This week's blog is just a quick bit of knowledge from Chris Fallows, who will be appearing in the film 'Price of Existence'.
Adventure Journal posted an image so good I had to share it in my own blog. While the stats are staggering, this is not new information for me. However, the comments from readers were rather interesting. In particular, comparing the numbers of farmed animals that humans kill each year for food to the number of sharks killed each year helped me reach some fundamental conclusions about why that comparison is so wrong.
Number one, and most importantly, sharks are keystone predators. This means their role is to eat other animals, in essence thinning out the herds and keeping the gene pools strong. Since they eat other animals, by nature’s brilliant design, they do not reproduce at the level that animals further down the food chain do. Thus, it is even more catastrophic to slaughter these animals at the level that we do. In case that didn’t make sense, this is bad for two reasons: We’re removing the animals that keep the ocean healthy and doing it at a rate these particular animals can’t bounce back from.
Number two. For the most part, only the fins are being used while the rest of the shark is discarded. Therefore no argument can be made that the killing of so many sharks helps solve the world’s hunger problems. Here’s how it works; Fins go for 20 - 250 times more per pound than the rest of the shark, therefore if your fleet of boats returns packed with fins instead of the rest of the shark, you have that much more valuable of a cargo load.
Number three. There are 7.5 billion of us and counting. When are we going to stop acting like 7 deaths is a tragedy, particularly when the biggest threat to our future existence is our own population problem?
Yes, OCEARCH has gotten scientists to back their projects, but many of these scientists quickly distanced themselves afterward, almost as quickly as Fischer distanced himself from them and their efforts to actually help sharks. Perhaps some had the good sense to be ashamed that they sold out the very animals they loved for personal career advancement via publicity and salary. Others were simply disgusted by what they saw on the boat or by the fact that Fischer continues to move on from one location of destruction to the next, making money and setting up absolutely no conservation plans.
Dr. Domeier, the first scientist to be involved with Fischer and the television programs finally speaks out; internal reports of Fischer's self-serving motivation, concern over his attitude toward the sharks, and a glimpse at the amount of money being made by those who choose to sell out the well-being of sharks for personal gain.
Domeier claims to have taken the high road by remaining silent all this time, which shows that he again is missing the point. The sharks need to be the top priority, not pride or public image. The sharks needed to be saved from the several damaging shows that took place over the last several years, shows that could potentially have been stopped if the truth about Fischer had been publicized. But I imagine money was behind this silence, as it always is, a clause in the contract requiring those aboard the boat not to disparage the show or Fischer or they’d be in breach and subsequently in danger of losing their payments.
Anyway, below are some highlights from the interview. The full interview can be found here. Thanks to Fiji Shark Diving for publishing.
"My wife and I watched one of Fischer’s interviews, on FOX News, from the lobby of the hotel. We sat in stunned silence as he proclaimed that the entire research program was his idea and that he had pulled together the boat, crew and research. Just weeks prior he had proclaimed that I was nothing more than “a passenger with permits.” Suddenly it was clear this was not a good situation for me. The science message was being lost by the growing ego. In the end, I could not bear to watch the series that was based upon my own hard work. I tried to watch an episode during the season when Peter Klimley took my place…I was sickened at how Peter was made to look so foolish…turned it off again."
"Our success was not due to the exceptional fishing prowess of Fischer; it was due to years and years of my observation, study and note taking."
"Chris wanted to use the crane to pull the sharks onto the platform (yikes)."
