Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Death by SMS...

From November onwards each year, the shark newswires begin to buzz with screams of Death, Ataaacckkkk, Surfer, and BLOOoooooddd emanating from Australia's newcasts. Great whites and other sharks congregate along parts of the aussie coastline in an annual migratory fashion. The event is usually pre empted by public calls for more beach patrols, more drum lines, beach cordons and aerial shark control hit squads who can snipe surfer chewing sharks from a helicopter.
Fortunately the predictable media merry-go-round is accompanied by sane and earthly quotes from the same surfers who are said to require the overt protection such as "well mate, were in their world, we don't have the right to cull them, it's our own risk..." and such like. Thank goodness the surfers are more in touch with the real world than the marine authorities.
This week in welcome contrast came news from this online source of a method to track great whites via satelite technology that will allow data from the tags to be received by SMS to mobile phones. The technology is not brand new, there was talk of this methodology being used in Aliwal Shoal to track tiger shark migrations back in 07.
The beauty of it is that it allows marine safety officials to monitor shark movements along the coast in a realtime environment. The beneficial offshoot to the effort is that marine scientists can learn valuable marine management strategies to help protect great whites from the unnecessary and rediculous tactic of deadly drum lines and beach nets.

Monday, 28 December 2009

There's sharks in them thar hills....

Here's an interesting blog that popped into my inbox this it here. It seems that once upon a time there were a lot of sharks living in the hills around LA. Maybe the sea got that high a few million years ago, or maybe the mountains got pushed up out of the sea by tectonic plate activity...or...maybe, just maybe, prehistoric man living in the area used scuba gear to catch mako sharks and they were a staple part of their diet. Or...maybe there was waaaayy too much brandy in my christmas pudding.

photo source.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Africa Leads...

It's not often that you read a truly inspiring newscast from an NGO. Many are laced with propagandist hype and fireside assuage, promising to "work harder next year". More promises
equals more requirement for cash. It's not a difficult equation.

However, there is a hardened example for all of us to take notice of and inspiration from in the shape of Lesley Rochat. I for one was taken aback by her calm ability to film sharks being finned
in front of her aboard a South African longliner last year, which transpired in her film
Sharks in Deep Touble. The real lesson to be learned from Lesley Rochat though is her ability to create organic energy from in integration of effort from many sources. She is the founder of the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance which draws together efforts, pooling resources to assist in the fight for true marine conservation objectives.
This is not just empty discourse. Lesley's recently published blog about her new initiative 'AfriOceans Warriors' is proof that there is not just talk emanating from the Rochat camp, there is action. Real organic, community integrated action. The crux of the idea around these new ocean warriors is that it they are the ocean guardians of tommorow, that in the inspiring words of her blog they are "fighting for their constitutional right to inherit healthy oceans". I have long been a proponent of the idea that it is our children that we should be looking to to pick up the recently thrown down gauntlet to save our oceans. I posted this video on youtube back in May 08 relating to the same issue, and I am really pleased to see that a major organisation is tackling the essential involvement of our youth in ocean conservation. I firmly believe that when you show the importance of ocean conservation to a child, the change doesn't only happen when the child grows up and gains power as an adult, it happens straight away. The child talks about it to their friends, to their family, they disseminate their new found passion in a way that is more consuming than fire. Yes they are our tommorow, but they are also our today.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Some good news and some good news.

A little late of a post to call this news but on the 15th Dec the mighty Shark Alliance sent out a press release announcing that, finally, after a huge effort from shark conservation groups, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers has ended ALL fishing for porbeagle sharks and reduced the quotes for spurdog by NINETY PERCENT. It is the first major move to protect endangered shark species under the EU Plan of Action for Sharks that was implemented back in the spring of this year. After many false and frustrating starts at attempting to curb fishing for these species ending in paltry limit reductions due to filibuster tactics, usually by the Spanish, this is a great victory.

Also, news of an interesting interview with former environmental slash and burn bandit Jack Ma, yes the boss of THAT former shark fin online wholesaler (amongst other things) ALIBABA.COM, where he reveals his new love of all things green and environmental and states that it was all triggered by his attention being drawn to Alibaba by opponents of its online shark fin trade. I suspect there might be the slight chance that Mr Ma has timed the release of this interview to co-incide with Copenhagen, perhaps to help his heavywiehgt friends in China win crucial but massive funding as a developing nation to help them develop in a carbon neutral way. But, lets not be too cynical, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and I have yet to order my starter. You can read the full interview on's site but as it's such a huge site you might like to go directly by clicking here. The interview was bought to my attention by my friend and all round hero; inspiring person of the century Wolfgang Leander.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Forensic Help for Shark Conservation

AFP today reports that a group of scientists working in Hong Kong have been using DNA testing to try to trace the source of a batch of shark fins purchased amongst the city's notorious shark fin trading markets. The technique has been used previously to trace the origin of fish, turtles and marine mammals but this is the first time it has been used on sharks. The US scientists managed to trace 21 percent of their purchase to endangered scalloped hammerhead stock from the western Atlantic (Full article here).

