Thursday, 30 December 2010

2010 - What a year!

Firstly I'd like to wish each an every one of you a very happy Christmas! I know it's a little late but still, the sentiment remains and with the onset of 2011, I thought it would be a good idea to cast my eye over what has been a pretty amazing, humbling, challenging and sometimes bizarre 2010!
2010 has probably been the biggest year of my life so far, certainly the most important in terms of my long term future, with some major decisions and changes taking place. To establish whether this year has been my most successful would depend upon how you define "success," if you define it merely in financial terms then 2010 has been my most difficult year since I first left university and was a penniless out of work musician in a brand new city, struggling to juggle the responsibilities and expectations I put upon myself. If you define success through emotional and spiritual fulfilment and achieving goals you set yourself, no matter how big or small, then 2010 has been a roaring triumph I would say!

There have however been a few downs, I lost a good friend at the age of only 21, someone who shared my adventurous spirit and lived every day to it's fullest, there have been frustrations and difficulties, disappointments and worry but all of these contributed to me making the decision to make changes which, for many years, I had dreamed of making, the first six months of this year unquestionably shaped the last.

I'm gonna list the moments which shaped the year for me and in turn, thank some incredible people for their support, generosity, kindness and encouragement, people without whom, I would not be going into 2011 with a sense of excitement, belief and expectation.

1. "Googling" myself!
Seriously, this was possibly the most important moment for me in 2010! Everybody does it, I think I'm just one of the few who is sad enough to admit it! I was browsing the internet on a Sunday afternoon before having to catch a train back to Leeds and as I occasionally do, popped my name into Google. The results were pretty surprising, the first page was made up of a number of blogs discussing both myself and more importantly, this article (the second down).

Coincidentally, one of the blogs belonged to a dive operation in an area that upon further inspection, was instrumental in a story with which I have been fascinated for years. With the help of Patric Douglas, another man who had responded warmly to my article, I tracked down the author of the blog in question and from then on struck up a friendship, the man in question, Mike Neumann, also responded with support and encouragement for a project upon which I had been working for eighteen months, "From the Office to the Ocean." In the following days I came up with an idea for a film, pitched it to Mike and I was on my way.

2. Leaving my job
Without doubt, the most important big decision I have ever made. At this point, I think it only fair that I offer my sincerest thanks to Dean, Lisa and Joe at Nixon Allen where I worked as a recruitment consultant for professionals within the insurance industry. I was pretty good at my job, always wanted to do my best and was extremely lucky to work with some brilliant people and for a boss who was supportive, trusting and always keen to reward hard work. I enjoyed working with my colleagues and friends and enjoyed some great relationships with some brilliant clients and candidates but the major issue, as with probably 95% of people, I wasn't passionate in the truest sense of the word about my job, it didn't get my blood pumping and  never saw myself doing it until I retired. The last few years have been very difficult for the industry and the problems and difficulties started to outweigh the rewards, I woke up one morning, fed up of not fulfilling my potential or stretching myself creatively so one Monday morning, filled with dread at another week of wishing my life away, made a huge decision and resigned. My boss was brilliant about it and very supportive and by the Wednesday, that was it, I was on my own with a seemingly impossible task but feeling absolutely brilliant, like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

3. The idea 
I left work on the Wednesday and was up at 8am on Thursday to start the very long process of learning how to get what was in my brain, onto a definitive document which clearly laid out every facet of what, why, where, when, who and of course, how much. I am not going to lie to you, when you haven't done this before, this is really, really difficult but spending time, hours and days, on sometimes the smallest detail is absolutely vital. I had the benefit of ten years in the music industry with four other brilliantly creative and passionate people who's talents and strengths were always underpinned by abject poverty and lack of resources. So, what do you do in this situation? You work with what you've got and you work ten times harder than everybody else. Throughout those years I learned the skill of promotion and how to make as many people know as much as possible about what you do whilst spending little, if anything and in my current situation, this is possibly the most important skill I have.

Richard Theiss and Jim Standing of Fourth Element, all the while, my ever-present, erstwhile friend and companion Hamish Harper was there to provide his endless enthusiasm and support, for which I will be forever grateful.

4. Going it alone
The first plan was to pitch my idea to people within the television and film industry, get one on board, work with them and make this film with their professional and financial backing, easy! Well, no, quite the opposite in fact. Production companies get people like me contacting them all the time with ideas and to say they're a little weary of entertaining dreamers with grand ideas is putting it lightly! After one such conversation during which one television exec made no secret that "if they wanted to take your idea they would and there was nothing you can do about it..." I decided instead to go down the route of doing it all myself and then approaching the relevant organisations with a finished product. This type of undertaking is extremely difficult but in this situation, is most definitely the best route to take, it is also incredibly daunting but I've done this all before with huge success so I'm no stranger to doing things the hard way!

