Sunday, October 29, 2006

Great White shark spotter a few hundred meters from swimmers

The five metre white pointer was seen by an aerial surveillance team this morning and water police were able to guide the shark out to sea – but not before it had come within 300m of five of Perth's most popular beaches.

"It (the shark) would have covered probably five our most popular beaches," Nine Network reporter Michael Thompson told Sky News.

"So it would have cruised past, literally, thousands and thousands of beachgoers."

Mr Thompson said a glorious morning had meant beaches, including Scarborough and Trigg, were inundated by swimmers and surfers.

"Absolutely perfect beach weather... lots of people just down to enjoy the sunshine and go for a swim."

Thompson said some people refused to leave the water, even after alarms were sounded.
"After people were told to leave the beaches and when the helicopter is hovering over a shark 300m off the shore, some people are still wanting to surf and still swim in the water."

The beaches reopened at about 10.30am (WST).

Seeing Great White sharks on a different angle

Trenton Wheeler is just 5 years old, but he is already a "stalker" of great white sharks, in the words of his father, Kevin. And at this point there is just one place in the world for Trenton to pursue his obsession: the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For half a century, aquariums around the world have tried unsuccessfully to maintain a captive great white, the shark immortalized in the 1975 movie "Jaws" and its sequels, for more than a couple of weeks. Two years ago, scientists at Monterey managed to pull off this feat for the first time, keeping a female great white in their million-gallon tank for six months. Since September they have been at it again, introducing a year-old male to thousands of tourists who have flocked to view it.

A young great white swims past visitors at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the shark has been displayed since September. (Randy Wilder -- Monterey Bay Aquarium)
Monday, Oct. 23, 1 p.m. ET

Science: Great White SharksWashington Post science writer Juliet Eilperin will discuss her Monday Science Page story about the efforts to hold a great white shark in captivity.

Trenton Wheeler is one of these tourists, a San Jose resident who persuaded his father, sister, aunt and cousin to make the trek to Monterey in mid-October so they could peer at the 100-pound creature through a 13-inch-thick acrylic wall in the aquarium's Outer Bay exhibit.

"Here's the great white!" he cried out as the shark appeared from the depths, looking -- at just under six feet long -- decidedly less threatening than the full-grown version that has terrorized humans for generations. A full-grown great white can be up to 20 feet from snout to tail.

Aquarium officials are hoping all their visitors will be equally fascinated, and inspired to help protect a species that is under assault despite being protected by international treaties and California law. Numbers of great whites die after getting tangled in fishermen's nets, and in some countries people hunt them for their fins and meat.

"We take advantage of people's morbid curiosity about great white sharks to get the word out that these animals are the victims, not the villains, of the sea," said Michael Sutton, who directs the aquarium's Center for the Future of the Oceans. "The white shark is the most protected shark species in the world, but they're still killing them left and right in Mexico and other places."

Because great whites are such fierce predators, grow to an enormous size and like to range over thousands of miles in the open ocean, they are more difficult than other sharks to keep in a tank, even temporarily. In the mid-1980s, Monterey's biologists acquired one, but it died in less than two weeks; Randy Hamilton, now vice president and director of husbandry, had recently joined the aquarium and was dismayed that the staff did not have a better plan for handling the situation. "I remember thinking, 'There's got to be a better way,' " he said.

About 15 years ago, Monterey biologists learned that researchers in Waikiki, Hawaii, had managed to sustain a hammerhead shark in captivity temporarily by keeping it first in a lagoon before moving it to an aquarium tank. After consulting with several other California shark experts, Monterey Bay's staff rented an ocean pen 35 feet deep and 135 feet in diameter to house any great white shark they captured, at least at first.

With the pen ready, aquarium scientists notified Southern California fishermen in 2002 that they were looking for a shark that either came close to shore or was caught inadvertently, but none materialized. The following year they did find one, but they had to return the pen to its owner before the shark was fully acclimated.

In 2004 they finally succeeded, putting a female shark, which had been caught in a net, in an ocean pen and then bringing it to the aquarium in a 3,000-gallon "Tunabego" tank that had been used in the past to transport tuna.

That shark stayed on display for 6 1/2 months and attracted nearly a million visitors, until it started attacking other sharks housed in the same tank. Officials released it in March 2005 after attaching a satellite-transmitting tag to its dorsal fin. The tag was made to pop off a month later, allowing researchers to confirm that the shark had thrived after being set free.

Monterey biologists are teaming up with scientists at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, whose offices adjoin the aquarium, to study juvenile sharks. Marine sciences professor Barbara Block, the chief scientist of Tagging of Pacific Pelagics, a 50-member research project monitoring predators in the North Pacific, has pioneered attaching satellite tags to sharks to track their movements in detail.

In recent years, scientists have learned that California's great whites can travel as far away as Hawaii during the winter, though they return each year to their feeding grounds.

The researchers are studying the young great white's movements in the tank through video, as well as analyzing how it metabolizes its food.

The program is a massive undertaking: Monterey Bay officials estimate they have spent nearly $4 million on the shark project so far, with $840,000 devoted to field conservation research. The aquarium credits 40 individuals with helping to bring in their most recent juvenile, and about five staffers care for it daily.

