Friday, July 29, 2005

Jaws is still influencing people's view of great white sharks

In the summer of 1975, a young director named Steven Spielberg introduced audiences to one of the silver screen’s most notorious villains when he unleashed "Jaws," a film about a group of men sent out to kill a great white shark that had terrorized a quaint seaside village. After its release, beachgoers young and old began to think twice before stepping into the salty waters of the unknown — unconvinced that a shark attack at the beach should be the least of their worries.

Fast-forward 30 years later and it’s easy to see why people are still terrified of sharks. Television, movies and sporadic but compelling news coverage have bolstered the shark’s image as a ruthless killer.But a steady diet of shark-attack reports over the past few years — most recently, the death of a young girl and severe injury to another swimmer in southern Florida earlier this month, casualties of highly aggressive, shallows-venturing bull sharks — finds the infamous predator again grabbing headlines and inspiring apprehension at oceanside locales around the country.

That’s unfortunate, says Robert Veria, the senior lifeguard at Del Mar Beach. He says more pressing beach safety issues — not sharp-toothed, blood-craving carnivores — should be commanding media attention.“Beachgoers should be more concerned about jellyfish and stingray injuries, not sharks,” Veria said.

“Right now, we’re averaging about 12 injuries a week due to these animals, and we had seven alone on the Fourth of July.”Although San Diego County has a healthy shark population — including lemon sharks, leopard sharks, salmon sharks, great hammerhead sharks and, yes, bull sharks on rare occasions, Veria has yet to spot any off the beach during his 18 years as a lifeguard at Del Mar.

Of course, he wasn’t at San Onofre last summer, when a 15-foot great white shark lingered for days just beyond the surf zone. “We do have sharks in the neighborhood, but they really aren’t a concern here. People have a greater chance of getting caught in a powerful rip current and drowning than they do of being attacked by a shark,” Veria said. Still, beachgoers should exercise caution and understand the remote but menacing threat, he said.

“People also need to realize that when they enter the water, they are entering the food chain. The woods have bears and the oceans have sharks,” Veria said. “The only way you can completely safeguard yourself from an attack is to stay out of the water,” Veria said.One local shark expert agrees with Veria that people shouldn’t make such a fuss about sharks.“From 1959 until 1990, there were only four fatal shark attacks in the state of Florida,” said Dr. Richard H. Rosendlatt, a professor of marine biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

“But in that same time frame and state, there were 313 fatalities caused by lighting strikes.”Moreover, TVs are more-prolific man killers than sharks, Rosendlatt said, citing a quirky tidbit of trivia. “Also, from 1991 until 1998, there were five fatal shark attacks in the U.S., and in that same time there were 32 children killed from falling television sets,” he said. “So how come the media doesn’t focus on killer television sets?” Rosendlatt asks.

While TV sets the world over seek to devour unsuspecting children, shark attacks in some coastal parts of the country seem to be inching upward — although not in Southern California. According to the International Shark Attack File (since 1926, only 10 attacks in San Diego County, resulting in one fatality, have been recorded. During that time, 85 attacks have been logged in California — 57 of them in Northern California and only 28 in Southern California.

The disparity largely is due to the vicious great white shark, which prefers cooler waters up north and is less plentiful down south, Rosendlatt said. But is there an increase in great white shark activity in Southern California? Rosendlatt said he hasn’t observed or heard of one. But a news report aired on KUSI television in San Diego recently said an increase in seals locally may be luring more sharks into the area.

Moreover, a July 2001 Los Angeles Times report included anecdotal accounts of increasing greatwhite shark presence from longtime divers at Catalina Island. If shark activity is increasing locally, it might be because sea lion populations have mushroomed — from 10,000 in 1972 to 200,000 in 2001, the Times article reported. The article attributed the increase to stronger sea lion protections triggered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, passed in 1972. Sea lions are a primary food source for greatwhite sharks.

Experts speculated that last summer’s sighting near San Onofre Beach may have stemmed from a beached whale buried in the sand. The whale’s rotting flesh may have attracted the shark, they surmised.A similar sighting of great whites frighteningly close to shore was confirmed near a Los Angeles beach. Despite all the hoopla surrounding the recent attacks, Capt. Jason Mitchell, 33, an intelligence officer with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, and his wife aren’t about to give up the aquatic life just yet.