5. Support and endorsements
"Hi, my name is David Diley, I really love sharks and although you have never heard of me, I'm making a brilliant film but I have no money, can you help me please?" Although this isn't quite the approach I have been taking, it is in essence, what I am saying. It still amazes me when looking back to when I started this journey, how truly isolated and alone I was whilst trying to make this all become reality, I had the goodwill and support of friends, acquaintances and strangers but that can only get you so far. 

Within a couple of weeks, Britain's premier supplier of underwater photography equipment and advice, Cameras Underwater, were on board and backing me. The support and generosity shown me by Dave, Mario, Duxy and also Mario's partner, Caroline, made me feel on top of the world because they too believe in what I am doing. Mike Neumann at Beqa Adventure Divers has been invaluable to me, because of him I have full access to everything I want to cover and huge support in many other areas. Fourth Element have been around the longest, going all the way back to the very first, embryonic stages of this project in 2008 and only recently I became fortunate enough to be endorsed by Camera giant, Canon. There are also exciting things in the pipeline for early 2011 so to think it was only six months ago that I was at the bottom of what seemed an almost insurmountable mountain to climb, it's pretty amazing what I have achieved at the turn of the year!

6. Getting out there
Since returning from the Bahamas in 2008 and formulating the basic ideas behind "From the Office to the Ocean," I have focused on getting out there and meeting people face to face, nothing can beat discussing ideas about which you are passionate with people face to face, it is the moment these people can see what you're all about and how genuine you and your ideas are. In 2008 I bought a ticket for the Dive Show at the Birmingham NEC and sent out about one hundred emails to exhibitors, explaining my idea and that I would be coming to talk to them about it at the show. Most emails went unanswered, most conversations on the day were brief and rushed due to the nature of these shows but it was at that show in 2008 that I met Steve Weinman from DIVER Magazine and Paul Strike from Fourth Element. My meeting with Steve led to the publishing of my shark feeding article, the article which opened the door for me to make this happen and meeting Paul in turn, led to me forging a friendship with Jim Standing, both have been key in me getting thus this far at this stage of the project.

This year has been no different, I continue to attend the shows to promote "From the Office..." and this year  achieved my goal of being an exhibitor, albeit a small one, and am on target to hopefully achieve my next, that I will be a guest speaker within two years. This year I had numerous meetings with some great people, many of whom had already heard of me prior to my introduction, proof that doing your research and meeting the right people, alongside tenaciously chasing personal goals, does work!

7. Publicity and promotion
"From the Office to the Ocean" has been featured online, on the radio and in print in the last six months, the BBC, Rock Radio 106.1, The Yorkshire Evening Post and numerous online blogs and websites have carried positive and enthusiastic coverage of what I am doing, in fact, every piece has looked upon this with enthusiasm and actively supported the inspirational and conservation value of this film, it started with me contacting them, now, they're contacting me. It's also worth noting that in less than six months, this blog now attracts an average of 5000 unique visitors every month and that number is increasing every month!

8. The generosity of strangers
We hear a lot about how awful the world is and how horrible people are to each other, if this project proves anything, it is that that claim is nonsense. I was contacted via the Facebook group by a couple of the members asking how they could contribute financially. I had thought about the use of fundraising from the public to raise the amount needed to make this film but was unsure how to go about it, we are after all, in the grip of financial meltdown and how much interest will total strangers have in a guy who loves sharks trying to make his dream come true (and do his bit to save sharks along the way) anyway? Well, the answer is quite a lot actually! People want to see this film made, people like me, like you, who can often feel helpless when trying to make a difference and who see somebody doing what they can to change their life for the better and inject some positivity into the world as a good thing and something worthy of support. I have been overwhelmed by the generous donations and every penny will have been instrumental when this film is completed, these people can also watch it and say, "I helped make that," this isn't a film for me, it's for everybody.

If you like the sound of that, feel free to click this Indiegogo link.

9. Self belief
Believing in yourself is not a bad thing, in fact it is a pre-requisite of success and something which should be admired. Not arrogance or conceit, the belief that anything is possible and that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve what at first might seem impossible. If you don't believe something is possible then it isn't but if you do, then it is, I truly believe that. In fact, I will go so far as to say this film could be one of the best shark based films ever made, it's different, innovative and inspirational, whether it is or not depends solely on me and I can assure you I and the team making it, will do absolutely everything possible to make it as good as it could and should be, I owe it to myself, to my supporters and perhaps even more importantly, the sharks to make this fulfil its potential.

