Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To touch or not to touch sharks - that is the question...

... that flares up every so often.

My good pal Mike Neumann abhors these discussions, however, he posted two most eloquent and well balanced blogs on the subject which are worth to be read by those who dive with sharks. I won't participate in these debates anymore as I don't consider myself qualified enough to utter an authoritative opinion on what is meant by "safe" diving, and adequate "protocols".

Subjectively speaking, my interacting with sharks is perfectly safe, as I also believe that I am good driver (I have never had a car accident since I got my license in May 1960, and still love sitting behind a wheel). That, of course, does not mean that I could be bitten by a shark on my next dive or that I could crash my car into a concrete bridge pillar tomorrow. But it means that the inherent risk of being alive will not deter me from touching sharks or driving my car - people who know me know how much I enjoy both pastimes.

I just hope this doesn't look like a potentially dangerous situation - it wasn't.

Photo: Isabel Muscat

Anyway, when I interact with sharks I do not use sticks to "protect" myself, and I would not put on a chain suit. I "hug" sharks the way others hug trees or their wives. I don't believe that sharks are being driven exclusively by food and sex which would really make them rather unpleasant fellow creatures to interact with ... Whether or not they have a 'soul' I don't know. Does a dog have a soul? I don't know. Do I have one? Not sure - to put it succinctly - and if I had one, where would it be?... :-) Whatever, I can happily tolerate being referred to as an idiot when it comes to my relationship with sharks.

Many shark operators would not allow me to free-dive with sharks for safety or protocol reasons. While I agree that protocols are important, and that conscientious shark operators need to manage the risk of accidents, I quite dislike to have someone lead me by my nose, and tell me how to behave in the presence of sharks.

Should an accident happen (I know of only one fatal accident for which the operator could not be blamed, even though other shark operators thought otherwise) - so bloody what?? Shit happens, life happens, death happens. No matter how much we want to play it, and have it, safe: It's a jungle out there, and it's one we cannot control - thank God.

OK, dear readers, I am outta this - and should I ever not be allowed to touch sharks on a dive boat anymore, well, then I will rent a 17 ft Boston whaler and do my own thing, all by myself, which is for me the quintessential way of diving anyway. No strangers, no buddies, just me, the silent blue world, and the sharks - this is how I dove for countless years until I got to know my favorite sharks: The awesome, gentle, intelligent and, yes, potentially dangerous but basically non-aggressive tiger sharks which I can only get to see, and swim with, regularly when diving with specialized dive operators. The very few ones I go with understand my deeply felt need to get up-close and personal with these incredible sharks. One of them is Captain Scott W. Smith of the Dolphin Dream.

Some think I have a special way to interact with sharks, others think I am an idiot. Either way, I don't care - I just do my thing... :-)

Photo: Paul Playbird, aka Spielvogel

PS: Last words, not famous but relevant in this context - they are posted on our blogspot as a disclaimer:

Please be aware of the fact that diving with sharks can be potentially dangerous. Do NOT closely interact with sharks, touch them, feed them unless you are very experienced and know exactly how to interpret their body language. While it might look easy and harmless to interact with sharks the way we do, we do NOT encourage this type of underwater activity.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Alibaba - here is the good news.

I forwarded my last blog on Alibaba to Jack Ma, CEO, who immediately passed it on to John Spelich, Alibaba's VP in charge of their international corporate affairs.

Here is John's response:

Thanks for the note to Jack, which was forwarded to me.

Please help us get the word out. We do not permit the sale of manta rays on our site. But we found that our listing rules were not clear on that front so late last week we clarified that our listing rules also protect animals who are under UN protection.

We had a handful of listings of manta ray for sale on our site and those are either down or in process of coming down. As a user-generated site we cannot always know what listings are put up but we are pleased when members of the community point out things like this.

John W. Spelich
Alibaba Group
VP-Intl. Corporate Affairs

Oceana has already been notified with the request to call off their petition. I have not heard from them yet.

It was so easy to get through to Alibaba's top management and have their immediate reaction to this issue.

I wonder why the Oceana employees have not tried using that channel before starting a cumbersome petitioning campaign... Hmmmm....

Did they do that in order to show their donors, existing and potential, how "active" they are in the conservation business?

How ineffective was their approach in this case, and what a waste of time! Do they always work like that?....

Ila France-Porcher wrote to Oceana two days ago:

Dear Representative of Oceana,

I have been receiving letters from Elizabeth Griffin and Emily Fisher saying:

"Sign today to tell Alibaba.com CEO Jack Ma to stop profiting from the deaths of threatened manta rays»
So I'm writing to let you know that one of our members, the same one who convinced Alibaba to stop selling shark fins at the beginning of The Year of the Shark (2009), has contacted the company about the matter, and Alibaba has accordingly removed manta ray products from its websites.

Therefore I would appreciate it if you would spread the word that Jack Ma has once again shown his determination NOT to support practices that threaten vulnerable wild animal species.

Thank you.

With good wishes,
Ila France Porcher
The Shark Group

So far, so good. I would now expect Oceana to set the record straight in their website.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Alibaba does it again.

Manta Ray (Galapagos, 2001)
Photo: Wolfgang Leander
Click on image

This time it's not shark fins but goods made of manta ray leather.

Not long ago, Alibaba's top execs reiterated their commitment to not allow traders of products from endangered animals to use their platform.

Mere lip service?

Most probably not. Let's rather assume they did not realize that manta rays are now being hunted down for several of their body parts, including their gills (another "delicacy" for Chinese "gourmets" - yukkkie!) and skin.

Here is what Oceana found out:

Stop the sale of manta ray leather

Tell the CEO of Alibaba.com to remove manta ray products from his site»

A manta ray can live to be 40 years old—if it’s not turned into a boot. These large, majestic fish are a favorite of divers lucky enough to see them, but they are also targeted by an unlikely foe: the leather industry.
Manta rays are disappearing from our oceans, in part because of fishing for their skin, gills, and cartilage. Despite the manta ray’s threatened status, manta ray “leather” fetches a high price. We recently discovered that Alibaba.com, one of the world’s largest commerce sites, sells boots and wallets made from rays.

They should know better. Several years ago, Oceana activists joined other conservation groups to successfully petition Alibaba.com to stop selling shark products. We know they listen, so we’re asking you to reach out to them again. A fancy wallet is not worth the price of an ocean without rays.

Dear Readers: Please sign the petition. Thank you!

Good Research...

The latest in shark news always seems to come from Shark Diver.  Recently they posted a video about research conducted by the University of Miami in reference to shark diving and changing shark behavior.  Seems like the impact is not as high as people have suggested in past.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Kony 2012

I just finished watching a video about a campaign to stop Joseph Kony...about the time the short documentary ended I got a tweet from a friend that said: "I wish people were as big of advocates to stop shark finning  as much as Kony."

So while this blog usually focuses on sharks in some shape or form...the Invisible Children cause is definitely one worth of attention.  Take some time to watch the video...and if you have some more time...take some action.  For more information go to www.kony2012.com