Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Pied Piper of Sydney

Oh sweet sigh of relief, it's the end of 2008. As the hands of time approach midnight for us here in the UK, we look back on another year of wonderment at the inane stupidity of our race. New year always fills me with a sense of excited anticipation, and draws with it a concentration of all the bad things that happened in the passing year as it slides into nothingness. But really, the tingle of anticipation is merely a caffeine jab during an annual coffee break in the endless march of time. Deep down even though we hope for better, in 12 months time we will be thinking of all the bad things that happened in the last year and hoping for improvement.

2009 has been designated International Year of the Shark, an idea initiated by The Shark Group, so to help out in this worthy amassing of likeminded souls in favour of our dwindling sharks, then please join up with the facebook group or the Shark Group list (see links) to keep up to date with what's going on throughout the year.

Whilst I like to keep up to date with shark news from around the world, I rarely post it on here, as there are plenty of avid bloggers from around the world much better at news blogging than I. However, recent events in Australia made me ponder the relationship between ourselves and the natural world.

Thanks to advances in global media aquisition, we can now happily partake in, and enjoy, freely shot home-video standard editing from a consumer-cam shooter on many news subjects. Whislt this 'advancement' is a cursed bane to all in the media industry except the corporate accountants, it does allow us to look at the story without worrying whether some vital information had been cleverly left out.

If you take a look at the first link, you will see what appears to be a disgruntled grudge bearing shark hungrily circling some aussie kayakers, and you would be fogiven for thinking that this might be the case. But, a little later on in the shaky filming, we can see a healthy collection of fishing rods attached to each canoe. I would imagine that the shark was attracted to the bait used in the fishing process, as opposed to the skinny australian kayaker floating on his piece of inert plastic. If we hadn't been able to see that vital piece of visual information, we would have been at the mercy of the writer and his opening paragraph.


The second piece also involves the attraction of a great white to fishing activity, and the couples' close shave as it again bumped their boat. The two events demonstrate well our misgiven superiority over the natural world, or at least a grave lack of education in marine enviromental safety.

crab with extra salad?

After reading these pieces, I imagined how surprised or not you would be if you baited hyenas in the serengeti to get good photos of them, and then got eaten by a lion, and whether there would be a gruff khaki wearing guy in the backgroud claiming they should have all been shot.

Thanks cheap media. THE TRUTH WILL OUT.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Online Traders Drop the Fins.

Members of international conservationists "The Shark Group" are breathing a sigh of relief after online trading giant promised to end its controversial online trade in shark fins., a subsidiary of has received close attention from various conservation groups worldwide, who have been highly critical of their online trade in shark fin products facilitated by alibaba company policy to facilitate free trade, even in endangered species.
The issue had been complicated by a lack of control in international trade in shark products, and the near impossible task of identifying protected and non protected species. Some shark species are protected by international trade laws, and some are not. Identification of different shark species is nearly impossible once the fins have been removed from the bodies.
This week, Alibaba, china's biggest online marketplace, bowed to pressure and announced that the decision by taobao was a company-wide initiative, and that it encouraged its users to report any incidences of shark fin trade, saying that perpetrators would be "suitably punished". The announcement follows a move to ban all trade in endangered species on the group's websites in an attempt to paint a more ethical company face.
A tireless campaign was mounted by members of The Shark Group to pressurise Alibaba to ban the sale of shark fin products by its member traders. Online trade in shark fins accounts for a significant portion of total fins traded, with a number of suppliers claiming to be able to supply in excess of 2 tonnes per month (around 50,000 sharks).
Although this is a red letter day in the conservation movement's diary, there is still a long way to go. In excess of 100 million sharks are slaughtered every year to satisfy demand for shark fin soup, and online trade represents only a portion of that trade. Open markets exist in many parts of Asia, and The Shark Group was quick to point out that the trade could resurface in other forms, and that demand for shark fin soup remained high.
The shark group was formed in 2007 by Alex "Sharkman" Buttigieg and Ila France Porcher and has quickly gained momentum as a premium force in shark conservation. They have initiated 2009 as International Year of the Shark which has attracted support from all corners of the globe, and this event marks a good start to the year.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Tiger White's Demise - A Shark's Fate