10. The Trailer
It took a long time to film and edit but I am really happy with it, it was also my first foray into HD and the creative aspect of being responsible for everything, from the direction, filming and writing to the music was something I thoroughly enjoyed. It also opened doors for me with regards to promotion and publicity and has proved an invaluable tool in the last couple of months.

This year, at least the second half of this year, has been a positive and fulfilling experience and has set me up nicely for 2011 which will be the most important year of my entire life, I couldn't have got this far without the support of my friends, both old and new, from those in my personal life to those who work in the industry so to all of you and especially those below, I offer my heartfelt thanks, admiration and humble gratitude to everything you have helped me achieve this year.

Hamish Harper, Kris Allen, Mark Burrows, Nicky Crawford, Andy Richards, Steve Hayward-Jones, Rock Radio 106.1FM, The Yorkshire Evening Press, Amanda Robinson, Susana Navajas, Colour Copy Express, Brian Barnes, Red Issue, Jan Bailey, anyone who has ever read this blog and all of you who have contributed, no matter how big or small, it means the world to me.

Fingers crossed, I will have some more great news in the early stages of 2011, I feel closer than ever to making this all become a reality and not only that, even have parts 2 and 3 being formulated, you never know, if all goes well I may even be starting filming on those in the coming year as well!

Have an amazing New Year, be safe and be good to each other and because of you all, I'm on the verge of something pretty special in the coming months.

All the best and lots of positivity to you all.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Some exciting news!!

I am absolutely delighted, over the moon in fact and extremely proud to announce that photographic and moving image giant, Canon, are now endorsing myself and "From the Office to the Ocean."

So what does this mean? Well, firstly, I will personally be using Canon cameras and lenses for the long term future for both film and photographic work, it also means that I will have the considerable weight of the Canon brand and their marketing behind me. This is a big deal, Canon can realistically claim to be the makers of the best camera equipment around, the professional photos and films you see everyday are most likely captured using at least Canon lenses and more often than not Canon cameras so it is a guarantee of quality that is important in the making of everything that carries the "From the Office..." name.

Why Canon? This wasn't a case of just emailing and phoning a load of camera companies and hoping one of them was interested, I wanted it to be Canon and after speaking to one of the guys there was incredibly impressed by his attitude, technical knowledge and enthusiasm for what I am doing and was sold right from the beginning.

The camera I will very soon be the proud owner of, is the one above, the Canon 7D. I was introduced to the range of DSLR's by a friend of mine, Liam Wright, who runs his own production company, Banter Media and who was interviewing me for a documentary he is making. When he turned up with the Canon 5D MK II, I was surprised, I thought we were doing an interview, not a photo shoot and it was here when I learned about the capability of these amazing cameras. Not only do they shoot stills in 18-21 megapixels, they also shoot broadcast quality 1920x1080 HD video!

George Lucas is using them, Shane Meadows shot much of "This is England '86" on the 7D and they are rapidly becoming the tool of choice for filmmakers in need of flexibility, they offer an astonishing level of depth of field and after using Hamish's Canon 550D to shoot the teaser trailer I was absolutely insistent I wanted one of my own to film all of my footage for "From the Office to the Ocean."

There are three main reasons I am so keen on these Canon DSLRs. First of all, the quality is absolutely exceptional, full HD broadcast quality and professional standard stills capability. They also offer a depth of field range which is difficult to achieve with standard hand held filming cameras.

Secondly and perhaps most important is that they are affordable to an ordinary consumer budget. They're not cheap, that goes without saying, you don't get this kind of quality for peanuts but for less than £2000 you can get a camera and a couple of lenses that can get you professional results. It is important to me that if I am aiming to inspire ordinary people to do things, that I do it in a way in which they can also achieve the same results, i.e. that people would be able to do exactly what I do if they wanted to, instead of me trying to inspire you to follow in my footsteps but using equipment that is out of the reach of most people.

Finally, for a diver like me, these cameras are the answer to all my prayers. Every dive I do, I want to film but I also want the capability to take stills, this means a bulky housing for video and then having to have a separate stills camera in the pocket of my BCD and juggling between the two, also meaning having to buy two cameras and two housings. These canon DSLRs completely remove those problems, one camera, one housing and professional results in both still and film. Amazing.

