Friday, October 28, 2005

Grandson of Jacques Cousteau study sharks in shark submarine

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the inventor of a submarine that looks and moves like a great white shark is called Cousteau. For 60 years, this name has been synonymous with undersea adventure and award-winning documentaries. The family patriarch and pioneer, Jacques Cousteau, died in 1997, but now his grandson is carrying on the family tradition.

Fabien Cousteau, 37, has been involved in his family's business since he was a boy, sailing regularly with his father and grandfather to remote archipelagos on grand adventures to film the silent, undersea world. Now an oceanographer and film-maker in his own right, he has just completed work on a project that he believes would have made his grandfather proud.

Inspired by no less than the fictional comic character Tintin, Cousteau has devised and co-designed a submarine the size and shape of a great white shark. Encased within the shark, which is called Troy, Cousteau has for the first time been able to swim with great whites and film them without being confined within a submerged steel cage.

"Steel cages have been done 1,001 times," Cousteau says. "I wanted to film these sharks without any of the artificial stimuli - chum in the water, baiting them from a cage, being in scuba gear - that affect their behaviour in unnatural ways."

Cousteau had already made two shark documentaries when he was asked to produce a third. He was reluctant to commit to it unless he could film the sharks in a way that would produce genuinely revelatory footage. It was then that he remembered Tintin. "When I was a kid, I received a copy of the Tintin story Red Rackham's Treasure," he says. "The premise of the book is basically a treasure hunt, but the idea in there was Tintin in a shark-shaped submarine, in which he goes swimming around with sharks and comes back relatively unscathed. When I thought back on that, I thought it was a really good idea."

The journey from the picture in his Tintin book to a working submarine was a huge endeavour. Cousteau knew that getting great whites to believe that his creation was one of them would require it to do much more than just look like a shark.

"It needed to be completely silent-running and not emit any bubbles. It needed to be able to gape, so it could use its mouth for communication. It needed to be able to eye-roll, which is also a form of communication. It needed to be able to gill puff. And it needed to be able to swim just like a shark."
To help with all this, Cousteau contacted the Hollywood designer Eddie Paul, a family friend. "It was a really difficult challenge," says Paul, who has built hi-tech vehicles for films, including Terminator 2, but never a submarine. "There were so many factors to take into consideration, and all had to be incorporated into one machine."

Paul had built a robot shark for Fabien's father in 1988, but it was attacked and destroyed by a large great white in the Pacific Ocean. This time around, one of Paul's biggest considerations had to be safety. "I didn't want a shark attacking Troy and killing Fabien inside it," he says. "We had to make it practically bullet-proof and yet still be able to function like a real shark."

The first design was for a 12ft shark, but in order to accommodate Cousteau, the re-breathing apparatus, video monitors and the hydraulic equipment and oxygen tanks needed to make Troy swim, the final length was closer to 14ft - "the size of a young adult great white," Cousteau says.
As an extra safety precaution, Cousteau wanted Troy to be autonomous from the diver and, in order for it be flexible enough to move in the water, it would be a "wet sub" - it would flood with water when submerged, so the diver inside would need to wear a wetsuit and have an independent air supply.

At a cost close to £150,000, Paul built the shark around a set of stainless-steel ribs with a flexible spine, and then devised a high-pressure pneumatic system to move the ribs from side to side and propel the shark through the water. Cousteau would use a joystick to control left to right movement and to lose air when he needed to control the buoyancy.

The skin, made from a material called Skinflex (used mainly for prosthetic limbs), was painted to look like a great white. The Skinflex was stitched together along the top but sealed underneath with Velcro, allowing water to seep in and out.

In case anything went wrong, Paul designed the head to be removable, but hinged it. Finally, two monitors were placed inside the head so Cousteau could see where he was going.

Where to position and how to disguise the monitor's cameras proved more of a challenge. "Initially we had cameras looking out of the eye sockets," Cousteau says, "but it was so disconcerting to try to make sense of those images that it just didn't work. So we put a camera on the head, disguised as a fish, and a tiny camera in the back of the dorsal fin - that way I could see forward and behind."
After a year of trial and error in Paul's Los Angeles workshop and many pool tests, Cousteau was ready to test Troy in open water. "It was a disaster," he says of the first dive. "It kept bobbing up and down, I couldn't get it to swim straight."

But Cousteau and his team of 10 persevered and, after hours of practice in shallow waters, they felt secure enough to take Troy to a place where great whites congregate. "There was definitely a bit of apprehension," he says. "These are wild animals, so you can never assume anything, but I figured Troy looked good enough and we had worked on it long enough to at least try one dive with real sharks."

He and his crew sailed to Guadalupe Island, a few hundred miles west of Mexico, where great whites gather to hunt elephant seals. After searching for a suitable area to launch, Cousteau donned his scuba gear, slid backwards into Troy, sealed the head and was lowered into an ocean full of great whites.

Initially, the sharks were wary of the mechanical interloper. "In the beginning, it was hard to get the sharks to come close to Troy," Cousteau says. "Sharks respect each other's space, but I have no idea how to respect a great white's space, so sometimes I would get close and they would just swim away. But then sometimes I would see one and notice that it was starting to swim with me."

Cousteau, who was often surrounded by as many as five great whites, was moved by the experience. "To be underwater among these sharks is an enormously humbling experience. They're like 747s underwater. The largest one I saw was nearly 18ft long, but they are so graceful and so deceivingly calm, and very sure of themselves."

After a while, Cousteau became convinced that the sharks believed that Troy was one of their own. "One great white did gape and gill puff at Troy," he says. "It was trying to communicate with Troy. I thought this may be a weird, far-out idea, but it actually works.''

Only once did Cousteau feel he was in any danger - when one great white charged at Troy but veered off at the last second. "They definitely don't like being looked at," he says. "It takes away their element of surprise and makes them vulnerable."

