Sunday, February 26, 2012

They Did It Again.

I cannot let this one pass without commenting on it. People who work hard to protect nature and promote it's conservation should be praised.

Our dear friends at BEQA ADVENTURE DIVERS have done it again. Within a space of just three weeks, they have been presented with another award! This time it's for Tourism Sustainability at the AON Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards.

Just 20 days ago, B.A.D. were awarded the Best in Green Economic Development at the Kutoa Community Impact Awards 2012

For those that are not aware of it, B.A.D. is not just another Scuba diving centre. They are much more than that. As I had said in an earlier post, these guys have been working hard at conservation since before the company was actually formed.  The company was set up in 2004 and a few months later they established the Shark Reef Marine Reserve. The first objective of the Fiji Shark Project set up in 2003 was thus achieved. 

The funds collected from the daily dives at Shark Reef is donated to two villages thus helping in their education and economy.

Beqa Adventure Divers also carry out scientific research programmes such as Shark Tagging and Reef Habitat Conservation. They have also sponsored the training of local villagers as Fish Wardens and Snorkelling Guides. In 2009 they developed a Shark Awareness Presentation as part of the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project, B.A.D.s contribution to the International Year of the Shark. In 2011, they started on the Mangroves for Fiji Project and they have already planted over 39 hectares or 390,000 Mangrove trees!! To kick off 2012, Beqa Adventure Divers are already spear-heading the first ever Fiji Shark Count.

B.A.D's Achievement highlights can be seen here.

Congratulations my friends. The planet needs more B.A.D. people like you.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Megamouth Shark


It was nearly 36 years ago that the first recorded specimen of a very strange Shark was discovered. This accidental discovery was  not done by a fishing vessel but by a U.S. Navy Ship!

On the 15th of November 1976, a U.S. Navy Ship had orders to search and recover lost "Dummy" Torpedoes. They were approx. 25 miles off the coast Oahu, Hawaii where their chute like drift anchor was being towed. Suddenly something huge caused it to drag down. On reeling it up back to the ship, the crew were amazed to find a huge fish, entangled in a deep-water net.

With a mouth measuring 1 metre wide at the tip of a 4.5 metres long brownish coloured flabby body, it was soon realised that nobody had ever seen this species before!! It took about 7 years before this species was identified and named as Megachasma pelagios, or as it is better known, the Megamouth Shark. That specimen can still be seen on display at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Eight years had to pass before another specimen was captured and this happened in California. Since then, a total 53 Megamouths have been recorded. The majority of these sharks ended up either consumed or dumped. About 15 specimens are on display in various museums around the World. Only 6 Megamouths were released alive. 2 of the records are reports of sharks that were sighted. Most of the captures, 14, have occurred in Japan.

Megamouth locations

Forming part of the Order of Lamniformes, The Megamouth is a filter feeder like the Basking  and Whale Sharks. This species is wide-ranging with captures and sightings reported from the Indian, the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Quite a few of the recorded sizes exceed 5m in length with the largest being 5.7m (approx.18 feet). A Megamouth sighted off Dana Point, California, was estimated to be between 6.1m to 7.6m., but this cannot be taken as an exact measure. The smallest one was found washed ashore on a beach in Indonesia and it was a 1.77m juvenile male.

Dana point was also the location of Megamouth # 6, which was tagged and released. This shark was tracked for two days and whilst during the day it dove down to a depth of 150m, at dusk it would rise to 15m.
Megamouth # 6 tagged and released.
Along with Dr. Henry F. Mollet, I have been keeping records of every Megamouth captured or sighted. We know that there could be others that do not get reported. Details and photos of all 53 specimens can be found on my website at Sharkman's World Organization.


The Great Fiji Shark Count


During the month of April. those of you that are in, or find your way to, Fiji, are invited to participate in the first ever GREAT FIJI SHARK COUNT. Whether you are a Tourist or a Local, Snorkler or Diver,  you can be part of this nation wide research project and assist in collecting valuable data about Fiji's underwater biodiversity.

The aim of this project is to collect data about Sharks, Rays and Turtles from all over Fiji. This will provide valuable information about the distribution and abundance of these species. The results will also help in designing better ways to protect Sharks. Being the first survey of its kind, this will also be the Baseline for future surveys.