“The recent incidents in Florida didn’t faze us at all. In fact, my wife and I are going to be getting our scuba diving licenses soon,” Mitchell said recently while enjoying a day at the beach with his wife.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A surprising catch!

Few people were more disappointed by the level of shark fishing this summer thank Frank Mundus, the renowned "Monster Man" who spent the last six weeks fishing his old boat out of Montauk. Certainly no one felt more personally responsible for it than Mundus.The skipper and famed shark hunter, who was the inspiration for the character Quint in the book and movie "Jaws", returned home to Hawaii this week after what was supposed to be a celebration return to Long Island tied to the film's 30th anniversary and a way to advocate catch-and-release fishing.

Instead, what he saw on the water was a disturbing lack of shark life. There were week-long stretches when the Cricket II (which looks shockingly similar to the Orca from the movie) didn't see a single shark, and the entire month of June was a virtual bust. Except for a few threshers and makos in mid-July and a pesky blue shark Mundus said he caught several times - the number of hooks in its mouth kept increasing - the water was desolate of sharks."It was horrible," he said. "They're scarce.

But I told them years ago it was going to happen and they didn't listen to me."Mundus practically invented sportfishing for sharks in the 1950s, marketing "Monster Fishing" trips out of Montauk. By the time the movie "Jaws" was released he'd been doing it for 20 years and had perfected his technique. In 1986, he and Don Braddick caught a 3,427-pound Great White shark off the coast of Montauk, the heaviest fish of any kind ever taken on rod and reel (it was denied an IGFA world record due to a technicality).

But around that same time, a spike in sharkfishing popularity led to a marked decrease in the number of fish. Mundus tried to develop ways to save the sharks, beginning a tagging program and pushing catch-and-release fishing, but it was too late. Between recreational anglers looking for the thrill of catching a fish the size of a small car and commercial boats harvesting the sharks for their fins (a delicacy in Asia), numbers dwindled.Shark tournaments these days are typically won by fish in the 300-pound range.

Mundus said back in the day, if a shark wasn't 500 pounds no one noticed.He makes the calculations that if 100 boats sail from a port, say Montauk, and on a good day each catches 10 sharks, that's 1,000 dead fish in a single day from a single port. Extrapolate the math over a summer, over a decade of summers, and it's no wonder why there are no great sharks to catch.This summer's charters with Mundus were billed as his last fishing trips, and people forked over $1,800 for a day on the water with him.

The gruff old angler is turning 80 this year, barely nimble enough to work the deck of a boat. But there is a chance Mundus could return next summer with an added surprise. He's talking to producers about the possibility of starring in a realty TV show."Wouldn't that be good, to have the cameras with all these people jumping and dancing around me?" Mundus said with a laugh. Nice triesTwo cautionary tales this month about anglers who caught huge fish but failed to cash in during tournaments.

First, a Virginia angler reeled in an 873-pound bluefin tuna on July 9 to exceed the Delaware state record by more than 500 pounds, according to The Associated Press. It was caught during the annual Delaware Open Tuna Trolling Tournament, but the boat, the Captain Ike II, was on an overnight shark-fishing trip when the tuna hit and wasn't registered in the tournament. Then, last weekend, anglers caught an 1,100-pound tiger shark fishing out of Martha's Vineyard but failed to win their tournament because they were fishing 70 miles offshore and returned to the dock six minutes past the entry deadline. It certainly wasn't too little, just too late.

Tight linesCapt. Bruce Cash of the Port Jeff Ace and Prowler said he's seeing signs that the porgy fishing in his area is about to explode ... The Montauk Grand Slam Tournament which features prizes for fluke, bluefish, striped bass and sea bass, will be held Aug. 27 and 28. For info visit

Susan Casey has a story to tell about...great white sharks

In a congested, cluttered and confusing world in which we know way too much about way too much, there are the great white sharks of which we know almost nothing.

Susan Casey, a magazine writer, was sitting in her New York City apartment in 1998, watching a BBC documentary about the three-month white-shark season at the Farallone Islands about 30 miles west of San Francisco.

