Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thank you Palau! Sharks can keep their fins.

Last April, Palau announced they were considering legislation to legalize shark fishing for foreign vessels in their water. Yes – Palau. A country who relies upon tourism for over 60% of their GDP – the majority of that being dive tourism.

Over the last several months, Shark Savers, with the support of several international and local Palau organizations, has been actively conducting a campaign to protest this legislation, engaging citizens of the world to appeal to the government of Palau through individual letters and through a petition. And in that time, countless letters have been written while the petition gained over 4,500 signatures; many from tourists who had or were planning on visiting Palau.

A month ago, we received notice that an independent governmental committee had assessed the legislation and made the recommendation to repeal this legislation – in part thanks to the outpouring of support from folks who participated in our campaign.

This month, I am sure everyone is aware by now that Palau has completely changed their stance. A true 180 degree strategy shift. Instead of opening their waters, Palau has unequivocally closed them – creating the world’s first national shark sanctuary. 240,000 square miles protecting 130 species of sharks. And while Palau, like so many other countries, does not have the funds to enforce the sanctuary to the level needed (a recent flyover revealed 70 long lining boats in these waters) and our work is clearly not done, it is an important step. One that deserves some recognition!

Please sign the thank you card to President Toribiong and Palau. We will be presenting this to him to celebrate this win and show everyone that together, we can protect sharks. Hopefully this attention ignites much more positive change.

And besides, it is so nice to sign something positive related to shark conservation, isn't it? We would like to get at least 10,000 signatures, so please have everyone you know sign it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

There's more to South Africa than Cage Diving: Don't miss the sharks of Aliwal Shoal

(Photo by Mark Van Coller:

My article on Aliwal Shoal - my favorite place on earth - is running this month in Sport Diver. Initially, I was thrilled to bring some US attention to the spot and to an operator, that to me, represents exactly what you are looking for when you go shark diving. Someone who cares about the sharks, who is passionate, who is knowledgable, and who walks the talk - in this case donating, even in hard times, an incredible amount to shark conservation. When people ask me to define the perfect shark dive operators, I think of only a few special people around the world. And, Mark & Gail Addison are leaders amongst them.

(Mark ensuring we get our footage for the Remove the Nets campaign.)

I guess I naively didn't realize that everything was for sale - and instead of running the story with the ONLY operator I would EVER dive with in Aliwal, they ran it with the operator that presumably paid the most in advertising dollar. And while not stating it outright, it certainly implies this is the operator I dive with - and an operator the reader should contact. An incredible shame and lost opportunity for anyone who reads the article and doesn't do their research.

For the record - go to Aliwal. And, when you go, don't consider diving with anyone other than Blue Wilderness, and two incredibly special people that will always be some of the best friends the sharks of South Africa have. We need more people on this earth like them.

And now, the story. (I prefer the original un-edited version, of course!)

(Yes, that is three shark species in one picture at Aliwal.)

Backflipping over the approaching pack of black tips distracted by the whale shark above, I came face to face with a pair of fifteen-foot tiger sharks sneaking up on me from behind. A nightmare? Hardly. Try shark lovers’ paradise.

Those who crave the big animal experience – particularly the dorsal-finned variety – know South Africa has some of the sharkiest waters in the world. But, tragically, many stop at a cage diving experience in Cape Town, missing out on some of the best shark diving on the planet. I, however, prefer my sharks outside of cages, and it is a particular striped species I crave - which is how I first learned about Aliwal Shoal. 40 kilometres south of Durban, infamous for its tigers, Aliwal seems like a far way to go – that is until you actually get into the water. One day at Aliwal, and you will go to any length to return.

A shark diving experience can be graded on five distinct factors: activity, number of animals, size, species diversity, and interaction quality. Having dived some of the best shark spots in the world, the legendary Aliwal Shoal managed to exceed my every expectation in seconds. Grade: A+.

Slipping eagerly into the water, the sharks revealed themselves in layers, three species deep. A handful of hulking Zambezis lurking shyly at the bottom, the unmistakable presence of no less than seven gargantuan tigers gracefully gliding in the water column, and too many oceanic blacktips darting about at the surface like over-active terriers to count. My head was spinning; this was shark sensory overload.

I spent the next two hours at 15 feet completely spellbound, as the sharks took turns personally introducing themselves – each with their own distinctive flair. I got to know them all: the blacktips, full of vim and vigour, boldly approaching until they were close enough that you could feel their electric energy, the tigers with their favorite, disarming game - sneaking up only to coolly change intent as soon as they were caught in the act, and the Zambezi as distrusting as shy children until their curiosity inevitably got the best of them.

It was the kind of dive that puts you off macro diving forever. It was the kind of dive you speak of to complete strangers. And in my case, it was the kind of dive that changes your life.

Since then, Aliwal has become my passion and shameless addiction. Because Aliwal delivers some of the most extraordinary and unimaginable big animal encounters the ocean can offer. Believe it or not, a dive with 50 tiger, blacktip and zambezi sharks is just an average day.

The article the way it should have been:
The actual article is below:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thank you Windsor! The World's First Shark Friendly Town is in England

What does it mean to be shark friendly? Well, in Windsor, England, it means no shark products are sold anywhere in the city limits: not a single cartilage pill at the local herbal shop, not a single rock salmon steak at a restaurant, not a single bowl of shark fin soup, and not a single shark tooth trinket at a souvenir stand. Yes, the favorite home of the queen is now the FIRST place in the world to be considered officially “Shark Friendly”.

A few weeks ago, Kim and I were hosted by Dale Bowie for the festivities, whose brainchild it was to have a Shark Awareness week. It was a well-planned, wonderful event geared around raising awareness, and funds, for shark related causes.

