inexperienced divers paint them (e.g. 'man eaters', 'dangerous', 'aggressive', 'killing machines', etc).

Shark diving in Aliwal Shoal: Felix being investigated by a friendly black tip shark.
Photo: Wolfgang Leander

Click on image to enlarge

Felix has dived countless times with smaller sharks such as Galapagos sharks and Caribbean reef sharks, and has, thus, acquired a very solid knowledge of shark behavior.

Since I was Felix's guide throughout his long-time exposure to sharks under very different circumstances, he cannot be considered a novice shark diver. I have been freediving with sharks for over 40 years which, I believe, qualifies me as some sort of an authority when it comes to diving, and interacting, with sharks.

Me playing with Tiger Beach (Bahamas) celebrity "Emma" - a most gentle and serene 12-13ft female tiger shark.
Photo: Paul Spielvogel

Click on image to enlarge

- Mark Addison of Blue Wilderness (Scottburgh / South Africa), the dive operator you refer to, is the pioneer of tiger shark diving South Africa, and has earned a reputation of being a most knowledgeable and responsible shark dive operator. During the 25 years he has been leading tiger shark dives he has never had an accident. That record speaks for itself.

I know Mark very well and would consider him one of the best shark operators world-wide. The way you describe him in your letter is utterly malicious, unfair and simply wrong.

Perhaps you should have gotten in touch with either Felix or me to get relevant information prior to sending out your letter. I am afraid to say that this is what your letter lacks: solid and checked information. Your letter is emotional and highly charged, and that is not the best way to get your message through.

It is by such "initiatives" that much harm is being done to our common cause. Wrong or incomplete information is worse than outright rejection and irrational fear of sharks.

So, why not clarify this?

First question: Who are you?

Best regards,

Wolfgang Leander

Needless to say, Mr. Anonymous did not reply to me letter.

Unfortunately, there are way too many "experts" like him (= people with no first hand shark diving experience) who vociferously claim to be knowledgeable about shark behavior, and go public spreading half-truths at best, blatant lies at worst.

Whatever these individuals say is highly detrimental to the general perception of sharks. Yet media people such as the producers of "Shark Week" and the editors of the notorious British tabloid "The SUN" love these dilettantes because they help the sensationalist media to reinforce the ever saleable "Jaws" image of the animals so many of us try to protect from human brutality and stupidity, which, as Einstein once stated, is infinite. Actually, what he said was this: "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mako "Gaff Kill" Florida - WPLG Channel 10

Please help and voice your concern in reference to the killing of the Mako shark that recently happened off the coast of Florida.  Simply copy/paste the letter below and send it to Robert Schmitt ( at WPLG Channel 10:

"I am writing to you about a recent story you did about the fishermen who caught a 748 lb. Mako shark off the Florida coast. It is disheartening to say the least to see the destruction of a threatened species celebrated in the news media. With sharks worldwide being destroyed to the tune of 100,000,000+ animals per year and some species facing 90% reductions in their populations, this type of trophy capture is simply inexcusable.

Sharks such as this Mako do not reproduce quickly nor do they have large litters, specifically because of their status as an apex predator. The natural ecosystem has evolved this way for very specific reasons ... sustainability of population being the most important. The magnificent specimen shown in your video was a fully mature, healthy adult capable of producing offspring. By targeting these larger trophy animals, fishermen like these are destroying the very individuals that have at least a chance of sustaining the species’ population. As more and more larger sharks are caught, no reproducing animals are left to repopulate the ecosystem being targeted.

Please stop your glorification of these fishing activities, and instead educate the public about the worldwide plight of sharks, which is reaching critical levels. Nearly all of the large shark species are now Red-Listed as at least threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). That should be the real story here."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mako "Gaff Kill" Florida - In Depth Look

The story below first came to my attention by my wife reading something off her iPhone, but it did not really register until I saw the post below on the Underwater Thrills blog:

"What started as an email this week about a breeding aged Mako shark "caught with a gaff" off the coast of Florida may well have documented a fisheries crime.