This is great news for the shark conservation movement as it can indicate where to concentrate efforts or to step up action. However, some governments might be ahead of the game. The scientist's work is hoped to strengthen efforts at next year's CITES meeting in Qatar to list more shark species in appendix II, so bringing about protection via increased monitoring and licensing for international trade. However, such moves might not work so effectively in Eucador where there is already a licensing and catch monitoring system in what is arguably one of the most productive shark fishing nations in the world. Perhaps if Hong Kong trade percentages can be directly attributed to Ecuador will they be shamed into not just monitoring the catches but actually begin to restrict the high number of sharks landed on their shores.
On an inspirational note, there is a great post on a BBC site all about our wards, the Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris). I guess following Andrea Marshall's program on her work with mantas in Mozambique, this post has links to some great manta footage and also has some interesting manta facts and some opinion on species variant.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Is this the world's first ever Shark Officer?

BBC news today reports that scotland is to create the post of Sharks Project Officer. you can read the full report here. This could be the first creation of such a post anywhere by a government agency with the sole responsibility of developing shark conservation initiatives. Great move scotland!!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

ABC on the Farallon debate.

ABC news in the states is airing this newreel piece about the controversial tagging procedures in the Farallon Islands. I must say after seeing the clips that the proceedure looks exteremely stressful to the shark. A hammer to crack a nut indeed. However, you have to wonder where this guy gets his funding. That is one expensive ship! I'm also moderately disappointed in National Geographic who gave this airtime. Shouldn't one of the world's most respected wildlife publication organisations be promoting non invasive research?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Exitus acta probat?

There has been an amount of controversy brewing this week about a certain new tagging program happening in the Farallon Islands. The incoming researchers are using a type of invasive methodology with which to tag Great White sharks to try to find out where they go. You can read the write up on the resarch funded by Guy Harvey here, or the open criticism of the technique with subsequent links here.

The thing that I notice first and foremost here is a worrying occurence in the science community of research projects designed not for the benefit of the subject matter, but for the benefit of the scientist or funding body carrying out or funding the work. It is well known that there is already a long established tagging program in operation in the Farallon Islands, using a much less invasive method. There is a wealth of bad feeling from other scientists and shark world commentators over this new project, including the criticism that such research can seriously injure and kill sharks or their unborn offspring. Exitus acta probat (the outcome justifies the deed) might have been have been true back in medieval days when surgery was more akin to butchery. Even advancements in society did not equal advancement in medicine; the Victorians believed that anaesthetic turned women into harlots (source). However we would like to think that we had moved away from barbaric practices, particularly when endangered species are the subject matter. It would be an advancement indeed if scientists trusted the working practices of already established programs, and looked at developing research where any result would be truly ground breaking, and of benifit to the species, rather than copying a project that already exists for self gratification and self promotion, or tagging the very last speciemen of the very last species at the very last field camp at the end of the Earth, only to leave a note to forthcoming generations that it was the tagging process that killed the last remaining one.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Wild Wonders for Nuno Sa

I'm feeling proud today, I just heard that my friend Nuno Sa has posted his report about our Basking Shark expedition to the Inner Hebrides on the Wild Wonders of Europe site. You can see the link here

Wild Wonder of Europe is probably the biggest and most ambitious wildlife project ever to take place here and the exhibitions set to travel Europes cities will be quite something.

You may have read on my previous blogs about the expedition, and these beautiful images by Nuno are a true testament to the beauty of these animals, and of course to the ability of Nuno as a photographer and freediver.

I can't wait until next June!

Saturday, 24 October 2009


I must say a heart-felt congratualtions to my friends at Seaview Wildlife Encounter, who this week were awarded SILVER at the Tourism South East TOURISM EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2009. Since working with Lorraine and Jules this year to help them with their imaging requirements for the park, I have seen how dedicated they are both to their animals, and to the visiting public.

Zoos and wildlife parks are sometimes criticised for keeping animals captive that might otherwise be out in the wild, but there is an undoubted importance to the role that parks play in the education of youngsters and adults in the importance of conservation, and such places are the first contact many people have with wildlife. Often that first contact grows into an undying respect for wildlife, and is the birthplace of many conservation minds.