Mesmerized, she decided she had to go to the desolate, dangerous Farallones. But then reality struck. She found out that being one of the eight people allowed by law on those islands is a tougher ticket than being invited to dinner at the White House.

Her obsession set and hardened as evidenced in her book's subtitle: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks.

Obviously adventurous, Casey reads her own words with a voice, like raindrops on tin, that will seduce you with an intimacy that enhances her story.

In 2001, Casey finagled a trip to the Farallones to join the few marine scientists living in one of the islands' two squalid, falling-down houses built in the 1870s.

"Threadbare towels thumbtacked over the windows served as makeshift curtains. The mattresses looked like Rorschach tests, the paint was peeling, the plaster was cracking, and the dresser was marked 'Property of the U.S. Coast Guard.' "

She went from loving to tolerating the harsh living conditions because she so desperately wanted to see 20-foot sharks "as wide as a Mack truck."

Two handsome, rugged, 40-ish marine scientists — Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson — are Casey's main characters as they videotape and tag sharks. Trapped in a dangerous place with science geeks studying mysterious monsters, Casey has woven a taut, first-person tale about mysterious monsters that captured her and will capture you.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

If you expect to meet Jaws in Long Island Sound, you better try elsewhere!

If you're the type to stay out of the water after recent shark attacks off the Florida and Alabama coasts, know this: There are sharks in Long Island Sound big, toothy, man-eaters, at that. But also know this: The chances of being bitten by one are roughly the same as your being chosen to lead a Mars expedition.

In 32 years of scuba diving in Long Island Sound, Noel Veroba of Orbit Marine Sport Center in Bridgeport says he's never encountered a shark with teeth. "I've caught sand sharks, but I've never run into a toothed shark," he said. "I know they are out there, but you just never see them."

Shark attacks in Florida, Texas and even New Jersey have become almost weekly news, but the last reported shark attack in Long Island Sound was supposed to have occurred in 1961. No one could be found to confirm that report, however. "Frankly," says John Lenzycki, assistant curator of animals at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, "I doubt that it ever happened. And even if it did, it might have just been somebody whose skin got abraded by being bumped by a shark."

Although Lenzycki, too, has never seen a large shark in Long Island Sound, he says they are there, especially in the late summer. He lists seven shark species as occasional visitors to the Sound. "We've got thresher sharks, blue sharks, sand-tiger sharks, makos, smooth hammerheads, and browns," he said. "The seventh is the smooth dogfish, or sand shark." George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and curator of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, said he'd add the spiny dogfish to that list.

Several of these species have been known to attack humans, he said, but the sand-tiger shark is the only one implicated in an attack on Long Island Sound _ the 1961 incident that no one can confirm. Makos, blues and browns also have an irregular history of attacking humans, Burgess said. But given the millions of people who use the Sound each year and the relative paucity of reported shark attacks _ one in the last 44 years _ Long Island Sound probably ranks among the world's safest places to swim, he said.

There is apparently no record of the much-feared great white shark, of "Jaws" fame, being spotted in Long Island Sound. But Burgess said he'd be surprised if they never enter the waters here. Great whites are among the largest and most aggressive of shark species, accounting for 30 to 50 shark attacks annually. "Whites have gotten near the Sound, and I just can't believe that they haven't been seen there," Burgess said. Sighting of great whites north of New Jersey have been increasing since the Maritime Species Protection Act became law in 1972.

With protected seal populations on the rise, great whites are venturing further and further north in pursuit of their favorite snack. Of the toothed sharks found in Long Island Sound in the summer, the sand-tiger shark, carcharias taurus, may be the most common. The Marine Aquarium at Norwalk has sand tigers on display in its tanks. Growing up to 10 feet long, the sand tiger is often mistaken for a more dangerous mako, mostly because of the impressive triangular teeth that protrude from its large mouth.

One shark expert called the sand-tiger's teeth "some of the wickedest-looking teeth in all of sharkdom." It's not hard to tell the difference between a sand tiger and mako, as long as you don't mind getting close enough to examine their dentures. The sand-tiger shark's teeth have small projections at the base. And the mako's eye is solid black, while the sand tiger's has a central pupil.

