Friday, 18 May 2012

A Ray of hope for Mallorca's Stingrays?

Pic by Gonzo

If you weren't already aware, I'm currently in Mallorca for what was intended to be a holiday with friends where I could recharge my batteries in the sun and get away from the laptop and editing duties for a bit.

What started with that intention however quickly morphed into me coming over to shoot a little short film about a brilliant grassroots conservation project being led by my very good friends and partners in crime, Brad and Bea, well, I say "crime" but by that I mean coming up with hugely ambitious projects we don't have any money to do and which take up all our time but which we somehow manage to get off the ground anyway.

The current project being developed by Brad is the Mallorquin Stingray Survey, a brilliantly simple concept which encourages ordinary people to volunteer to take part in twice monthly dives in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in which they count the Stingrays encountered on that dive in that specific area and where possible, take photographs and videos to help create an idea of how many are there and if possible, why they are there.

The target species is the Common Stingray and once again we can count on the involvement of our friend and expert on Mediterranean Elasmobranchs, Gabriel Morey, to help with all the science behind the data we collect.

I am of course here to capture footage, not just of the dives, but of the people and not to simply tell people what we are doing, but to give an honest portrayal of conservation in action, actual conservation, where people leave their homes and go outside and commit to spending months, maybe even years, grinding through the sun, wind, rain and all other obstacles that life throws at you just to try and do something good. I am not getting paid (it's actually costing me money to do this) and this project currently has zero financial support (something we hope to change) with Brad and Bea and everyone else involved digging into their own pockets to try and make it work. That means early mornings, late nights, trips around the island and the constant putting out of fires (metaphoric, not real, at least not yet anyway.)

Long time readers of this blog will know I am a cynic regarding many things, not least people's ideals of what constitutes action and involvement in environmental causes and during a two hour filmed interview with Brad yesterday (remember those Mike?!) we spoke a lot about the frustrations that "doers" encounter when faced with the overwhelming majority of "talkers" who inadvertently, sometimes even intentionally, get in their way and place barriers in their path, despite claiming to be on the same side. We discussed what motivates the tiny handful of people like Brad and Bea who sacrifice their time, finances and quite often sanity, just to try and do something in which they passionately believe and also the goals for the future we have in regards to trying to have at least a tiny, but positive effect, upon marine conservation in the Mediterranean. Not only are they my friends, they are also two of my ultimate conservation heroes, I don't have many, and they are in elite company.

So what about the actual dives we've done so far? Ray-wise, pretty incredible, over three dives we've seen about a hundred, including some very big, fat, pregnant ladies which is great! Aside from the Rays and considering this is a protected area, there is nothing, of course there are a few fish here and there but an area like this should be utterly teeming with life and it really is not.

The Mediterranean is in severely dire straits and without the Rays, El Delta, the area in which we are doing the surveys, would not be worth diving despite being a beautiful location with crystal clear water, it's no good having great viz but nothing to see.

That is why projects like this and people like Brad and Bea are absolutely vital to the Med standing any chance of not becoming completely desolate, bereft of any life, in ours or our children's lifetimes. If you want to learn more or see how you can help then contact Brad at and if you're coming to Mallorca this Summer and fancy a dive with these Rays, you can do exactly that with the island's best dive operation.

Here I am then, on "holiday" and editing two hours worth of interview with a bad back from lugging gear around in the hot sun and sleeping on the floor under Brad's stairs but it's more than worth it and fingers crossed, you enjoy the little film when it's done.

speaking of little films, I actually will be able to tell you when "Behind Blue Glass" is actually available to purchase on DVD but as is often the case, I am waiting on that info to reach me, hopefully in the next week or so so keep an eye out for that. As for big films, "Of Shark and Man" remains at the same stage as last you heard from me, I return to the UK early June to do a little more filming for the intro which will allow me to complete that then progress ill really pick up. It's a long, frustrating and tough journey but you won't hear me complaining.

