Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fossilized shark tooth discovered during field trip

Catherine Sliva made it look easy on her first fossil hunt.

The Catonsville Middle School seventh-grader found a fossilized shark's tooth on a school field trip to Calvert Cliffs State Park that dwarves the teeth that frightened moviegoers watching "Jaws."
The 13-year-old found the triangular tooth, about two inches tall and nearly as wide at its broadest point, along the shore in Calvert County.

The beach at Calvert Cliffs is known as a fertile area for finding fossils. Park guests can keep fossils they find, according to a state Department of Natural Resources Web site.

Catherine's find is most likely from a megalodon, according to Tim Lovell, a science teacher at Catonsville Middle who was on the field trip with her and more than 100 other seventh- graders.
In his second year at Catonsville, Lovell said he has never seen anything like the tooth.

A megalodon was a massive shark of between 5 million and 1.5 million years ago, according to the National Museum of Natural History.

An adult could be up to 40 feet long, compared to a modern great white shark which can reach lengths of around 15 feet.

Catherine said she has been interested in sharks since she saw "Jaws" several years ago, so she knew what she had found as soon as she saw it.

She said her father bought her a kit when she first showed an interest in predatory fish. The kit shows different sizes and types of shark's teeth, including megalodons.

"This is probably from a baby or from all the way in the back (of the mouth)," she said.

Lovell, who was in charge on the trip, said the seventh grade had completed a unit on rocks and fossils, so the May 3 trip fit perfectly with the curriculum.

He said the seventh grade was divided into two groups because there isn't room on the beach for the approximately 230 students all at once.

A portion of dolphin's jaw was the only other find of note by the students.

Lovell said the trip was planned for a day when they would arrive at low tide after the 1 1/2 hour bus ride so that more beach area could be searched for fossils.

Finding fossils in that section of beach, which is about 100 yards long, is not uncommon, due to the eroding of the cliffs that tower over the sand.

Fossils from more than 600 species have been found from Calvert Cliffs, according to the DNR Web site.

Shark Safaris are a MUST, in South Africa!

I’m not one to go bungee jumping in New Zealand or canyoning in Costa Rica, yet presenting myself as great white bait in an underwater cage in South Africa has always held a certain appeal. I’ll admit it—I’m obsessed with sharks.

And the chance to see the greatest predator of them all in a purportedly safe environment appeals to me in a totally primal way. I have, however, pondered the ethical questions that go along with cage diving. So I was interested to read about Joshua Hammer’s experience in Kleinbaai (two hours from Cape Town) in a detailed piece in the New York Times.

Hammer’s February visit fell during the off season for shark viewing. And while he never actually saw a shark underwater—only from the boat—his trip managed to pack in some serious thrills. And at the end of his story, I was left thinking that just the pursuit of these nomadic creatures—one great white was recently tracked 12,000 miles during a return journey between South Africa and Western Australia—is adventure enough.

Of course, there’s another side to these dives, also known as “shark safaris.”

Critics maintain that luring sharks into human encounters by chumming the water (a common shark safari practice) conditions them to associate humans with food—the Pavlovian response at its most petrifying, if you ask me.

Oddly, Hammer didn’t address the issue in his story. But a Guardian piece from last October
examined the ethics of cage dives, presenting views from both a celebrated marine biologist/shark tour operator and a local waterman wary of increasing attacks on humans in the area.
If you’re considering a shark safari yourself, it’s worth feeling out all angles before diving in.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Project to protect the Great White shark has been launched!

Isla Guadalupe, Mexico has become the internationally recognized destination for divers seeking unprecedented encounters with Great White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias.) The 90 square mile island located in the Pacific is also home to many rare endemic species of animals and plants.In 2005 Mexico declared the island a Bio-Sphere Reserve under the watchful eye of CONANP the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas.

As is the case with many watch dog and eco enforcement organizations world wide, long term funding for actual on site protections of this resource and the Great Whites that seasonally inhabit these pristine waters do not exist at this time.Globally, shark aggregation sites like Isla Guadalupe have been decimated in the past few years by poaching, over fishing, and an uncontrolled trade in shark fins that takes an estimated 70 million sharks a year.

Recently a concerned group of shark diving operators, vessel owners and researchers stepped in to create and launch the Guadalupe Fund 501(c)3. Its stated goal is to move much needed cash and donated equipment into the Bio-Sphere for park staff and continued funding for long term white shark science/monitoring.“The timing for the Guadalupe Fund couldn't be better,” said John Conniff, owner operators of the MV Islander, which runs white shark diving expeditions to the island. “I've been fortunate enough to spend the past 8 years working at Isla Guadalupe.

Over that time I've marveled at both the diversity and uniqueness this island has to offer. This fund, in conjunction with a robust effort from the Mexican government will insure that future usage is managed in a way that maintains the island's integrity and protects its many resources; this island is truly one of a kind. Our goal is to make sure it stays that way for generations to come.”Nicole Nasby Lucas from the Marine Conservation Science Institute has been involved in ongoing white shark tagging and photo identification research at this site for the past six years.

"Our tagging and photo-ID research have shown that the Guadalupe Island white sharks aggregate here in large numbers during the fall and winter, leave the island and travel as far as Hawaii and then come back to the same spot. This makes Guadalupe Island a critical habitat for the white shark in this region and demonstrates the importance of protecting the island and its sharks.”The diverse and often contrary nature of this coalition of dive boat operators, researchers and eco-tour operators is a testament to the immediate need for a long term funding source for this unique Bio-Sphere Reserve and all its inhabitants.