Every day, for the next week, Cousteau took to the water in Troy and was satisfied that all the hard work had been worth it."We were definitely able to capture shark behaviour that has not been possible to see in the past," he says.

He recently finished editing the resulting documentary, Mind of a Demon. He hopes that it will help people to understand great white sharks better and help to dispel some of the myths that surround them.

"For film-makers to deceive the public into thinking that great white sharks always attack everything is appalling," he says. "The reason they have been able to live pretty much unchanged for 400 million years is that they are perfectly adapted to their environment and they are not stupid. In certain places - California, South Africa, Australia, Florida - there happen to be areas that are hot spots for where sharks live, and that are also areas where lots of people go surfing, water-skiing and diving.

You have millions of people in those waters, and you have millions of sharks in those waters, and you have, worldwide, 70 to 80 incidents a year. If that's not a testament to sharks avoiding us, I don't know what is."

Cousteau is already developing new underwater projects. But he wishes his famous grandfather had lived long enough to see his shark submarine.

"He was a fascinating individual," Cousteau says. "Not only because he was so intelligent, but also because he was so passionate. I really think Troy would have made him smile."

Great white shark found in Japanese canal

A 4.8-meter-long great white shark was found floating in a canal here Wednesday morning, local government and police officials said.

At around 10 a.m., a factory worker found the shark floating in the Chidori Canal near his workplace in the Yako district of Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki, and alerted the local government, according to officials.

A company commissioned by the Kawasaki Municipal Government used a crane to recover the dead shark.

The municipal government's port and harbor bureau and local police said the 4.8-meter-long shark is believed to be a great white shark, and had been alive shortly before it was found.
The canal is located in a waterfront industrial district near the Port of Kawasaki and is about 100 meters wide.

"We've never heard of a shark near here. I'm surprised to learn that sharks are living in the Port of Kawasaki," said an official of the city's port and harbor bureau.

Responsible for shark attack or not?

Accusations that the activities of shark boat operators led to the attack on Stiaan van Zyl at the weekend don't make sense, said Kim Maclean, a pioneer in the shark cage diving industry and acting chairperson of the Great White Protection Foundation.

There are also indications the shark involved in the attack wasn't even a Great White, she said. Maclean is one of eight shark cage-diving operators in the Gansbaai area and one of only 11 in the country.

She said a swimmer would probably have been able to spot a Great White in water that was only about 1.5m deep. The attack also didn't correspond to typical Great White behaviour. It is possible a smaller shark species could have been involved, like a ragged-tooth shark, which would be more likely to swim in the shallows.

Maclean said she wouldn't want to make a final decision until she'd seen the tooth marks on Van Zyl's leg but she agrees with experts such as Wilfred Chivell from Gansbaai that if it had been a Great White, Van Zyl would've lost his leg. She agrees with Chivell it was probably a curious experimental bite.

Regarding the allegations against cage-diving operators, Maclean said research has not been able to prove a link between attacks and activities of the shark boat operations.

Great White shark nomadic by nature

Those who want to blame these operators claim the practice of luring sharks with bait (so-called "chum", a mixture of blood and scraps) causes Great White sharks to associate humans with food.
Maclean said the latest research seems to show the Great White shark is nomadic by nature and remains in a certain location for four months at most before moving on.

"That isn't enough time to change established eating and hunting patons that have been entrenched through centuries," she said.

She referred to an article that appeared in Africa Geographic last month that discussed the preliminary findings of researchers Michael Scholl and Thomas P Peschak.

Her own observations over the past 14 years correspond to that of the researchers, Maclean said.

Female sharks do move closer to beach

Scholl and Peschak found, among other things that the current behavioural patterns of the Great Whites in the Gansbaai area have not changed from what they were many years ago.

Their observations showed sharks converge in large numbers on Dyer Island, south of Gansbaai, only at certain times of the year, probably to breed and give birth.

In summer, many of the female sharks do move closer to the beach, but these sharks seem not to be interested in food. When the bait of the boats end up among them, they ignore it.

The researchers ascribe this to a variety of possible causes. They speculate the appetites of the females might be reduced during this time of the year to prevent them from eating their newly born young.

Sharks at Dyer Island, on the other hand, are more lively and do react to bait from the boats, Scholl and Peschak said.

Surfer victim of shark accident

A surfer from Tokai, Cape Town, was attacked by a Great White shark on Saturday at the popular Uilenkraalsmond holiday resort near Gansbaai.

Stiaan van Zyl, 20, was attacked on Saturday morning, approximately 100m south of the river mouth in chest-deep water.

He was wading into the sea when something suddenly grabbed his right foot and lifted him from the water.

He told Die Burger that a 3m-long shark lifted him into the air and shook him like a rag.
"It felt as though my foot was going to be ripped off.

"I tried to knock it away from me and also attempted to push
my finger into its eye.

"It then suddenly let go of me and I could get onto my surfboard, which was fastened to my left leg."
According to Van Zyl he was then able to reach the beach safely with the aid of a big breaker.
"That wave saved my life," he said later.

When he reached the shallow water, he was not able to walk on his right leg.

A weekend visitor from Cape Town, Ryan Ohfond and his son Cody, 5, went to the aid of Van Zyl.
Ohfond phoned Marietjie, Van Zyl's mother. His father, Piet, and eldest brother, Johan, hastened to the scene.

Van Zyl was taken to the surgery of Dr Marina Barnard from where he was transferred to the Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town by Red Cross helicopter.

Van Zyl's achilles tendon was stitched up in an emergency operation.

According to Van Zyl it is a miracle that very little damage was done.

"I tremble when I think of what the result could have been if those teeth grabbed my leg higher up.
We are very thankful indeed," he said.