To finish off, as we are all now on Facebook, if you are a "Shark and Marine Life Saver" or you like Rays, Mallorca or even just have a thing for long haired, Aussie dive instructor hippies, please let Brad know that you appreciate what it is he is doing and ask how you can put your "shark and marine life saving" expertise to good use in helping with this very worthy project.

If you're one of the many NGOs who has corresponded with Brad on this and other projects in the last two or three years and who still hasn't actually done anything to help, a) why? and b) sort it out please because we simply cannot afford to do it on our own using our own money, this is local conservation done by local people with real, tangible benefits to the local community here and that is what you market yourselves as supporting so contact Brad and he'll tell you how to help.

There might be a short little video with some stuff shot by Gonzo and Brad on the dives but that depends on whether we have the time to do it so if we do, it will be going out here.

Hasta La Vista

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Saturday, 5 May 2012

More South African Shark Based Nonsense

Anyone my age or older, who lives, or has lived in Britain growing up, should recognise the woman above as Mary Whitehouse, an ultra-conservative, right wing, religious zealot, often best described as a "busybody" due to her war on the media and her downright insistence that the Great British public should be exposed only to what she deemed acceptable, i.e. no violence, no sex or nudity, no bad language, no homosexuality and enormous portions of Christian propaganda. In other words, she was a professional spoilsport.

This is Rafael Benitez, an unemployed football manager who had six years as manager of Liverpool Football Club, before a year at the then current European Champions, Internatzionale, who in the space of twelve months, he managed to turn into the laughing stock of Serie A, by turning an almost invincible side that won every major trophy the season before under their previous manager, into an Italian version of Stoke City.

Benitez's downfall can be traced back to a bizarre press conference where, after a question from a journalist, he produced a sheet of paper with various points he wanted to make so as to address certain "facts." The problem was, not one of these "facts" was actually true, as was gleefully proven in minute detail, by various newsgroups and internet sites over the following days. This was a man without answers to questions and who, in wanting his version of the answers to be correct, decided to call them "facts" and hope he'd get away with it.

The thing is, people who do that, rarely do get away with it.

Why am I writing about two regular butts of British jokes? well, Whitehouse and Benitez were the first two people that sprang to mind when a friend forwarded this to me.

Arguments against cage diving with Great White Sharks are nothing new, they've been going on since the industry first began in earnest in the early nineties and the arguments have never changed, they are the same now as they were back then, it's just that now most people have access to the Internet, meaning those detractors can reach a wider audience.

In the interest of fairness, I am going to provide a counter argument to various points raised on that site and also ask that you "please send this information (attached) to as many people as you know,
especially those involved with the Great White chumming/cage-diving industry, the so-called shark 'experts” & “researchers', and all people/organisations involved with ocean use activities, coastal
tourism industry and all relevant government departments."

The word "fact" is used a hell of a lot on that site, much like when people want to win an argument and say things like "Titanic is the greatest film ever made, FACT!" The sad truth being that the kind of people who do this, are the same types of people who say things so utterly stupid as that and even worse, actually believe what they're saying.

Let's start with the section "Cold Facts" as that seems as good a place as any to start...

  1. There has been a massive increase in Great White Shark attacks on humans in Cape waters since 1991
The author goes on to show a breakdown of attacks in Cape waters which he classes as "between Cape Town and Port St Johns"  so I am assuming that he is taking into account the attacks at Port St Johns which were not carried out by Great White Sharks but almost certainly Bull Sharks which should therefore be discounted if his argument is the solely the impact cage diving has had on attacks by Great White Sharks on bathers since the advent of White Shark cage diving.

Look at the "Cold Fact" box here.

Look at the attacks details section here.

