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Nurse Sharks of Belize — indahs: dive, travel & photography

22nd edition of Marine Life monthly post. Marine Life post published every 19th of the month. It aims to share information on marine life species and to promote their conservation. The Nurse sharks are a common sight when scuba diving in Ambergris Caye (Belize). They usually swim in a group and a chance to meet two […]

via Nurse Sharks of Belize — indahs: dive, travel & photography

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Greenland sharks can live to 400 years old, only reach sexual maturity at 150

Researchers using radiocarbon dating have determined that Greenland sharks, slow-moving giants that live in the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic, are the longest-living vertebrates on Earth, with one recorded as being 400 years old. Which explains the old Greenland shark quip that goes something like: “God must like practical jokes; why would He make […]

via Scientists say Greenland sharks can live for 400 years — The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

Shark Week snubs scientists, increases fear of sharks

As is becoming common this time of year, my Twitter feed has been swamped with Shark Week vitriol – from swimmers who are now more afraid to go in the water to scientists angry at the lack of consultation that goes into a few of the fake documentaries appearing during the event.

Apart from the fact Discovery Channel ignores the rest of the world when it comes to sharing Shark Week with non-Americans, from what I’ve seen of the clips there seems to be a dearth of well-researched, informative programming.

Christie Wilcox writes for the Discover Magazine and her summaries of the week should be required reading for anyone watching Shark Week, including this post on falling ratings and viewer angst:

“It’s the third day of Shark Week, and Discovery has already come under fire for their programming choices. Their big special on kick-off night—Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarineturned out to be another fake documentary, making up people and events to perpetuate the idea that a 30+ ft long great white patrols the coast of South Africa. The legend of Submarine is a particularly fishy topic choice, as its origin can be traced to the 1970s when some journalists decided to make up a story to see how gullible their readers were.”

As some commenters have noted this week, if the focus was spread from great whites to lesser-known threatened species of sharks, their public profile and survival chances might improve. A great white throwing a seal pup in the air or biting a cage might make for exciting TV but shouldn’t the week be about promoting all sharks, not just the most photogenic ones? 

Australian Government Scraps Management Plans For New National System Of Marine Reserves

With the international flak over its shark culling programs and threats to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia should be working hard on other fronts to promote its ocean conservation agenda. Sadly, the Coalition Government is intent on making things worse for those who care about the ocean and instead assisting commercial fisheries with its removal of some marine park protections.

Thanks to MPA News for the article below. To view an updated map of global marine protected areas, visit Protect Planet Ocean.

The new Coalition Government in Australia, elected by national vote in September, has scrapped management plans developed by the prior Labor Government for most of the nation’s representative system of MPAs.  The impacted MPAs are the 33 sites that were designated in 2012 by the Labor Government.  The dropped management plans would have taken effect in July 2014.

The impacted sites increased the national MPA system last year from 27 sites to 60, expanding the system to a total of 3 million km2 (MPA News 14:3 and 14:1).

The sites include the 1-million km2 Coral Sea Marine Reserve, of which roughly half would have been no-take under its now-dropped management plan.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told MPA News in October that the new reserves were “imposed without fair or adequate consultation” of industry, and would unfairly lock out recreational fishermen from large areas of the ocean (MPA News 15:2).  He said the sites’ management must be reviewed and redeveloped before final management plans are adopted by Parliament.

The management plans for the 33 sites were passed by the Australian House of Representatives – one half of Parliament – earlier this year.  Some conservationists anticipated the Senate – the other half of Parliament – would pass the plans, too, in coming months, thus making the plans law.  But the Coalition Government scrapped the plans on 16 December by having the nation’s Governor-General re-proclaim the reserves, effectively restarting the management plan development process.

However, the Coalition Government stopped short of calling for a review of the sites’ boundaries.  The boundaries will remain as designated under the Labor Government, although for the time being they are simply lines on a map.  Their designation one year ago followed a series of six phases of public consultation conducted by the Labor Government, with strong support from conservation organizations and opposition from several fishing industry groups, including commercial and recreational ones.

A review of the management plans, expected to last about six months, will now begin.  The Government will appoint a scientific panel and several Bioregional Advisory Panels to facilitate and improve consultation with stakeholders.  The make-up of the panels will be announced in early 2014.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s statement on the MPA management plans:

http://bit.ly/managementplans

Statement by Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation on scrapping of MPA management plans:

www.recreationalfishing.com.au/index.php/rss/31-coalition-government-delivers-on-marine-park-promise-to-australia-s-5-million-recreational-fishers

Statement by Australian Marine Conservation Society on scrapping of MPA management plans:

www.marineconservation.org.au/news.php/153/uncertain-future-for-worlds-largest-network-of-marine-reserves

Reef sharks and aggressive triggerfish: diving on Fiji’s Coral Coast

I’m still sorting through about 200 short videos from my Fiji trip so put together a clip of some highlights from the first week. I could make a Finding Nemo sequel with all the anemonefish footage (though they weren’t the clownfish variety but still very cute). Yes, not all fish in anemones are clownfish – try telling that to kids who grew up watching Nemo and expect to see talking orange and white-striped fish under every rock 🙂

And the fishing shot at the end is from a morning trip with a local villager, who charged tourists FJ$50 to help catch fish for his village. Well worth the (minor) expense and my first chance to see reef sharks up close, though my videos were mainly blurry.