Blogging is a wierd process. What to leave in? What to leave out? Some blogs seem to follow each and every turn of the week, from important to ordinary, and others, such it seems as mine, only get added to when there is something that just cannot go unmissed.
Whilst it's always good to be inspired to write something by a turn of good fortune, or an unforgettable day in the water, there are weeks that are so full of bad news that writing about them becomes a must. Last week was such a week.
First of all came reports that Great Whites had been killed on the Queensland coast in Australia by drumlines, and then only a few days afterwards came some saddening images passed onto me by my good friend Wolfgang Leander, who had recived them from friends in Aliwal South Africa. Two large tiger sharks laying dead in a boat, the latest victims to the Natal Sharks Board's rediculous strategy of shark nets and drumlines to 'protect' the public from these incredible animals.
It's always sad to see a dead shark, but these Aliwal animals have become like members of the dive community's family. To see them killed in this unnecessary way is more than just another dead body amongst the annual millions that take place.
But more worrying than the dead sharks is the blatant pig headedness of the protectionate that cause this environmental damage. Both the Australian and South African authorities responded in a shocking 'holier than thou' totalitarianist monologue, of the type historically atttributed to military dictators or perfidious religious leaders.
These imposing bodies claim to exist in the dual interests of public protection and environmental understanding. We know the effectiveness of drumlines to be completely farcical, and really how long can large industrial sized gillnets, that catch all manner of marine life in an indiscriminate fashion really be tolerated by an increasingly environmentally aware public. That said, one imagines the scientific practice from these institutions to be driven by aeons old techniques such as disection, coupled with rows of jars full of stained formaldehyde containing yet further disected shark parts, accompanied by coffee stained and scrumpled pages of derelict notes that will never be peer reviewed.
Why? Because the peers have moved on, unlike the Natal Sharks Board or Queensland's Shark Patrol Program who insist on living with the day before yesterdays methodology. Modern science has moved on from the dark days of yore. Population counts, direct observation, satelite tagging, acoustic tagging, bathymetry and eco system viability are the order of today. Yesterday's decrepit methods of studying dead bodies, and the entire cerebral disfunctionality that goes with it have no place in conservation as it has grown to be.
These governmental organisations are failing. They are failing the animals that we have placed laws by which to protect, and they are failing the people that have put them in their places of power. Their outstanding failure to genuinely understand the animals that they have been placed in a position of power to protect, is only duplicating that ingorance on an unsuspecting public.
The tide must change on this issue.

permission to use photos not obtained. please contact in the event of an issue and i will take them down.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Cowes Week 2008

When the water in the UK is just too green to go diving (which is about 360 days of the year!!) there is only one thing you can do....go and get some yacht action. Cowes is a lively little town made explosive with the annual arrival of this massive sailing event. Many classes of craft are there in force, and the shoreside entertainment is not short thrift. But hey, too much time in cold water has seen the end of my dancing days, or maybe I've just become too serious in my not so old age.

Anyway, what draws me to Cowes is not the party scene, but the chance to get some fantastic images of some magnificent craft, being plied by their magnificent crafstmen sailors. There's not much more exilharating (apart from sharks!) than watching a few tonnes of hull being wrenched over towards the boiling murk by many square yards of sail, with a lot of creaking ang groaning, louder than the slap of heavy wave against the port side. No thats not my joints creaking, it's all that superb maritime engineering pitting itself against mother nature and all that a mildly disappointing light August breeze can throw at it. The subtle scent of the broiling Solent, the misty salt air and the creaking and groaning of the worlds finest watercraft are enough to send me on a high, and chasing them about in a RIB trying to get some images that sum the magic up is a challenge that I shall not soon be bored of, at least whilst the sea close to where I live refuses to give up it's underwater secrets.