  • There are four "freak" years, 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2005 where the attacks were higher in number than we would statistically, normally expect.
  • In 1994, of the 9 attacks, 3 of the victims were spearfishing
  • In 1998, of the 15 attacks, 1 was spearfishing, 1 was "moving a shark in a net,"  and 1 was "washing bait off hands."
  • In 1999, 1 victim was spearfishing
  • In 2005, 2 victim activities are unknown and 1 was spearfishing

Using the records provided from 1992 - 2009

  • From 1992 to 2000, there were 52 attacks and 5 fatalities, a rate of one in eleven.
  • From 2001 to 2009, there were 41 attacks and 10 fatalities, a rate of just under one in four
In the interests of being fair, it is worth noting that in the years pre-cage diving, the statistics show;

  • 1991 - 2 attacks
  • 1990 - 6 attacks
  • 1989 - 9 attacks
  • 1988 - 11 attacks
  • 1987 - 6 attacks
  • 1986 - 13 attacks
  • 1985 - 9 attacks
  • 1984 - 12 attacks
  • 1983 - 15 attacks
  • 1982 - 8 attacks
  • 1981 - 9 attacks
  • 1980 - 10 attacks
  • 1979 - 7 attacks
  • 1978 - 6 attacks
  • 1977 - 7 attacks
  • 1976 - 11 attacks
  • 1975 - 10 attacks
In the seventeen years between 1975 and 1991, there were 151 attacks, an average of 8.9 attacks per year before cage diving.

In the seventeen years (post cage diving) between 1992 and 2009, there were 93 attacks, an average of 5.5 attacks per year.

So this "massive increase in Great White Shark attacks on humans" since cage diving started is actually a gradual decrease in shark attacks since cage diving was introduced.

I know what you're saying, we didn't say "shark attacks, we said Great White Shark attacks" and to you I say, go back and look at the data this site provides, in many cases a species is not attributed to the attack and in South Africa particularly, species attribution for shark attacks was notoriously inaccurate. The simple "cold fact" here is that, as more people enter the water and more people actually purposefully enter the water with Great White Sharks in the waters from "Cape Town to St Johns Beach" attacks are decreasing.

Even as cage diving gets more an more popular in the seventeen year period this site uses, the statistics show that attacks are actually decreasing!

Hardly a "massive increase," in fact, quite the opposite.

The other favourite tool of the person who wants to win an argument, is to use speech marks, they are the people who do that annoying thing where they make quotation marks with their fingers, I use this sometimes so I am far from perfect, but this guy uses this a lot, almost entirely, surrounding the word "expert" and "researcher."

You see, this creates doubt in the mind of the reader as to the credentials of these people, it says "expert *snort* yeah right! expert, whatever lol" and like saying "FACT!" at the end of a sentence, is used entirely to win an argument without having any basis of fact to back up what you're saying.

Like this;

"There is a definite correlation between feeding wild animals and an increase in attacks"

Is there? Is there really? Says who? You have a picture of a baboon and a picture of a man in hospital, you follow this with a picture of lions kindly helping a driver with a push start for his Land Rover and a collage of pictures of Great White Sharks, cage diving stuff, and people who were bitten by sharks that weren't Great White Sharks. That's all the proof I need!

Seriously, people feed sharks in Fiji, big badass sharks and lots of them, Bulls and Tigers especially and Fiji averages between 0-3 attacks per year. People feed sharks in The Bahamas, big badass sharks and smaller Reef sharks and The Bahamas averages 0-3 attacks per year.

Florida doesn't allow shark feeding and averages between 10-30 attacks per year. There are no feeding operations currently operating in Brazil yet Brazil averages between 5-15 attacks per year. Hawaii banned chumming for sharks, hell they even implemented a shark cull once but the rate of attacks, with a cull, before the cull, with chumming and without has stayed pretty much exactly the same.

The following statement is my opinion, so I won't say "FACT!" or anything like that but in my opinion, anyone who claims that "shark feeding dive operations are causing sharks to attack more people, associate humans as food or cause sharks to become more aggressive" has zero credibility when speaking about sharks and doesn't know what they're talking about.

There is a world of proof which actually proves feeding sharks responsibly, as the vast majority of operations do, has no effect on shark attack dangers or rates of risk of shark attack, the primary source of this proof being that there is absolutely zero proof to suggest otherwise, absolutely nothing, nada. Not one single credible shark expert, researcher, scientist or behaviourist has ever claimed a correlation. Ever. As in, EVER.