Despite the imposing teeth and fierce look, the sand-tiger shark is considered relatively harmless. If left unmolested, it's usually as docile as a housecat. In Japan, sand-tigers are considered good to eat. "Make no mistake. Like many sharks, it is an opportunity feeder. If an easy meal comes within its range, it will go for it," Lenzycki said. Sharks like Long Island Sound when it is loaded with bait fish like menhaden, shad and mackerel that, in turn, attract larger fish, blues, bass and weakfish.

Friday, July 22, 2005

What not to do unless you wish to become a great white shark's main course!

There are many, many reasons you might want to get bitten by a shark, a pastime that’s become increasingly trendy this summer. For starters, it’s a far less humiliating way of getting famous than appearing on a reality show. Not to mention all the weight you’d lose.

Trouble is, the odds of actually getting bitten are roughly equal to winning the lottery. But like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. Here are some simple proactive measures you can take to maximize your odds of an aquatic altercation.


Sharks, like subway chain snatchers, are attracted to flashy bling. This is why you have never seen Mr. T swimming.


The Australian government, which ought to know, claims sharks favor “turbid” or “silt-laden” water. When 14-year-old Lydia Paulk danced the incisor tango off the coast of Texas recently, she was picking up beer bottles from the ocean floor, which kicked up sand. If you’re not in Texas—and, thus, the water is beer-bottle free—small shells and loose rocks make an acceptable, albeit less classy, substitute.


Use a flotation device if need be. The more you stay on your back or stomach, the more you’ll resemble a seal, the animal most deserving of the title “nature’s burrito,” should National Geographic ever bestow such an honor.


Seriously. Be creative. Load your bathing suit up with jellyfish if you have to. Remember, the more you helplessly splash around, the more weak, defenseless and delicious you’ll appear.


Long favored by fisherman, rivers emptying into the ocean are also prime hunting grounds for sharks. A choppy spot with birds dive bombing on the surface? Could mean a feeding frenzy below. A dorsal fin zigzagging to ominous orchestral accompaniment? This, too, could indicate the presence of a shark. Stay alert, read the ocean, and plan your approach accordingly.


Bright, contrasting colors are to the ocean what tube tops and belly rings are to the dance floor. “I’m easy, please eat me,” they telegraph to sharks, as if they were overly fragrant men from New Jersey.


Donate money to your local “Save The Sharks” charity. Eat shark fin soup every day for a week. Get a law degree. How will this increase your chances of getting bitten? It won’t. But it will add much needed levity to your dismemberment and set you apart from 16 year-old Craig Hutto, who, before his foray into edibility last month, was just another redneck waist-deep in the Gulf of Mexico.


You may want to pack a lunch and bring an extra battery for your cell phone. With only 61 shark attacks worldwide last year, the odds of you actually getting bitten are about one in one hundred million. But here’s hoping!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Face to face, what can be expected of such a meeting?

Facing death or the adventure of a lifetime? Posted by Picasa

Sometimes only a four lettered word will do, and this is one of them. I mutter it silently to myself as nature's number one predator appears from the abyss. More expletives follow, slowly at first and then rapid fire as the full might of the ocean's greatest hunter turns and heads straight towards me. Closer and closer, with a mouth opening and closing as if in anticipation, it is Carcharodon Carcharias otherwise known as the great white shark.

The only thing separating me from those infamous teeth, now only 12 inches away from my face, is the mesh of a stainless steel cage, and I can't help noticing that some of the bars are bent. How did they get that way? Are they strong enough to withhold this cartilaginous hulk's curiosity? If you could see my eyes they would be out on stalks, my eyebrows on full extension by the sight transfixing me. But it is awe induced not by terror, but by wonder.

"People expect to find a mindless eating machine that attacks everything and everyone," says Morné Hardenberg, our shark diving guide. "But they go away with a different perception."
The great white is an incredible creature. Over 400 million years it has evolved into the ocean's largest predator, a torpedo shaped hunting machine equipped with sensors that can pick up the electro-magnetic pulses every living thing beneath the sea produces.

Its colouring is ideal for the hunter. It's surely no accident that it has been copied by military aircraft; the light underbelly to blend with the surface, the darker steel blue top side that makes it hard to spot from above, and broken lines of contrast to complete the camouflage.