Most great white pups caught in California turn up within a 20-mile radius of Long Beach, so both the California State University at Long Beach Shark Lab and the Southern California Marine Institute help monitor shark catches.

"We're the rapid-response team," said Christopher Lowe, who directs the Shark Lab and dispatches his students to meet fishermen who have secured great whites nearby. "It's location, location, location."

A few detractors have questioned whether it is wise to put on display an open-ocean predator that can travel thousands of miles in a year. Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, criticized the aquarium after observing that its first captive great white had abrasions on its snout. John O'Sullivan, the aquarium's curator of field operations, said the injury occurred when the shark was tangled in the fishing net; Van Sommeran said it stemmed from the shark's rubbing up against the exhibit's tank.

"Certain species of pelagics don't do well in captivity and don't do well in captive exhibits," Van Sommeran said, adding that he respects the aquarium's researchers.

The aquarium's latest great white appears to be thriving, eating roughly three pounds of salmon and mackerel a day. O'Sullivan sees his job as "halfway through" at this point, since he is waiting to see if the juvenile does well after it is released. "I'm not happy until that tag comes off and we know that animal has survived."

The toothy predator doesn't have a nickname: O'Sullivan frowns upon it. "These animals are wild, and they're going to return to the wild," he said. "Naming them gives the impression that they're pets."

In the meantime, however, the tourists are continuing to gawk at a species that author Herman Melville described as more terrifying than a "fierce-fanged tiger." In the past seven weeks 250,000 visitors have come to see it, many of them drawn by a fearsome reputation that goes back at least as far as Melville's "Moby Dick."

"Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors they are?" Melville wrote in 1851.

But after seeing the Monterey Bay Aquarium's exhibit half a dozen times, neither Trenton Wheeler nor his sister Alyssa fears great whites anymore. Alyssa, a bubbly 10-year-old, offered an entirely reasonable explanation for her sangfroid: "You shouldn't be scared of them. Only the ones that are really, really big eat people."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Great White sharks are great travellers

A great white shark is back along the Central Coast after deep ocean travels as far as Hawaii.
Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, said satellite tracking devices picked up the shark off Ano Nuevo Island in San Mateo County near the Santa Cruz County line.

Foundation researchers attached 18 satellite transmitters to white sharks from September 2005 to January 2006.

Scientists hope to recover the tracker from the shark "so we can get higher-resolution data -- and, they're expensive," Van Sommeran said.

Three more tagged sharks are expected off Ano Nuevo in the next week.

White sharks were once thought to be coastal dwellers, preying on seals, sea lions and other mammals, but the satellite tracking has shown that they are far-ranging, deep-diving, open-ocean fish, Van Sommeran said.

The giant sharks are important predators in the ocean food chain and they are at risk from fin and trophy hunters, Van Sommeran said. Mapping migratory routes will be necessary to develop a management plan to regulate the shark fishery.

Shark sightings on the rise!

SWIMMERS beware - shark sightings have reached record highs with more expected this summer.

There were 171 shark alarms in NSW in 2005/06 compared with 124 in 2004/05, figures from Surf Life Saving NSW show.

The data also reveals more sharks were sighted last summer off Sydney beaches since shark-sighting records have been kept.

Alarms rose from 47 to 80 across all Sydney metropolitan beaches in the 12 months to the end of June.

In Sydney, north of the harbour, shark sightings went from 28 to 35, while south of Port Jackson, they more than doubled from 19 to 45. Nationally sightings increased from 290 in 2004/05 to 377 in 2005/06.

And more sharks are expected to be sighted as water temperatures rise and large schools of migrating fish such as Australian salmon, swim along the coast.

John West, curator of the Australian Shark Attack File, said shark numbers were tied to the food source and the more food there was, the more animals would be feeding on it.

"But you have more chance dying on your way to the beach than from a shark attack. Having said that, swimming in dirty, murky water at dawn or dusk is probably not a good thing to do," Mr West said.

Anglers who soak large baits off the Sydney beaches after dark in search of prized jewfish have encountered more sharks lately than any other fish.

Local fishing guide Craig McGill said he regularly tangled with whaler and hammerhead sharks in summer in the harbour, while tiger and great white sharks travel just off the coast.

From tomorrow Sydney's coast will be patrolled by a new shark-spotting service called SurfWatch with the state announcing funding for more helicopter and power-ski patrols.

Surf Life Saving NSW communications officer Brett Moore said the new equipment and pre-existing rescue boats would be used to shepherd the sharks back out to sea.

"Our role as surf lifesavers is to patrol the beaches and protect the people. And in the ocean, there will be shark sightings," Mr Moore said.

Typically the sharks that inhabit the surf are metre-long whaler sharks, but in past summers bull sharks to more than two metres in length have been seen chasing fish around the Heads.
In 1999, a three-metre bull shark was netted by commercial fishers off Grotto Point in Middle Harbour and in just a few metres of water.

The great white is a protected species in NSW waters, but last summer, anglers landed numerous baby great white sharks off Stockton Beach, just north of Newcastle, in what appears to be a breeding ground.