"there was no reason to buy such big circle hooks"
"I don’t have huge tv deals and corporate sponsors. So what’s the problem? Fischer slammed my app (and me personally) when it debuted and encouraged people not to purchase it. No, I don’t give the data to Fischer…why should I…it’s my data? He got all the TV shows and celebrity status he wanted…I got data. Furthermore, releasing research results prior to publishing can be problematic when the time comes to publish. Ask any researcher about that. I’ve been sharing more data lately simply to try to keep my organization afloat. But the last person I want running around the world, interpreting my unpublished data, is Chris Fischer. But that hasn’t stopped him from doing so. His brand building (photo shoots and interviews with big hooks draped around his neck, the hyped fishing template for the show) really hurt my reputation as a legitimate researcher. "
"I brought Fischer into my world…he took my idea and crafted an entirely new career/image for himself. He even used the experience to gain his coveted Explorer Club status. Brett’s a good guy, but even he will tell you he (Brett) had no interest in catching sharks…even as we were heading to Guadalupe for the first time. If it wasn’t for my bringing Fischer into the marine science world, and consequently primetime television…he would be sitting in his home in Park City without a big boat waiting at the dock. Yes, he was about to lose the boat."
"Fischer was getting $400K/episode."
"We were able to make multiple episodes from a single trip. Furthermore, I tapped two other private foundations to help pay for the tags and research; financial support that he never acknowledges. Fischer was fairly paid for all of the work we did together…this was not a huge philanthropic venture. On the contrary, he made it clear: “no cameras no trips.” The huge $$ figure he throws around must be for the entire operating cost of his ship and production company for each year he was making these television shows. But that’s not a fair way to account for the actual cost of the research (a fraction of the yearly operating budgets were due to the handful of research trips)…and he never discusses the INCOME."
"1) There is no way Chris Fischer ever spent $5 million of his (or anyone else’s) money on my research."
"We joined forces to conduct 2 expeditions before he got a TV deal. My last Guadalupe Island expedition (Fall 2012) cost about $40K…and that was with the boat making a profit. So do the math. Also, there was never going to be a second expedition (2008)."
- End of interview excerpts
In Louis CK's latest standup comedy special (brilliant as usual) he stated "Do you realize we've removed ourselves from the food chain? That's a pretty big accomplishment considering that every other living thing on this planet is likely to die as a meal for something else."
In this day and age not being on the food chain is an obvious "given" to most of us, not something we think about, much less appreciate. Thus I had to stop and consider how much different life would be if I had to peek out my front door before heading to work for fear a large predator was waiting to pounce.
As a species we've come to believe that the laws of nature don't apply to us, and the food chain is no exception. Perhaps that's why shark attacks are always a media sensation and often come with a cry to find and kill the animal responsible for this outrage. Being put back on the food chain suddenly and unexpectedly is definitely a bit disarming, especially when you believe you are above the laws of nature that apply to EVERYTHING on this planet. Therefore, when a shark is, well, being a shark, we deem it as behaving badly. How dare a shark bite one of our precious 7.5 billion population?! Apparently we're all too special to be subjected to nature's rules.
But Sharks aren't the only animals that kill humans; bears, hippos, crocodiles, lions, dogs, bees, etc. all kill people annually, and do so at a rate far higher than sharks, so why all the hype over shark attacks? I'd have to guess part of the reason is that in the case of other animals, particularly along the lines of hippos and bears, there's a notion that the people somewhat deserved it by entering the specific area where those animals are known to live, such as entering a river in Kenya. Compare that to a family on a beach vacation losing a loved one and it's much more media worthy. Also, in the case of sharks, the area isn't so specific. Just about any location in the ocean has at least one species of shark, therefore there's a chance, although tiny, that a shark encounter can occur anytime you enter the water anywhere.
There are locations notorious for shark attacks, but that doesn't stop us from entering those waters. There are areas known as shark feeding grounds, but that doesn't stop us from being shocked and outraged when a shark bites a lone swimmer in seal infested water. Instead we put up shark nets to prevent sharks from entering areas they've always entered. The result: drowned sharks, drowned seals, drowned turtles, drowned dolphins, drowned birds, etc. and a collapse of the previously existing ecosystem. All so the newly developed hotel chain on the beach can advertise safe swim beaches. Will there come a day when not a single beach isn't claimed for sole human enjoyment, all other creatures be damned?
I'm not saying sharks would make good pets. I'm not saying they aren't dangerous. I'm not saying I want to be eaten (although being bitten and surviving might be cool). But I am saying that we need to start acting like we're part of this earth, not just feeding off the earth. We need to learn to share it. Sharks, whether you love them or hate them, are a necessity. Period. The oceans will die without them and in fact are dying as shark numbers decline.
