Saturday, February 28, 2009

Electronic shark deterrent may become compulsory for police divers

POLICE divers may be ordered to always use the world's only electronic shark deterrent - credited with forcing a great white to release a scuba diver it was eating.

The state's police divers have been equipped with Shark Shields - which emit an electric impulse - for more than a year but it is not compulsory to use them.

"Assessments are made before each dive, taking into account the water and weather and location," a police spokesman said. "However NSW police have now instigated a policy review of the use of the shield. compulsory use may be one of the issues under revue."

The spokesman said one issue the divers had with the shield - a small black box with an antennae attached - is that in confined spaces underwater, such as searching a submerged vehicle, it could "zap the divers themselves."

Shark phobia has seen a massive jump in demand for the Australian-made Shark Shield's unique protection against the marine predators, its makers said yesterday.

SeaChange Technology co-founder Rod Hartley said his company had fielded "amazing numbers" of requests for information from dive and surf shops across Australia, with a 200 per cent increase in inquiries in the past two months.

He said the Shark Shield - invented in South Africa - works by emitting exceptionally strong electrical impulses that are intensely painful to sharks.

Great White sharks chased by life savers

SURF life savers were forced to chase sharks – including two great whites – out to sea after they came within about 100m of surfers at Waitpinga Beach and Parsons, near Victor Harbor, yesterday.

In the first sighting, surf lifesavers in the Westpac helicopter cleared the water and herded two 2m-2.5m bronze whalers out to deeper water off Parsons beach at 4.50pm.

They then spotted two 3.5m-4m sharks, believed to be great whites, at neighbouring Waitpinga, with one just 40m from shore.

Surf Life Saving SA state operations manager Shane Daw said when the helicopter returned at around 5.45pm after refuelling, there were again forced to herd six sharks off Waitpinga.

Fisherman were cleared from the water as the two hammerheads and four bronze whalers were scared out to sea.

Mr Saw said during the first sighting sharks, which were chasing schools of fish, came as close as 100-150m to surfers.

"One of the great whites on the Waitpinga side was more stubborn . . . and didn't move out that far," he said.

"It kept coming back in close and hanging around.

"They put the siren and landed on the beach to alert the public in that case. The water was cleared, there were a number of surfers in the area.

"Once they knew the area was safe they flew to Middleton and Goolwa and refuelled and about 5.45pm they came past again and there were six sharks in the area. All the surfers and swimmers had gone by then but there were a couple of fishermen in the water."

The close call for surfers follows more than 60 shark sightings from North Haven to Normanville this summer.

Mr Daw said sightings usually dropped off around mid-late January as large schools of fish stop moving through our beaches.

Shark spotter: Great White sharks are not monsters!

Shark spotter Patrick Davids is glad to see the back of the busloads of visitors who flocked to his powder-white beach over the New Year, distracting him with surfing spills, near drownings and illicit booze.
In contrast to the human hordes, the great white sharks under his watch behaved impeccably, says Davids. He regards the mighty predators as familiar friends with names like Speedy, Nosy, Rosy and Charlize.

"These sharks aren't monsters like most people think," declares Davids, standing near the small blue and red beach hut that serves as command center for his shark-spotting team.

On a mountain drive above Muizenberg, another spotter with vision-sharpening polarized glasses and binoculars remains in constant contact with Davids. They use a green flag to give the all-clear and a white flag with black shark and a siren to sound the alert to clear the waters.

The project started five years ago and now employs around 15 people from the poorest backgrounds with funding from the city and conservation groups. Sports shops have donated equipment.

Surfers like student Anthony Selley depend on the system. Three years ago he watched as a fin circled his friend on an unmonitored beach and then swam away. It temporarily put him off surfing, but he says he trusts the spotters.

In the past five years, the spotters spread at several key beaches around Cape Town have recorded more than 470 sightings of great whites, the only variety of shark to swim in the chilly local sea. The system isn't foolproof - the water is often too murky or choppy to see properly - but there hasn't been a single fatal shark attack since it started.

Great White shark attacked surfer!

This occurred in Pillar Point Harbor, about 20 miles from my house. From my HOUSE! Where my wife sleeps; where my children come to play with their toys ...