It is also important for me to point out that I am not being paid to say any of this! Canon are not providing funding, they are however providing equipment, support and marketing for me and I am very happy to be able to have the pleasure of being able to endorse cameras I genuinely believe to be the best around for a consumer market looking to achieve professional results. For some examples of what this camera can do when in the hands of amateurs, look here

In other good news, the rather appalling screen shot above actually shows the BBC website and a brief interview they did with me about the shark attacks in Egypt. It's a very condensed write up of a conversation we had on Tuesday and whereas it's a little back to front,  have to say, fair play to them for being willing to give the shark's side of the story, they also turned it around in less than 24 hours. It's difficult for people with no understanding of something as complex as shark behaviour and the triggers for shark attack to be able to grasp the intricacies during a thirty minute phone call but well done them for being so open to trying to give a different slant on the reporting of the attacks. It also doesn't hurt that they have mentioned and linked "From the Office to the Ocean" and also the Shark Trust.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback on my last article about the Egyptian Shark attacks, it has already had over 3000 unique views in the space of four days which is pretty amazing and I love the comments and questions. If anyone has any requests for blogs for me to do, please send me your sharky suggestions and I'll do what I can.

Also, there is only 43 days left on my Indiegogo fundraising page, if you can help in any way, please do so, I will be more appreciative than you could ever imagine and there's also some pretty cool things up for grabs for you as well! I am getting closer and closer to making this film a reality but the closer I get, the harder my own situation becomes due to financial strains, I accepted this from the beginning and it's all part of the journey and I'm still happier than ever!

Finally, here's the teaser trailer again to show the results you can get with these canon cameras, as far as the range goes, the camera used for this was the "bottom" of that range, that is the 550D, 60D, 5DMKII and 7D and was the first time I had ever used one but the results speak for themselves I think.

Thanks for continuing to read this blog and support me and welcome to all my new friends and subscribers, it's great to have you! Huge, enormous and massive thanks to Alan and Dave at Canon, it was a pleasure to sit down with you at HQ and get the benefit of your expertise and generosity, you guys are awesome!


Monday, 6 December 2010

Egyptian shark attacks - Part II

In the wake of the fatality in Egypt on Saturday, the fourth victim in total this week, I thought it sensible to address some points raised in the last blog and to also try and make sense of the events of the last week and do what the mainstream media won't, that is, to offer informed, balanced opinion on what may have been the cause of the attacks and offer less hyperbolic explanation than that offered in the press. This article won't offer a guaranteed conclusion, it can't, I'm not out there and haven't spoken to any of the victims or witnesses but what I hopefully can do, is give the opinion of someone with a bit of expertise in the area of shark attacks thanks to many, many years of independent study on the subject relating to attacks all around the world.

The first point I want to raise is that in the first article, I raised my suspicion as to whether sharks had been involved in the injuries sustained by the victims at all. This isn't as much of a wild conspiracy theory as it may at first seem, it has happened before and sharks make great scapegoats, however, it is now clear that four people have been seriously and in one instance, fatally, injured by sharks in the last week. 

When trying to make sense of a shark attack, many things have to be taken into consideration, the victim, the victim's activity, the location, the conditions, conditions in the weeks prior to the attack, the location's historical record with shark attacks and any other activities in and around the location's ocean space before and during the attack. Sharks don't just decide on a whim to swim to a beach and eat the nearest bather!

The Location
Egypt is a great place to spend a holiday, year round sunshine, crystal clear water, it hardly ever rains and is within relatively short flying distance from pretty much anywhere in Europe. The diving is also world class, for pure diving alone, the Red Sea is still the best diving destination I have ever experienced.

I have actually stayed in a hotel on the same stretch of water as Saturday's fatality, in fact where I stayed was only around quarter of a mile away. The hotels in that area have their own private beaches where swimmers and snorkelers enter the water from pontoons that float above the reef. The depth of the water can drop off steeply to around the 20-25 metre mark and marine life is abundant and varied. When I was there it was my first trip to try and film sharks in the Red Sea, a week long diving excursion that was based more on hope than expectation and throughout the time there, saw only a brief glimpse of a five foot long Grey Reef Shark off Yolanda. Everybody I spoke to about the potential for reef sharks off the hotels private beaches said the same thing, you might see one if you're really lucky every two or three years. The odd thing is that they should be there, they're just not. It's also worth pointing out that when I was in Sharm during this trip, it was at this exact time of year.

Egypt, for all it's wealth in the marine life stakes, is still a very poor country and to be brutally honest, won't be winning any awards for environmental regulation practices any time soon. The biggest problems faced by countries like Egypt (and many of the world's other top diving destinations) is that they are predominantly economically worse off than places like Britain, most of Europe, America and Australia so when opportunities do arise for places like Egypt to economically benefit from tourism, attracted by things like world class diving experiences, environmental practices can be pushed aside to exploit as much money as possible, as quickly as possible.