Incidentally, sharks aren't baboons, baboons aren't lions and lions aren't sharks, all three are "animals" but any correlation between three completely different animals in three completely different ecological environments is spurious at best, completely mental at worst.

Now, read this and look at this absolute madness.

There is no point in me addressing all of this, I'll leave it to you to make your own mind up, I'll just pick the highlights;

To stop chumming/cage-diving in its current unacceptable form immediately, the industry must be investigated. A comprehensive audit (including financial) must be instituted to find out what is actually going on and everybody involved with the industry (including the “so-called experts”) must be forced to respond to the following questions:

1. who is actually being paid what, where exactly is the money going?

One would imagine the money goes to the business owner and ultimately, a percentage of profit (millions and millions of rand) is paid in tax to benefit South Africa.

2. why does it appear that there are no previously disadvantaged members of society involved in the industry and providing the services?

If you know me, you'll know I like a bit of socialism, helping those with less than ourselves but this argument is nothing less than insanity. It costs money to set up a business like a cage diving operation and thanks to apartheid, millions and millions of people are still suffering from the oppression forced upon them. This is tantamount to going up to a homeless man and saying "why don't you get a job?!"

3. apart from “shark spotting” which if the sharks were still behaving normally, would not have been required, can you confirm what, if any, job training/skills opportunities, community investments the cage-diving industry is making to help ordinary South Africans?

Hotels. taxis, airport shuttles, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, takeaways, millions of tax rand etc etc. As far as I am aware, pre-cage diving, Gaansbaii could hardly be described as an epicentre of tourism, ditto Port Lincoln in Australia.

5. why, after every unfortunate shark attack, do the so-called “experts” immediately respond by saying in the media that “chumming is no problem and that there is no proof that it conditions or modifies shark behaviour in any way. The shark made a mistake and we should accept that there is always a normal, slight risk of being attacked by a GW if we venture into their domain.” Does this argument still hold true if the sharks are abnormally aggressive and the number of attacks is increasing?

They say that because for the most part, it's factually accurate.

6. where did the Fischer boat (Shark Men Program) millions actually end up?

Almost certainly in Fischer's back pocket, I'm as little a fan of his as you are.

7. why do people like Gregg Oelofse talk in the press about “the small immaterial chumming by permitted cage divers”. The Fischer boat does actually tag the sharks and does not hang humans in the water. Is it not possible constant chumming by permitted cage divers is “hugely material” and actually the real cause of the problem?

When you say "the problem," do you mean the decrease in attacks since cage diving in South Africa began?

9. if chumming is no problem, why did Boyd stop the Fischer boat “5 ton chum permit” immediately after the Kogel bay attack?

That's a fair question actually. Most likely an immediate reaction to public pressure but that's for the man himself to answer.

10. why do we read articles saying it was impossible for the Fischer boat chum to reach Kogel bay because of the wind, also that the shark that attacked David Lillienfeld, (the Springbok body boarder who was tragically killed), wasn’t a tagged shark. Why are these people defending chumming and tagging so vehemently?

Why are you so vehemently against it?

11. a few years ago, after protecting alligators in Florida, their numbers increased logarithmically and they became a pest. Authorities in Florida were forced to institute a culling program. Can you please confirm that you are sure that the South African Great White population is not increasing logarithmically to dangerous totally unsustainable levels?

Alligators reproduce at a much. much faster rate than Great White Sharks and how can a naturally sized population of an animal be described as "unsustainable?"

12. in what way are the sharks actually being helped. If they are protected, how is the cage-diving helping them further? Can you be sure that the chum/cage-diving industry is not conditioning sharks to be abnormally, aggressive towards humans & therefore directly responsible for the recent increase in the number of shark attacks?

Tourism creates money, cage diving creates tourism, a regular and increasing annual financial boost to the South African economy means there is a financial benefit for a government to protect Great White Sharks. Without the financial support of tourism to see live sharks, what's left? The financial incentive in dead sharks and shark fishing.

Shark diving relies on live sharks.