The ocean is teeming with killer sharks, apparently. Luckily I never venture outside of the basement.

Veteran surfer Tim West, 25, and a friend were paddling about an eighth a mile off shore about 5 p.m. Wednesday when a shark came up underneath his board and went on the attack. "This is where it hit, majorly with the tooth still in it," West said while pointing to his damaged board. "It hit pretty hard. Then there are pressure dings in the top from the top jaw."

The signs should read 'Beaches closed, by order of Amity PD.' And let Polly do the printing.

Assistant San Mateo County Harbor Master Matt MacDonell said the details of the attack make him believe West had a run-in with a great white shark. "So what happened to him is the shark came up, bite the board, knocked him off the board," he said. "It took the board as if it was its dinner…It trashed with the board and then because it didn't taste any blood — it spit the board out."

Here's a closer look at the tooth embedded in West's board. Comical West quote: "I'm thinking eBay. Dude, I might do that. At first I wanted to just fix it and ride it again, but if I could sell for it two grand, I could get like four new boards."

Pillar Point is home to the Mavericks Surf Competition, which should be very interesting this year indeed.

Great White sharks adopt Gulf of Mexico as winter getaway!

At first, Roger Young thought he was the victim of a practical joke. "A great white shark in the Gulf of Mexico? No way," the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission captain recalled. Over the years, Young has been sent on his share of wild goose chases. "But if we get a tip, we have to check it out, no matter how improbable it may be," he said. The anonymous call, placed two years ago this month, reported that a white shark, like the villain from the movie Jaws, had been caught on a grouper longline boat and brought into Madeira Beach.

"The species has been protected since 2004," Young said. "If you catch one, you have to let it go."

If you don't, it can be trouble.

The commercial shark season reopened at midnight this morning in the Gulf of Mexico. But white sharks are one of 20 species that must be released.

Last month, authorities concluded a two-year investigation sparked by that tip that resulted in two cases totaling more than $40,000 in civil fines.

The tipster said the shark had been killed and its jaws removed for sale on the black market.

"White shark jaws are quite valuable," said Kelly Moran Kalamas, a special agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Law Enforcement. "I have seen estimates of anywhere from $7,800 to $22,000 for a single set of jaws, and that was before the sale became illegal."

The caller directed Young, Kala­mas and their colleagues to a storage facility in Seminole, where they discovered the head of a 10- to 12-foot-long white shark sitting on ice in a large cooler.

"We couldn't believe our eyes," Young said. "It was a first for me."

Demon of the deep

Of all the creatures in the sea, none strikes fear in the hearts of humans like Carcharodon carcharias. With its black eyes and distinctive white belly, this open-ocean predator is usually associated with the cool waters of New England (the setting for Jaws), California, South Africa and Australia, not the Gulf of Mexico.

But come January, when the temperature in the gulf plummets to 60 degrees or lower, the large sharks move into area waters, usually 20 miles or more offshore.

"These fish migrate from northern waters during the winter months," said Bob Hueter, a shark expert with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. "When they are young, white sharks feed primarily on fish. But as they age, their teeth change so they are better equipped to eat marine mammals."

Jose Castro, a shark specialist with NOAA's Fisheries Service, said white sharks probably once fed on Caribbean monk seals, which became extinct in 1948.

"People forget that we once had seals here," Castro said. "White sharks probably fed on these marine mammals. So historically speaking, white sharks have always been here."

Though the shark head seized in the joint federal-state investigation belonged to a juvenile shark, Hueter said most gulf sharks tend to be on the large side.

Big ones in gulf

A young, 10-foot white shark could kill a human, and the species can grow to 18 or 19 feet.

"We don't have any specimens larger than that," Castro said. "There have been reports of sharks larger than that, but we just don't have any proof."

Over the years, the bay area has had a few monsters brought into its ports, including a 151/2-foot white shark estimated at 2,200 pounds caught 23 miles west of Indian Rocks Beach on Jan. 23, 1994, Hueter said.

"When we do get great whites, they are usually pretty big," he said.

Bob Spaeth, a Madeira Beach seafood dealer who has worked with the commercial longline industry for 20-plus years, said he has had a few encounters .

