Saturday, March 27, 2010

Great White shark mauled by taggers has recovered!

In 2009 a film/research team badly mauled a white shark at the Farallone Islands.

What is not in dispute is the fact that a circle hook, very similar to the one seen here, was embedded deeply in the throat of a white shark.

The team went on to try and remove this hook by pushing bolt cutters through the gills of the animal and only succeeded in getting a fraction back leaving the animal with a hook still embedded in it's throat.

The resulting media storm over this event sent shock waves through both the research community and the commercial shark world. Only a few of the commercial shark diving operators on the West coast of the USA got in front of this issue, were one of them. Others who are far more commercially invested in the Farallones said and did little in the public forum for reasons that remain their own.

Our long standing commercial and conservation efforts with sharks have been predicated by one mandate "do no harm to sharks." We support all research and commercial endeavors until they break that simple tenant.

The badly mauled shark at the Farallones was tagged with a real time GPS monitor and we were told the animal was "in great health." Unfortunately since December 8. 2009, all our efforts to get this real time data monitored by an independent source seemed to have hit a wall.

To date we have sent six emails to NOAA's and GFNMS regional managers and have been told the following:

The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will work with an independent, qualified reviewer with expertise in white shark behavior, husbandry, and/or health to assess the status of the sharks tagged last Fall around the Farallon Islands.

b) The independent reviewer will assess the status of the sharks by reviewing footage of the tagging operations and comparing the tracking data from Dr. Domeier's tags with the tracking data from TOPP's research project at the Farallones over a year's timeframe. The GFNMS has already contacted Dr. Domeier for his data to begin the assessment.

c) The GFNMS will notify you as soon as that person has been identified and the work has begun.

d) The GFNMS will notify you of the results and post the results of the assessment on the Gulf of Farallones website (

It has been five months since this tagging disaster and we have not heard anything from NOAA or the GFNMS staff in regards to this pressing matter and it is time that we did.

Editors Note: Fiji's Da Shark has weighed in on this issue (again) and we have to agree with his take, makes for great additional reading.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Teen dives with Great White sharks

Intrepid teen dives into close encounter

PREPARING FOR ACTION: Invercargill 14-year-old Lydia Ward (left, in cage) who was attacked by a shark at Oreti Beach last month and brother Alex, 10, prepare to face off with great white sharks off the coast of Stewart Island yesterday.

Lydia Ward
BITE BACK: 14-year-old Lydia Ward who was attacked by a shark at Oreti Beach last month.
Great White Shark
GREAT SIGHT: This was one of the smaller great white sharks seen by Invercargill 14-year-old Lydia Ward when in a cage off the coast of Stewart Island at the weekend.

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Five weeks after being bitten by a shark, an Invercargill teen on Saturday dived with her attacker's larger cousins – the great white.

Lydia Ward, 14, gained international media attention last month when she fought off a shark – believed to be a broadnose sevengill shark – with her body-board after it latched on to her right thigh at Oreti Beach.

On Saturday, Lydia again came face to face with a predator at the top of the ocean's food chain – albeit from the safety of a 2m-high dive cage.

Lydia, her father Tim and brother Alex, 10, flew from Invercargill to Stewart Island early on Saturday to be treated to an all-expenses-paid expedition courtesy of shark-dive operation Great White Southern Dive.

Lydia yesterday said a 3m-long great white had come within 1m of her soon after she got in the cage.

She said she didn't have any flashbacks of the Oreti Beach shark attack, but had been a bit wary of the great white.

"I was just staring at it ... and it looked like it was staring right at me. It had a lot of scars all over it."

The experience had been "really cool", Lydia said.

Mr Ward said his daughter had "hesitated very slightly" before getting into the cage, but she was fine once inside.

Though she had not swum at Oreti Beach since being attacked, Lydia believed she would be able to get back into the water, adding she had been coping just fine.

Her father agreed: "From the day after (the shark attack), when she realised she was at the wrong place at the wrong time and there was no man-eater cruising around looking for lunch, she was quite composed," Mr Ward said.

Great White Southern Dive operator Peter Scott said he had offered the cage experience after seeing how much attention Lydia's story had attracted.

"I didn't want people getting the wrong impression (of sharks)," he said. "There can't have been much else happening in the world."

Two or three great whites had been in the water near the cage throughout the day-long expedition for the Ward family, Mr Scott said.

"They just come – they're curious."

Giant squids may cause migration of Great White sharks

In what could be the ultimate marine smack-down, great white sharks off the California coast may be migrating 1,600 miles west to do battle with creatures that rival their star power: giant squids.

A series of studies tracking this mysterious migration has scientists rethinking not just what the big shark does with its time but also what sort of creature it is.

Few sea denizens match great white sharks and giant squids in primitive mystique. Both are the subject of popular mania; both are inscrutable. That these two mythic sea monsters might convene for epic battles in the stark expanses of the Pacific is enough to make a documentarian salivate.

For more reserved scientists, the possible link between sharks and squid, suggested by marine ecologist Michael Domeier of the Marine Conservation Science Institute in Fallbrook, is just one part of emerging research that has altered their understanding of the great whites.

The shift began eight years ago with the surprising discovery that great white sharks migrate, somewhat as humpback whales do. That and subsequent studies have demolished the iconic image of great whites lurking in relative shallows, ready to snatch an errant swimmer, as popularized in the movie "Jaws."

Domeier said he believes the animals "are not a coastal shark that comes out to the middle of the ocean. They are an ocean shark that comes to the coast. It is a complete flip-flop."