Wilfred Chivell, a local "animal Samaritan?"and expert on maritime life, described the incident as a "shark accident".

"Had it been a real shark attack, Van Zyl would have been dead now or, at least, have lost a leg."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Surfer survives shark attack

Megan Halavais had a strange premonition just before a 14-foot shark sunk its teeth into her leg and pulled her beneath the Pacific on Wednesday.
"The water was really glassy, it was weird," Halavais, 20, said. "I was out there thinking this feels sharky to me."

Halavais, a former junior college athlete, was surfing a little way from a group of surfers north of San Francisco, around 11 a.m. on Wednesday when a great white shark attacked her.

"I felt it hit. I didn't really feel the bite and I turned my body around and just see this huge body and this huge dorsal fin and I just realized that this was a big shark," Halavais said. "I was just trying to push, trying not to hurt it. (I was) just trying to get its mouth, its body, away from me hoping it would kind of take a bite and swim off."

Halavais doesn't remember being pulled under water, but when she emerged she was bleeding heavily.

"Right within a foot of Megan was a dorsal fin that was as easily as tall as her if not a couple inches overhead," David Bryant, a fellow surfer who witnessed the attack, told "Good Morning America."

Bryant and fellow surfers helped Halavais to shore, and she was flown by helicopter to Santa Rosa Hospital.

"I just stayed with her smooth and steady," said lifeguard Brit Horn. "I told her, 'We're going to make it, Megan. You're going to be OK.'"

The shark took a 19-inch bite out of Halavais, from her thigh to her calf, but she is expected to make a full recovery.

"It cut, all the way to the bone, cutting the muscle between the skin and the bone," said Dr. David Hardin. "It did not get any major arteries."

Police believe the shark was a great white and have closed the beach and warned surfers in nearby locations.

"You think about it, but you never think it's going to happen to you," Halavais said. "If a 16-foot shark meant to eat me, it would have. It was just tasting."

Halavais already has a new wet suit and plans to surf as soon as she can.

Fisherman's largest catch is treated like a hero

A Raglan commercial fisherman got the catch of a lifetime yesterday when a 4.6m great white shark estimated to weigh more than 1.5 tonnes came up in his net, and this one day before some of the world's top surfers are to surf in a contest in these same waters.

Warwick Harris arrived back at the Raglan wharf about midnight towing the monster behind his boat, The Reaper. The huge fish with a girth of more than 3m was dead when it was pulled in. It is the biggest Mr. Harris has caught and the biggest Raglan Sport Fishing Club secretary Sheryl Hart has seen.

Mr. Harris was pulling up his net about 11km off the coast north of Raglan expecting a good hall of snapper and gurnard "then this thing popped up. My deckie Steve was going to gaff it, then it rolled over . . . and he very quickly put the gaff away." Mr. Harris said the net had a strange feel when they first started pulling it in so he suspected something odd in it. The shark was too heavy for them to get into the boat so they towed it home.

This morning in Raglan a stream of onlookers came to see the shark, which was lying on the boat ramp at the wharf. Shark expert Clinton Duffy was on his way from Auckland to pick up the shark for research, however Mr. Harris said the metre-wide jaws would probably wind up on auction website TradeMe.

A similar set from a great white shark landed off Waiheke Island two years ago fetched about $14,000. Mr Harris was waiting for Mr Duffy to arrive before cutting open the fish.

The end of the Maori warrior dance welcoming Andy Irons, Occy, Sunny and Parko this same afternoon in New Zealand for the Vodafone Surf SessionsPhoto courtesy Surfing New Zealand

The monstrous 1700 kg shark hauled in by a Raglan fisherman has been laid to rest on a local farm. The 4.8 metre long Great White was pulled in by a commercial fishing boat. Scientists believe the female was around 13 to 14 years old. A Raglan digger driver was working on a local plantation when he got the call to help transport the beast's carcass from the boat ramp to a nearby game club.

Rob Poolton says it had been thought was the shark was pregnant - until DOC staff opened her stomach. He says a fur seal the size of a teenager was found inside but its jaw was large enough for a human head and shoulders to fit inside. He says he does a fair bit of fishing but has never seen anything so big in his life.

Friday, October 21, 2005

More information on shark attacks

Experts say that shark attacks are a danger that must be acknowledged by anyone who frequents marine waters but the danger should be kept in perspective. Here's some information to help you learn a little bit more about the subject.


Quick Facts

Bees, wasps and snakes are responsible for more fatalities than sharks every year.
Among all known species of sharks, 27 have been authoritatively linked to attacks on people or boats.

The odds of getting killed by a shark are extremely minimal. For people living in the U.S., the risk of getting struck and killed by a bolt of lightning is 30 times greater than that of getting killed by a shark.

Worldwide, experts estimate that there are about 70 to 100 hundred attacks annually with about five to 15 of those resulting in fatalities.

The death rate for shark attacks is decreasing due to improved emergency medical treatment, but the rate of shark attacks overall is increasing -- probably because more people are entering the water than ever before.

Where Sharks Attack

Most shark attacks take place in areas close to shore where people are most likely to be swimming or surfing. Some likely locations for these attacks are areas between a sandbar and shore, where sharks feed and sometimes become trapped during low tides.

Underwater geography can play a role in shark attacks as well. Areas with steep drop-offs are likely attack spots, since sharks often patrol here waiting for natural prey that congregate nearby.

Types Of Attacks

There are three major types of unprovoked shark attacks.

Hit And Run: This is by far the most common form of attack. A shark will usually attack in an area close to shore where swimmers and surfers are the most likely targets. The victim of the attack usually doesn't even see the shark and the shark usually just inflicts a single bite and leaves. Some believe that these attacks are most likely cases of mistaken identity, where a shark is unable to identify its normal prey either because of water clarity or harsh conditions. It is thought that once the shark takes a bite and realizes that the prey is quite large or unfamiliar, the animal releases its grip and leaves. These types of attacks are rarely life threatening.