The Guadalupe Fund is being managed by with assistance from shark diving operator SharkDiver.Com and hopes to generate a minimum of $100,000 a year from concerned divers and shark lover’s world wide. All donations to this fund are tax deductible and gifts ranging from free trips to the island and the opportunity to name a Great White shark after donors exist for interested parties.

For more information visit:

Marine Conservation Science Institute

Cage diving with sharks is now possible for non-divers

Incredible Adventures now has two shark diving adventures specifically designed to accommodate those with limited or no dive experience. By staffing trips with certified dive instructors and employing the use of onboard air supply systems and custom-built protective shark cages, the company makes it possible for more individuals to experience the thrill of seeing sharks in their natural environments.

Individuals can choose from two very different shark diving experiences. The first is a one day adventure within San Francisco's Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary. There, the goal is to witness great white sharks as they feed on the elephant seals that populate the Farallon Islands from September until November. The water is cold and often murky but the great white sharks are huge adults, averaging 15 - 20 ft in length. Cage diving operations take place within protected waters, so no feeding of sharks or chumming the waters is permitted. Incredible Adventures employs the use of seal decoys to boost the number of shark sightings.

The second adventure takes place in the Bahamas at an offshore location known as "Tiger Beach". There, the goal is to see the large tiger sharks that gather in the waters off Grand Bahama Island's West End. Although tiger sharks are the featured attraction, cage divers can also expect to see lemon sharks, reef sharks and the occasional hammerhead shark. In the Bahamas, the water is relatively warm and visibility is high, making it the preferred location for photographers hoping to capture underwater images of sharks.

The cost to cage dive is $875 per person and includes expert instruction and the use of necessary dive equipment. Those who prefer to stay dry pay $375 for a topside trip. Space is limited and many dates sell out so advance booking is mandatory. For more information, contact Incredible Adventures at 800-644-7382 or visit the company's website:

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Angler who caught Great White Shark could reel in a large fine too!

Delaware’s Fish and Game is testing to confirm that it is indeed a juvenile Great White Shark.

The shark weighted 179 lbs and measured 66 inches long.

The angler that brought this shark in could be facing a rather large fine.

Great White Shark: Myth or Reality?

Year after year, beach season brings accounts of harrowing shark attacks as people around the world plunge into the surf to escape summer's heat.

But the reality is that these fearsome predators kill an average of four people worldwide every year, while humans kill anywhere from 26 million to 73 million sharks annually, according to recent calculations by an international team of scientists.

With the latter toll mounting rapidly in recent years, there has been a growing realization that something must be done to prevent sharks from disappearing from the planet.

Last month, Mexico, which has a large shark fishery, enacted a law that protects three species, bans the practice of shark "finning" - slicing off the fins of a newly caught shark and tossing the animal back in the ocean to die - and requires authorities to monitor the activities of large shark-fishing boats. Yesterday, officials from around the globe began meeting in the Hague, Netherlands, to decide whether to put tight controls on the trade in two heavily fished species, spiny dogfish and porbeagle, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

"For most of human history, sharks have been seen as a threat to us," David Balton, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries, said in a recent interview. "Only recently are we beginning to see we're a threat to them."

Unprovoked shark attacks off U.S. shores have risen over the last century as Americans have flocked to the coasts and researchers have collected more careful statistics. Yet the number of deaths worldwide has dipped slightly in recent years, according to the International Shark Attack File, compiled by the American Elasmobranch Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History. Occasionally, the number of deadly attacks spikes, as it did in 2000, when sharks killed 11 people.

The declines in shark populations have been steep, as documented recently by scientists using technologies including satellite tracking and DNA analysis.

In March, a team of Canadian and U.S. scientists calculated that the number of scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks may have declined along the East Coast by more than 97 percent between 1970 and 2005, and that the population of bull, dusky and smooth hammerhead sharks dropped by more than 99 percent. Globally, the World Conservation Union describes 16 percent of 328 surveyed shark species as threatened with extinction.

From Mexico to Indonesia, much of the hunt for sharks is driven by the growing demand for shark-fin soup, a prized delicacy that conveys a sense of status in Asian countries whose citizens are enjoying newfound wealth.

On a recent spring afternoon in the tiny camp of El Chicharon outside Las Barrancas, two brothers, Francisco and Armando Bareno, returned to shore with a catch of two dozen mako and blue sharks. At the edge of the water, they began slicing off the fins so they could pack them separately onto a truck bound for Mexico City, more than 1,000 miles away.

The fins are so much more valuable than the meat that, without the fin market, many fishermen might not bother to hunt sharks at all: The Bareno brothers get $100 for each 2.2 pounds of the dried fins they deliver.

Francisco Bareno said in Spanish that he did not really like the work that much.

"It's dangerous," he said. "But I have to live."

The fishermen catch sharks by various means, including gill nets and long lines studded with hooks that they leave out for hours or sometimes days. They are worried about making a living under restrictions the government has adopted - including the shark-finning ban, and placing observers on larger boats to assess the state of sharks off Mexico's coast and to protect great white, basking and whale sharks.

Ellen Pikitch directs the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and was coauthor of a 2006 paper in the journal Ecology Letters estimating the toll of the shark-fin trade. Over the last decade, she said, there has been a shift in policymakers' attitudes toward one of the most feared species on Earth.
"We've been getting signals from all around the world that sharks are under increased pressure," Pikitch said in an interview. "The pendulum has swung, and the momentum has shifted. It took a long time to get across the idea that sharks could be in trouble."