"They'll come up and eat a big grouper in one bite," Spaeth said. "We hooked one that must have been 18 feet long, 80 miles offshore. We got it up alongside, and it scared me."

Spaeth said the shark lingered for a minute, then swam off, breaking 900-pound-test line as if it were kite string.

"I think there are a lot more of them out there than people think," Spaeth said. "You just don't hear about them."

Charges filed

State and federal authorities spent months working the white shark case.

"It was very complicated," FWC Officer Ed Chambers said. "This case led us to another set of white shark jaws. We spent months putting all this together."

And once the civil charges were filed, it took another year for the cases to work through the slow-moving federal administrative process.

In December 2008, nearly two years after the seizure, authorities released details of the operation, which resulted in total fines of $45,500. Three individuals and two corporations were charged with violating the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

According to federal documents, Deborah Thorsteinsson, 56, of Seminole, who had the original shark jaws, was fined $5,000. Nicholas Carter, 25, of Largo, the captain of the Blackjack IV, the vessel that caught the shark, was fined $20,000. The boat's owner, Cargold Fishery Inc. of Valrico, received a $4,000 fine.

In the second white shark case, Jeffrey Stark, 43, of Madeira Beach, captain of the Provider, was fined $12,500. The corporation that owned the boat, Provider Inc., received a $4,000 fine.

"Like any top predator, such as a tiger or mountain lion, white sharks have never been abundant," Castro said. "But they are out there and probably more common than people realize."


At a glance

White shark, Carcharodon carcharias: Also known as the great white shark, white pointer, white death and man-eater.

Distribution: Found worldwide, particularly in the cool waters off the coasts of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, New England and California, and during the winter months, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Size: This open-ocean predator reaches sexual maturity at 11 to 14 feet but can reach lengths of 18 to 19 feet. Larger specimens have been reported, but documentation is limited.

Diet: Fish, squid, other sharks, sea turtles, seals, sea lions and dead whales.

Status: Protected since 2004 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Record (rod and reel): 2,664 pounds, April 21, 1959, by Alfred Dean in Ceduna, Australia.

Source: International Game Fish Association

White shark Q&A

How common are white sharks in the Gulf of Mexico?

Numbers aren't known because no formal census has been conducted. But from December to February annually, commercial bottom longline boats working the west coast of Florida typically catch several white sharks while fishing for grouper.

How come the area hasn't had reported attacks on humans?

In the Gulf of Mexico, white sharks are typically found in deep water, from 20 to 100 miles offshore. Unlike California, Australia and South Africa, which have marine mammals — i.e., seals and sea lions — living along their coasts, the gulf doesn't have a food source to bring white sharks close to shore.

The great white in the movie Jaws looked huge. How big do these sharks really get?

Mature white sharks average about 14 feet in length, though they can grow to 18 or 19 feet. A 21-foot white shark was reportedly caught off the coast of Cuba in 1948, but marine biologists doubt the veracity of that claim. Reports of white sharks 20 feet and longer can be found in historic record, but those reports have not been substantiated.

Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors Editor

Shark attacks in Australia, one ended in tragedy!

There have been several shark attacks in Australia this summer.

An Australian man fought off a shark as he snorkelled near Sydney, freeing his leg from its jaws with a punch. Steven Foggarty, 24, was bitten on his right leg by the bull shark as he snorkelled in the mouth of Lake Illawarra, suffering 40 puncture wounds to his calf.

A surfer punched a five-metre shark in the head as he rescued his 13-year-old cousin who had been bitten on the leg and dragged beneath the water off Tasmania. Syb Mundy, 20, put the girl onto his surfboard with him and paddled into shore.

In another near-tragedy a surfer on Australia's northeast coast survived a shark bite and paddled himself to shore with a 40-centimetre gash in his left thigh. Jono Beard, 31, was surfing with friends when he was bitten. He paddled for 80 metres to the shore, all the while shadowed by the shark.

A 51-year-old Australian man was killed by a Great White Shark on December 27 while he was snorkelling off a beach south of Perth in Western Australia.

Huge shark is back in Taranaki waters!