I have just judged the annual wildlife photographer competiton that occurs at Seaview Wildlife Encounter, and you can see the winning images I chose over at their site (link right).

Well done to everyone at the park, keep up the great work.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Raison D'etre

There is much speculation as to why these mantas come to this area. Our theory on how to find out those reasons were simple: Basic observation. You cannot substitutethis simple necessity with technology. No equipment, however technical, however well developed, will tell you what your own eyes will see. Hours in the water is what counts.
Our theory paid off. This video shows without any doubt that there is at least some feeding activity going on around this island. It's position and our study into it's relationship with the surrounding bathymetrical environment, coupled with our lengthy observation show that this is not a unique incident. Mantas come here to feed. We have observed it many times over the recent weeks and have captured it on film more than once.
This is not a surprise to us. If there is one element of life that dictates the behaviour of all animals, it is the need to gain nutrition. We suspect that these mantas are migratory, and their migration, driven by nutritional requirements suggests that they are not that different from other migratory beings. Elephants, Wildebeast, Basking Sharks, Swallows, Bears, the ebb and flow of a creature's activity is often directly related to its food source. It is not therefore a question of how to follow the animal, but of how to predict the behaviour of its food.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Due Thanks

We have had our blog on hold for a while until we managed to eventually get our permission for investigation sorted out with the Ecuadorean Environment Ministry. Our initial attemptsback in May to get the permission was blocked by what can only be described as petty protectionismby local conservation interests, who, for their failure to look at long term goals for such investigationshould be thoroughly ashamed of what they did. What place these people have in the competitive sphere of conservation and science, only time will tell, but surely, what goes around, comes around.
However, after lots of time to-ing and fro-ing, and great openminded helpfulness from officialsat the Environment Ministry, we eventually got our permission and now begin working on correlating our information both for the benfit of the Ecuadorean poeple and the manta rays.
Ecuador is often criticised from outsiders for having no real goals for long term conservation, the recent furore over shark fin trade is a fine example. However, after speaking with Environment Ministrystaff, I can only see a determined dedication to their countries natural resources, and the efforts under President Correa seem even more determined. The picture here is far from negative.
I would therefore like to thank the Ministry for the Environment here in Ecuador, and wish them well in their necessary attempts to enforce environmental law, not just to curb poachers and traders, but to ensure that all scientific and environmental investigators in the country follow correct legal protocol.

Saturday, 15 August 2009


We've so far had a fantastic week with the mantas. For the first time in this study area we have managed to capture with the stills above, these gigantic rays feeding, which could indicate their reason for arriving at this time of year. The below water shot shows the manta as it begins to propel itself towards the surface. These normally gentle, almost docile creatures tense up and take on an almost stallion like stance before powering towards the surface. On reaching the surface they throw themselves with gaping jaws over onto their backs, and as the upper picture shows, their ventral surface can be seen breaking the surface of the water. On this day we saw at least ten different incidence of breaching, with the manta's complete body clearing the water surface. We also saw considerable amounts of indefined splashing and rolling all aound us. Although I wasn't lucky enough to get the classic gaping image of a feeding manta (the action was taking place in seemingly random areas) I was lucky enough to be right next to this one as it powered up to the surface. Overall we have managed to ID a lot of individuals this week, we think well in excess of 20 (14 just in one day), but so far a conclusive resighting of any repeat individual from previous years remains elusive. We are going to spend the next couple of days checking our new ID's and past records carefully to see if we can see any correlation. If we can't find any repeat visits, then it might point to the population we previously thought was quite small, to being much bigger, and that their visits here might just be part of a longer, ongoing linear migration of this group.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

mantas return

Our first day in the water after too long a stretch afforded us an immediate closeup encounter with our old friends, the mantas of coastal ecuador. No sooner had we arrived at the anchor and our dive companion Stacy Bierwegen was approached up close and personal by the familiar ghostly shape of my long time manta friends. As if in recognition of our long friendship, the manta circled us for over ten minutes, hovering around in our bubble streams and examining us as closely as we were examining it.
Sadly, some fishing line was caught around its torso, and reminded us starkly why we are here, to learn more about them and hopefully raise awareness as to their vulnerability.
We sighted four mantas in total on our first day and positively ID´d two of them, which looked very similar to ones from our records from 2007. We will try to confirm if this is a definite repeat sighting in the next few days.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Isle of Man Basking Shark Conference

The Isle of Man is hosting the world's first ever basking shark conference. Designed to bring together the greatest names in the basking shark world to bang heads and bring attention to how basking sharks can be best conserved. The Isle of Man is also bringing attention during the conference to a new marine reserve earmarked for manx waters coming into effect during 2011. I wonder if anyone in westminster will be listening......???