Pictured is an Extreme 40, probably the most exciting craft on the water today, an absolute thrill to watch and something of an addiction, leaving me hankering for the next time I can see them in full swing.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Their future

Here is a short piece I put together whilst I was collecting footage for the documentary that I am making on shark fishing and the fin trade. It is not intended to be part of the doc, but I thought something like this would make a good advertisement to bring this issue to local poeples attention.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

cowes looms....

During this terrible, cold spring it's easy to forget that summer is now with us, not just around the corner as it still seems, albeit miserable and wintry. The optimism of getting in the water to look for sharks and rays off the coast of our sunny island coast has faded along with the sun, so today I remembered I should be getting on with looking for photogrpahic commissions for cowes week, which will soon be upon us.

Here are a few banner images that I have just placed on my listing with sailingnetworks, that I hope will generate some interest in my images of the excellent and addictive action that happens here in August.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

music, food for the soul

The sea surrounding the UK, although full of interesting and beautiful things, is a fickle muse. Much of the year it is too cold or gloomy to consider entering, and our late spring here has lengthened our wait to go and explore what she has to offer.
The other love of my life is music, and music is made more powerful still when it is mixed with visuals. I recently came across the music of a one Levon Helm, and below is a fairly lengthy music video compilation from him. I am drawn to post this as the sentiment therein is one that I share. I grew up in the heart of the English Countryside, where farming is part of the texture of the land. I was involved in farming for over fifteen years, and watched as the industry changed and eventually died around us. This film harks back to those times, albeit on a different continent and shows how farming people are influenced by the changing world around them. Often farmers are blamed for the wholesale destruction of the environment, but really, is it not us as consumers who are to blame? How are we to eat if not for the corn or the cow? As our population explodes, we point our fingers at the simplistic men and women of the countryside, laying the blame, but it is not the farmers of dirt that are guilty, it is farmers of greed. Consumer wealth and electronic superstatus are the order of today, so sit back and watch this, and celebrate the good old days.

Monday, 28 April 2008

internet: transcending time and space

It is often noted that the internet has joined up the world, made it smaller in so many ways. This week, this was bought home to me in a way I'd not considered before, that it is not just our current dimension that is bridged, but time also is surpassed, when the past is brought to the future, for current relevance.
Through our online group of likeminded shark conservationists, I have been fortunate to become aquainted with Ila France Porcher, who lives on an Island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. Although I have never met her, she is known and respected amongst our group of friends to be well versed in literacy, and is full of respect for the sanctity of the living being, particularly sharks. This is the way that we know the internet; to join people who live in the current time, but it struck me when Ila posted a quote from Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), that information not only passes across distance, but also across time, when something written 100 years ago, shows us the relevance of our actions in our own daily world.

I shall leave you to ponder on the words of Conrad, posted by Ila who was seeking to explain the relevance of art and it's value equated with that of science and math.

Ila's own moving dedications to sharks can be found at

"...The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world, the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts--whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism--but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our most precious aims.

"It is otherwise with the artist.

" ...His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring--and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever. The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories. But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom: to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition--and, therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation--to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity--the dead to the living and the living to the unborn."

Saturday, 19 April 2008

NOAA's Shark Ark

The United states have made a two significant moves recently to protect its shark populations. The first is a draft bill by Hon Madeleine Z. Bordallo which aims to close certain loopholes in current legislation to protect sharks from finning at sea. However, this bill does not so far seem to require implementation of a clause by which sharks are required to be landed with fins attached. It might however prevent farcical events from occuring such as recently when a Hong Kong Shipping Company vessel "King Diamond II" loaded with 32 tonnes of fins was siezed under the 2000 Shark Finning Law in American waters. Prosecution failed after it was claimed that the vessel was not directly involved in fishing, but was a transport vessel collecting fins from smaller fishing boats. The HK Shipping Company reclaimed all of the fins.