It's back - a six metre great white shark dubbed the Taranaki Terror has once again returned to prowl the region's coastline.

A rash of reports have been received from boaties and yachties in recent days of sightings of the beast.

It's been spotted everywhere along the coast from the Sugar Loaf Islands to Wai-iti Beach.

Department of Conservation programme manager Bryan Williams confirmed he's been told of the arrival of the shark, and he says it'll be the one dubbed the Taranaki Terror.

The shark first hit the headlines in 2004 when it lunged at a small runabout off Waitara, leaving teethmarks in its hull. Since then, it has a been a regular summer visitor.

"We prefer to call her Mrs White, because a couple of summers ago we identified her as a female. Great whites are real creatures of habit, and she comes here every summer to feed on the seals."

New Plymouth kayaker Stephen Casey didn't care whether the big shark was female or male when he encountered it late last week he just wanted to get out of the water.

"I was heading out of Port Taranaki to go fishing, when it passed under me," he said.

"I couldn't get a real idea of its length all I know was this huge dark shape swam under my kayak when I was about halfway between the main breakwater and Moturoa Island.

"I turned round and headed straight back to the breakwater. I figured that I needed to be close to land."

Members of the New Plymouth Yacht Club reckon they might have seen it too.

Competitors in the recent national laser championships got the jitters when a very big fin was spotted on the edge of their course off the port.

Organising committee member Denny Holdt said the shark was spotted at the bottom mark of the course laid out for competitors.

"It was at least as big as my boat, and it had a big fin sticking out of the water," said Mr Holdt, who was in a patrol boat.

"The shark was exactly where the competitors were jibing to come around.

"So we hung around there just in case someone ended up in the water and we didn't tell anybody about the shark until after the racing."

Club commodore Mark Hatch said another big fin was seen just off the port entrance on Saturday.

"We're not sure if it was the actual shark, but we've certainly seen some big fins," he said.

And now that the Taranaki Terror is back in town, everyone seems united in a single plea leave it alone.

Mr Williams said great white sharks have been fully protected since 2007.

This means it is illegal to target them within 200 nautical miles of New Zealand's shores or to fish for them in New Zealand-flagged boats on the high seas.

Punishments can reach a $250,000 fine or six months in jail.

Great White sharks encounters in California

More and more, surfers are keeping an eye out for dorsal fins in the water. More and more, surfers are reporting sharks.

Ralph Collier's Web site,, reports stepped-up sightings near San Clemente since Richard Thornton and Dave Schulte's reports of possible great whites generated publicity in January.

The latest report on the Web site was Feb. 1 from Marty Colombatto, who was stand-up paddling south of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station: "Over a one-month period … I have had three encounters at the same location. First encounter, it swam slowly under our boards about two to three feet below the surface. Second encounter, we saw it swim in front of us and darted away when we got close. Third encounter, it was sitting motionless about two feet below the surface."

A Jan. 30 report from Keith Lee, who was stand-up paddling a mile south of the nuclear plant, said: "The shark did a drive-by to check me out. It never surfaced. It was 8 feet long, dark gray or brown in color. After a moment it submerged and was gone."

On Jan. 25, Manuel Quinitana reported from Cottons Point in San Clemente: "It took me about five seconds to realize that it was very close to me. I began to second-guess myself and thought it might be a dolphin. After watching it for several moments slowly swim in a straight line, I saw the size, color and realized that it was a large shark very near to me.

"I headed for the shore and I tried to take small strokes. I finally made it. The head and tail never surfaced, but a large light-gray dorsal fin with a triangular shape did pop up in front of me. It was just cruising. It had to be over 10 feet in length."

On Jan. 19, Jason Jacobs reported from San Onofre: "At about 2 p.m., while stand-up paddling at Dog Patch Beach, San Onofre, Drew Fischer encountered a 7-foot great white shark.

"The shark breached four feet out of the water only 30 feet away from him. It came out of the water and did a roll onto its side. I had just gotten out of the water.

"It is possible the shark may have been interested in a paddler who had his dog way out past the lineup. The dog was swimming around and thrashing in the water. Drew immediately caught a small wave in and exited the water. The other witness said he was scared to death and frantically paddled straight to the beach."

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