Blue shark attacked by Jaws! Ok, not Jaws but still…

Another one from the “Overhyped Shark Attack” Files, this one is a little more unusual than the common ‘Jaws bites man/woman/pet pitbull’ stories.

Bastion of truth and journalistic excellence*, UK’s Daily Mirror had this report on a blue shark caught by fishermen off Cornwall with reasonably small bite marks sustained by a “10 foot” shark of some description…

Supposed experts are said to be looking into the attack, which happened when one of the fishos hooked a 60lb blue shark and then watched a larger shark – thought to be a great white – takes bites out of the blue before they could pull their catch onboard.

The reporter makes the surprising mention that “Although it usually eats other sea creatures, it attacks between five and 10 humans a year around the world and has killed 29 since 1990.”

Many gossip rags don’t usually admit that white sharks are ravenous for human flesh, so this is a big admission for a tabloid.

More from the fisherman who snagged it:

“The blue shark looked like someone had taken a machete to it.

“There’s nothing round here that can do that sort of damage. I sent the ­pictures to a shark expert and he ­believes it could well be a great white.”

Well, that’s sorted then: if an ‘expert’ says so, great white it is! But probably not. Great whites can roam vast distances and aspects such as climate change-affected ocean currents or shortage of food (i.e. seals, not people) may have encouraged one closer to the UK southern coast.

Without more confirmed sightings and review by real experts, we’ll have to wave this off as a poorly-identified mako attacking a small bluey and leave it at that.

 

Photo: Mirror.co.uk

Photo: Mirror.co.uk

*For those not aware of sarcasm, this is a relatively straightforward example. The Mirror sits slightly above other UK papers The Sun and the defunct News of the World for integrity and believability.

Palau weighs up cost of banning foreign trawlers; Fiji conference beckons

The MPA News is a regular and very word-heavy newsletter with usually at least newsy story to interest those not excited by the remaining policy-driven interviews (some would call them ‘boring but important’).

This piece from the latest newsletter looked at Palau’s plan to ban foreign commercial fishing from their Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles from a country’s coast), a strategy that will deprive the country of license revenue but boost the local fishery and of course the sustainability of fish populations for the long-term.

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guina

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guinea

Earlier this year, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau announced he intends to ban foreign commercial fishing throughout his nation’s 604,000-km2 EEZ.  A study group is now examining the “total marine sanctuary” proposal, as it is known.  The examination will include how the large protected area would be financed.

Like Kiribati and other Pacific Island nations, Palau generates revenue from the sale of commercial fishing licenses to foreign tuna vessels.  The closure of Palau’s EEZ to foreign commercial fishing would result in a loss of fishing license revenue.  Umiich Sengebau, Palau’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism, told MPA News the marine sanctuary study group is exploring all possible options for offsetting that revenue loss, including conceivably a reverse fishing license mechanism like PIPA’s.

That being said, Palauan waters are not as tuna-rich as other nations in the region, and as a result Palau is not as dependent on fisheries revenue as Kiribati and others.  Palau has focused instead on other revenue sources, particularly the use of environmental protection as a lure for foreign tourism.
This led Palau to designate its waters as a shark sanctuary in 2009.

In a speech in Monaco this year, President Remengesau said, “People have started to equate Palau with sharks.  Palau has effectively cornered the market on seeing sharks.  This is only the beginning of what the protection of apex predators can accomplish for us.”

An article on the total marine sanctuary plan, as well as Palau’s new initiative to test the use of drones to enforce its shark sanctuary, is at http://bit.ly/totalmarinesanctuary

On another note, I’ve signed up to volunteer at the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas in Fiji in December.

A uni lecturer (written about previously for her efforts in promoting seaweed cuisine) helped to initiate contact with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, which saw my previous PR and journalism experience as a useful addition to their conference team.

Should be a fascinating experience, as well as chance to explore more of Fiji in between long days at the conference!

Conference promotional poster

Conference promotional poster

Japan still misses point on whale, doplhin and shark conservation

A very small section of Japanese society would like to eat this guy. Photo: www.capelodge.com.au

A very small section of Japanese society would like to eat this guy. Photo: http://www.capelodge.com.au

Like many who care about the fate of some of the world’s biggest marine creatures, I’ve been watching in disbelief at the farcical arguments being thrown around at the International Court of Justice over the past two weeks.

Australia is aiming, through the ICJ, to prove that Japan’s Southern Ocean JARPA program is actually a commercial operation.

But, just as Japan has done at CITES and various other major environmental meetings, they couldn’t let commonsense and good legal arguments cloud their representations.