Egypt's climate means you can have a sunshine holiday where a tan, hot weather, warm seas and colourful fish are guaranteed, this means that 365 days a year, Egypt is besieged by holiday makers and this takes it's toll on the environment in and around the resorts. What is also worth noting is that much of the land in Egypt is, as I understand it, privately owned, many resorts are built upon land purchased from the military and one stipulation the government makes is that if a private developer or development chain purchases the land, they have to guarantee that development will be ongoing, i.e. resorts and hotels will get bigger and bigger meaning more tourists years on year and as such, more of a negative effect on the local environment.

What has this got to do with shark attacks? Well, quite a bit really. Ask anyone who has visited Sharm El Sheikh on a diving holiday in the last five years about how crowded the dive sites are. Boats jostle for position, divers are dumped in the sea for 45 minutes then shuttled off to the next location, whilst the divers are at depth, non-divers snorkel by the reefs in open water, often feeding the small fish with bits of bread.

Every day of the year, some of the best dive sites in the world are besieged by divers and boats without respite and unfortunately these dive boats bring with them the waste and garbage which all too often ends up in the sea.

Egypt has some top class dive operators, Emperor, Red Sea Diving College, Elite and Pioneer to name a few but as with many other places, it also has operators who's practices leave a lot to be desired and unfortunately, one of those practices is the unregulated baiting of large pelagic sharks for the benefit and upon request, of Russian and Italian tourists..More on that later.

Lying a short boat ride away from Sharm's resorts, in fact, directly opposite most of them is the Tiran Straits, home to some of the best diving in the Red Sea, Ras Mohammed, Woodhouse, Jackson Reef, The Gardens etc, all of which have been known historically for their (once) abundant shark populations, sharks have always been in the area, what hasn't however, is large numbers of human visitors and the environmental destruction this unfortunately brings.

The Victims
As is usually the case with Arabian shark incidents, getting the definitive detailed account of what happened is nigh on impossible. What I will cover below is based on media reports and information passed to me by trusted sources with working knowledge of the area and who have been in contact with people in positions of trust in the locations of the attacks.

Attack 1 - Olga Martsenko (48) & Evgeny Trishkin (30/11/10)
At the time of the attack, Russians, Olga and Evgeny, believed to be a couple, were snorkeling in deeper water off the reef. Details are sketchy at best but divers nearby claim to have been circled by a 2.5 metre Oceanic Whitetip only moments before it struck the couple, seriously injuring Evegeny's legs and removing Olga's hand.

Both victims made it ashore and were transferred to hospital in Cairo where they are described as in a critical condition but will both survive.

Attack 2 - Victor Koliy (46) (1/12/10)
Ukranian Victor, was attacked a few miles to the north of the attack on the Russian couple the previous day. Again, the victim was snorkeling and suffered what was described as "multiple" injuries to his legs. Fortunately, Victor has since been discharged from hospital and is believed to have returned to the Ukraine. Reports suggest that Victor was again, snorkeling farther out in deeper water from the reef's edge.

Attack 3 - German Woman (3/12/10) - Fatal
Details surrounding this attack are at present vague, some reports suggest her body washed on to the beach, others report that she was brought ashore by a lifeguard, however, what has come to light is that eye witnesses are claiming to have seen a shark which is considerably larger than the shark implicated in the first attack on the Russian couple.

The victim suffered large wounds to her mid to upper arm and her legs were badly mauled. Again, the victim was swimming in deeper water, this time off the private house reef of the Hyatt hotel, where she was a regular visitor.

Reports of a fourth attack and fifth victim have now been confirmed as false, the "victim" in question, a young Russian woman received lacerations to her hand, caused not by a shark, but by coral.

As is often the case in shark attacks, the extremities are the parts of the victim sustaining injuries, that is, the arms and legs, including hands and feet. What follows is my informed opinion, that doesn't make it fact, however, I am confident that I may well be accurate. We may never know exactly what happened but the purpose of this is to offer a more balanced account than that which you will find in the mainstream media. I haven't seen the bodies and I haven't had the benefit of speaking to eyewitnesses...

In the first attack, one interesting facet of the circumstances becomes clear, that the victims were snorkeling in close proximity to a group of divers. The couple were not the only people at the surface in the water and the divers saw the shark before it attacked. As I mentioned in the previous blog, when swimmers and snorkelers sustain injuries to their hands and arms, it is often in the event of the victim touching the shark, or attempting to fight off an attacking or aggressive shark. My guess is this, the shark, having circled the divers, was drawn to the couple at the surface, I would imagine the male of the couple was the first to be bitten, sustaining injuries to his legs whilst attempting to move away from the approaching shark or kicking out to defend himself. Upon seeing her companion struggling with the shark, has Olga attempted to help the victim, punching out at the shark or trying to push it away, thus encouraging the shark to bite her in self defence, removing her hand in the process?