More encouraging still is a proposal by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to protect coastal shark species such as the Sandbar Shark by banning the removal of fins, meaning that the shark must be landed whole. NOAA also proposes to reduce the catch quotas by a very significant level, and to ensure that takes of Sandbar sharks will only occur as part of a research fishery program. Read the full article on NOAA's site.

It is crucial that these efforts are supported, as you can bet that there will be plenty of fishing interests trying to make sure that they fail.
To support the Shark Conservation Act of 2008, Oceana have an online procedure which can be found here.

To support NOAA's proposals, you must email your support to the following email address:

Sunday, 13 April 2008

sow lies, reap disrespect

I noticed a while ago, on the msn homepage, a link to a National Geographic channel named Bull Sharks Hunt.

Whilst watching it, I was not at all surpised to see more tiring references to Bull, Great White and Tiger sharks as being the ones most known to attack people on a (to quote the channels words) "regular basis". I was not surprised because the media as we know, only seem to be able to sell a story by sensationalising it. But what does surprise and concern me, and should concern all of us, is when a flagship channel like National Geographic, fails to uphold its reputation for factual and informative documantary, instead choosing to broadcast poor quality, untrue pap dressed as information. In an age when the media is dictated to more by accountants than the desire to reveal the truth, more and more formerly noble houses have turned to popularism to ensure the men in grey suits go home happy, whilst the viewers, those eager to saturate their brains in more than just reality tv pulp, are fed little more than the journalistic equivalent of french fries. No wonder people watch so much television, we all know that junk food is designed to leave us wanting more.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

the tiger and the wolf

Here is an image of my good friend Wolfgang Leander, and one of his lifelong companions, a tiger shark. Wolf is a true man of the sea, at one with its creatures, and at home below the surface. I was honoured when wolf invited me out to Aliwal Shoal to dive with him, and to meet his giant, much maligned friends, those big broad tiger sharks.
Image courtesy of Rob Allen.

My initial concern was, how would this part of my documented journey to better understand sharks, and why people do what they do to them fit with my previous learning experiences that i had received in Ecuador and in the UK? As i will describe later in more depth, Ecuador sees sharks only from a fishing perspective, and my journey to Europe, to seek out a model of marine conservation was met with great dissapointment when i discovered that the EU has worse shark protection law than Ecuador. So how did flying off to the sun to jump in with tiger sharks fit with that thesis? The answer is that South Africa is host to some of the best shark tourism in the world. The very idea that people want to dive and interact with these most magnificent creatures means that there exists a premise on which to protect them, and the revenue inversion from that need means that sharks have a lot higher unit value whilst still alive, rather than dead.
I am always filled with a sense of nausea to talk about any kind of natural wonder as if i were some kind of futures broker, yet sharks are victim to a multi million dollar industry, that of harvesting their fins, so it is imperative that every aspect of their existence, both commercial and aesthetic be used to promote their wellbeing and long term conservation.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

home from shore

Here is my first blog. Wow, seems a little strange. Such a public diary. I should have done this years ago in a paper form, my tales of adventure both at home and overseas, have always entertained my friends, many saying I should write a book, something funny, a tale more of mildly entertaining disaster than fulfilling conquest. Such is life, fulfillment is looking back fondly or looking forward with eager anticipation. Adventure is in the moment.

I have just returned from a trip to South Africa to film sharks as part of my documentary on the terrible industry in shark fins. I shall continue more of the why's and wherefore's of that journey later, but for now, I am still high on the vibe of being in the company of such likeminded people who love the ocean, who's daily lives are ruled by it, the ebb and flow, the need to live free from conformity, to live with the ocean one has to move like the sand, ones daily life develops without rigidity. Rigidity is worn down and destroyed by the ocean. Walls are crumbled, wooden structures are smashed or rot in the relentless salt. To live with the sea demands an organic approach to life. To meld with the torridness or the tranquility. My trip to South Africa, first to the cape and then to Durban, was enhanced so much by being with the people who live with like this, with the ocean......