But the incidence of shark attacks remains low, with seven to eight cases for an average of 1.1 fatalities a year around more than 27,000 kilometres of Australian coastline.

The latest shark fatality was in January when 21-year-old Sarah Whiley was mauled at North Stradbroke Island in south-east Queensland.

That death prompted a shark summit in April that has resulted in the NSW Government announcing it will increase shark patrols this summer.

Carnage footage of Great White sharks feeding on elephant seal

BIRDS WERE DIVING a quarter-mile from the Farallones, and the Salty Lady headed for the commotion.

It wasn't long before the charter boat crew spotted a deep red slick widening in the water.
Then the head of a frantic 400-pound elephant seal popped to the surface, its tail twirling like a propeller as it churned the water wildly.

Blood poured from a gaping 3-foot hole in the seal's hide, with 3-inch-thick folds of white blubber split open to reveal the stricken creature's internal organs.

A moment later, a 16-foot great white zoomed in. Then a smaller shark arrived.
Welcome to lunch at the Farallones.

The white sharks devoured the seal within 16 minutes, their meal marked by a widening circle of blood and blubber oil on

Naturalist David Wimpfheimer of Inverness, who leads birding, whale watching and other excursions as part of his business, photographed this great white shark attack of a seal near the Farallone Islands. (copyright David Wimpfheimer ( calm water on a crystal-clear day.

"It was spectacular," said Richard Birnbaum of Larkspur, who watched in amazement as the drama erupted Monday. "It was absolutely awesome."

The seal came alongside the boat "still alive, looking up at us, it's tail flipping a mile a minute. You could see a hole in it 3 feet wide, through the blubber. You could see its intestines.

"Within five minutes, the shark comes back and hits it again."

Salty Lady skipper Roger Thomas, an old salt who
has seen scores of shark attacks in 40 years at the helm, called it the most spectacular of his career.

He said the day was a "million-to-one shot."

That's because his boat was chartered by a BBC television documentary crew that recorded the carnage for a series tentatively called "Wild in California."

The British television crew had a day to devote to a hunt for a great white at the Farallones - and scored.

"It was really phenomenal," Thomas said. "I've seen lots of good shark attacks, but this one was just awesome.

"That seal was half alive, a couple feet from the boat, wiggling. The shark comes up and takes a hunk out of it. Then another shark comes up.

"What are the odds of having that happen for a TV crew that is out for just a day, trying to film a great white shark attack?"

The filmmakers, with two cameras blazing on board, and another on the main Farallon island, recorded it all.

The producer left the boat shaking her head in disbelief.

"We came back incredibly exhilarated," said BBC producer Hayley Smith. "All we had was one day, and we had no idea we'd get any footage that spectacular."

Also aboard the Salty Lady was noted naturalist David Wimpfheimer of Inverness, who leads birding, whale watching and other excursions as part of his business at As the attack unfolded, he grabbed a digital camera and took a striking series of photographs.
"We saw one shark, then a second one came in, and they were eating big chunks of meat," he said. "The seal has these big black eyes looking out at you, and you're kind of sad the animal is dying.

"At the same time it's exciting because you are seeing a predator doing its thing."
IJ reporter Nels Johnson's Fish Wrap column appears Fridays in the IJ's sports section.

What is linking collagen, women and Great White sharks?

Women use it to reduce wrinkles, great white shark skin is enveloped in it, and now two scientists have discovered a fish-like marine reptile that lived during the age of dinosaurs used it.

So, what is it? Collagen.

Collagen is in animal bones and connective tissue. A fibrous protein, it helps give skin its elasticity, and when it breaks down wrinkles appear.

Theagarten Lingham-Soliar of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and Gerhard Plodowski of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany examined fossilized soft-tissue from a well-preserved specimen of an Ichthyosaurs species called Stenopterygius quadricissus.
They found the sea reptile propelled itself with fins reinforced by a fiberglass-like mesh.

In fiberglass, thin strands of glass are mixed with plastic to provide strength. The result is a strong material that can be molded into any shape. Fiberglass is often used in airplanes, cars, and boats.

Research revealed the Ichthyosaurs used collagen to produce the mesh that would have kept their dorsal and tail fins rigid, allowing the creatures to glide through the water like torpedoes.
"Collagen is one of the most effective materials for toughening something, so from that point of view, it's not a surprise," Lingham-Soliar said. "Where one is surprised is to find good soft tissue in an animal that is so, so very old -- 200 million years old -- and to actually find the collagen fibers in the (fin) structures. That becomes near miraculous."

The finding, to be detailed in an upcoming issue of the German science journal Naturwissenschaften, is an example of convergent evolution, in which animals not closely related develop similar characteristics.

Collagen-stiffened fins and a streamlined body shape also evolved in fast-swimming tuna, dolphins and sharks.

Ichthyosaurs first appeared about 250 million years ago, slightly earlier than dinosaurs, and disappeared just before them. They ranged in length from 2 feet to more than 40 feet, but most were around 9 feet long. At their peak during the Jurassic, they were the ocean's top predators.
Ichthyosaurs' body shape suggested it was a fast swimmer, but until now, it was not known what kept their fins rigid. Scientists suspected collagen, but the new study is the first to confirm it.