Bump And Bite: This type of attack is less common but usually results in the most fatalities. The victims in these cases are usually divers or swimmers in deeper waters. Bump and bite attacks are typified by a circling shark that bumps into a person before it attacks. Repeat attacks are common and injuries are usually very serious.

Sneak Attack: The sneak attack is very similar to the bump and bite, the only difference between the two is that in a sneak attack there is no bump – the shark attacks without warning. Most shark attacks that occur during sea disasters are either a bump and bite or hit and run attack.

Common Culprits

Three species of shark have been repeatedly associated with attacks on people. They are the Great White Shark, Tiger Shark and the Bull Shark. Each animal is capable of consuming large prey and each can reach considerable size.

Surfer...lucky to be alive following attack

A surfer from Santa Rosa was attacked by an apparent great white shark while paddling into the water at Salmon Creek Beach on the Sonoma Coast.

Authorities say 20-year-old Megan Halavais was attacked by a shark around 11 a.m. near the Bodega Dunes, according to Sonoma County Sheriff Lt. Roger Rude.

She later told paramedics that she was paddling on her surfboard when a shark some 14 feet long grabbed her from behind and pulled her underwater, Rude said. The victim managed to grab the shark and was released, but not before she suffered a serious 18-inch bite wound from her thigh to her calf.

Brit Horn, an off-duty lifeguard at the beach, witnessed the attack while surfing with others nearby.
"I heard her scream, looked over and saw a very large fin, and saw her go under water," he said.
Halavais was helped from the water by other surfers and was airlifted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and is listed in stable condition. Trauma surgeon Dr. Dave Hardin says Halavais' wounds were dirty and had sand and debris from the shark's mouth that had to be washed out extensively.
"We had to put muscle back together," Hardin said.

State Parks officials have closed Salmon Creek Beach and warnings of the attack are being posted along the coast from Jenner to Bodega Bay, Rude said.

The area is the site of past attacks involving great white sharks, Rude said.

Deadly trap for a great white shark

A 4.8 metre long great white shark has been caught off the Waikato coast.

Fisherman Aaron Leboray says the shark was pulled in by a commercial fishing boat and weighed in at a tonne-and-a-half.

He says an autopsy is currently being carried out on the female shark at Raglan Wharf, and it is suspected it may have been pregnant. Mr Leboray says the shark was half-drowned when the fisherman caught it late yesterday evening.

Meanwhile, some of the world's best surfers will not be letting a little thing like a one-tonne shark stop them from surfing at Raglan tomorrow.

Andy Irons, Sunny Garcia, Joel Parkinson and Mark Occhilupo are surfing against four of New Zealand's best surfers in the Vodafone Surf Sessions.

Surfing New Zealand spokesman Ben Kennings visited Raglan Wharf this morning to see the shark and says it is definitely massive, but he says the surfers will have seen sharks before and will not let this catch hold them back.

He says perhaps it is fortunate surfers do not have x-ray vision, so cannot see what is underneath them.

Mr Kennings says the event will definitely go ahead tomorrow.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Theory on switching menu

Shark attacks would be far more frequent if they were preying on humans, an expert says.
Retired South Australian marine biologist Dr Scoresby Shepherd suggested sharks might be switching their prey to humans because of a decline in natural food sources, such as tuna.
He said where attacks used to happen once every 30 to 40 years, they are now happening at least once a year.

"My speculation is that if the natural prey are decreasing then they are more likely to be hungrier than before," Dr Shepherd told ABC Radio.

Dr Shepherd said it was a well-known biological phenomenon known as prey switching.
But Fox Shark Foundation's spokesman, Andrew Fox, said there was no good evidence to support Dr Shepherd's theory.

He said the rate of shark attacks had been steady at about 1.3 per year for the past 20 years.
"If you look statistically, it may well be that there is not really an increase in shark attacks relative to the amount of people that are going into the water," Mr Fox said.

"Even if there was one shark that had switched its preference, we would be seeing attacks on a very frequent basis, not just the odd investigative attack and the odd fatality every year.
"Even if it was two or three or five or 10 (fatalities a year) ... statistically, it does not indicate a prey switching."

In September, surfer Josh Berries, 26, shoved his board in a great white shark's mouth to escape an attack of South Australia's Kangaroo Island.

That came less than a week after one in Perth, when surfer Brad Satchell fought off a shark by punching it in the head at Scarborough Beach. Mr Satchell was not injured.

On September 4, surfer Jake Heron survived being mauled by a shark off South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

The 40-year-old had been surfing about 30km south of Port Lincoln when he was attacked, but managed to fight off a four-metre great white by repeatedly punching it in the head.

That attack came less than two weeks after marine biologist Jarrod Stehbens was killed by a shark while diving for cuttlefish eggs off Adelaide's Glenelg Beach.

More than a nickname

WITH a nickname of "Shark" and having grown up in Queensland where a number of varieties of the dangerous fish can be found, is it any wonder Greg Norman has always maintained a special affinity with it. But the Australian golf icon has just revealed the extraordinary story from his school days when he encountered one of the beasts — about two metres long — but survived to tell the tale.

Norman discloses details of what took place when he and his father and a schoolmate were on a Great Barrier Reef fishing expedition and found themselves just off Magnetic Island. According to Norman, on one particular day he was well below the surface looking for an evening meal when he spotted a large fish, so he trained his spear gun on it and pulled the trigger.

Said Norman: "The shot was a success, but the velocity of the spear sent the fish further than I anticipated, embedding it in a coral outcrop. I gave several tugs, but the spear would not budge. While I was pondering how to remove the spear from the coral, I glanced to my left and through the bubbles could see a six- or seven-foot shark approaching. I dropped everything and floated back to the surface, keeping a wary eye on the intruder. When I reached the surface I floated on my stomach and watched the shark through my mask."