Friday, 17 July 2009

A little piece of perfection...

I had the fortune this week to spend some time with this little fellow, an albino Joey, resident at Seaview Wildlife Encounter. I was asked to photograph him, as I have been doing some work there documenting their resident wildlife for various purposes, including web promotion and a few other things.

This little guy is incredible, not just the way he looks, but the way he behaves, I don't think I've ever been in the company of such a chilled out and relaxed animal. I took this image, in an attempt to get as much of his perfect form exposed to the camera as possible, a sort of attempt at placing him on a plinth to display him for all to see, but without the plinth.

The guys at seaview wildlife do such a great job and it really is an exemplary park, one to be proud of, and there could be no better home for an albino wallaby.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Just when you thought.... had cracked it...

As promised, here is a resume of the last days of our basking shark expedition. Tuesday had seemed like we had really hit upon a good number of sharks, and that the rest of the week would be easy. A long smudge of brown sat between two tides, hugging the coast of the island, suggesting an algal boom and density of plankton, either related or unrelated. Whatever it was, the sharks seemed to love it, and were there in their numbers. However, heading back there the next day (weds) we were surprised and disspointed to learn that both the brown smudge, and the huge protruding dorsal fins patrolling the coast, had moved on, or down, north or south. Whever they were, we could not see them. A frustrating day plodding up and down the sites that normally hold sharks proved fruitless, until we eventually worked our way towards the final site of the day, a long shot, but the calmest looking water in the area. Lo and hehold, two sets of fins could be seen following each other around a small area about the size of a football pitch. This encounter was to yield the best shot of the week to our Trukish guest, Ozkur Gedicoglu who managed to catch a stunning head on, mouth open shot in beautiful clear water.

What happened next however, was to leave us all in a trance like state for the rest of the night, if not the rest of the week. The two sharks left their plankton feast for a while, and circled below us, checking us out, for what seemed like an eternity. They would head up towards us for a closer look, and then drop again to visible range. When they came close, they peered at us with those deep dark eyes, and one can never work out during these rare ocean encounters, who is the more curious, us or them. I'm sure however, we were the more bedazzled, and it was an effort to break from the trance to remember to take some photos.

Given that it was later in the day that we saw these sharks, we thought there may be a reasonable chance that the plankton was rising to the surface later in the day, to make the most of the sunshine, and might not penetrate the colder waters, which maintained a chill 12-13 degress for most of the week. Our plan the next day was to head out at midday and stay out later, making the most of this supposed feed pattern. How wrong could we be....shortly after leaving port, we got a call from the Silurian reseach vessel, that a good number of sharks had been spotted off an adjacent island. We steemed for several hours to get there, and nervously waited for the first sign of a fin, and hoping the plankton hadn't headed out on the outgoing tide, further out to sea, as we were already on our navigational limit.

However, the sharks and plankton were kind to us, and we enjoyed another period of intense activity. Numbers of sharks were patrolling the surface, and all group members enjoyed memorable encounters and fine images. Our next task was to land on this new Island and find accomodation and fuel for the next day, which proved more difficult than we had bargained for. However, downtime during the day was spent catching mackarel, which Pete and Andy managed to barbecue onboard whilst steeming back to a safe anchor. We looked something like a viking funeral pyre in the half light, and kept our fingers crossed that no shorebound birwatchers would send out a mayday call on our behalf. Luckily the only things to find us were an energetic pod of common dolphin which energetically leapt and bounded around our bow, and a fulmar mysteriously swaying about our stern in the almost lenticular sunset cloud; filled with bleeding reds and oranges of the near midnight sun.

Friday, our final day, and the same area yielded sharks almost immediately. We had seen one or two only half an hour out of port, but decided to try for a bigger group. Four large sharks gave us some close action again, before it was time to head home. This was our fourth day out of five that we had seen sharks, and beyond all of our expectations. James, our captain had taken us on a truly unforgettable journey, and gone beyond the call of duty to make sure we found what we were looking for. We all agreed there very few people in the world as dedicated as our new friend James Fairbairns. We our now making plans for a return next year, so if you are reading this and want to join us, please get in touch...the spaces are already filling.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Basking in Sharks