Protecting who: Great White sharks or humans?

After yelling to his brother that a great white shark was swimming his way, Achmat Hassiem watched as it changed course - toward him.The 13-foot shark bit his foot, shook violently and took him under. Seconds later, Hassiem was pulled into a nearby boat, alive but missing his right foot.

The August episode in False Bay was the most recent in a string of great white incidents around Cape Town that have stirred emotions about a creature often demonized, intensifying a debate over how to balance safety and conservation.Some surfers say "rogue" sharks that repeatedly turn up near people should be killed.

Researchers say there are no rogue sharks and that a hunting ban imposed by South Africa in 1991 is crucial to the endangered species' long-term survival.In an attempt to explain the attacks, some have pointed to the growing cage-diving industry that puts tourists in an underwater cage and lures great whites for a close encounter. So far, no research has shown such a link. Others suggest that overfishing has lured hungry sharks closer to shore. And some say there are simply more people in the water.

Seemingly all agree that there has been an increase in unprovoked shark bites on people, or small boats, along Cape Town's nearly 200 miles of shoreline. In the past four years, 13 have been recorded, with three fatalities; in the previous 42 years, there were 17, one fatal. Nearly all are thought to have involved great whites. In two of the recent fatalities - a woman swimming and a spear fisherman - the bodies were never recovered.

"We're looking for a balanced approach to this issue without flying off the handle and reacting every time something happens," said Gregg Oelofse, Cape Town's environmental policy and research coordinator.To that end, the city is expanding to 11 beaches a shark-spotting program that a group of surfers started at two beaches in 2004. Lookouts on hillsides or in towers sound a siren to warn of a shark and can close a beach until the fish swims away.

The city plans to put independent observers on cage-diving vessels in False Bay to ensure that operators do not feed sharks, which could condition them to associate boats with food, and do not abuse the animals by enticing them to smack the cage to heighten the thrill for tourists.Cape Town is also exploring the viability of using exclusion nets to keep sharks from beaches. Unlike shark nets used off Durban on the Indian Ocean, exclusion nets have fine mesh that does not entangle sharks or other creatures.

The nets could be removed whenever whales are near.But apart from the shark-spotting, none of the measures would enhance safety for surfers, kayakers and surf skiers who venture hundreds of yards from shore. Nets, for instance, would work only in calmer water between breakers and the shore.The relative newness of kayaking and surf-skiing in Cape Town, along with advanced wetsuits that enable surfers to stay in the chilly water for hours, have raised the odds of shark encounters, Oelofse said.

Most here involve great whites, considered the predator of the seas, and can occur when a shark mistakes a person for a seal or is simply curious or aggressive.In July, Lyle Maasdorp, 19, had a close call off Fish Hoek while riding a surf-ski."Lyle said he felt the back of his surf-ski lifting out of the water and he heard a crunching sound," the National Sea Rescue Institute wrote. "He fell off his surf-ski and realized it was a shark when his hand landed on the shark's back."Unhurt, Maasdorp scrambled onto another person's surf-ski and found safety on some rocks.Paul Botha, who has surfed these waters for 40 years, said he fears surfing alone now.

"The instant I'm alone, 'shark' comes into my head. That thought comes jolting up my spine. I'm looking around, wondering what's going on beneath me," he said.Botha, an event promoter, has riled shark researchers by calling for "selective culling" of rogue sharks. He questions how they know rogue sharks are a myth when so much about great whites - their mating, breeding, migration patterns, population - is so poorly understood.He also calls for sonar buoys to track sharks, a system he likens to the use of closed-circuit cameras to deter crime. The technology exists, but some experts say it might not be practical yet.

An existing option for surfers is to wear electronic "shark shields" that emit weak pulses shown to repel sharks.Botha blames the rise in attacks on overfishing that has deprived sharks of food, protections enacted in 1991 that he believes have increased the shark population, and cage diving.Most of his views are not shared by researchers such as Alison Kock, a doctoral student at the University of Cape Town. She says an increase in people using the water, not more sharks, explains the rise in attacks, which is part of a global pattern. Because it takes sharks a decade to mature sexually, she said, it is "physiologically impossible" that the 1991 protections have caused a population boom.

She dismisses the theory of a rogue shark by pointing out that hundreds of great whites have been identified and thousands of people enjoy Cape Town's waters, yet attacks are still relatively rare."If these sharks were man-eaters, there would be an attack every day," she said. And because great white sharks are migratory animals, killing five or 10 would make little immediate difference because five or 10 more would soon swim into these waters.

Kock co-authored a study that found no evidence that cage diving raised the risk of shark attacks. Chumming, in which a trail of blood and fish meat is spread behind the boat, did not hold sharks' interest for long. And sharks rarely ate the fish heads used as bait."Conditioning can only arise if white sharks gain significant and predictable food rewards," the authors wrote.