Just look at Japan’s greatest hits from one day of the ‘trial’, (story appeared in Wednesday’s Guardian)

“Japan insists lethal research is both lawful and necessary”

Tokyo was seeking “scientific information on the basis of which Japan might be able to ask for the moratorium [on commercial whaling] to be lifted”

Japan itself had reason to be offended by Australia’s “factual misrepresentations and … misleading use of selective references and quotes”, Tsuruoka said.

The Japanese government told the UN’s top judicial body it was a court of law, not a “medieval inquisition”

I think Japan may have been feeling like this:

I think this is a 'medieval inquisition', which looks very unlike the ICJ courtroom Photo: morriscourse.com

I think this is a ‘medieval inquisition’, which looks very unlike the ICJ courtroom
Photo: morriscourse.com

But after all the nonsense arguments from Japan, they still missed the point: ‘After the hearing, government spokesman Noriyuki Shikata told AAP that Japan was content with its “powerful case”.’

I’m no lawyer but a “powerful case” in this arena would seem to be one based on watertight arguments and sound scientific backing and hopefully support from other countries who have proven strong environmental consciousness. Not from those with commercial whaling programs and vested interests in keeping the dream alive for their kids who one day will get to harpoon whales, just like their parents.

Carl Safina, in the Huffington Post, wrote about a similar situation at the CITES meeting in March, where Japan and China were fighting to keep endangered sharks… well, off the endangered list:

… Because Japanese and Chinese delegates are applying intense pressure (read: $) on certain poor countries in Africa and elsewhere to reverse their votes. Japan always does this, bribing countries with aid packages or even individual delegates with cash. And so, a week that has started with a monumental decision for sharks may conclude with another black eye for shark conservation and for CITES.

At least these countries weren’t successful, this time:

Delegates at the triennial meeting in Bangkok of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna adopted the proposals to put the oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks on a list of species whose trade is closely controlled.

More than two dozen species of shark are officially endangered, and more than 100 others considered either vulnerable or near threatened. Like manta rays, sharks are seen as valuable to nations with dive tourism industries, with island territories such as the Bahamas, Fiji and the Maldives deriving major benefits. Eleven nations, including Brazil, the U.S. and Egypt, proposed regulating trade in the species.

The oceanic whitetip proposal passed in a secret ballot with 92 votes in favor, 42 against and 8 abstentions, while the hammerhead proposal passed with 91 votes in favor and 39 against. The porbeagle proposal was adopted with 93 votes in favor, 39 against and 8 abstentions.

It seems that international trade and foreign relations plays a big part in whether a country feels safe to denounce the whaling or shark and dolphin hunting activities of another.

Australia is a key market for Japanese cars and gadgets and they provide vast tourism dollars and a market for our grain, beef and raw materials so there is some financial risk here (but you could safely say, not as big a risk as the Sea Shepherd crews have been taking each summer during Antarctic whaling season).

Economic sanctions by Japan could potentially hurt our economy but if other countries step up and support Australia’s position at the ICJ, it could help Japan to change its position on whales, sharks and dolphins and become active in seeking their protection.

Mako shark still seen as trophy fish for local club competition

I was walking with my favourite Park Ranger yesterday on our usual wander near the Warrnambool Breakwater (the long stone wall in the background of these shots) and noticed a crowd around the weigh-in scales.

At first I thought one of the local tuna fishermen had hoisted up a decent fish for the benefit of tourists (who usually don’t appreciate the plight of the southern bluefin, but that’s another story). On making a path through the onlookers, my partner and I were pretty horrified to see a 110kg mako shark on the scale and a few impressed fishermen boasting about the catch.

08062013523

Of course fishing for various shark species such as mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) and gummy (Mustelus antarcticus) is still legal in Australia (limits vary by state and territory) but hearing one fishermen state this was a “common shark in these waters” made me cringe: they are still heavily fished and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Hanging one up in front of a crowd helps continue the “man vs shark” stereotype that is continuing to push down shark numbers worldwide, whether for commercial or recreational purposes. Sizing up the shark when it’s caught, using circle hooks and operating on a catch-and-release basis is the only way to go for maintaining healthy shark populations.

08062013524

Circle hooks more humane choice for sharks, rays and sportfish

Just saw this Southern Fried Science post (nothing to do with chicken, everything to do with shark conservation) about the benefit of using circle hooks – a method I’m yet to try but definitely support.

Here’s their description of the hooks:

Circle hooks are used by recreational and commercial hook-and-line fisheries (and many longliners) to reduce hooking mortality in large fishes, sharks, and bycatch animals like sea turtles.  The idea is that the hook more or less works by itself without being set like a J-hook.  The shape of the hook prevents swallowing and encourages hooking in the corner of the mouth, where it’s less likely to do serious damage.

Some great shots in the post show how easy it is to remove circle hooks, up against the traditional hook technique. Many fisherman now cut off the barbs from their standard hooks – they may lose more fish but it helps cut down on damage, especially for sportfishing and the difficulty of returning undersize fish once they have been foul-hooked or swallow a barbed hook.

Photo: Andrew Thaler, southernfriendscience.com

Photo: Andrew Thaler, southernfriedscience.com

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