Fortunately for Norman the shark appeared more interested in his fish than it was him. Noted the champ: "After a couple of quick bites, my catch was gone — mother nature at her best."

Monday, October 10, 2005

One person great white shark submarine

IT'S four metres long, looks like a great white shark and runs on compressed air. Filmmaker Fabien Cousteau, who is hoping to bring this one-person submarine to Australian waters to study shark behaviour, has already used it to make a documentary near Guadalupe Island, Mexico.
Cousteau, grandson of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, uses the device as camouflage to film and study the behaviour of great whites.

He says the sharks appear to accept the submersible, affectionately known as Troy, as one of their own, and they defer to it as they would to a dominant female.

"White sharks in Australia may react differently or have different adaptations to the ones near Guadalupe Island, where we filmed," Cousteau says.

Made for a television documentary at a cost of about $260,000, the shark submersible is the design of Eddie Paul, a Hollywood engineer.

At its core is a series of five-centimetre-thick steel ribs radiating from a flexible plastic spine. It is in this "rib cage" that Cousteau, 37, rides when observing sharks.

The framework is wrapped in a substance known as Skin Flex, a stretchy plastic used in Hollywood animatronics and for artificial limbs.

Cameras are mounted behind the "shark's" eyes to feed footage to a monitor in the submersible.
When in use, the device fills with water and Cousteau, in a wetsuit, uses scuba breathing equipment.

Depth is controlled by three inflatable buoyancy bags and a compressed air unit drives pistons that move the tail to propel the shark.

The mouth and other body parts can be moved to imitate shark behaviour.

Cousteau says the best way to study shark behaviour is up close: "You must become one of them and swim among them as a peer to have a chance to witness what sharks do."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Great white sharks travel amazing distances

Great white sharks were known to travel long distances but a tagged female proved scientists theory to be right. Posted by Picasa

US tracked the travelling path of a great white shark

US researchers have made a remarkable discovery about the behaviour of great white sharks that could hold valuable lessons for how humans deal with them.They've tracked a female shark from Australia to South Africa and back again, changing some previous conceptions of how far and how fast the creatures can travel.The research is to be published in tomorrow's edition of Science magazine.

Karen Percy reports.

KAREN PERCY: "Have tracking device, will travel". That might well be the mantra for Nicole the great white shark, who's managed to impress scientists the world over with her long distance journeying.From Australia to South Africa and back again, Nicole undertook a trip of more than 20,000 kilometres, over a period of nine months.

RAMON BONFIL: This is the first ever recorded transoceanic movement of a great white shark anywhere in the world.

KAREN PERCY: Ramon Bonfil is from the Wildlife Conservation Society, based at the Bronx Zoo in New York City.The Mexican-born researcher has been studying sharks for two decades. He's led this research and is excited about these latest findings.RAMON BONFIL: For years we believed that white sharks were mostly coastal. A few years ago - maybe five, four years ago - some scientists in California discovered that they could move between California and Hawaii. But this is the first totally transoceanic, from one side of the ocean to the other, from coast to coast and then back.

KAREN PERCY: How do you know that this is indicative of all sharks' behaviour though? Because as I understand it, Nicole was only one of a number of sharks you've been tracking.RAMON BONFIL: Yeah, definitely. We, we don't know at this stage how common this behaviour is. This is the only shark that we were able to record going from South Africa to Australia. But we suspect, based on the numbers of sharks that we tried - which was only 32 in this study - one out of 32 crossed the Indian Ocean, that indicates to us that this is fairly common, or relatively common behaviour.

KAREN PERCY: The study will assist Australian researchers as well. Barry Bruce is with the CSIRO in Hobart.

BARRY BRUCE: We've started to unravel other areas of their lives, and that at least some of them spend some time out in the open ocean, sometimes crossing ocean basins. Now we have no idea why they do this and we have no idea how they do it, because they don't do it in a random way. They seem to know where they're going, and they certainly know how to go back to where they came from.

KAREN PERCY: Her extraordinary travels aren't Nicole's only down under connection, she's named after a certain Australian movie star.And her behaviour has particular relevance in Australia, where shark attacks are common.US-based researcher, Ramon Bonfil, says the study dispels the belief by some that great white sharks thought to be responsible for attacks on humans can be tracked, hunted and removed.

RAMON BONFIL: It is impossible because these sharks are so mobile and they can be here one day and they can be hundreds of kilometres tomorrow, and in a couple of months they could be across the entire ocean in a different country.KAREN PERCY: And the CSIRO's Barry Bruce, agrees.

BARRY BRUCE: The fact is that that shark might visit there, and it might go there the same time each year, but at other times it's thousands of kilometres away, and it's the same after a shark attack. Sharks generally leave the area after an attack, and if you catch one, it's probably not the same one, it's another one.

KAREN PERCY: The study is expected to go some way to devising a plan to manage the interaction between sharks and humans.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Making beaches safer for both humans and sharks

In October 2003, two marine biologists watched transfixed as a huge Great White shark cruised past their boat towards a "picture-postcard beach packed with playing children, fussing mothers and bouncing beach balls".The shark swam into water less than 2m deep, its massive belly scraping the sandy bottom. But it ignored the bathers in the shallow surf and moved off.When the biologists visited the same site - a popular beach which they have not identified other than calling it "Shark Bay" on the south-western Cape coast - the next day, they found three more Great Whites swimming within 50m of the same beach.