Even if such conditioning occurred, it is "highly improbable" it would endanger people, because the boat, cage and tourists - as a unit - do not resemble surfers or swimmers.Yet, Kock expressed criticism of some cage-diving operators that play up the fear factor and reinforce myths."The industry needs to take the lead and say, 'We're not selling this as an adrenaline sport; we want to be educational.'"Of the 12 cage-diving operators, eight are in Gansbaai, southeast of False Bay. Marine biologist Michael Scholl works as a guide on the cage-diving boat Shark Fever, a job that enables him to do research on great whites.

Scholl has developed a visual identification system that uses dorsal fin markings. He has identified 1,200 great whites since 1998 in and around Dyer Island, which is populated by seals. While South Africa's Western Cape coast is clearly a prime shark habitat, he said population estimates remain elusive.One recent morning, Shark Fever took out 15 tourists. The cage can hold four or five people and is lashed to the boat's side, with the top above water.

Tourists wear wetsuits and masks, and hold their breath as they watch the sharks swim.In three hours, Scholl and his research assistants spotted 10 great whites, some 10 to 12 feet long, less than a mile offshore. Three or four times a shark got the bait before it could be pulled from the water. In some instances, a shark lunged out of the water, exposing its teeth, or rattled the cage while thrashing for the bait.The cage-diving operation that employs him has a brochure with "Jaws" printed on it. But Scholl says he is trying to change that image through an hourlong seminar he gives before every trip.

He says responsible cage diving not only aids research but can demystify great whites."The more people see those white sharks out there for what they are, the less people will be afraid of sharks," he said. "That's why I'm supporting it. I think it's a great tool for education."As for shark-related deaths, which number a handful per year worldwide, he said: "It's such a small number. More people have died today in this country from AIDS, many more. Yet sharks make the news."

Scientists keep tracks of tagged Great White shark

A great white shark tagged in South Australian waters three months ago has shown up off the northern coast of Western Australia.

CSIRO scientists placed a satellite tracking device on the shark in waters near Port Lincoln.
Recent data showed the female great white, known as Columba, was about 100 kilometres north-west of Exmouth, at a depth of about 600 metres.

CSIRO research scientist Barry Bruce says the information is important for two reasons.
"We're trying to understand what draws sharks to certain areas at certain times, what pathways they use to move between these certain areas and use that information to minimise the risk that we pose to sharks," he said.

"But also see if we can use that information to minimise the risk that sharks pose to us."
Mr Bruce says it is the first time such a long journey has been successfully tracked by satellite.
"They must be making these journeys for particular reasons, so it's exciting for us to be able to plot its course as it goes up the coast and it's found this area," he said.

"Now it's been up there for the last two-and-a-half weeks and we're currently in the process of contacting various colleagues that work in the area just to see what on earth would attract a white shark to deep water off this particular area."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tagged Great White shark returns to coastline

A great white shark tagged by researchers last year has returned after a year in the open ocean, Sean Van Sommeran, Executive Director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation announced Friday.

He is expecting more sharks to be located in the near shore waters with the aid of satellite and ultra-sonic transmitters. The research team is tracking the shark's movement and range. Some great whites have been tracked from Ano Nuevo to near Hawaii and some have traveled as deep as 250 meters.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Great White shark in Hawaiian waters, a rare occurrence

I knew even before booking my flight to Hawaii that I'd be spending a good portion of my precious island time underwater. My friends couldn't picture me tanning on a secluded beach, mai tai in hand. Instead, they knew I'd be soaking up all the aquatic adventure Oahu had to offer. Their advice was succinct: "Be safe. Please."

My plan had been mapped out in successive stages of bravery, beginning with a relatively tame scuba dive and ramping up to a swim in a shark cage.

A Galapagos shark, common in Hawaiian waters, swims past the Plexiglas window of a shark-viewing cage in the waters off of Oahu. (HAWAII SHARK ENCOUNTERS)

I ticked off the first item on my list as my dive boat bobbed in waters about half a mile offshore, the majestic crest of Diamond Head crater looming on the headland.

It had been a few years since my last dive, so once

submerged, I had to remind myself to scan above and below, not just side to side as when I was topside.

Once I remembered that simple rule -- and pried my eyes from the moray eels lurking in the reef directly below me -- I discovered I had a new dive buddy, a green sea turtle that, my human dive partner later told me, had been moseying alongside for several minutes before I noticed him. My shelled friend craned his neck to meet my gaze, then rose for air, a graceful silhouette against the silvery surface.

The diving portion of our day ended at Koko Craters, where we paid homage to the 200-pound statue of Buddha that had been sunk specifically for divers' enjoyment in 35 feet of water.

A day later, I ventured to the southeast corner of Oahu for a visit to Sea Life Park, known to some as the workplace of Adam Sandler in "50 First Dates."

Initially lured to the park by my love of aquariums, I became further intrigued upon learning that Sea Life Park was not about passive viewing but rather interactive encounters. When I saw the menu of options at the ticket kiosk, I opted out of the uber-popular dolphin encounter in favor of snorkeling in the stingray tank.