Luke Tipple, Director of the 
Shark Free Marinas Initiative and marine biologist, went in depth today at the SFMI blog and looked at the fisheries ramifications of killing sharks with gaffs:

It’s not usually our style to let others speak for us but in this case I think a YouTube user said it the best:

"I have been big game fishing for 25 years and this is the most amateur kill i have ever seen. No wonder they have never seen anything like this before. They gaffed a green mako feeding on roadkill and were lucky they weren’t pulled in or worse, get there boat torn up after pulling him aboard. Drunken morons with no skills that are lucky that Mako didn’t tear them a new ass. What a disgrace, the fish deserved better. – YouTube user Zencaster"

While that is an interesting (and colorful opinion) I’d like to point out that the real issue here is that several fisheries laws may have been broken. First, watch the video…carefully.


Video time 1:10 (Reporters Voice): the crew wounds the shark with a gaff… 

Here is the case to be made against the fisherman’s actions which appear to have been at least initialized by an illegal fishing method, free-gaffing or using a pole with a hook to capture the animal in such a way that it led to the animals harvest.

Case 1: How they might have broken the law in State Waters

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission manages their State waters (shore to 3 miles out) while being coordinated by the 
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) through an Interstate Fishery Management Plan. While the plan has undergone a series of recent revisions the current regulations clearly define that a shark may not be speared.

Current regulations define the term SPEARING as:

The catching or taking of a fish by bow hunting, gigging, spearfishing, or by any device used to capture a fish by piercing the body (gaff hooks .ed). Spearing does not include the catching or taking of a fish by a hook with hook and line gear, or by snagging (snatch hooking).

They further go on to clearly state:

Regulation #68B-44.003: Bag Limit Applicable to State Waters, Gear Restriction.
(2) The harvest or attempted harvest of any shark in or from state waters by spearing is prohibited.

Thus in State controlled waters the fishermen might have broken the law by ‘free-gaffing’ the shark, ie they did not use a permitted method of capture, therefore they broke the law. Check out the regulations for yourself here: or download the PDF version here: 
Current shark regulations (Note, even though there are currently amendments being discussed to these laws they only serve to strengthen the current regulations and do not in any case permit free gaffing sharks)

However: The video clearly starts with the disclaimer that they were 18 miles offshore, is this a loophole?

Case 2: How they might have broken the law in Federal waters

Federal waters are controlled by NOAA who run the Fisheries Office of Sustainable Fisheries: Atlantic Highly Migratory Species and have published the Guide for Complying with the Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, Sharks, and Billfish Regulations (

Within this guide is given the strict instructions (
click here for the most up to date digital version):

No person may fish for, catch, possess, or retain any Atlantic HMS (Highly Migratory Species .ed) with gears other than the primary gears specifically authorized in this part. Consistent with paragraphs (a)(1) and (a)(2) of this section, secondary gears may be used at boat side to aid and assist in subduing, or bringing on board a vessel, Atlantic HMS that have first been caught or captured using primary gears. For purposes of this part, secondary gears include, but are not limited to, dart harpoons, gaffs, flying gaffs, tail ropes, etc. Secondary gears may not be used to capture, or attempt to capture, free-swimming or undersized HMS. Except as specified in this paragraph (b), a vessel using or having onboard in the Atlantic Ocean any unauthorized gear may not possess an Atlantic HMS on board.

Let’s make sure you caught that:

Secondary gears (gaffs) may not be used to capture, or attempt to capture, free-swimming or undersized HMS

By capturing a free swimming shark without the use of primary gear they may have broken the law in both State and Federal waters leaving no real argument that could be made for where they were or what permits they were operating under.


It is clear that these fishermen, knowingly or not, might have broken the law. As the NOAA documents clearly state: Since fishery rules frequently change, it is your responsibility as a fisherman to become familiar with the latest regulatory updates and to comply with the current official regulations.

Since the fishermen were so kind as to video and broadcast their video it should be an open and shut case for someone who knows fisheries laws.