It is most often the case in attacks on humans that a removal of a limb is the last act of an attacking shark so this would make sense. As is usually the case and having seen it myself, when snorkelers or swimmers are approached by an inquisitive shark, very few will respond in a calm manner, arms and legs are flailing and when "fight or flight" kicks in, "flight" is usually the course of action taken. If you are approached by an inquisitive or aggressive shark, to move away from the shark, attempting to escape, only encourages the shark to inspect you more closely and what is the part of the body nearest the business end of a shark in this scenario? The feet and lower legs, hence why  believe the male was first to be bitten.

The same train of thought could be applied in the second attack, inquisitive shark approaches a snorkeler who attempts to escape or kick out at the shark and receives injuries to his lower legs. If a victim is attempting an escape, behaving like potential prey can illicit an appropriate reaction in a predatory animal, also, to defend one's self can be interpreted as an act of aggression on the victim's part and can again, illicit a response from the "attacking" animal.

In the instance of the fatal attack, what is it that caused the victim to unfortunately not survive? Was the attacker more aggressive or were the injuries more severe due to the size of the shark? Did the victim's own condition mean she was less able to withstand injuries a younger, fitter individual may have? We may never know but reports have suggested that people originally rushing to her aide, when realising what was happening left the water to find a vessel in which they could bring her ashore. It seems that the victim was further away from other bathers during this attack and assistance took longer to arrive, did that play a part in this incident ending with a fatality?

Should the final victim have been in the water in the first place? Did she even know about the attacks earlier that week? It isn't that ridiculous to suggest she may not have known, I know when I go on holiday, I don't watch television, I certainly don't bother reading newspapers in languages I can't understand and how likely is it that staff at the hotels were being particularly forthcoming about the events surrounding the previous attacks? In the event I find out more detailed information surrounding each or all of the attacks, I will of course post it and amend my theories if needed, accordingly.

The Culprits
The more astute reader will take note of the fact I have pluralised the above. The notion of a "rogue shark," so beloved by the press and armchair Matt Hooper is one I just don't buy I'm afraid. To justify that, let's look at the basic definition of what a "rogue shark" actually is. A rogue shark is "JAWS," a shark which actually swims around looking for people to bite or eat. Some animals do exhibit rogue tendencies, lions, tigers and crocodiles for example and the theory is based on evidence a rogue animal has a "taste for human flesh."

It is fairly widely known nowadays and certainly widely accepted, that sharks do not particularly care for the taste of human beings, in fact, only approximately 10-15 human beings have ever been totally consumed by a shark during an attack, that is, they were alive before coming into contact with a shark which then killed and ate them. It is certainly feasible that the number of unfortnates suffering this grisly fate could even be in single figures.

The examples used by fans of the rogue shark theory such as the Jersey Shore attacks in 1916 have since been proved far more likely, in fact almost beyond all doubt, to have been carried out by multiple sharks. Egypt has even had its own rogue shark conspiracy before, in the 1980's where three people were attacked on the same day in the Port Said area of Cairo. The incident was often used to support the rogue shark theory but neglected to mention the third victim (the first two were companions together) was injured many miles away and would have required the shark to sprint up the coast to find and attack him.

Human beings don't have the relevant nutritional value for sharks to get a taste for us, sharks aren't "killing machines" they are highly evolved predatory animals that do what they do, really, really well. They are not vindictive animals hell bent on the destruction of the human race but animals which sometimes make mistakes based on natural behaviour patterns.

The Oceanic Whitetip has taken a bit of a hammering in the press this week and as a large, bold and sometimes aggressive shark, commonly found in the area, it would make a likely suspect but let's not forget some of his mates who might also be worth a mention, the Tiger Shark, Silvertip Shark and the Great White.

The Oceanic Whitetip is big enough, aggressive enough and has the tools to have carried out these attacks, no question about that, however it is a pelagic species, not often found so close to beaches. That's not to say it's impossible, they have been encountered close inshore where reefs have steep drop offs, much like those in Sharm so it's not impossible they would be seen that near to a beach, very rare yes but not impossible.

The Tiger Shark has been surprisingly lacking in the press this week. She is big, heavy set and one of the few shark species capable of doing serious damage to a human being. The nearby Tiran Straits are home to a resident number of Tiger Sharks which are fairly regularly encountered by divers and unlike the Oceanic Whitetip, will regularly venture into shallow water.

