Sunday, 28 February 2010

HK Shark Foundation call for support.

Please help a chinese based shark conservation organisation in their call for support in preparation for the CITES meeting in Qatar this coming month. Their online form is easy to fill in and only takes a few seconds. The CITES meeting is set to determine whether eight vulnerable species of shark will be listed on appendix II which will restrict international trade and hopefully alleviate commercial pressure bearing down on them.

You can find the online petition here.

Congratulations Felix

It is always good to hear about what my old friend Wolfgang is up to. Wolf has been a leading light in shark conservation opinion and activism for years. His seriousness in such issues does not come immediately to light as he is a pure delight when you meet him. His small wiry frame belies the giant of a man that lives within it, and his elder gentlemanly appearance is betrayed by bright shining eyes atop his beaming grin. He is full of a childlike energy, and in the water moves like a man of only twenty years. He is an ispiration to everyone who spends time with him.

Now it looks like the inspiration not only rubbed off, but is actually present in the Leander genes. Felix, Wolf's son has just won the best Human Interaction category in the iDive sharks imaging festival. Let us hope that Felix proves as mighty as his father in all things shark, then at least a few sharks in our oceans will rest knowing a family of giants is looking after them.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

More Manta News

Manta Ray conservation looks set to take on new meaning in coming years. I have just read a report that came to my attention after my post last week about mantas in Mozambique. This particular post was from a report by investigative blogger Andy Stokes, and you can read it here. Andy and his friend visit a shark fin wharehouse but end up investigating an apparent thriving market in gill rakers from mobula rays.

If there is anyone reading this that doubts the seriousness of the possibility that mantas and mobula can dissapear within the next generation, I would like to recount the following: I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a very dedicated scientist working in the amazon and also the andean highlands on a number of raptor projects. He grew up on the coast of Ecuador and recalled during our conversation how as a child he would visit the beach with his father and see the sawfish that the fishermen used to catch. He said it was not uncommnon to see numbers of sawfish. Many fisherman would have a saw bill hung up outside their door as a decoration. Today, no kind of sawfish is ever seen along the beaches of Ecuador. They are only likely ever to be found on the CITES appendix one listing or the IUCN redlist. How old is my friend? Is he 75 or 80? Sadly he is only in his early forties. Such irreverible environmental mayhem happens in the space of a few years. It may be that we are only here to witness that. To document it, and watch helpless as it happens. I would like to think not. The time to act on manta ray conservation is now, before the worst happens.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Will mantas disappear before sharks?

When you work in conservation, you get used to seeing the things you love being broken. A part of you hardens, and it becomes an everyday part of your life that you will see environmental destruction. You begin to feel less emotional every time you see a shark pulled onto a beach to make a bowl of soup. Your head hurts less when you see a line of trees cut down to make way for a road, or a giant hole bored into the heart of a rainforest to make a new oil well.
You have to harden up at the thin end of the wedge. It’s not a case of not caring; it’s a case of surviving. If I went every day feeling so desperate about the state of our oceans, like the first time I filmed unborn sharks being cut from their mother’s bellies, I would have shrivelled up and locked myself away from it all, or at least gone and got myself a boring job in an office somewhere and pretended it wasn’t happening.
Once it was hard to see just one dead shark, then it took twenty dead sharks to get me angry, and now, I can look at a line of a hundred shark hacked up on a beach, and although the sight will always disturb me, I know that out there, miles from me, there are people who care, who read our words, cry our tears, donate, write letters, get angry, frustrated and eventually become the movement that changes the world.
You could say that we form the thin end of the wedge. We drive ourselves forward and bring you the news so that you can form and disseminate your own ideas on how to tackle the problem. In doing so you become the thick end of the wedge; the part that finishes the job that the thin end started; the part that wedges open doors in high office until someone in a suit gives in; the part that cracks congress or parliament wide open; the part that gets the ink on the statute book; the part that won’t let the door slam until the job is done.