And as their research progressed over the next few months, they recorded an astonishing average of more than three of these sharks per nautical mile of coastline.Then, one day in January, the sightings abruptly stopped.In a fascinating article in the September issue of Africa Geographic, scientists Michael C Scholl and Thomas P Peschak speculate about the sharks' behaviour, and wonder whether they have found one of its breeding sites.

Sex between Great Whites has never been observed, and no mating ground for the species has been identified anywhere in the world.Peschak and Scholl have now started using kayaks, among other equipment, to track the sharks in this area, observe their behaviour and perhaps confirm their initial scientific speculation."Finding out what Great Whites are doing so close to shore will be the first step in understanding and preventing shark attacks," they write."It's not just about learning more about their behaviour and ecology, it's about making the ocean a safer place - for humans and for sharks."

Former hunter now protective of great white sharks

From hunter to nurturer

IN the mid 1980s Rolf Czabayski made a living from hunting and killing white pointers.
Today he has turned from hunter to conservationist and prides himself on sharing the wonder of great whites with local and international tourists.

He now gets a buzz from interacting, studying and tracking these massive creatures that strike fear in the hearts of those who work and play on local waters.

He does not think a cull of great whites will solve shark attacks or make the waters safe.
However Mr Czabayski has suggested authorities capture and kill sharks believed to be responsible for an attack.

The shark should then be weighted and tied to the seafloor in the vicinity of the attack, which he said would discourage all other sharks from entering the area for some time.

There is still very little known about the numbers and behaviour of great whites.

Mr Czabayski leads between one and four expeditions a month to the Neptune Islands where he takes thrill-seekers up close and personal with the ultimate predator.

But he is adamant trips are about more than just thrill seeking as a major part of each expedition is identifying each of the tagged sharks that are viewed as well as tagging any new sharks in the area.

One of two licensed operators to berley for sharks in the State, Mr Czabayski is also heavily involved in the CSIRO white shark project, with his latest involvement being servicing listening stations at the North Neptunes that track the daily movements of specially tagged sharks.
"The sharks travel great distances and the listening stations have shown the sharks from North Neptunes swim to the South Neptunes and the sharks from the South Neptunes swim to Dangerous Reef," Mr Czabayski said.

Securing research funds was also a challenge for the CSIRO scientists and so Mr Czabayski said the researchers had come to rely on the expeditions to monitor the sharks and help collect data.
Mr Czabayski and the expedition he led earlier this month also had a bit of breakthrough when one of four sharks fitted with satellite tags back in November reappeared with a damaged and non-functioning tag.

But the shark-expedition leader was very pleased to see the 3.8-metre male shark he believed to be Sam-C, the same individual that survived being trapped in shark net off the Far West Coast but not before leaving behind one its two tags.

"We know he's still alive and it's good to know he is in the same area at approximately the same time of year," Mr Czabayski said.

During the recent expedition, which he said was typical, the Calypso Star crew used about 20-litres or one plastic drum of minced tuna a day to attract the sharks to the vessel.

About 15-litres of tuna oil was slowly dispersed while pieces of sections of tuna or tuna gills and guts were also used to bring the sharks closer to the submerged cage.

Mr Czabayski said the berley only attracted sharks that were already around the islands and did not spread beyond the immediate area, with berleying also not allowed at Dangerous Reef closer to Port Lincoln.

New restrictions prevent the licensed operators from luring the sharks out of the water, while the vessel is also required to fly a special berley flag.

Thrilling assignment

PORT Lincoln Times journalist Stan Gorton was fortunate enough to be invited out on a shark diving expedition this month, here are his experiences:

ONE would think getting into a 2.7-metre aluminium cage with big gaps to view sharks over four metres in length would be scary.

Well, it's not - with descriptions such as mind-blowing and fascinating springing to mind after getting in the cage up to three times a day for three days of action.

Sessions in the cage lasted up to two hours despite the 14-degree temperatures with up to five different sharks seen each day.

The fear of not wanting to go diving or go fishing in my 4.2-metre tinny after seeing the sharks did not eventuate, although if I were to dive off Port Lincoln I would be using a Shark Shield.
Some of the sharks appeared to have personalities such as the satellite tagged individual believed to be Sam-C that seemed reluctant to take the bait but keen to check out the divers in the cage.

It was a humbling experience to think that one of the sharks I saw who had names like Adam, Bam Bam and Feisty could have been involved in previous attacks.

But then sharks have been proven to swim vast distances and some of the larger sharks travel from as far away as New Zealand and South Africa.

Charter operator Rolf Czabayski and his deckhand Andrew Wright were truly committed to the science of the shark observation and tagging with one of the biggest disappointments of the trip not being able to tag and name a shark.

Most of the sharks we saw were tagged with only a brief glimpse of some untagged individuals.
The trip was rounded off with a swim with up to 20 Australian sea lions off Hopkins Island and while some might say this was foolish, it was on a white sandy beach in waist deep water and felt perfectly safe.

Diving with cave cowboys

DIVING with great white sharks attracts thrill seekers to Port Lincoln from around the world, and participating in an expedition to the North Neptunes earlier this month were a group of divers that specialise in entering the unknown.

On board the Calypso Star were three members of the group known as the Limestone Cowboys, cave divers whose favourite areas include the limestone caves around Mt Gambier in the State's southeast.

And getting to dive with the sharks was turning out to be just as much of a challenge as squeezing through a narrow underwater passage, as the three cave divers had come out in June only to be treated to gale force winds and no sharks.

Normally a mechanical engineer, cave diver Neil Vincent also makes a few dollars from his hobby of photography and in particular underwater photography.

At one of their favourite sites known as Tank Cave, the Limestone Cowboys have travelled as far as 900 metres underground discovering new caverns.

"There is a lot more planning with cave diving, but with shark diving the cage is all set up, everything is provided and you just jump in," Mr Vincent said.

