Thursday, 24 July 2014

That is one badass shark!

Michael's Mako. A badass shark for a badass dude!

I'm lucky to be friends with some truly great photographers including many of the underwater variety and one of my favourites is Michael Patrick O'Neill. Not only one of the very best pros out there, but a down to earth, intelligent and downright cool human being to boot.

All of that makes me even more stoked he managed to get this shot of a 4m Shortfin Mako off the Azores (story here)

The world we live in now seems to be full of people trying to make sharks cuddly, friendly and benign little cuties that just want to give us all a hug and be our pals but anyone who knows sharks knows that's doing them a great injustice and sharks like this badass girl remind us why. This is how I like my sharks, big, gnarly looking and with attitude, look at those scars, a big girl like this will no doubt have a colourful history so what a great stroke of luck for MPO and the others on the dive.

Did I mention? Michael also makes a valuable contribution to "Of Shark and Man" too. Here he is in the last teaser trailer.

"Of Shark and Man" Teaser Trailer 3 (Letterboxed Version) from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

Brilliant shot as always mate!

Friday, 11 July 2014

A Welcome Reminder of a Bygone Era

The greatest...

Last night just as I was settling into bed after finishing the grade of another section of "Of Shark and Man" (I say "night," it was 3am...) a link popped up on my Facebook timeline which genuinely excited me, it was a Youtube link for the full hour long, 1983 National Geographic special, "Sharks" or "The Sharks" as it was titled on its VHS release.

I can't tell you how many times I watched this as a kid, a hundred plus easy, but since the advent of DVD and Blu-Ray (and laser disc but the less said about that the better) and the phasing out of VHS players it must be around twenty years since I saw it last.

Coincidentally I had been speaking to my friend Jason earlier that evening, about how much of a drastic nosedive the genre of factual shark film has taken in the last fifteen years or so. Of course there is still some good stuff, "Sharkwater" for all its flaws is still a great film, I enjoyed "Extinction Soup," I love the "Sarah Shark" series and every year Shark Week seems to come up with the odd gem here and there ("Alien Sharks," "Great White Highway" from last year as two examples) but the good stuff is becoming increasingly more difficult to find in amongst the various vanity projects, hyperbolic exploitation pieces (Red Sea Jaws) and the downright cheap and nasty (feeding watermelons and hot dogs to sharks anyone?) so this was a really welcome reminder of a time when people actually respected the craft of film-making.

The heyday for shark documentaries is unquestionably the period from the greatest of the all, "Blue Water White Death," (1971) to the mid-nineties when the technology had advanced but not to the point where it was ultimately detrimental to the art of storytelling. If you watch "Sharks" you will not only notice the obvious amount of time spent making the film (something incredibly rare these days, after all, why bother going to the effort of shooting your own footage when you can just use stock footage on the cheap right?) but also the cinematography, the sound design, the raw, natural and unscripted aspects, the almost poetic narration and perhaps most of all, the sheer weight of content within the hour. This is honest, beautifully crafted and real documentary film-making and reminds those of us old enough to remember, an hour long TV slot used to mean an hour of content as opposed to 47 minutes of content wrapped around what the broadcaster really wants you to watch, the 13 minutes of commercials.

Look at those involved on screen as well, The Taylors, Eugenie Clark, John McCosker, Richard Ellis, all of whom are there because they have earned the right to be there, they have something of value to add, they're not there because they look cool, because they do as they're told or because they've bought their way in, they're there because they're awesome.

I make no bones about it, "Of Shark and Man" is a throwback to this golden age, I am purposefully constructing the film almost as an homage to the films that inspired me so much as a child and as I say in the film itself, "...nobody is making the films I want to see anymore so I figured I may as well just go and do it myself."

So all you shark lovers and documentary fans, take an hour, sit back and enjoy.

Big thanks to Scott Curaloto-Wagemann for linking it up in the first place

Monday, 7 July 2014

An Intelligent Shark Feeding Article!

Worth a read. Check it out!

Quite a long time ago now, 2008 to be precise, when I was a failed Rock Star stuck in an office working in Recruitment, frustrated my life wasn't going where I wanted it to, I decided to start working on my exit plan, an exit plan that would get me out of the office, out of the UK and finally in to working with sharks which is where I had always wanted to be and where my talents would finally not be going to waste like they were then.

I'd been writing articles for press and media about sharks already for years, since the age of 11 or 12, and at 15 had been invited into the now sadly defunct European Shark Research Bureau as an honorary member (the only "civvy" member as well I believe), so figured I'd dust off the computer and start doing that again. I had written primarily about shark attacks, shark behaviour and the sharks of the Mediterranean previously so wanted to choose something different, chose shark feeding and the rest as they say, is history.

That article, which appeared in DIVER Magazine was ultimately the catalyst for me being where I am now, it led to my friendships with Mike Neumann and Patric Douglas, two of the most influential people in the Shark Diving world, it opened doors for me in regards to discussing the issue to a wider audience and led to me getting full access to the Shark Reef story. Had I not written that article, it's conceivable I could still be stuck in that office today...

These days, a million Facebook threads abut the subject later, I lean towards offering my input only in a professional capacity, I just get too frustrated with people, (I shouldn't but I do) so when I was contacted by SCUBA Diver Australasia Magazine to contribute to their piece about Shark Feeding (ironically the same title as my own article eight years ago) I was more than happy to do so given Alice Grainger's very open and pragmatic approach.