Contrary to popular belief, Great White sharks do occur in warm water and even tropical locations, The Bahamas, Madagascar, Northern Australia, Tonga, The Seychelles, all of these places have recorded large numbers of verified Great White shark sightings and encounters, you can add the Red Sea to that as well. Great Whites do visit the Egyptian coast and at this time of year, with sea temperatures around the 23-25 degrees Celsius mark, they are more than capable of withstanding these temperate conditions and as we all know, are more than capable of inflicting serious injury with ease.

Isn't she beautiful! Yes she certainly is but the Silvertip is also a bulky, sometimes aggressive shark which has been involved in attacks on humans before. Silvertips are found in the waters around sharks and whilst also more commonly found in pelagic environments, do venture closer inshore with more regularity than the Oceanic Whitetip. The Silvertip is less twitchy than other requiem sharks, has an inquisitive nature and will attack if provoked, it also has the dental equipment to do some serious damage to the human body.

All these sharks have track records in wounding swimmers and divers, they all occur in the locality of the attacks and all could be considered possible suspects. Very few sharks have the tools to cut through bone, a pre-requisite if a human limb is removed in an attack. That also discounts the Mako caught by fishermen from the attack in which Olga lost her hand and lower arm.

The least likely culprit is the Great White, the other three however could all be reasonable suspects, could it be that a couple of species have been involved? Could it be that a couple of sharks of the same species have been involved? Very possibly. Could it be that one shark is responsible for all the attacks? I really don't think so.

In my opinion the most likely scenario is that the Oceanic Whitetip and Tiger Shark are the most likely suspects in one or all of the attacks. If this was happening in the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, Northern Australia, Florida or Durban for example, in similar conditions, the finger of blame would immediately be pointed at either the Tiger or the Bull Shark, with the absence of Bull Sharks from the area, is that to say it's reasonable to believe a Tiger Shark could be implicated in one of the attacks at least? In my mind yes, does it make it so? No but it is a possible scenario.

Environmental Factors
What do I mean by the above? Well, to put it simply, factors in the area which we either know for sure, or can reasonably be assumed to have happened given information from reliable sources.

I have not seen it with my own eyes but very trusted friends and colleagues have, it is widely accepted that some dive boats in the area are known for baiting the water to bring sharks closer to divers, in particular Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. Even more alarming is that on some of these boats it is claimed, operators encourage divers to pet the large sharks and bites have occurred because of this. These practices are often undertaken for predominantly Russian and Italian tourists who pay extra for the pleasure. Before you start using this as ammo to rail against the shark feeding industry, please bare in mind what I have said in a previous article on that specific subject, shark feeding dive operations and dive operations feeding sharks, are two very different things.

It is common practice for tourists to feed the fish close inshore. Not a massive problem you might think but if smaller fish are encouraged to hang around and propagate in bather heavy areas, don't be surprised if bigger fish fancy popping by to have a look as well.

Large pelagic fish in the Red Sea are in enormous decline, overfishing has taken a terrible toll on populations of pelagic species which in turn has affected the feeding practices of many predatory species. If you remove prey species in big enough numbers, it is going to affect the species which rely on them to feed as part of their natural diet. If we alter a species' natural predatory behaviours, it is likely they will adapt to that alteration. By that I mean if an animal naturally survives on rays for example, if the rays are all removed from an area, that predator either has to leave and find more rays or start finding other things to eat to survive which then has a knock on effect for that new prey item. Could this mean that larger sharks are moving closer inshore due to their being less prey in deeper waters? Maybe...

Perhaps most startling and telling, are reports that a merchant vessel transporting cattle and livestock to Jordan had jettisoned a number of the animals overboard in waters close to where the attacks took place as recently as the week before the attacks. Had the animals died on board and been disposed of overboard? This is not the first time this has happened. During the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, consignments of cattle were transported from South Africa through the Red Sea, this coincided with reports of dive groups encountering Great White Sharks off the coast of Sharm and also around the Brothers and Daedelus. I spoke with a dive guide in 2007 who had two encounters herself during 2001, she also happened to mention it was suggested that it may be best not to talk about it at the time due to fear of it affecting business. We will probably never know for definite whether the sharks followed the cattle transporters but it would be a valid explanation. As soon as the Great Whites appeared, they disappeared again after just over a month...

Also, when the French passenger plane crashed in the northern Red Sea in 2003, the number of sharks encountered by divers exploded and for around three months, large numbers of sharks were encountered with unusual frequency

A Valid Explanation?
I'm not saying this is what happened, it is merely what I think happened, if you want to either agree or disagree based on any additional information or feedback, I always welcome informed open discussion. So here goes...