Considering the effect of our exponentially expanding population, being back on the food chain could very well be the best thing for future of the human race as well as the rest of this planet. So the next time you hear about someone being eaten, perhaps a little gratitude, not anger, should be the feelings expressed toward mother nature.
BTW, for your convenience, here are my two favorite parts from LCK's special. Food Chain and Of Course...but Maybe.
Admittedly, I was concerned that China, Japan, Gambia, India, and Granada would successfully con and bribe sharks and rays off the CITES Appendix II list they had just been added to a few days earlier, today, the decisions stood, those countries failed, and sharks won. When I say sharks won, I actually mean the world won. The entire planer cannot survive without the ocean and the ocean cannot survive without sharks.
The new classification is intended to ensure exports of these commercially fished animals are sustainable and legal. Great news! However, defining what "sustainable" means is another battle...considering the devastating techniques used in modern fishing and the collapse of 90% of the ocean's predatory fishes in the last 50 years, I believe there is room for argument on whether the defined limits are in fact sustainable. And of course there is the issue of enforcement of these limits.
But enough pessimism from me. Hurray for today's victory. It is a step forward and a sign that the world is waking up.
Read more here.
If sharks used OCEARCH excuses
The following is an interview with one of the scientists talked into working with Ocearch. As a beneficiary to Ocearch funding it only makes sense for the scientist to promote the research. Looking past the political answers one can see the limits of value Ocearch tagging is providing.
MG: What drew you to join the Ocearch as Chief Scientist in 2012?
RJ: Ocearch NGO approached me a couple of years prior to them arriving in South Africa. Chris Fischer then suggested his ideas and the research potential that his organization could offer the South Africa scientific community. Being a shark biologist from South Africa, I am mandated to produce knowledge to enable the informed management and conservation of sharks in our region. The most powerful tool currently available to produce this data is satellite telemetry work that enables the description of home ranges, critical habitats, and migratory patterns. This statement implies that SPOT tags (tags used by Ocearch) are the only means of obtaining this knowledge. In reality, scientists across the globe have been using the uninvasive satellite tags known as PAT tags to study shark movements and migrations for well over a decade. The groundbreaking information in 2004 of the white shark Nicole traveling from South Africa to Australia in 2004 was provided by PAT tags. Leading researchers from Stanford and Monterey have been successfully publishing papers regarding white shark migration using only PAT tags. This knowledge is essential to empower managers and conservationists to guide their action in an effective manner. Ocearch has not provided a plan to protect the sharks and according to press interviews does not plan to. On the contrary many shark advocates are concerned that real time tracking to the general public is allowing poachers to more easily find the sharks. Despite existing knowledge (prior to SPOT tags) of shark locations, actual protection of sharks in these waters has been nearly nonexistent. Action to stop existing threats is needed more than more migration data. As a developing country South Africa does not frequently have sufficient resources to dedicate the required logistics and finances to research that will answer these crucial questions. Ocearch producing these resources for the South African shark academic community to use and fulfill our research mandate was what attracted to the opportunity. In addition, on review, the practical skills of the Ocearch team made them a perfect partner to conduct this research with. In other words, this is all about money. Ocearch's methods are inhumane and damaging, but accepted anyway in exchange for badly needed resources.
MG: How many sharks have been tagged by the Ocearch?
RJ: During the South African Expedition, a total of 47 sharks were tagged with various combinations of transmitters consisting of one/some or all of (a) SPOT satellite tags, (b) acoustic transmitters and (c) PAT satellite tags. This included six ragged tooth sharks in addition to the white sharks. Over the years I am unsure of how many sharks in total Ocearch have tagged. Sharks are tagged every single day. There is no shortage of data, we are only short on real action to protect them. To imply that continued tagging is necessary to save the species is misleading sensationalist jargon used to sway the public.
MG: Tell us about why is it important to tag sharks?