The only draw back being the expense involved as whether here in Port Lincoln or in South Africa and the United States, getting to the sharks was the domain of specialist tour operators such as Rolf Czabayski.

Previous expeditions have included diving with whale sharks, humpbacks and manta rays off Western Australia as well as freshwater crocodiles in north Queensland.

Closer to Port Lincoln, Mr Vincent and his wife have dived with the cuttlefish off Whyalla and most recently locating leafy sea dragons off Tumby Bay's jetty.

Between them, the Cowboys had been diving in exotic locations from New Guinea to Alaska but Mr Vincent said capturing images of great whites had always been a goal.

"It's not what I anticipated," Mr Vincent said.

"It was a mixture of excitement and intrigue, figuring out which direction they would come from and whether there was any pattern."

In addition to the Limestone Cowboys who other than Mr Vincent had jobs in IT and installing blinds, the two other passengers were a computer specialist and a commercial carpet business owner.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Increasing number of great white sharks

Professional fishermen have warned of an increase in sightings of great white sharks off WA's coast, The Sunday Times reported.

Shark-boat skippers operating out of Perth, Esperance and Albany say the number of white pointers encountered has soared, with dozens sighted recently.

Last month, Two Rocks professional shark fisherman Jamie Thornton hooked a 3m great white about 5km off Hillarys.

"There's a heap of great whites around. People would be totally shocked if they realised how many were out there," he said.

Esperance shark-boat skipper Frank Ramanauskas said a 4m great white cruised alongside his boat for 20 minutes last week.

"He was that close, I could have poked a stick at it," he said.

"He was just cruising next to us for 15 to 20 minutes, waiting for something to fall over the side.
"We go out for a week to 10 days and these days we're seeing a great white on average every trip. Sometimes we'll see three." Albany skipper Geoff Campbell said he had seen two great whites in the past three weeks.

In previous years, it was uncommon to see a great white more than once every two months.
"We saw a big one last week and another white pointer a couple of weeks before that," he said.
"You hardly ever used to see them, but there's a lot around at the moment, there's no doubt about it.

"There's definitely more around and you only have to look at the numbers.

"We're seeing them more and more frequently and it's just a matter of time until there are more attacks.

"It's going to happen, it's just a question of when." The warning comes just weeks after South Australian Jake Heron was attacked by a 4m great white while surfing near Port Lincoln.
A month earlier, marine biologist Jarrod Stehbens was fatally mauled by a great white while diving off Adelaide's Glenelg Beach.

And the deadliest killers of the deep are just as likely to be patrolling WA beaches.

A CSIRO tagging program last year tracked great white sharks moving along the coast from Adelaide into WA waters and as far north as Exmouth.

Mr Campbell said most sightings had been of medium-sized great whites about 3-4m.
There are 10 shark boats operating in WA's southern waters, most venturing no more than 100km offshore in search of gummy sharks, school sharks and bronze whalers.

Despite the reports of more sightings, WA Fisheries shark researcher Rory McAuley doubted great white shark numbers had increased.

This was despite the fact they were now a protected species in Australia.

"What has happened over recent years is the level of reporting of shark incidents, sightings and attacks has improved in both the media and the general public," Mr McAuley said.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Culling of great white shark demanded

Jake Heron was preparing to catch the last wave of the day when the ocean’s most feared predator struck.

Erupting from the water beside him, the great white shark bit deep into his right arm and leg.
“Terror is the only word I can think of to describe it,” Heron, a 40-year-old lobster fisherman, said. “I was punching and kicking and screaming for help. Its dorsal fin was right in front of my face.”
The 12-foot shark was turning for another strike when a lucky wave propelled Heron and the remains of his mangled surfboard on to the shore. He was rushed to hospital and was given more than 60 stitches.

Heron’s ordeal, early last month, earned him membership of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs – those who have been attacked by a great white and survived.

But it has also prompted an impassioned debate in Australia over whether the great white shark – Carcharodon carcharias – should be culled.

There have been five shark attacks in Australia since December, two of them fatal – significantly more than the national average of one a year.

Surfers and fishermen claim that great white numbers have increased dramatically in the last decade after the species was granted protection from hunting.

They also say the sharks are being lured closer to shore by a booming tuna fishing industry which has developed in the last decade and is now worth millions of pounds a year.

Tens of thousands of wild-caught tuna are fattened in offshore cages before being exported to Japan, where they are served in restaurants as premium quality sushi and sashimi.

Critics say the raw pilchards tossed into the pens, and the blood and guts which spill into the water when the tuna are slaughtered, are an irresistible attraction for great whites, which can grow up to 20 feet and weigh 2.5 tonnes.

Nowhere is the controversy more acute than in Port Lincoln, the centre of the tuna industry, on the southern tip of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.

Overlooking the deep blue waters of Boston Bay, Port Lincoln is the Antipodean equivalent of Amity Island, the fictional New England beach resort caught up in shark attack hysteria in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws.

Underwater footage of great whites used in the film was filmed at Dangerous Reef, a few miles up the coast.

Heron was attacked as he surfed a picturesque cove south of the town. In 2000, two surfers were killed within 48 hours at similar surf spots along South Australia’s remote coast.

There was another near miss last weekend when surfer Josh Berris, 26, desperately fought for his life after being attacked off Kangaroo Island, southeast of Port Lincoln. He survived by ramming his surfboard into the shark’s mouth.

“Numbers are up five to seven-fold compared with 10 years ago,” Heron, whose bite wounds are slowly healing, said. “The tuna industry is teaching sharks to interact with boats and people.”
Anti-shark sentiment is running high in Port Lincoln, where swimming, surfing and boating are a way of life.

“To have so many attacks in such a short period of time is unheard of,” said Nick Porter, who runs a surf shop on the esplanade. “I would say 90% of surfers would be in favour of a cull.”