Participating is very easy. Ask any of the Dive Operators or Holiday Resorts to see if they are participating. You can also contact the Organizers directly. Register your participation on their website at The Great Fiji Shark Count. Survey materials and posters are already available on the site for viewing.



The Organizers are:
Fiji Department of Fisheries and Forests
Marine Ecology Consulting
Eshark
Shark Reef Marine Reserve
Save Our Seas Foundation
The Shark Foundation
Shark Savers
Ocean Soaps

So, for those of you still planing a diving holiday, Fiji is one of the best diving destinations in the World. I can guarantee that the dives you make there will rank among the best you ever make. So why not take this opportunity and take a well deserved holiday whilst helping to save our Sharks.

VINAKA VAKA LEVU.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Philippines Senator proposes total Shark protection.

Philippines Sen. Loren Legarda  yesterday called for the passage of a proposed measure prohibiting the catching of sharks, saying the absence of such law could lead to the extinction of the species. Currently there are no laws that protect sharks in the Philippines and fishermen are regularly engaged in the barbaric act of shark finning.

The practice of shark finning involves the removal of the fins, mostly whilst the sharks are still alive, and  the finless shark is thrown back into the sea to die a slow and painful death. The fins are then used for Shark Fin Soup.

“Clearly, the absence of a law forbidding the catching of sharks gives people the courage to continue the practice, which could eventually lead to the extinction of shark species in the country, especially that they reproduce slowly,” Legarda said. “Sharks, as predators of the sea, play a vital role in regulating the ecological balance, particularly the health of important commercial fish species, population balance, and protection of coral reefs. Being a country with about two-thirds of the known marine species of the Pacific living in its coastal waters, the Philippines plays a crucial role in protecting marine species,”

The Senator also stated the facts that millions of sharks are killed every year and that some shark populations have declined by as much as 90 percent.

Legarda said this concern could be addressed with the enactment into law of Senate Bill 2616, which seeks to banning the catching, sale, purchase, possession, transportation, importation and export of all sharks and rays or any parts of these animals. The bill also proposes to declare unlawful the wounding or killing of sharks and rays, unless there is threat to human life or safety.Shark fin soup and the selling of shark’s fin will also be prohibited to eliminate the demand that results in the massive killing of sharks.

Sharkman interviews Lill Haugen

She is Norway's #1 Underwater photographer and one of the best in the World. She is a Shark lover, Researcher and Conservationist. She is my Friend... the charismatic Lill Haugen.

Read about the interview I did with her on my website at SHARKMAN'S WORLD

Saturday, February 18, 2012

4 Species or more.

I love Scuba diving. I have done it since I was 8 years old. I enjoy every single dive, no matter what the objective or the location is. Being underwater and surrounded by such diverse marine life is for me the best place to be.

Over the years, I have had hundreds of memorable dives. My dives became more special to me when ever I encounter the odd Shark or two. Up until 2009, coming face to face with the Great White Sharks in South Africa had been the highlight of my life. I never imagined that this awesome experience could be beaten. I was so very wrong.

As part of the “2009 – International Year Of The Shark” campaign, I was invited by Beqa Adventure Divers to go to Fiji and take part in the Fiji Shark Conservation & Awareness Project. I was to join them for diving and observing sharks at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve at Beqa Lagoon and also to give a few interviews to the media.

It took me about 40 hours to travel half way round the world, from Malta to Fiji (via London and Los Angeles). A total distance of over 19,800 km (12,300 miles).

Beqa Adventure Divers are located at the Lagoon Resort in Pacific Harbour. It is a very quiet area on the banks of one of the many mangroves. This is the exact location were the movie Anacondas was filmed in 2003. In fact, the boat used in the film, the “Bloody Mary” can still be seen behind the diving centre.

B.A.D. was set up in 2004, and that same year they established the Shark Reef Marine Reserve . The entire reef and all it's inhabitants are totally protected. Divers wishing to dive at this reef have to pay a small fee. The money collected is than given to the two villages that own the “rights” to the reef.

On arriving at the base, I met Mike, who is one on the owners. Although we had known about each other for quite some time, we had only been in contact for a few months during the 2009 campaign. He than introduced me to his business partner Andrew and the rest of the team.