RJ: Tracking the movements of sharks enable scientists to identify critical habitats, the home range, migratory pathways, reproduction related movements. This data already existed without SPOT tags. Ocearch likes to make it sound as though they are revealing this data, which is not true. However, stating it as such makes them sound like heroes in the press and on television. With this knowledge you can guide management and conservation plans, essentially you empower people to design plans that will enable the effective conservation of the population. Again, this knowledge already exists. Failure to protect sharks is the issue. We already know many congregation sites and migration patterns, but still struggle to protect the animals even in these areas. For instance, the Oceach program illustrated that the population range of white shark stock of South Africa extends extensively into the exclusive economic zone of Mozambique. Directly misleading quote. This scientist, as well as any other white shark biologist has known for over a decade that sharks travel well outside the EEZ. Again, failure to act upon this data is the shortcoming, not the data itself. As white sharks are not protected in Mozambique, our national conservation plan is ineffective in its objective to conserve the population. The knowledge produced provides concrete evidence for South Africa’s legislators to take to Mozambique and use as leverage to ensure that Mozambique’s management of white sharks does not compromise our shared resource. Money and politics. It will not be SPOT tag data that changes the mind of legislators, but pressure and outcry from the world against the slaughter of a badly needed species. As we speak, countries such as China, which hold strong influence over financially struggling countries, actively fight to stop shark conservation, remove sharks from CITES listings, etc. The enemy is before us! It is time to fight, not gather data, much less data that is obtained by damaging the very animal being studied.
MG: What have your learned so far from the data collected?
RJ: That white sharks residing in South Africa spend a large percentage of time outside of out EEZ and in waters where they can legally be fished. Thus giving a possible explanation as to why there has been no population level recovery despite 22 years of national protection. Again, intentionally misleading. SPOT tags are not necessary for this data. Even if SPOT tags could be proven to be, without debate, superior to PAT tags, hauling the shark out of the water has been proven to be unnecessary by Dr. Dormeier, who uses a sling. Dr. Dormeier, btw, has disassociated himself from OCEARCH.
Side note, PAT tags are attached to the white shark's body (not dorsal fin) using a lance as it swims by. That's the end of the process. No damage, no trauma. This tag pops off after a designated time. Hooking, dragging, then hauling the shark out of the water (SPOT tagging) is done for marketing sensationalism and TV drama. Unfortunately, this works in building an audience. Preferably an audience would be built without traumatizing or damaging the shark.
MG: Any close calls with the sharks while performing the internal tagging surgery?
RJ: My only concern is to perform the surgery as quickly and professionally as possible and thereby minimize the stress on the shark. Naturally when sharks have become active on the platform during surgery you can get hit and knocked hard. But following this I need to get back to the surgery, regain my composure and complete it successfully. Afterwards you feel and rub the knocks. How about this close call; a white shark died during the OCEARCH tagging process, others that later died, and excessive damage to jaws and fins as a direct result of OCEARCH. The shark that died on the set of the television show was claimed to have died from anemia. Convenient. One minute it is swimming in the ocean, then it dies after hours of trauma due to being hooked, dragged, then hauled out of water. But, of course, anemia is what killed the shark.
MG: Can you tell us a little bit about Ocearch Global Shark Tracker – Powered by CAT?
RJ: The Ocearch Global Tracker is one of the most revolutionary communication tools ever used by the scientific community to include and inform the wider public about a research project and the results of the research. Essentially it gives everyone instant access to the movements of the sharks tagged and enables them to mine the data to gain a personal knowledge on the behaviour of great white sharks around the world. This level of communication and inclusion is a massive education tool for the public to see past the white shark as a one dimensional man eater. The SPOT tags don't teach the public that the white shark in not a one dimensional killer. Educating the public is what does that. OCEARCH and CAT have a powerful ally in money, they can market any message they want to, which they are doing to mislead the public into thinking that hooking, dragging, maiming, and killing a protected species is the way to do this. Fact is, these funds could simply put put toward educating and promoting the white shark without damaging them.