It's not often that you get to realise a dream. After years of wanting, several false starts, cancelled trips and no shows, we've got our act together and with the help of a great contact who put us in touch with dedicated captain, wildlife guardian and seaman James Fairbairn, we've finally found basking sharks. Five days of searching the scottish islands were always going to be a long shot, but it's hard to sum up the dedication and resolve of James who has literally bent over backwards to help us on our task. Nerves were frayed on monday when we arrived at the location on a dull and misty, typically scottish day. Not good weather for plankton who prefer, like people I guess, to stay away from all that and sink down to the depths where it's half a degree warmer. The sharks followed the plankton on their never ending quest for food, and we were left sat peering into a never ending greyness, wiping drips of scotch mist from our noses, with only a gannet, a puffin and several jellyfish to keep us entertained.
Tuesday was even more frustrating when on arrival at the site on a windless calm sea, and glorious baking sunshine, we were greeted with not the slightest sign of fin or tail. We wracked our brains for an idea as to why the sharks had not shown. Perfect text book Basking Shark conditions, in the place recommended as being the most likely place for the sharks to show. Nothing. Nada. We couldn't work out why, except for the idea that maybe a seawitch had cursed us all at birth and we were destined never to set eyes on a basking shark. However, later in the day, we rounded a point and there they were, first one, then a pair, then gradually through the afternoon serveral rose from the depths to see us acheive our goal.

Giant mouths under those big round noses and coal black eyes, nothing can prepare you for the gentleness and apprent vulnerabilty of these giants. One always has a preconception of how a shark will behave when you come across it, and it's easy to look at those cavernous mouths and think that a shark might swallow you whole. There's plenty of room between those rakers. But when they approach you, they are very aware that you are there, sometimes gently veering to avoid us, sometimes closing down that gape and opening it again once passed. Despite the sheer size of them, they give off an air of distinct vulnerabilty and shyness.

Of all our group on board, the one to breath the heaviest sigh of relief was Nuno Sa, Wildlife Wonders of Europe photographer on his mission to cover Scotland's Basking Sharks. He certainly has a knack of being in the right plankton stream, in front of the right shark at the right time.
We all have some material to take home with us, but so far we are still looking for the shot to beat all other shots. Two more days to go and with the weather with us we have a good chance of cracking it. I will post an update at the weekend.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

To arms once again...

...or at least concentrate on sitting writing a blog for once...My good friends at The Shark Group have developed another petition, to further enhance their campaign to get discovery channel to give sharks a more balanced news worthiness and a better place in the public eye.

It is not new thinking that sharks are being edged towards extinction through finning, as much as they suffer at the hands of those doing the finning, fishing and general killing, they also suffer at the hands of the nonchalant. For evil to prevail and all that....

As any businessman will tell you, PR is king. If one does not have the face that wins a thousand hearts, one will not prosper. Sharks have always suffered a bit of a PR problem; as one person commented once on one of my photos...hmmph..sharks should learn to smile more. He's dead right of course, yet as janet Street Porter knows, it's very difficult to be known for your smile when you have too many teeth jammed in your mouth.

Discovery Channel on the other hand, should know better. Wikipedia, the online infnopedia (the no-info cyclopedia), states that discovery channel "provides documentary programming focused primarily on popular science, technology and history". But then Oscar Wilde, the man with a quote for all occasions, once said that "everything popular is wrong". Addendum: Discovery Channel = Wrong science, wrong history, and wrong technology. Well done Oscar, I couldn't have put it better myself.

The sad truth is that discovery channel has, as with much of modern culture, dumbed down, if it could ever really be said that it ever dumbed up in the first place. That is all very well, if the only victims of empty headed tv gazing are the people doing the watching. There's nothing wrong with watching a bit of car crash tv, a tiring day passes all the more painlessly if we can watch someone walk into our homes via the plasma screen, and show us that things aren't so bad after all, because they've got it a whole lot worse....cue oprah, jeremy, so on and so on...
But there comes a point where the producers, commissioning editors and so on, should realise that there is an effect on society of this uber-pap way beyond that of their precious ratings.

Sharks are in deep trouble. Discovery Channel must wake up to that fact. They must answer our call for more balanced programming, and drop the incessant shark "killing machine" persona present in virtually all of shark week's listings.

Please sign the petition and pass it on to everyone you know.

Friday, 22 May 2009

End of the Line

As World Oceans Day approaches (June 8th, only 16 days away), it is really so important to remember exactly why we are concerned about the all enveloping entity that we love: The Ocean. It is still currently seen as stylish to be really into eating seafood, and it is precisely that which makes us prone to damaging the world's oceans. I'm not going to try to sum it up any more than that, as the trailer for this film does that as much as I think it should or could. I'm going to go and watch it, I hope you all will too.