Since I had been out of the water for a few months, and the fact that it was the first time in Fiji, the first 2 dives I did the following morning were easy “test” dives on one of the house reefs. The second I dived in, I was surrounded by a magical world so full of life. Hundreds of different fish, of all shapes and colours live on these reefs and for the first couple of minutes I just stood there watching them, before moving on to explore the reef. On both of these 2 dives I saw a Whitetip Reef Shark. The start could not have been better.
Whitetip Reef Shark

The next morning, we all set out for the famous Shark Dive at the Marine Reserve. On the way out to the reef, Manasa, one of the two main shark feeders, who is affectionately known as “Papa”, gave a full briefing of the dive and explained all the do's and don'ts. B.A.D. is very strict on both Diver and Shark safety. Besides Mike and the 2 feeders, there were also 6 other safety divers and 8 guests.

The minute we arrived and the boat was anchored, one of the crew threw a piece of bait into the water and suddenly to everyone's surprise the sea erupted!! Papa saw the looks on some of the guests faces and smilingly assured everyone that it was only a shoal of giant Trevallies attacking the bait.

As soon as we dived in, we went down along the reef wall to a 30m shelf where we were instructed to kneel down. 3 safety divers stayed with us. On the way down, I had already spotted a few Whitetips and also Blacktips. Directly in front of the shelf at a depth of about 33m is the “Arena”. This is the place where Rusi does all the shark feeding.

When everyone was settled, Rusi took out the first piece of bait and the Grey Reef Sharks started to come in. Soon we were surrounded by some 20 sharks, all coming in one at a time to take the bait out of Rusi's hand. These sharks are “trained” to come in from the left side, take the bait and keep moving to the right. The sharks seemed so relaxed even when they passed very close to us.

After about 15 minutes the feeding here stopped and we went up slowly to 15m were a few more sharks were fed. It was here that the Bull Sharks arrived. These sharks are much heavier set than the slim reef sharks, and there is something about them that “demands” respect. Even thought they seemed very quiet, one can still sense the “power” they possess.

From there we would move up to the 4m area at the top of the reef. Here Papa would be feeding the large numbers of Blacktips and Whitetips. These sharks would come in and zig zag between the divers. The divers are warned not to touch the sharks but it happens quite a few times that the sharks brush fractionally against us.

"Papa" Manasa and Sharkman
As soon as we surfaced, the crew were there to help with the equipment and also change our cylinders. I also welcomed to nice hot coffee they offered me.

The second dive of the day was at a depth of 15m and its the Bull Shark dive. Between 20 to 40 sharks would be coming in for Rusi's hand outs... mostly Tuna heads. I was snapping away with my camera and trying to note special markings and sexes of the sharks. Later on, I would talk with Mike about the sharks and he would tell me “who” they are. He has photo I.D's of most of the sharks, including over 120 Bulls.

From the second day onwards, I would dive with Mike and stay at the edge of the feeding area or in the “Pit”. These are the best spots to be in for good photography. The Pit is normally occupied by some world famous photographer who happens to be visiting. In fact, during my time there I had the pleasure to meet and dive with Klaus Jost and Lill Haugen.

A few days after my arrival, Gary Adkison also showed up. Gary is running the Bull Shark tagging programme at the Marine Reserve. It was great to work with him as well. What I found really amazing was the fact that even though the 3 of us have totally different characters, Gary, Mike and myself totally clicked. We have shared not only awesome dives together, but also great conversations and dinners..... plus Kava and Maltese Anisette too. We have bonded even more than brothers.

The entire team at Beqa Adventure Divers were just fantastic and very professional. I have made many new friends. One my last night with them, they surprised me with a farewell dinner. Thank you.

At Shark Reef, one can see up to a maximum of 9 different shark species on just one dive. During my 3 weeks there I did 24 dives at the reef and I never had less than 4 species. Blacktips, Whitetips, Grey Reefs and Bull sharks. On many dives, a Tawny Nurse would show up as well. On one dive we also had one Silvertip making a quick brief appearance. 6 out of 9 ain't bad at all. I do not know of any other shark spot with so many different species on a single dive.

Diving legends Ron & Valerie Taylor have labelled this as “The Best Shark Dive In The World.” Now I understand why and I totally agree.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sharkman's World is Back


Following an absence of nearly two years, Sharkman's World is back on line on a new and stronger server.
The new url is now http://www.sharkmans-world.eu


The site will feature all the all the old favourite topics and to kick it all off, There is an interview with the pioneer of Shark Diving Trips and also President of the U.S. Shark Foundation, GARY ADKISON


Enjoy.