Monday, 5 December 2011

Two of my favourite things, Blue Sharks and the Balearic islands (video)

I was sent this video the other day by a good friend who knew I would be interested, of course because it has a shark in it but also the location, Menorca.

I am a  lover of the Balearic islands, Spain and the Spanish people and culture, my first ever film, "Behind Blue Glass" was shot in Mallorca and was to a large extent, about Mallorca, at least its history with the Great White Shark (ahem, available to buy very soon from a selected outlet, check here and sign up to the mailing list for further info)...

I love Blue Sharks, they're a beautiful animal, the vivid blue hue you see in this video is nothing compared to when you actually get up close to one in the water, they're magnificent, graceful animals and one of the shark species I feel to be truly "iconic." This video is an interesting one for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the Blue Shark is very much a pelagic species, that is, it generally speaking spends most if not all of its life in deep waters, miles offshore, traversing thousands and thousands of miles of ocean each year and is the archetypal ocean nomad. It is unusual to see Blue Sharks as close to land, in shallow waters as this shark is in the video but it's not that unusual in the Balearics and off the coast of Spain...

I've just done a search for the pics I have seen in UK and Spanish newspapers of Blue Sharks appearing in shallow waters close to shore and this popped up, apparently a film from 1977 where the cover depicts a Blue Shark, is called "Blue Shark" (Tintorera in Spanish) yet then says Tiger Shark...Bit weird but no doubt I'll be trying to find a download of this later. Anyway, where was I?...

Oh yeah, Blue Sharks close to shore. It happens pretty much every year in the Mediterranean, particularly off the Spanish and French coast, a Blue Shark turned up in Palma Port a couple of weeks after I left this year (typical), Barcelona sees this fairly regularly also and I remember a story a few years back about a windsurfer being surrounded by up to a dozen Blue Sharks off St Tropez in France.
I'm not going to try to give an all encompassing, generic explanation for each and every instance as we just don't know what will motivate lone individuals to venture so close to shore, even beach themselves. Large groups can be more rationally explained as reacting to a movement of prey or environmental factors perhaps but we don't know what's going on in the mind of an individual shark or what has caused such unusual behaviour although I'm pretty sure at least someone on the internet will try to say it's to do with some apocalyptic environmental event to help attract numbers to their Facebook group (yes there is some bile still left over from the last blog...)

So, the video. First off, contrary to the appearance of a fishing rod, I don't think the shark has been hooked at any point, nor do I think they people in the video are trying to hook it, it looks to me like they're actually trying to shoo it away and help it on its way, contrary to the belief that everyone who owns a fishing rod is some kind of bloodthirsty murderer. I don't speak Spanish though, aside from various shark names, swear words (of course!) and knowing how to find a toilet, I am pretty useless, if anyone out there does speak Spanish, any chance of a basic idea of what the people in the video are saying? At least the running theme anyway?
The shark itself doesn't look in great shape to me, it looks disorientated, sluggish and confused and it's repeated 180 degree tuns whilst hugging the wall could suggest it's trying to find its way out to deeper water, which would also in turn suggest its got lost somehow, again, we won't know for certain but it's a decent hypothesis. If you look closely, it has a fairly pronounced wound on its head/snout. Now, this shark looks like a female to me but I can't be sure, I'm basing that on only getting a topside view but that wound is not a mating scar.

Aside from the head wound, the shark actually looks in decent shape, aesthetically anyway, but in its movements, it doesn't look like a Blue Shark normally would. They are wiry, agile, fast moving sharks with an elegant grace accentuated by it's sleek, narrow build, this one just looks drunk.

The head wound could be a part of this, has it taken a whack from another shark? A boat perhaps? Maybe...

The shark is in what looks pretty much like a typical Mediterranean small fishing port, could it be that this shark has followed a small fishing fleet back to the harbour, got trapped and is disorientated, trying to find its way out to deeper water? The stories you may have read about commercial and small fishing fleets being followed for miles by sharks, you can be pretty certain that in most occassions, the sharks following them would have included Blue Sharks, it's just something they do.

We have seen when aquaria try to house Great White Sharks it just doesn't work and the major factor in that is the White Shark's natural tendency to roam large areas of sea, the Blue Shark is not dissimilar, in the videos from Monteray Aquarium when they have housed juvenile White Sharks, you see elements of disorientation in their behaviour, hugging the walls, nudging them to the extent they severely damage their snouts, it looks to me that this Blue Shark is clearly looking for a way out and is not fully compus mentis, a side effect of the head wound? The relative confinement of the environment compared to its normal surroundings or both?

That head wound doesn't look too serious to me, these are hardy, tough animals so this could be a temporary straying off course and after the video ends, the shark finally finds her way out to more familiar surroundings. There is a temptation to raise the subject of the almost total annihilation of fish life in the Mediterranean making it harder and harder for sharks of all species resident or regularly to occassionally  occurring in the Med, fifty-three since records began in 1758, to find food meaning that what may ordinarily be a relatively minor wound which would cause no real impact to a shark elsewhere in the world, could actually have amore drastic effect on a shark in the industrially ravaged Med but that would be mere conjecture, it just as likely has absolutely nothing to do with it, than it has any relevence to this particular shark.

Hopefully this particularly beautiful shark made it out in the end and is happily swinning around one of the world's most beautiful cluster of islands.

Edit: I have just been informed by a Gibraltan friend of mine that the gist of what the guys in the video are saying is general amazement and shock that the shark is there, they dare the one with the fishing rod (jokingly) to try and catch it, at which point the shark almost snatches his rod, the general shock and awe continues and one says he thinks it's staring at him, again, semi serious. Shortly after, the shark swims off.

Another edit: The trailer for Tintorera!

Just a quick word about the last blog. Yes it was a bit controversial I suppose but the feedback I have received has been 100% positive. I lost a couple of people off the Facebook group but over on Linkedin, it seems the marine biology and science community seem to want to read more of the same from me. What is thoroughly encouraging is that the people who contacted me to register their approval are entirely made up of people who know sharks, work with sharks and whose opinions are the opinions I would make an effort to hear myself so that's good. It certainly seems to have hit the mark as it is still being read no less than three hundred times a day so it's nice to know I wasn't just speaking to myself or addressing the ether.

Thank you all for the kind words and re-blogging, it means a lot.

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