Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year...

New Year's Resolutions:

I want to blog more! I can't believe that my last post on Save Our Sharks was in March. (Tisk, tisk, tisk!)

So here's to the New Year...

My wish is for new Choices, Resolutions, and Beginnings.

Marine conservation must be a priority in this new year. If marine food webs collapse, so will our food sources. That will greatly affect developing countries. When you remove apex predators from the ecosystem, the entire food web collapses. We must have balance.

Here's to good choices, responsible consumption, and understanding our place in the ecosystem.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Shark Eco-tourism

I read an article today about shark dives and shark eco-tourism, and it started me thinking about all of my shark experiences. I have been so lucky to observe sharks in their environment without the assistance of any external triggers. I was living in Guam when I was certified, so it was easy for us to take a dive trip to Palau. Palau has (hopefully still has) a large population of grey reef sharks, and I was unprepared for that. There were so many sharks on the first dive that I couldn't keep count. We were diving in their environment...we went to them.

There is a lot of controversy about shark eco-tourism and shark dives, whether they involve chumming, the use of cages, or more normal settings. It is rare for a human to be killed during one of these excursions. And it's my opinion that excursions, dive or otherwise, that provide people with experiences to observe sharks in their natural setting will only eliminate prejudice, create awe, and increase conservation efforts.

One of the problems with some shark eco-tourism companies is that they lure sharks with chum (ground up fish), decoys, or actual food. It is a legitimate concern that sharks should not associate chummed water with human presence. Luring sharks to a certain area in this way only elicits behaviours that are not normal or natural for that particular setting. The practice of feeding sharks with divers present may also create a worrisome precedent, and accidents do happen under those conditions. These sorts of accidents can involve accidental bitings while feeding or mistaken-identity bites during the frenzy. A lot of shark eco-tourism is specific to reef settings and may involve species with more predictable behaviour patterns (nurse sharks, reef sharks, whitetip sharks, black tips, etc.). However, I want to clarify that all wild animals are unpredictable and should be treated with the utmost respect.

There is a demand for shark dives in areas frequented by larger and rarer species like tigers, bulls, and whites (great whites). Some of these shark dives involve the use of cages and luring. These charismatic species are sometimes difficult to find, and chumming is an effective method of drawing them near. But consider that, and I'm just guessing at numbers, say 2 trips a day over 7 days results in 14 trips in a week and 56 trips a month. Those numbers may be a little high, but that's just one company. If that one company heads to the same area (or even areas) for each trip, and the water is then chummed, the same sharks are being lured. They may associate the boat with chum and expect food, or they may eventually become desensitized to chumming in that area. I think the goal of all shark eco-tourism should be moderation, safety, and shark conservation.

Scientists utilize luring of sharks with chum and decoys in order to trigger hunting and feeding responses. Some of the white sharks at the Farallon Islands showed resistance to decoy response after desensitization to decoys by shark dive companies.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to cage dive with white sharks. Given the opportunity, I would do it. But I would want to chose the most scientific-minded and responsible company I could find. Open water diving with whites would be even more amazing! Now that's an opportunity to observe the shark's behaviour in its natural environment! The benefits to shark conservation and research are invaluable.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sharks in Trouble

I'm new to blogging, but I've been thinking about it for awhile. I'm feeling helpless against the tide of global climate change, extinctions, and loss of marine biodiversity. I laid awake last night worrying about the status of Hammerhead shark populations. (See link to BBC article.)

I want to share my passion for sharks with the larger internet world, in the hopes that my knowledge and perspective might educate, enlighten, and inspire you to conservation. The more I learn about sharks, the more I am amazed. The more I explore their world, the more I learn about their behaviour, the greater my respect.

Please see the link below. BBC reported on the addition of the Scalloped Hammerhead, Sphyrna lewini, as globally endangered on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List. This was reported at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. 233 species of sharks are currently on the Red List, with 12 spp. listed as criticially endangered, and 9 spp. to be added this year alone.

The largest threat to shark populations is overfishing for fins and liver. Finning is the excessively wasteful and cruel practice of slicing off the dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins and then just dumping the shark back in the water. The shark is still alive after finning and slowly drowns after being dumped. We're decimating populations merely to make shark fin soup.

In international waters, shark fisheries are entirely unregulated. Even in national waters, very few countries protect shark populations. For the ones who do, it is extremely difficult to enforce those regulations. Shark species that are protected in one country's waters easily disperse into other waters where they may not be protected. We must create Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in international waters to protect the world's shark populations. Before it is too late.