You can sign a petition to stop OCEARCH and CAT here.
Sign up to support the film exposing the truth behind threats the white shark still faces here.
1. Virtually every day in South Africa scientists either tag , biopsy sample or place cameras on great white sharks. To date more than 300 have been tagged with acoustic pingers and hundreds if not thousands of biopsy samples have been drawn. We also had a project that for 4 seasons at Seal Island placed cameras on the sharks to see what they were eating!
In 1991 The great white was protected in South Africa and that was the end of it. Thereafter there has been zero enforcement.
The Natal Sharks Board still kills 11-60 great whites per year and now even has drum lines to specifically target big sharks. They are still being long lined, they are fished for by sport fishermen from the beaches and from boats, and they are poached by abalone poachers. So other than furthering our knowledge and the careers of scientists, what has been done by any of this invasive research and "knowledge" to save these sharks?
2. From what has been told to me and what I have personally seen the SPOT tags cause massive damage to the sharks dorsal fins, sometimes even causing complete collapse. This project therefore cannot claim past projects ignorance and they are knowingly doing this to these animals with the aim of getting more "data" that once again begs the question of how it will help the sharks?
Is this the only or best way of doing this and will the radical movements of a traumatized animal accurately reflect the behavior of a normal animal?
Having witnessed and recorded over 7500 predatory events, between great whites and Cape fur seals, over the last 16 years I am well aware of the fine margins some of these predatory events are decided by. Besides being ethically wrong to knowingly disfigure an animal, by deforming a key stabilizer to a high speed ambush and pursuit predator, is akin to compromising a F1 race car by removing a aerofoil and still expecting it to compete.
3. Finally and most importantly, there clearly is no compliance in South Africa with regards to breaking the laws pertaining to killing or catching Great White Sharks. There is ample evidence to highlight the fact that we know where , when and by whom the sharks are being fished and poached. It is mostly right under our noses. Nothing is being done to stop this other than by those in conservation circles or by the presence of cage dive operators.
Is it a good idea to now tag these sharks with sattelite tags that pin point areas of regular activity , many of which will be out of the public eye. Surely this is a perfect road map for anyone who wishes to catch them, and with zero enforcement or a plan to change this, is this not just going to add more pressure on these animals?
My whole argument is not against Chris Fischer and the team of scientists involved, it is against the need and principles behind this research and the effects and implications it may have on the sharks going forward.
Whilst I would never want to see great whites being hooked, if it was truly for the benefit of the sharks and conservation as motivated by Dr Boyd, Fischer and co, with a sound plan in place for the sharks protection as well as the arrest and prosecution of anyone catching them, I would be far more supportive of such an effort.
The Ocearch crew is NOT a team of scientists. They are fishermen with fishing backgrounds and are motivated by media endeavors and not science. The scientists they work with are recruited using reward tactics for working with them. The methods used are; out-dated, redundant, proven to kill and maim subjects, and overall is a high risk for low/no gain operation.
Here are the issues of concern:
· The Ocearch team uses a large hook and buoys to drag the shark to near death exhaustion over multiple hours.
a) Other researchers throughout the world have been able to acquire the same data using pole tagging without hooking the shark. (http://www.earthtimes.org/scitech/great-white-wave-glider/2130/)
· Ocearch claims their data is “ground-breaking” for the discovery of “unlocking the secrets of the Great White”.
a) Migration route and gathering locations data has been around for over a decade. Prior to Ocearch, approximately 80-90% of migration loops were known. The use of other tags and photo identification have already shown what SPOT tags are showing. The risks associated with Ocearch’s methods to gain the final 10-20% of data is not justified.
· The Ocearch team uses a platform to raise over 1 ton of animal (designed to be suspended in the water) completely out of the water with its full weight bearing on internal organs and/or any young inside.
a) These effects of such a large mass of weight on internal organs have been shown in other large pelagic fish to show long term higher risk for death and in the case of whales, has been recognized so significantly, it is policy among aquariums to use a sling.
b) Dr. Domeier, the original Ocearch scientist, has recently SPOT tagged a large Great White Shark WITHOUT bringing it out of the water.
c) All other researchers throughout the world are using slings when they need to incapacitate sharks.