The tuna industry denies that its offshore farms have increased the number of great whites or led indirectly to attacks. Port Lincoln’s tuna barons, who have become millionaires from the prized fish, say the tuna pens act as a magnet for sharks which would be in the area anyway, rather than luring more animals from the open ocean.

“Shark sightings are up because there are so many more fishermen out on the water looking out for them,” said Robbie Staunton, a tuna company manager whose office overlooks Port Lincoln’s busy marina.

The two sides are deadlocked because the great white’s range is so vast that scientists have no idea whether their population has risen or dropped in the past decade.

“From our limited observations, there’s no general trend either up or down,” said Barry Bruce, a government scientist who is one of the country’s foremost shark authorities.

Many Australians suspect the reason for the increase in shark attacks is because people are moving to the coast in search of a better lifestyle and are spending more time in the water.
T he number of attacks should be kept in perspective, said Peter Davis, Port Lincoln’s mayor. “You’re more likely to die of a bee sting or a lightning strike than a shark attack.”

But such assurances fail to convince many in Port Lincoln, where the fear of great whites has bred something close to a siege mentality.

“There are way too many of them,” said Renee Smith, 18, a waitress at a café overlooking the inviting turquoise shallows of Boston Bay. “There’ll be another fatal attack this [Australian] summer. I’d put money on it.”

Cousteau's grandson spends time in mechanical shark

DEEP beneath the waves a weird fish has swallowed the grandson of the late Captain Jacques Cousteau, the ocean explorer. Fabien Cousteau, 36, is these days to be found inside the belly of a submersible built in the shape of a great white shark.

It might seem a foolhardy enterprise, but Cousteau is using the robotic fish to get as close as possible to real great whites, the most ferocious killers of the sea, in the hope of filming them without disturbing their natural behaviour.

The “Trojan shark”, built from steel and plastic, is 14ft long and was created by a Hollywood prop expert at a cost of £115,000.

“The whole point,” says Cousteau, “is to fool them into thinking I am a shark.”

It is hardly the most comforting of environments in which to get cosy with the predatory fish. Cousteau’s diving contraption is covered with Skinflex, a malleable material mixed with glass beads and sand to simulate the texture of shark skin, right down to the ugly scars that commonly disfigure the biggest great whites.

The head swings open on hinges to allow Cousteau to enter the body. There he lies flat, holding a joystick in each hand to control speed, left and right movement and pitch — “just like a fighter plane”, he says.

The shark’s eyes are camera lenses and a third camera is positioned in a rubber “pilot fish” clamped, in another lifelike touch, to the underbelly of the submarine.

A “pneumatic propulsion system” invented by the American navy powers the shark’s tail. It enables it to move quietly and without creating bubbles.

“Bubbles make noise the sharks would feel and hear,” explains Cousteau. “It’s an artificial stimulus that could spook them or alter their behaviour in some way.”

Unsettling great whites is inadvisable. They have been blamed for three deaths this year and numerous attacks on swimmers and surfers. Some have been known to attack the metal cages used by divers. In the image popularised by the Steven Spielberg film Jaws, a great white is even thought capable of biting a small boat in half.

With the Trojan shark, Cousteau is protected by a stainless steel skeleton made from 2in thick ribs beneath the shark’s skin.

Perhaps because of their fearsome reputation, the great white remains little understood. Scientists have yet to establish where they breed, how long they live and how big they can grow. The largest on record is 21ft.

Cousteau’s device has enabled him to study the fish with unprecedented insight. Over the past few months he has been filming great whites from Mexico to Australia for American television. His findings contradict popular conceptions.

In fact, he says, “great white sharks do not go around chomping up boats”. Instead he claims they are “very timid creatures”.

Cousteau, who spent school holidays on expeditions with his grandfather aboard the Calypso, was partly inspired to build the shark by the cartoon character Tintin. In an adventure called Red Rackham’s Treasure, the boy detective takes to the deep in a shark-shaped submarine.

The diver was also mindful of his father, Jean-Michel, who experimented with a remote-controlled shark in 1989. A less-sophisticated device, it failed to pass muster in the shark world and was demolished in a few mouthfuls.

The new mechanical shark — called Troy but nicknamed Sushi by some of Cousteau’s crew — has proved more successful. Real sharks tend to accept the intruder as a dominant female, says Cousteau, even though they may be baffled by some of its features. The mouth can open and close but does not eat. And Troy, unlike real sharks, is odourless and incapable of great bursts of speed.
Nevertheless, its interactions with other sharks have been instructive. “We’ve got good information about boundaries and territoriality,” says Cousteau, whose family is still circling his grandfather’s legacy in a shark-like manner.

The undersea pioneer, who fused daring exploration with television documentary, is credited with helping to start the environmental movement by raising awareness of marine ecosystems.
He also enjoyed an adventurous private life, having two children with his mistress, apparently without his first wife knowing.

But since his death in 1997, the Cousteau Society run by his widow — his second wife, a former flight attendant — has been plagued by a dwindling membership and legal disputes with other family members over rights to the name.

Such is the bad blood in the family that a spokesman for the Cousteau Society would not even comment on the Troy expedition. The Calypso, meanwhile, remains rusting in the port of La Rochelle in western France.

With the help of Troy, Fabien, born in Paris but now living in New York, may become the most effective torchbearer of his grandfather’s mission.

He could not have better credentials: he began diving at the age of four when his grandfather designed a junior scuba outfit for him.

He was only six when he sneaked into a cinema to watch Jaws, which his parents had forbidden him to see.

He says he was horrified by the film because “it went against everything I’d ever been taught”.
That experience still underlies his desire to show audiences that sharks are not evil creatures but natural predators. He may yet change the popular perception of great whites, assuming Troy continues to perform as planned — and Cousteau does not end up inside the wrong shark.