Back in 2004 I sat bewildered on a beach watching thick-set fishermen haul sharks out of the pacific in numbers that we were sure were not sustainable. We had no idea then that there was a movement beginning world-wide to bring attention to a global demand for shark fin soup. We felt hopeless, but resolute. Many of us dotted about the globe stayed into the early hours of each night tapping out emails and ideas; we began networking to bring down the giant. Our thin ended wedge grew in many of the right places, and we initiated a momentum that probably none of us thought possible. Although today there is still a long way to go for shark conservation, there is no doubt that we have made important progress.
It seems though, that the destructive nature of mankind is some way ahead of us. Back in the spring of 09, a report emerged stating how a drop in supply of shark fins meant that buyers were looking to mobulids to fill the supply gap to the fin market. It is normal for me to look into the media looking glass and sniff hard for the faint scent of alarmism in everything I read, and I guess it is a form of self protection that raises a cynical ear to every bad word written in the press. But, it looks like on this occasion that the bad news is correct and that there is a concerted drive to target mantas and mobula rays. For the first time in Ecuador this year, worrying photos have begun emerging of numbers of mobula on the beaches, and this morning in my email, I received word from a contact showing photos of fishermen in Mozambique with significant numbers of mobula and manta rays in gill nets.
The Mozambique fishery has been going on for some time, but an increase in activity seems to be developing. It seems that these latest developments are a worrying confirmation that manta fisheries will step up a gear and that we may be facing the destruction of populations of these most docile and majestic marine giants. As with sharks, reproduction rates are slow, birth numbers are low (only one per pregnancy). The worrying aspect though, is that populations are not large. Even today, the numbers of sharks caught stands at millions per year. Manta Ray populations do not even slightly reach these proportions and could be wiped out very quickly.
In Mozambique, respected researchers and tourism operators are looking out on an ocean with an uncertain future. They are probably bewildered and utterly distraught at the events unfolding around their family of manta rays. The thin end of the wedge has formed once again, new battle lines are being drawn in the sand. We must grow as a global community to help. We must drive our purpose home and ensure that the door does not slam on the mantas of Mozambique.

Click here if you want to keep informed on developments in this campaign.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Great Whites lower in numbers than wild Tigers.

The UK press Association today reports:

Fewer great white sharks are left in the oceans than there are tigers surviving on Earth, it has been claimed.

The two top predators are almost equally under threat, but the plight of great whites needs more recognition, according to Canadian expert Dr Ronald O'Dor.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in San Diego, he told how the discovery was made by colleagues from the Census of Marine Life.

He said: "I recently heard a report from the team that's been tagging great white sharks. The estimated total population of great white sharks in the world's oceans is actually less than the number of tigers.

"We hear an awful lot about how endangered tigers are but apparently great white sharks are pretty close to the same level. Some people say 'I don't care, they eat people,' but I think we have to give them a little space to live in."

Dr O'Dor, from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, added: "The Australians have now got a system where they put tags on great white sharks and they have receivers on the beaches so when a great white comes into the bay the receiver automatically makes a cell phone call and tells the guy in charge to close the beach. So we can co-exist with marine life."

"Until recently, people thought sharks were bad and there was no urge to save great whites. Now people are beginning to understand that they are rare and that they are a wonderful species."

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Landmark Decision to protect 'some' shark species..

This came through my inbox yesterday...a positive step indeed..

16 February 2010 – A landmark agreement to protect shark species threatened with extinction was reached today by over 100 countries signed up to a United Nations-supported wildlife treaty, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The 113 countries that are party to the UNEP-administered Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) agreed to prohibit the hunting, fishing and deliberate of killing sharks
species covered in an appendix to the CMS – the great white, basking, whale, porbeagle, spiny dogfish, shortfin and longfin mako sharks.

“This first global CMS instrument on commercially exploited species is a decisive step forward in international shark conservation,” said UNEP/CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Mrema.
“Wildlife conventions, UN agencies and international fisheries need to work together to prevent these creatures that roam the world’s oceans from becoming extinct,” added Ms. Mrema.

The CMS agreement, concluded at a gathering of government representatives in the Philippines, aims to restore the long-term viability of populations of migratory sharks, which are also set to
benefit from greater enforcement of existing laws on illegal fishing and trade.

UNEP noted that over-fishing, fisheries by-catch, illegal trade, habitat destruction, depletion of prey species, pollution with a high risk of mercury intoxication, boat strikes and the impact of climate change on the marine environment all seriously threaten sharks.