More docile than sharks, stingrays often are included in aquarium touch tanks. So I had little trepidation about floating in their midst, even as the handler tossed food about me. When I held out a fishy offering of friendship, the rays' sucking action tickled my palm as they accepted the food.
Also in the tank were the largest puffer fish I'd ever seen and a baby hammerhead shark, all of 2 feet long. Both eluded my attempts to snap photos with my disposable camera, but the domesticated and curious rays had no qualms about flapping against me or running a pectoral wing along my side as they glided by. The softness of their skin and the gentleness of their touch was almost sensuous.

A few months after my visit, I was stunned to hear of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin's death by stingray barb. A representative for Sea Life Park since has assured me that the Hawaiian Ray Encounter is still offered by the park and that, surprisingly, there had been few guest inquiries as to its safety.

This seemed to attest to the fact that Irwin's tragic passing was a fluke, even more rare an occurrence than spotting a great white shark in Hawaiian waters. Which brought me to my next aqua-excursion.

As the sun rose across Oahu, I drove my rental car up Kamehameha Highway, past the Dole Plantation toward the North Shore's historic Haleiwa, a small village oozing with quaintness and laid-back charm. The town itself is worth a half-day trip to explore such wonders as the kitschy, one-room North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum or Matsumoto's, purveyor of that ubiquitous island refreshment, shave ice.

I'd chosen Hawaii Shark Encounters over several area competitors due to the outfit's recent brush with fame. Just a few weeks earlier -- Dec. 28, 2005 -- during an ordinary outing with a boatload of clients, the 32-foot Kainani and its crew had an encounter with a great white shark more than half the length of the vessel.

Capt. Jimmy Hall saw his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and did what any shark enthusiast would: He joined the great white -- but not in the cage! -- and shot footage of/ an almost unheard-of event -- a great white in Hawaiian waters.

(To read his first-hand account of this event, and see photos and video, go to

But great whites were not on the menu the day of my trip. As the chum hit the water, only the usual suspects emerged, daunting enough in their dental capacity: 10-foot Galapagos and slightly shorter sandbar sharks, all writhing and vying for the fish parts tossed near our cage.

From the other side of the bars, I resisted the temptation to caress the toothy creatures as they glided past, knowing they, unlike their winged cousins at Sea Life Park, were there solely to feed and not to be petted.

Three miles out, our cage bobbed in pristine ocean water, visibility reaching nearly 80 feet.

Although I was equipped with snorkeling equipment, not scuba gear, the ocean environment still required a 360-degree scan, and when I gazed into the depths below, I spotted several Galapagos prowling just below the bottom of the cage, under my dangling feet.

Frenzied bodies bumped the cage's Plexiglas windows inches from my face, providing a close-up view of feeding that the Discovery Channel couldn't match.

Despite the frenetic feeding surrounding me, the shark encounter was much less an adrenaline rush than expected -- not because it failed to live up to expectations or because the 18-foot great white remained elusive. Rather, the experience felt incredibly safe, more so than even a wedgie-inducing water slide at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park.

As I helped the crew hand-feed chum from the back of the Kainani, I realized I'd checked off the last of my daredevil to-dos for this trip, and still had all my digits to show to my anxious friends back home.


Hawaii Shark Encounters -- Haleiwa Boat Harbor, on Oahu's North Shore); 808-351-9373;
www.hawaiishark Cost: $100; $70 children; discounts for military and Hawaii residents. Reservations required.

Waikiki Diving Center -- 424 Nahua St., Honolulu; 808-922-2121; Cost: $99 for a two-tank dive, $115 for a wreck dive. Reservations suggested.

Sea Life Park -- 41-202 Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo, Oahu; 866-365-7446; Admission: $29.95; $23.95 children 4-12. Encounters extra. Ray encounter: $45.78; child $40.57. Reservations suggested.

North Shore Surf and Cultural Museum -- 66-259 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (Oahu's North Shore); 808-637-8888; Free admission, but donations appreciated.

Matsumoto's -- 66-087 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (Oahu's North Shore); 808-637-4827,

Monday, October 09, 2006

Surfing competition interrupted by Great White shark

Organisers of the Kahuna Surf Series contest in Muizenberg, Cape Town, had to temporarily halt the event due to a Great White shark lurking in the waters.

The novice surfing competition, which took place on Saturday, was interrupted for approximately 15 minutes after the shark spotters, who monitor the surf break, raised the alarm as the shark entered an area where the surfers were competing.

After the shark moved offshore the shark spotters raised the “all clear” flag.

Great White shark sightings are a common occurrence around the Cape Peninsula during spring and early summer months.

Ocean users in the area say these sightings have become all too common and they are calling for city authorities to do something about the problem they say has escalated dramatically over the past five years. Fish Hoek Bay recorded as many as 138 Great White sightings last summer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Great White shark sighting interrupts surfing competition

A Great White shark cruising close inshore interrupted the first day's proceedings at the Surf Series contest for novice surfers at Muizenberg Corner in Cape Town on Saturday, forcing the organisers to halt the event temporarily until the shark moved off.