13. why do the “experts” like to explain that the reason that the sharks are coming inshore and attacking more humans is because they have less fish to eat. This may be true, but how can our response be to just sit back and accept it. Why are there no measures being instituted to try to increase the fish or limit the shark population?

"Increasing the fish" would mean severe fishing quotas. Take those to the local commercial fishermen and let me know how you get on with that. Killing off the sharks would also potentially lead to a further decrease in fish stocks meaning even less for the fishermen to catch and a totally fucked up marine environment, meaning nobody wants to go in the water anymore, meaning tourists go elsewhere.

14. how can the controlled killing of “rogue”, territorial sharks near human attack areas and drum lining be regarded as best practise in Australia and other countries (where they have less attacks) and regarded as totally unacceptable in SA?

Because "rogue sharks" don't exist.

15. will the so-called “experts” including Alison Kock, explain why the usual excuse for a shark attacking a human used to be “the shark bite was simply exploratory and they made a mistake because it is clear that GWs don’t like to attack humans” has now been replaced by “the shark attacked the surfer THREE times until it tragically killed him”. Is this migration from “unfortunate mistake” to “relentless aggressive attack” not proof of negative conditioning caused by chum/cage-diving?

Shark attacks cannot be generically classified by Alison Kock or anyone else, each instance must be classified by its own specific and individual nature which depends on dozens, maybe even hundreds of external factors and elements. Some attacks are aggressive  in nature, some defensive, some exploratory, some with specific intention to kill and consume. This isn't restricted to South Africa, this is simply something that relates to sharks and shark attacks everywhere.

16. how can it be possible that society accepts the opinion of the so called “shark experts”, that “there is no proof that chummed sharks are becoming more aggressive” when no-one is searching for that proof and doing any of the required essential investigations. Is there “no proof” because perhaps everybody is conveniently avoiding looking for it?

People have tried to find a correlation and guess what, they couldn't. The proof that chumming sharks for cage diving makes sharks more aggressive doesn't get discussed because it doesn't exist.

It's not for the non-believer to prove God doesn't exist, it's for the believer to prove he does.

17. can it feasibly be true that “nothing has changed at all with regards to shark behaviour” if during a morning news bulletin on SA FM (Saturday the 28th of April), a “Great white increased activity warning” was issued for False bay. Is this not clear quantification that the shark situation is currently nowhere near being close to normal?

It's all relative. Sharks frequent False Bay less than they did fifty years ago because there are less sharks. In correlation with that, we now have more media, the Internet, camera phones etc meaning more sightings are reported and visible to a wider number of people. There aren't more sharks, just more people with the capability to tell people when they see one.

19. is it not possible that the great argument that “chumming/cage-diving brings in much needed foreign revenue” totally incorrect because this revenue is way less than the millions being lost because beach going tourists and locals are avoiding SA in their thousands because of shark attacks?(ask the Muizenberg and Fish Hoek businesses)

Please do an extensive study of every single business in the areas near cage dive operators, comparing their takings, profits and taxes paid to before the cage diving operations appeared and include with it, the numbers of people, local and foreign, visiting the beaches every year, then come back to us with your findings.

20. finally and most importantly, please tell us what you think about the following future quite feasible scenario: Those parties or experts who continue vehemently and blindly to defend the chum/cage-diving industry and thereby prevent its immediate shut down and the essential scientific investigation that is required, are thoroughly investigated themselves. If it is found that their behaviour was motivated by money and a blatant conflict of interest exists, that they are held liable for damages/compensation to injured parties and if possible within the law, prosecuted and punished if criminality can be proven. The size of the feeling of outrage and opposition to the chum/cage-diving industry amongst South Africans, throughout the country (just look in the newspapers) should not be underestimated. Raising the finance that will be required for the investigations and the necessary class actions, from so many people, is totally feasible. STOP THE CHUM/CAGE-DIVING INDUSTRY IMMEDIATELY!

Are you saying that everybody who supports the cage diving industry should be forced to justify their reasons and provide financial records so you can ascertain whether you think their motivation is financial or not? Is it not fair to say that the operators themselves are of course motivated by financial reasons as this is their business?