Gestation periods of up to 22 months, a life expectancy of up to 100 years, relatively low reproductive rates, migratory patterns, and low natural mortality combine to make the protection of some species and their habitat difficult and make sharks particularly vulnerable with little chance to recover if over-fished.

In addition, whale shark meat has been increasingly considered as a high-grade, exotic product since the late 1980s, and according to TRAFFIC – a wildlife trade monitoring network – prices have skyrocketed to $7,000 for 2,000 kilograms in Taiwan, for example.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), up to 900,000 tons of sharks have been caught every year for the last two decades, and calculating for illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and missing data, the actual catch figure is estimated to be at least
twice as high.

Studies show that shark populations collapsed in both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Mediterranean Sea by 90 per cent, and by 75 per cent in the north-western Atlantic Ocean within 15 years, said UNEP.


Sunday, 14 February 2010

Eyemocean ranks No 1 on google

I thought it was time for a celebration this week. After posting our commentary on the Charles Darwin Institute back a couple of weeks ago, Eyemocean now ranks No 1 on google for the word 'doominology'.

Fantastic. I can now spend the rest of the week contemplating whether this is any kind of achievement at all, considering that doominology isn't even a word. Well, not yet. Maybe it will become the latest in a long line of internet vocabulary and be in the Oxford dictionary within 2 years............

Saturday, 13 February 2010

One Shark the Sun can't shame...

The Sun newpaper, yes that international bastion of coherent, believable and upstanding journalism (cough cough) is usually the first paper to print the same old picture of a great white shark with its gaping teeth poking out at the reader every time there is a shark incident, however mild, pretty much anywhere in the world.
If there is a basking shark seen off of Cornwall, they print it, if there is an unfortunate surfer or kiteboarder bitten anywhere on the planet, the sun prints the picture. They would probably loosely connect the picture to a young boy stubbing his toe whilst paddling in a scottish brook; such is the Sun newspaper's childish and unrepentant fascination with great whites and the jaws mentality.

So, the guys at the paper (or are they young boys with runny noses flicking elastic bands at each other?) were probably really dissapointed when a shark 'attack' at Mona Vale beach off the coast of Sydney this week proved not to be by a Great White, but a docile Wobbegong instead.

Wobbegongs are of the order Orectolobiformes or Carpet Sharks. They lie well camouflaged on the seabed, sometimes in very shallow water and catch prey when it swims close to them. They are an ambush predator, usually hunting by night.
It is likely that surfer Paul Welsh stepped on the wobbegong as he and his ten year old son prepared to surf in the area. The guilty species was identified by a tooth that was removed from the surfers leg in hospital.

It is not the first time the sun newspaper has been unable to print their favourite great white photo. A wobbegong attacked a different water user back in 2007. Backpacker Scott Wright received wounds requiring 40 stitches whilst swimming at Bondi beach.

Wobbegongs can grow up to 3 metres in length. Sun reporters have been rumoured to reach a mental age of 12, but only on rare occasions.
image: "oh no..we can't print it...??"

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Campana Sulks...

Canadian Marine Biologist Steve Campana is in a little bit of a tiz because grocery chain Loblaws has decided to drop shark from its selling list as well as Orange Roughy, Skate and Sea Bass.

Campana is concerned that he will not be able to source sharks on which to conduct his research, which has so far yielded the information that Porbeagles migrate to the Sargasso Sea to pup.

Canada is one of the only countries to adopt a 'sustainable' shark fishery, and Campana is adamant that research benefits from this small allowable catch are justifiable.

However, his comments have received criticism from the conservation community saying that no justification exists for taking specimens from such a recently recovering population. If the porbeagles are known to migrate, then they are still at risk from foreign fleets in international waters, but Campana argues that such information would not be forthcoming without his reasearch.

Which ever way you look at it, the news that any supermarket is dropping shark from its displays has to be good, but the fact that a scientist supposedly promoting their conservation is damning that decision is somewhat concerning. Science provides valuable tools with which to carve out a conservation arguement, but, in some cases, science can go too far. Tag the last remaining specimen, harry it, disturb it, infiltrate its life so that it will not breed, so that it does become the last one on earth? If there were ten dodos left alive, would we be better off studying them, watching them die, or putting a fence 30 miles around them and letting them get on with it, in the hope that they would breed?