What could be more exciting than coming face to face with it? Never mind that you're more likely to die from falling down the stairs than from a shark, it's the imagined fear that's exciting. Just hum the theme from Jaws and imagine that dead eye stalking you in cold dark waters.

Since it started about ten years ago cage diving has become more and more popular. Those to have enjoyed the experience include Prince Harry on his recent tour of Africa, who saw a shark maul a seal, and Brad Pitt.

But not everyone is enthusiastic. Many locals accuse diving operators of encouraging sharks to enter waters where humans swim by the practice of 'chumming' - where fish is thrown to attract them.

Although attacks are rare, about four a year for the whole of South Africa, they do happen. A few weeks before my arrival a British surfer nearly lost his leg to a shark in Cape Town and last year an elderly swimmer lost her life to a shark in the same bay. But diving operators say chumming only attracts sharks that are already in the area.

"Chumming has got nothing to do with it," says Michael Rutzen, owner of Shark Diving Unlimited. "We chum with animals that occur naturally. Chum where there are no sharks and you don't get any." It's a view supported by shark environmentalists.

Rutzen adds that shark diving has a vital role to play in re-educating the public and protecting the great white. "We have to show people these animals to ensure their survival. It's no different from viewing leopards and lions."

Cage diving occurs off Gansbaai, about 120 miles east of Cape Town, South Africa.
We set off in a 42ft double decked boat to 'shark alley' a narrow channel between two islands about a mile offshore, one of which is home to a colony of 50,000 seals. It's a feeding ground for hundreds of migrating great whites, some of whom end up in Australian waters.

After dropping anchor the process of 'chumming' begins. Parts of tuna, soup fin shark and other fish are tossed overboard.

Suddenly the excitement on board is palpable - the first shark has been spotted and it's circling the boat. The cage is lowered and tied on securely at four points. I step into it and the waterline reaches my neck. It is large enough for five of us. The water is cold. As the skipper and crew spot sharks approaching they shout the command, "Down. Down. Down." We hold our breaths and go under. The cage doesn't move - it remains wedded to the boat.

My first thought on seeing a great white is how graceful and powerful it is. One swims past our cage and I and the others can't resist touching its rubbery skin. We surface to a strict telling off. "No touching," shouts skipper Frank Rutzen. "They are not puppy dogs."

I don't need any reminding with the second shark. It heads right for me, bashes the cage and starts chomping on the bars, just inches away.

Scared? Too right I am - I can't hug the back of the cage hard enough. But it's exhilarating and I surface to cheers from the boat.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Great white shark freed from tuna fishermen

A GREAT white shark was released from a tuna cage on July 6.

Primary Industries and Resources SA Aquaculture executive director Ian Nightingale said staff from Tony's Tuna International notified aquaculture and fisheries authorities of the capture and immediately released the shark with little or no loss of tuna.

"It was an excellent result for Tony's Tuna and the industry because they notified all appropriate bodies and knew exactly what to do," Mr Nightingale said.

The protocols for dealing with trapped great white sharks were among the new regulations about to be introduced by the State Government in its comprehensive overhaul of existing regulations expected in the next few months, he said.

"The strategy deployed by Tony's Tuna is what we'd call 'best practice' and we'd like to see all the companies follow that protocol," Mr Nightingale said.

Great white sharks are protected under State and Federal law, so tuna companies are required to do everything in their power to minimise interactions in the first place, diving on cages regularly to remove mortality and limiting the spilling of blood during harvest.

Harvest time was typically a time when shark sightings increased.

There are four Japanese processing or freezer boats in Boston Bay at the moment.

Eyre Peninsula Recreational Fishing Committee president Gary Flack said locals were aware of the increased chances of seeing sharks around freezer boats and this discouraged activities in the water with small boat owners thinking twice about venturing too close.

Shark attacks may become more frequent!

Although some officials downplay the frequency of encounters between humans and sharks, one University of North Carolina professor said he expects the number to grow in the future.
From Texas to North Carolina, three shark attacks occurred in the last week alone.

Chris Humphrey said he was swimming to a friend's raft off Holden Beach, N.C., last Friday evening when a sand shark that measured about 5 feet long bit into his forearm.

The bite was so deep that the shark left one of its teeth in Humphrey's arm, and it had to be removed by surgery.