Having now read the full piece I am not disappointed! I was told very honestly that Alice would indeed wield the editorial axe over all the submitted comments to aide the construction of a cohesive piece (fair do's!) and I was pleasantly surprised to see most of what I had put forward actually made it in which was nice.

The article features input from various experts with actual in-water experience with sharks over many decades and even the comments which are less favourable towards feeding are measured and well thought out, in short, this is essential, required reading for anyone with an interest in the issue. Mike's input did suffer somewhat from the editorial axe so he was kind enough to post it in full here. Read it!

Thanks again to Alice for the kind words and the opportunity to contribute to an intelligent piece about a subject desperately lacking in cerebral discussion.


I found my full answer so here it is for you, unedited!

What is your opinion on baited shark dives and shark feeding dives, and why?
It’s a strange one, I am neither “pro-shark feeding” nor “anti-shark feeding,” it would be more accurate to say I wholeheartedly support projects which encourage conservation initiatives for sharks whilst involving local communities and tourism, all with a goal to create long term, sustainable and economically successful alternatives to the short term financial gain of commercial or sport fishing. In short, that generally means eco-tourism shark diving and if you want to ensure your business is sustainable, your clients need a guarantee of sharks and in most places, that means baiting or feeding.

People have been feeding sharks since the dawn of civilisation, as soon as we stepped aboard boats and into the water, sharks have benefitted from our being there, it’s not this new thing people seem to think it is. This idea that politicians or just the everyday man on the street is going to want to protect something simply because it’s the right thing to do is not only naive, it is grossly misguided. People need incentives to commit to things long term and that incentive has to be financial for it to work properly. 

Most of the best places in the world to see sharks are third world or developing nations, these nations are already being exploited by fishing fleets looking to empty their waters of fish before leaving them with nothing and heading on to the next location to destroy and for people with nothing, short term financial relief offered by destructive industries is going to be preferable to seeing your family starve. What shark dive operations in these areas can do is provide long term careers and financial stability to areas in desperate need, not just directly linked to the shark feed either but to all the other ancillary businesses which benefit from an influx of tourism capital.

People who say that these feeds condition sharks to view humans as food or as a source of food simply do not understand sharks, sharks are not mindless killers, to imply that seeing a diver behind a cage will condition that shark to equate a diver outside a cage, in a different location, as food is just complete nonsense, akin to claiming a dog can learn to drive a car because he sits in the back seat when you take him to the park. The people who continue to make these claims are implying, whether they realise it or not, that all cognitive development in sharks is in someway ultimately geared towards aggression towards people which is obviously untrue, but also reduces sharks to nothing more than the big dumb animals portrayed in the movies.

Not all feeds are safe, not all feeds are well intentioned and some are downright irresponsible, but we cannot condense an industry which on the whole does some incredible things for shark conservation, into one which is creating man-eating sharks prowling the coasts looking for people to eat because the facts don’t lie, shark feeds have not increased the number of shark attacks or the risk of shark attack, anywhere on the planet, the link just does not exist. Those with moral or ethical concerns about the practice need to consider what is better, shutting the feeds down and letting the fishermen in to wipe out the sharks, or choosing not to partake personally in these dives but appreciating the conservation benefit they can provide.

A protected site under  the stewardship of local employees which serves as a site to take tourists out to see what magnificent animals sharks are is the best available scenario we have and shark eco-tourism, is possibly the last remaining realistic way we can halt and then hopefully reverse the alarming decline in global shark numbers. 

Or even, how do you feel about the controversy surrounding baited dives?
It’s a controversial issue surrounded by myths and untruths perpetuated by people who really don’t understand the issue of shark behaviour. The primary concern has always been the increase in the perceived risk of attack but it just simply isn’t true, there is zero evidence that a shark feed operation increases the risk of attacks on bathers, divers and surfers, in fact, if you look at the statistics, you are less likely to be bitten by a shark in a location where feeding occurs, than you are in a location where it does not. I recently saw a claim that the cage diving operations at The Neptune Islands, South Australia, could be directly linked to the attacks in Western Australia which is of course ridiculous, but indicative of the kind of opinions some people will believe are credible.

It must also be said however, that if you start a shark feed 100 yards off shore from a popular beach, you will likely encounter problems, not because of the implausible notion that feeding sharks conditions them to humans as food (something which has been largely disproven) but because you will be aggregating sharks, at least periodically, in areas of high human recreational water use. More people, more sharks, more risk of a bite, it’s that simple.


If you are going to open a shark feeding site, you must use common sense, pick a site not used by recreational water users, protect the site so you don’t aggregate sharks for the fishermen and put in place protocols from which you never ever deviate. The basic logistics of a shark feed should be exactly the same every single day, the sharks need to learn what is expected of them and also, your clients must also be aware of what is expected of them, too many shark feeding sites these days are letting clients dictate what they want from a dive as opposed to the operator having full control over their input to the dive. If multiple operators use the same site and the same sharks, but their protocols are wildly different, that could confuse the sharks and could lead to issues later down the line and nobody wants that.
It’s all about common sense, a long term initiative which has the sharks best interests at heart and also, involving local communities. Shark feeds run purely for commercial gain, with no thought for the wellbeing of the sharks, are no good for anybody other than those looking to make a fast buck.