With four Under-16 girls competitors in the surf along with approximately 40 recreational surfers enjoying the sunny, offshore conditions at around 13:30, the Shark Spotters, who overlook the popular surf break and had been monitoring the activities of the shark in the crystal clear water for nearly five minutes, raised the alarm when it started to approach the surfers and everyone immediately exited the surf.

The contest was resumed 15 minutes later after the Shark Spotters raised the 'all clear' flag as the shark moved offshore again and dozens of recreational surfers also streamed back into the surf.
Great White shark sightings are a common occurrence around the Cape Peninsula during the Spring and early Summer months from September to February - too common according to many ocean users in the area who are calling for the city authorities to do something about a problem that they say has escalated dramatically in the past four or five years.

A total of 138 sightings last summer.

"We were fortunate that today's incident took place at Muizenberg which is one of only three venues out of the dozens of popular surf spots on the Peninsula that are staffed by Shark Spotters," said veteran watersport promoter Paul Botha, adding "If it had taken place at Melkbosstrand or Kommetjie, the venues for the next two Surf Series events, we would have no warning at all until the shark was amongst the surfers."

"On the one hand today's incident is an endorsement of how effective the Shark Spotting programme can be where there is a mountain next to the beach to give the spotters the elevation they need to see through the water," commented Botha, "But on the other hand it demonstrates just how common these inshore Great White shark incidents are becoming with nearby Fish Hoek bay, which also has Shark Spotters, recording as many as 138 sightings last summer."

The city's recently released Draft Shark Safety Strategy promotes the Shark Spotting program as the core of its proposed measures to deal with shark situation and is in the process of expanding the program to other beaches on the Peninsula.

Shark spotting season is on its way!

A SHARK spotting programme will be put in place at the Strand beachfront by the middle of October.

Not that Strand Beach is regarded as unsafe, only one known attack has been reported here in the past 100 years and that was in the 1920's. But the monitoring of sharks is part of a citywide programme to raise public awareness following shark attacks elsewhere along the Peninsula coastline in recent months and an expected seasonal increase in white shark inshore activity in coming weeks.

Shark spotters have in the past week had regular sightings of sharks at Muizenberg, St James and Fish Hoek.

The sightings correspond with data gleaned from five of 34 sea floor acoustic receivers retrieved a week ago by experienced commercial divers at Muizenberg and at Partridge Point. More sea floor acoustic receivers were also retrieved at Cape Hangklip, Pringle Bay and Gordon's Bay on September 28. These receivers form part of the collaborative False Bay White Shark Ecology Project, funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation and Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

The receivers record the presence of acoustically tagged great white sharks and store information such as which sharks were recorded in the area, when they arrived and departed and how long they stayed for. To date 64 great whites have been tagged with acoustic transmitters, 18 were tagged earlier this year.

In addition to the acoustic monitoring, information is collected on environmental conditions and prey availability (fish, sharks and rays occurring inshore that are important prey for white sharks) to try and determine the reasons for sharks changing their habitat use from predominantly using the seal colony in the winter to predominantly using the coastal inshore areas during the summer.
The Shark Working Group has asked the public using the coast for recreation to be extra vigilant, particularly over the next few months, to use areas where shark spotters are on duty and to familiarise themselves with warning systems.

Currently shark spotting programmes are operational at Muizenberg corner, St James beach and Fish Hoek - seven days a week from 08:00 to 18:00 - and at Monwabisi Beach, Mnandi Beach and Blue Waters Beach - 10:00 to 18:00 on all weekends, school holidays and public holidays. These operational times are the same as the lifesaving operational times.

Shark spotting programmes are not yet operational at the Strand beachfront, Kommetjie, Long Beach and The Hoek, Noordhoek, but will be in place by the middle of October.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Are shark tours a good idea?

A public meeting will be held tomorrow night in Hale'iwa to discuss possible federal restrictions on shark-viewing operations in Hawai'i.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council will hold the informational meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Hale'iwa Elementary School cafeteria. The council will solicit comments on options to manage shark-viewing tours not just on the North Shore, but in all federal waters from three to 200 miles off Hawai'i.

State law bans the feeding of sharks in state waters if it's part of a commercial activity. But the law doesn't prohibit shark-viewing activities that do not involve feeding sharks. State waters extend to three miles from shore.

The controversy surrounds Hale'iwa-based Hawai'i Shark Encounter Tours, a commercial operator that allows customers to view sharks in the wild from the safety of a cage. The company takes customers three miles offshore where sharks are "drawn to the surface by the sound of the boat's engine," according to its Web site.

Hawai'i Shark Encounter Tours officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, and it was not known if bait or chum is used to attract the sharks.

But North Shore scuba divers and fishermen have complained that the operation is attracting more sharks to the area and is creating a public safety problem. Jacob Ng, a Hale'iwa resident and member of the North Shore Neighborhood Board, said some residents are afraid to go in the water because they fear shark attacks.

"From what I understand, the shark boat operation throws bait overboard to attract the sharks, and the sharks get accustomed to the boats, to the sound of the motor, and as the shark boat goes back to the harbor, sharks would follow the sound of the boat," Ng said. "There's been a tremendous increase in shark activity in the area."