It's no coincidence in my mind that a load of dead animals get dumped in the sea near to a popular tourist resort where the sea is full of swimmers, divers and snorkelers and a week or so later some people get bitten. If you take all the information on face value it could be argued that within a dwindling population of large pelagic sharks, a small number of individuals have been attracted closer to shore by the decaying sheep and cattle carcasses tossed into the water. The waste pumped into the water from the hotels, the fish feeding activity from tourists and the possibility of dive boats feeding sharks in the area would potentially be enough to encourage predatory behaviour in the visiting sharks. Upon encountering vulnerable swimmers at the surface, have the sharks exhibited aggressive, inquisitory behaviour whilst in a heightened state of predatory awareness due to the increased level of stimuli (rotting sheep, increased fish activity, large numbers of people in the water, waste from dive boats and hotels) in the water? It's very, very possible.

These attacks were not feeding attacks, in that the sharks weren't trying to eat people, they were most likely acts of aggression from sharks who's behaviour had been altered by human interference and unfortunately people have been seriously hurt and one killed. The problem is the mainstream media will most likely only cover the tip of the dorsal fin in this story, sharks make easy bad guys and stories of environmental alteration don't sell as well as sharks attacking helpless humans. A small number of sharks have been attracted closer to shore by human negligence, people have been bitten and unfortunately the sharks are going to pay the price. Will they catch the culprits? Probably not, will they catch and kill innocent sharks? They already have...

It is a sad story all around, the most startling part of which for me was the statistic that only 11 Oceanic Whitetip sharks of  adult size (2 metres+) have been identified as resident animals, in that they have been documented twice or more, in the area, an area which could once lay claim to be perhaps the best place in the world to encounter Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in the world. This incredible shark was once claimed to be the most common large pelagic fish in the oceans (fish weighing 100lbs or more), it is now critically endangered in many parts of the world, but that won't be a story so widespread in the mainstream press.

As with all shark attacks, we have to look at the bigger picture, a good example being the spate of attacks at Port St Johns in South Africa between 2004 and 2009. The press featured comments from locals and fishermen claiming that the restrictions on shark fishing and the shark diving industry were to blame, what wasn't so widely mentioned was that the beach was used by a local tribe to take part in ritualistic animal sacrifices, in fact, these sacrifices were undertaken on the morning of two of the attacks, both of which were fatal.

All I ask is that you take on board the fact that sharks do not look for people to bite or eat, the rogue shark theory is almost certainly a myth and the biggest victim in shark/human encounters is without doubt the shark. It can be difficult to separate emotions from incidents like these but hopefully more information comes to light, you never know, I may even be right.

I want to thank Avi, Ed, Howard and Patric for passing me some info, in patric's case he should be applauded for taking the time to do what much of the media hasn't, contact a local dive expert and see what they think about everything, as an industry leader, Patric has clarified that the divers in Egypt, almost to a man, want to see tolerance and understanding for the sharks in Red Sea waters and for that we should all thank them.

Seeing as this is a fairly epic blog, I am going to treat you to a couple of videos, made aware to me by my friend, the rather brilliant Mike Neumann, the first may go some way to explain why Oceanic Whitetip Sharks occasionally bite snorkelers and divers, some of the behaviour is pretty scary on the part of the humans involved, the second video is something Mike was pretty reserved with in his comments but I'm afraid I can't exercise such good will, I hate it, I hate this video with a passion and have a strong dislike for the idiots involved in it, it makes me angry and shows a lot of people make diving with sharks all about them and a way to show off to their pals. The dive operator shouldn't have allowed it and the divers themselves are exactly the type of divers that I never, ever want to be on a dive boat with. What both videos do show however, is how tolerant sharks are for human stupidity, all three species in the videos, Oceanic Whitetips, Lemon Sharks and Tiger Sharks could very easily kill every one involved in the videos, the important thing is, they don't, they don't even give them a nip...Bare that in mind next time you read reports in the media about shark incidents...

Finally, feel free to pass this to people you know are talking about the attacks, it might help increase understanding from the shark's point of view, if you are part of the press and want to contact me, please do, if you want to comment and give your thoughts, again please do and finally, to the shark conservationists, I know that innocent sharks have paid the price as well this week but let's also remember, it isn't the fault of the victims, let's not try to play the life of one thing over the life of another, whereas I agree that a human life does not have more value than that of a shark's life, it does not mean the shark has more value than a human, let us try to exercise sympathy and reasoned debate, that is far more helpful than spreading propaganda that may at first seem helpful, when it is actually the total opposite. Sharks are not friendly, they are not like puppy dogs...Sharks are sharks and should be appreciated and cherished for what they are.

Stay safe everyone and thanks for reading!