An informational donation booth in the center of the town, evening screenings and lectures, school presentations, a raffle that raised over $5,000 USD for shark causes including The Shark Trust, Sea Shepherd and Shark Angels, a special batch of Lush’s Shark Fin Soap on sale, an organized egg case hunt, a shark dive, and much more - all culminating into the finale: the presentation of the world’s first Shark Friendly award to the Deputy Mayor of Windsor. (Shame, the Queen Mum herself wasn’t in the neighborhood.)

Indeed, Dale and his local group of dive and shark enthusiasts had managed to get all of the shark products out of Windsor, ensuring that not only was this event special – it was the first of its kind. Well done Dale, Sea Shepherd UK and Aquatic Element.

Now let’s hope this sets in motion a far bigger movement and soon, many more localized efforts will kick off, with many more municipalities joining suit.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Be a Shark Friendly Consumer... Help Protect Sharks When You Buy

Many people assume that because they don’t eat shark fin soup – then they can’t possibly be contributing to the demise of the sharks. And while shark fin soup does account for a considerable amount of shark consumption, there are many other culprits. It isn’t just something that can be blamed on a single culture or country.

Often, I find many people surprised – including myself – to discover what shark is actually used in. And it isn’t always the usual, easy to identify products, say with the word shark in the product name, like shark steaks, shark teeth or shark leather. Certain energy drinks, pet supplements, vitamins, lotions, dog chew toys, and even lipsticks - to name but a few - are all known to contain shark products.

One quite underhanded technique restaurants and stores often employ is masking the use of shark by changing the name. Take for instance, the poor, little Spiny Dogfish Shark. Not a well-known, charismatic shark so it remains in the shadows of its sexy cousins: the tigers, bulls, and hammerheads. But, the Spiny Dogfish Sharks’ population is plummeting worldwide and critically facing extinction – in fact, it is already considered commercially extinct in certain areas. And this relatively unknown shark was one of two (or three if you run with the folks that put the sawfish in this group) being considered last year for addition to the CITES Appendix that currently protects only white, whale and basking sharks from international trade.

Who would eat this shark? Well, if you live in the UK, maybe you or someone you know. How is that possible? Because these sharks have been re-labeled in the UK to a more, well, appealing term: Rock Salmon. Mmmm… Sounds far more tasty to those who eat fish, no?

Indeed, many of the fish & chip shops that so many Brits know and love commonly have Rock Salmon on the menu. And even if it isn’t on the menu, a simple inquiry will lead you to discover it is often available by request or even featured as a special. That’s why many of us in shark conservation have stopped frequenting these places. We would never support a restaurant or store that sold shark – even if the chips are the best thing we have ever tasted.

That is why we were thrilled to find a fish & chips shop in Windsor on our Shark Awareness week visit that was indeed shark friendly. Dale Bowie, the organizer of the event, introduced us to it. (And of course it would have to be – since he was able to ensure Windsor is the first town ever to be shark friendly.) No rock salmon sold here! Good for you, Ronnie Shaw.

For some of us, like Steve Roest, CEO of Sea Shepherd, it was the first batch of chips enjoyed in a long, long while. And for some of us, it was a first – and I must say, with the malt vinegar, I think I was pretty much eating little slices of heaven – that was until I couldn’t stand watching Steve drool as I enjoyed them, having scarfed his own down too quickly. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for “seconds”, but only because it was actually “fourths” considering he had managed to weasel half of both Kim's and my chips as well.

The moral of this story, besides of course exercising some control when consuming chips with others lest they out you on Facebook to the world, is to always be an aware, informed consumer. Know what is in that “pollack” - processed "white fish" - you are eating in the form of crab sticks, patties or fish cakes because it can possibly be shark. Don’t take or drink any supplements with “Chondroitin“ - derived from shark cartilage - in them. Never use any cosmetic products (including makeup, lotions and deodorants) that contain Squalene which is shark liver oil – in fact just buy the cruelty-free variety all the time. No matter how much you like those shark’s tooth earrings, or the shark leather wallet, don’t buy them. And under no circumstances order the Rock Salmon, let alone eat at a restaurant that serves it. In fact, if you are really serious about protecting sharks, since over ½ of that 100,000,000 sharks caught yearly are caught as by-catch, only eat sustainably caught seafood, or, better yet, do like I do and just refrain from eating anything from the sea. That way, no matter how a fish is re-labeled, you can be sure you are doing your part.

To enjoy Shark Friendly chips when in Windsor, visit: Ronnie Shaw's Great British Fish & Chips on Thames Road right across from the castle. Tell Ronnie we sent you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sharks Board doing its civil duty to destroy the planet... More white sharks killed

And the killing continues...

Sharks Board caught a 4.2 meter white shark (almost 1 ton) on a drumline three days ago in Zinkwazi and a 2.8 meter white shark yesterday.
Both sharks are protected in South Africa - and world wide - and on the IUCN red list. Apparently there is much controversy around how KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board caught the sharks as usual (reportedly they released the first shark from a drumline - which is highly unlikely since the mortality rate of whites on drumlines is incredibly high), but the pictures speak for themselves and are particularly haunting. And of course, those who love the Jaws stereotype are all a flutter spreading the news.

Those of us who care about sharks and care about their conservation (or just care about this planet) need to take the effort up a notch. Especially now that the South Africa tourism department in a genius marketing ploy is encouraging people to come to South Africa to see their unique "big seven" (the only African nation to offer this) which in addition to the usual terrestrial animals includes whales and sharks now. Ironically, KZN Sharks Board reports to the same minister of tourism as well... So, which is it Minister, you want them dead for tourists or alive for tourists??? Pathetic.

Shark Angels - on Shark Nets from Shark Angels on Vimeo.

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