Picture them not as a dorsal fin off the beach but rather as an unseen leviathan swimming through black depths where the oxygen thins and fish glow in the dark, and maybe pouncing on a 30-foot squid.

The squid part is controversial. But Domeier's work and that of other scientists increasingly suggests that great white sharks are not randomly roving eating machines.

Instead, they obey set migration patterns, have distinct populations and return to the same locales. They are not desperadoes but dutiful migrants: Nomads but not outlaws, they yearn for home.

But this new understanding raised a question: Why would an animal so large, that grows teeth as humans grow hair, bother to go so far when it can dine on just about anything in fin's reach? The migration is especially puzzling because it means sharks miss out on coastal food supplies, said the University of Hawaii's Kevin Weng, who also tracked sharks' migration.

Determined to find the reason, Domeier and his team spent three years catching 22 great whites off Mexico's Guadalupe Island, southwest of San Diego, and bolting high-tech tags to their fins. The area, like California's Farallon Islands, is a hot spot for shark visits.

The team used hooks that could cradle a volleyball. They wrestled the sharks onto platforms, lifted them aboard their vessel and put towels over their eyes. The 4,000-pound predator is only a minor threat out of water, Domeier said. But after being thwacked off his feet, he learned to tie up their tails.

Funded by Newport Beach's George T. Pfleger Foundation and others, Domeier arranged a voyage with a National Geographic Channel television crew to follow the sharks in a 126-foot boat. The crew used the tags to track the sharks to an area of the deep Pacific about 1,500 miles east of Kauai that scientists consider an ecological desert because it is so biologically unproductive.

There, the sharks abruptly ended their migration, and satellite tags showed them milling around and diving.

Despite hours of surveys and trolling during last spring's monthlong voyage, members found barely any fish or other prey that the sharks might be eating.

But there was an exception: squids. Purple and neon flying squids were easy to find. There also were leaping sperm whales, a marine mammal known to feed in spawning areas for large squids. To Domeier, it was clear: The sharks had found a squid-based ecosystem with big enough prey to attract sperm whales.

Finally, the crew found a whitish carcass of a giant squid that had been chewed on, perhaps by various predators. Because of the lack of alternative food sources, and the pinging tags that traced deep and frequent dives, Domeier said, he formed a speculative conclusion: The sharks go to the area for the same reason as sperm whales: to feed on large squids, including the giant ones in the area, and on various predators the squids attract.

The weather turned bad, and the investigation ended early. The trip back was boring enough for the crew to form a band, then break up.

Domeier said he believes the sharks return to the coast to breed. His tags showed that some females stayed out at sea full-time.

The idea has set off robust debate. Some scientists argue it remains possible that the sharks mate offshore, and all agree that more research is needed to determine exactly what, and when, they eat. And it's highly unlikely anyone will ever see a shark making an easy kill of giant squid.

But Oscar Sosa-Nishizaki, a fisheries biologist in Ensenada, said the tagging effort helps researchers count sharks and plan conservation efforts.

Shark scientists face a dilemma: There is intense popular interest in their work, but some fret that it may hinder conservation. Media interest in sharks tends to be "sparse on detail, high on testosterone," said marine biologist Weng. "It's as if aliens were to visit planet Earth, and the only thing they saw of human beings was ultimate fighting on TV."

Though wary of pop biology, Domeier made the most of it. He used his time on camera to lobby against eating bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass.

If mythic predator-mania gave him the chance, so be it, he said. "We are at a state of real disaster of our oceans," he said. "Perhaps the scientific routine . . . doesn't work."

New seals colony could invite Great White sharks to favorite surfing spot!

ROTTNEST Island looks likely to become home to a breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals, raising fears that great white sharks will be attracted to the holiday spot.

While several dozen seals have long called Cathedral Rocks near Cape Vlamingh home, University of WA researcher Ana Hara says the seals could establish a permanent breeding colony there by as soon as next summer.

It has raised fears that the popular surfing spot at the west end of Rottnest could attract more great whites.

"The great white is their big predator so that could pose a risk," Rottnest Island Authority ranger Sarah Ellis-Stott said.

Rottnest police officer-in-charge Sgt Peter Bahan, who is also a keen surfer, admitted he no longer surfed the popular break called Cathedrals after a great white "popped up" next to him during a surf last year.

The surf break is less than 50m from the outcrop of rocks the seals inhabit.

"She was a big one," Sgt Bahan said of the shark.

"I won't surf there any more."

He said his was one of at least three confirmed great white sightings off Rottnest last year and a pod of five killer whales was also spotted in waters off the island.

There are 17 recorded NZ fur seal colonies in WA, all in waters off Esperance and Albany.

Ms Hara, who is doing a masters at the University of WA into the diet and distribution of the seals in WA waters, said they were establishing colonies farther north and increasing in numbers.

"It looks like there is now a colony at Bunker Bay (in Dunsborough) and I believe the next point is going to be a breeding colony at Cathedral Rocks on Rottnest Island," she said.

Ms Hara said there were between 10 and 80 seals around Cathedral Rocks at any one time and one animal showed signs of a shark bite.

Rottnest rangers Claire O'Callaghan and Ms Ellis-Stott were monitoring the number of seals and had swum with them. "They're amazing animals," Ms Ellis-Stott said.

"They're really curious and come right up and check you out.

"You often see them thermo-regulating, which actually looks like they're doing yoga."

A Rottnest Island Authority spokeswoman said the seals were an exciting development that would increase visitor appeal to the island.