· Ocearch claims they are doing this for “conservation”.
a) To date, Ocearch’s efforts in conservation have been almost absent. They have not joined in any petitions to protect sharks. They have not used their connections to create significant actions to protect sharks. They did not make any efforts to change laws, even after 2 of their tagged sharks were illegally caught, killed, and finned.
b) There is not a major shark conservation group who has received any major offers of “help in conservation”, nor do any of these groups publicly endorse Ocearch’s conservation efforts.
· Ocearch claims their SPOT tags are the “newest” and “only” way to acquire the data.
a) New technology in tags allows for the use of other tags applied in a less risk operation to supply the same data.
b) Ocearch has stated they have an average of 25% failure rate for the tags and data.
· Ocearch claims operations are safe and sound.
a) Off California, they gut-hooked their first large shark and then it swallowed a buoy. One of the crew was seen shoving his foot inside the gills to get the buoy out. Blood was seen coming from the anus. The shark showed up a year later emaciated and with a first-of-a-kind seen wound on a Great White Shark.
b) Off South Africa, their report to the South African Government stated they were directly responsible for the deaths of 3 sharks.
c) In South Africa, researchers involved have stated off record the condition of several of the sharks was questionable, including having to assist the animals for up to 2 hours to regain strength to swim away.
d) Their most recent capture off Florida shows the shark with “Rope burns” as reported directly by Ocearch.
e) There have been several sharks that were reported in “failing condition” that did not ping in a few months later. These sharks have not been visualized since.
f) There have now been well over a dozen sharks photographed with; fouled tags failing to come off as designed, fins torn or malformed due to failure of the tag, and wounds or marks resulting from the capture method. (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0027242)
g) Out of roughly 60 animals that Ocearch has captured and tagged, over half have been reported: dead, injured, maimed, or failing to transmit data.
· Ocearch claims it is supported by the top researchers in the world.
a) Their first scientist, Dr. Domeier, no longer supports Ocearch and has distanced himself.
b) The second scientist, Dr. Klimley, will no longer make any public comments regarding his support or relationship with Ocearch.
c) A majority of his “researchers” are interns, students, assistants, etc.
d) A majority of his “top researchers” that are legitimate have received benefits directly from Ocearch or indirectly through media attention.
e) A large portion of the science community does not support Ocearch’s methods.
· Ocearch is not a legitimate conservation company with honest scientific intentions.
a) Their financial grosses in media coverage and contracts have far exceeded the budget of the same research operation through other researchers.
b) Dr. Domeier has publicly stated he, “questions Fischer’s motive”.
c) Inside reports from National Geographic and Discovery revealed dishonesty and questionable motives behind Chris Fischer’s actions.
d) Ocearch’s “conservation efforts” are only brought into question just prior to their attempts to air a TV series. Outside of that timeframe, conservation efforts are significantly lacking.
e) Chris Fischer is NOT a scientist. He has no background in science, nor education. Yet he continues to be seen in the media giving scientific information rather than the actual scientists involved giving it directly. As such, he as often given out inaccurate or irrelevant facts.
f) Inside reports have said Chris Fischer “hesitated”, “was resistant”, or “completely disinterested” when approached to do research without the ability to film or air episodes.
The bottom line is Ocearch is operating a high risk operation for media endeavors. They have killed, wounded, and maimed animals and their “data” has not been so significant to “save the species” any further than current efforts. Their operations are highly controversial in a negative manner, imbedded with bad publicity, and contracts are laced with drama.
Caterpillar is a world-renown company that embodies quality, high standards, safe equipment and operations, and honest business endeavors. We urge Caterpillar not to tarnish the company by supporting such a questionable operation.
Please pull your support from Ocearch. If ocean or species conservation is a desire, we encourage you to put those financial resources into true conservation efforts through proven legitimate operations. A list of organizations and research projects that have a history of sound practices is available.