SFMI will be writing to the following people and urge you to do the same:

NOAA’s Highly Migratory Species Management Division at:
Phone: (301) 713-2347
Fax: (301) 713-1917
Email: Craig Cockrell ( or Peter Cooper ( (the agency that made the news report)
Phone: 954-364-2500
Click Here


I’d hazard that I’m not the first to pick up on these fine points of the law but if the video does indeed tell the full tale then these laws need to be enforced. If however the fishermen can provide video evidence of them using PRIMARY tackle (ie hook and line) to initialize the capture then they would be within their rights to have landed the shark. If this turns out to be the case then I will instead turn this report into a cautionary tale of how the media should be more responsible in reporting on shark harvests, particularly when dealing with species considered by some to be globally threatened. If you’d like to comment you can reach me

Luke Tipple
Director of Shark-Free Marinas

Monday, October 05, 2009

Follow-up on "Olga", the gentle tiger shark girl.

Photo: Wolfgang Leander
Click on image to enlarge

Here is a portrait of "Olga" I particularly like a lot. It is minimalistic in that it just shows the shark in all her beauty and nobleness - no distracting scuba divers, no corals, and a plain, sandy bottom.

Just look at "Olga's" expressive dark eyes - and you will understand why I am in love with these vilified creatures.

I heard that one Tiger Beach dive operator, Jim Abernethy, has not seen some of the resident tigers anymore. I am worried and fear the worst: 'Recreational' fishermen who are going after the tigers of Tiger Beach.

Should that prove to be correct, then war will be declared to what to me are wreckless poachers and senseless killers.

You, "Olga" - may you live to the tiger shark equivalent of 120 human years!!!!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I know, I know....

"Olga" - gentle as ever.
Photo: Paul Spielvogel
Click on image to enlarge

..... you have seen these type if pics before, and some of you might say: "What else is new? Wolf - this is beginning to bore us."

It's just that I am so excited at the thought of being back in about 5 weeks, hopefully meeting "Olga" again. I will definitely recognize her; she probably won't as I was not as close a friend of hers as was my good old Swabian buddy Folkart ------ :-)

And you know what? Next year I hope to be able to freedive with Great Whites. A famous photographer who leaves the cage to swim around with these awesome creatures when the conditions are right calls this ultimate shark diving adventure "The Everest of Diving".

Gotta talk to DaShark.

Would I become addicted to the whites? You betcha!! However, I would never be unfaithful to "Olga" and all the other beautiful and gentle striped girls that have enriched my life, and actually kept me going when the going got really rough a few months ago...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

On the right path

It has been a while since we have really dedicated any time to the blog, partly due to the fact that my dad was recovering from his treatment.  And I am happy to say - at least for now - things are looking good and he is on the right path.

A little less than a year ago, I posted a photo of my dad (with the intent to embarrass him for all the photos he posted of me) as he was getting fit and ready for shark diving.  See below:

Well, after having his stomach removed, months of intense treatment (radiation and chemo), he has finally been able to get back to somewhat of a "normal" life...the photo below was taken a few days ago:

Still some weight to be put back on - but definitely on the right path.

Says my old man:

"Dear Friends:

This is the result of two weeks at the gym, hahahahahaha!!  ----------   there is no other way to regain the muscle mass I lost due to the operation and the chemo and radiation therapies.

The last CAT scan, done early this week, was "clean". Thus, things don't look as bad as I thought - so far. ... The best news: In 5 weeks I will be back in the Bahamas to pet my striped babes!"

Originally I had planned to only spend one week out there with the Wolf - but after everything that we have been through this year I figured I might as well get as much down and shark time with him while I can...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Great Video from Save our Seas

Thanks to The Dorsal Fin for posting this video on their blog...Save Our Seas Foundation continues to do extremely creative work with a great message...enjoy:

Amanda Cotton's new website

Be sure you take a look at Amanda Cotton's new website - it is a very nice balance between her work, conservation, and livelihood.

We first wrote about Amanda a year ago - right around the same time we "physically" met her.  My father fell in love with her Frog photo.

What a wonderful person and photographer - her images really do speak 1,000 words.