1. Stop dangling humans in cages from boats into chum trails immediately and use technology to allow the tourists to watch the sharks underwater from the chum boats.

But this still means the boats will be chumming...

2. Use modified “glass bottomed boat” technology to view the sharks underwater.

But this still means the boats will be chumming...

3. Keeping humans out of the water will stop the electromagnetic fields that they emit, being incorrectly associated with food by the sharks and their normal behaviour will stop being negatively modified.

What you're saying is that sharks will see humans in cages and associate them with food, meaning that innocent divers, surfers and swimmers, surfing, diving and swimming inside cages will always be associated as food. Read all that back to yourself...
4. Make sure that there is an immediate investigation instituted to quantify as far as is possible the balance between shark numbers and available food. After all, it is essential for this balance to be correct for future sustainability. The controlled culling of elephants in game parks to restore this balance is accepted as essential for their survival.

There you go with the culling again...

5. Cull (by helicopter, boat or drum lines) resident aggressive conditioned territorial sharks, as well as all sharks that are found lingering around shark attack sites for the first 3 hours after the attack, for a period of 5 years.
Eventually all negatively conditioned sharks will have been removed, the remaining shark population will return to normal behaviour patterns and the incidence of unfortunate attacks on humans, reduced to a minimum. This will result in a natural situation for ocean users and if managed correctly, continued protection of the environment and the Great Whites.

 Again with the culling...

This is nothing short of madness. Please tell me how your death squads will identify "conditioned" sharks.

This is about two things. The owner of the site "Justin Othersurfer" who posts on this Facebook group seems to me to be not a concerned citizen wanting fair play for all and "responsible cage diving," but is instead a surfer local to the area who wants to go surfing without the risk of shark attack and is using the Internet to make a noise.

I understand he doesn't want to get chomped by a shark, nobody does and that's understandable, it's just that the Internet allows misinformed, ill informed or just plain agenda led people to have a platform to preach to like minded souls.

The second aspect is that this has all come to the fore again because of Chris Fischer's insistence of taking "Shark Men" to South Africa. This was a PR disaster from day one, from what I can tell there was no real public outreach, their approach has been clumsy and arrogant and I can understand why local surfers and beach goers are pretty pissed off about them being there. Pretty much nobody wants them there doing what they do and for all the obvious benefits of greater understanding of shark movements for conservation, it's the way they do it which makes it so distasteful

That's the problem, when television and shark research collide, it has occasionally produced televised dog turds of epic proportions with "Shark Men" and "How Sharks Hunt" being the nadir. When the media get involved and stoke up tensions, it leads to every man and his dog wanting his say on something they don't actually understand and with social media being the thing of the 21st century, you don't have to go far to find a minefield of hyperbole, lies, untruths and twisted statistics that are used not to educate, but to influence.

There is no point me trying to convince you to think the same as I do, I don't want to, I just want to give you another option and side to this debate. I look at it the same way as the argument from certain women's and religious groups, that pornography causes rape. To lay the blame for what motivates individuals to do something as terrible as to commit rape on something as simple as the availability we have to watch two consenting adults do something completely natural, is of course, absurd. The reason for this argument is not that these people are concerning themselves with rape, it is because they want pornography banned and use the worst scare tactic they can think of to get their way. It disingenuous and also offensive.

The similarity here is that the motivating factor is surfers want cage diving banned and are using false information to gain support for their cause by relying on the fear of shark attack. Nobody wants anybody to be attacked by a shark, but we also don't need what veers from misinformation to absolute nonsense, being spread around gullible people to initiate support for shark culling and the closing down of economically sound businesses which support and influence positive movements in shark conservation.

Make your own minds up of course, use all the available scientific research out there if you want and if you want to discuss whether you agree or disagree, then please do so in the comments section here. As always, when I highlight what I see as something not so good, as done by others, I invite you to address your points here in public for respectful discussion so Justin, if you want to discuss any of my points, please feel free and welcome to do so below.

Have a good weekend everyone.

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