Ng said residents also are concerned because they've heard that Hawai'i Shark Encounter Tours plans to expand its fleet from four to six boats.

The company gained notoriety in December 2005 when one of its excursions attracted a great white shark. The boat's captain left the safety of the cage and swam with the shark, which was estimated to be 18 to 20 feet long.

It's activity like this that has many on the North Shore concerned, Ng said. He said some people want such shark tours banned.

"This one guy told me he used to swim in the Waialua beach area, but he no longer swims there because the sharks have been in the area," Ng said.

Paul Dalzell, Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council senior scientist, said there is a question as to whether the council has jurisdiction over shark-viewing tours. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is the policy making organization for fisheries in the "exclusive economic zone" (three to 200 miles) in Hawai'i and other Pacific islands.

"This is clearly not a fishery, but it is aggregating fish around a particular spot and fishermen use fish aggregating devices to catch tuna, ono and mahi and stuff. It's a bit of a stretch, but you could sort of make a connection there," Dalzell said. "Then the species of fish themselves are these sharks that are contained under our Coral Reef Ecosystem Plan."

Dalzell said it may take "several years" before the council can come up with a recommendation because of the cost and amount of research involved.

Among the options that will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting are:

Conducting research on shark movement, behavior and population.

Recommending that the state establish a moratorium on new shark tour operations.

Establishing federal regulations for shark tour operations, such as prohibiting or limiting the amount of chum that may be used, requiring operations to move farther offshore, and limiting the number of operators.

Banning shark-viewing operations in federal waters.

Spear fisherman fends off Great White with spear gun

A professional diver from Strandfontein has told how he speared a shark in its nose as it swam towards him with its jaws wide open along the False Bay coast at the weekend.

Joseph Johnston, 36, said he and a group of divers had been spearfishing around Miller's Point - between Rumbly Bay and Castle Rock - on Saturday afternoon when a shark approached him.
Johnston, a fire department training officer and a rescue diver, said the group had been about 300m from the shore and about to move to another reef.

"We often see sharks and they never bother us, but this one was heading straight for me," he said.
When the shark was about two metres away from Johnston it had opened its jaws.

Johnston said he had instinctively grabbed his speargun, aimed and fired.

"I hit it in the nose and it turned and headed towards Louis."

Louis Simpson of Ottery was a about 2m away. "It moved underneath me - it was definitely a great white, it could've been at least four metres," Simpson said.

The shark moved vigorously in the water, causing the top of the 7mm-diameter spear to break off. It swam away with the point stuck in its nose.

Simpson said the shark's ap-pearance had been unexpected because the group had used camouflage suits, so that they could not be mistaken for seals and had boogie boards, so there was no fish blood in the water.

"We got everyone out of the water and called the shark spotters to notify them about the injured animal," Johnston said.

Yvonne Kamp, co-ordinator of the shark-spotting programme, said Johnston and his group had been lucky.

Spear fishermen often spotted sharks because they ventured deep into the water.

"We are hoping that, particularly at this time, people are going to report sharks spotted from the shore and in the water," she said

A shark was spotted in Fish Hoek bay yesterday.

Johnston said he had been lucky that visibility was good, so that he was able to spot the shark from quite a distance.

The encounter has not put Johnston off his hobby. He was back in the water yesterday.

Last week, a huge great white shark, measuring about 4.5 metres was spotted off Fish Hoek beach. Great white sharks appear to be following their spring migration inshore into False Bay, according to experts.

Spring migration time for the Great White sharks

It was another dramatic day for beach-goers at Fish Hoek, Western Cape, on Thursday when a huge great white shark, measuring about 4,5 metres, was spotted off the beach. After being forced to leave the water at about 8:30am, bathers were eventually allowed back in at around 3pm, said Yvonne Kamp, co-ordinator of the shark spotters who look for sharks from vantage points at designated beaches. "When the siren sounded people quickly left the water. Everyone seems to be used to the drill by now," said Kamp.
'We are asking that people be more alert'The great white shark spring migration has begun, say the experts who have warned bathers to be more cautious.Researchers rushed to try to tag the shark in Fish Hoek bay Thursday but were unsuccessful.

Law enforcement officials controlled watching crowds and made sure nobody entered the water. Shark spotters have been kept on their toes for the past few days in anticipation of the shark migration to the inshore parts of False Bay. The sharks are moving away from Seal Island into shallow areas around the coast, according to data collected by shark spotters and researchers.

Sharks have been sighted just off the coast at Muizenberg, St James and Fish Hoek since last Friday. There was a sighting on Wednesday at Fish Hoek and another at St James.The sharks' inshore activity is expected to increase in the coming weeks.Gregg Oelofse, environmental officer of the Cape Town City Council and member of the Shark Working Group, said that fortunately visibility had been good on Thursday."We are asking that people be more alert and take notice of the flags," said Oelofse.

A green flag means the beach is open and swimmers can have a dip and a black flag indicates poor visibility for spotters. A red flag indicates that bathers should be cautious because a shark has been spotted nearby. A white flag with a black shark indicates a danger zone and bathers should leave the water immediately.