But Dave Baker, of Wrightsville Ocean Rescue, said beachgoers are more likely to be killed by a mosquito than a shark.

"You had a greater chance of dying when you drove down here or crossing the street," Baker said. "Over 375 people died from West Nile virus (last year). How many people have died from shark attacks worldwide? The average is only 15 (annually)."

UNC marine sciences professor Charles "Pete" Peterson has studied sharks for 30 years and said as more people crowd the beaches, more are bound to come into contact with sharks feeding in shallow water.

"I think that's going to be an inevitable consequence of more and more people recreating, moving to the coast," Peterson said. "Relative to man, this is an animal to be concerned about."

He had his own face-to-face brush with a great white shark years ago after he cut his foot on some glass just before going surfing.

"After a couple of waves, I was on my way out, and I saw clearly in front of me, a few feet ahead, the silhouette of a great white. I knew what it was from its size and its appearance in that water,” he said. “I didn't go out for another wave. I turned around and called my day."

Just as the number of people playing and living at the beach is going up, so too is the number of sharks in the water. Fishing conservation efforts have reversed a decline in shark populations.
"There is much conservation work now to try to overcome the overfishing of sharks that's occurred for decades and to restore these animals. Think what it would be if we didn't have this T-rex of the ocean for people to enjoy," Peterson said.

"We'd love to have the big, fierce animals of the sea to support the various services they provide to us and to the ocean,” he said. “But we also want to protect our own health and safety. So, learning to live with (sharks) is a vital problem for us as individuals and as a society."

Monday, July 18, 2005

What causes a shark attack?

What drives a shark like a great white shark to attack humans? Posted by Picasa

If you’ve ever wondered about the mechanics behind a shark bite, Discovery has just the DVD for you. As a promotional effort for the cable network’s Shark Week program which begins Sunday, Shark Week: Anatomy of a Shark Bite (2 stars, $14.94) is now available.

In 2002 Erich Ritter, a shark behavioral scientist was filming in the Bahamas with Discovery Channel when a 400-pound bull shark bit him in the leg, effectively removing his entire calf muscle. What is somewhat extraordinary is that the entire event was captured on film, below and above water.

After recovering from the wound, Ritter set out to discover what caused the shark to bite him and exactly what happened to him in the process of the bite. Ritter also talks to other shark attack victims to determine the nature of their attack, including one surfer who lost his arm from just below the shoulder, and most horrifying, even more than Ritter’s, a woman who lost most of her left leg from a Great White shark attack while swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

In an effort to discover what amount of pressure is necessary to wreak the damage that was done, Ritter and the Discovery Channel enlist the help of a special effects design firm, creating pneumatic shark jaws with replicated metal shark teeth, and using a fake shark to simulate what might have happened during Ritter’s attack. Ritter and the special effects team also utilized the shark jaws, outfitting them with Great White teeth, to figure out how much pressure was necessary to remove most of one victim’s leg.

While the show is a bit repetitive in regard to repeatedly showing Ritter’s altercation with the shark, there are a few tidbits of interest. Likely, the most important bit of information is that when you’re in shark-infested waters, don’t splash and kick. These are moves that attract a shark’s attention.
Special features are limited to an additional Shark Week episode, "Future Shark." This disc will probably only appeal to fans of the show, but it does make for some interesting, and occasionally chilling, viewing.

Great white shark attack...or not?

Reports that the first shark attack in New Jersey in 30 years had occurred here on June 5 were premature and probably are not true, a Princeton-based shark expert said Wednesday.Marie Levine, who is head of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton and is responsible for the Global Shark Attack File, said she suspects that Ryan Horton, 17, of Lacey, was probably struck by the skeg of his surfboard or a piece of underwater debris.George H. Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File, an academic competitor, had confirmed on June 7 that the attack was a shark bite after seeing photographs of Horton's wound.

He went on to identify the species of shark as a great white.Horton's father, Jeff, said Wednesday he has not shared any of his son's medical records or photographs of his injuries with Levine despite her repeated requests, so he takes issue with how Levine could debunk the attack as false.Levine said Wednesday she disagrees with Burgess' assessment, explaining that his statements were based on a digital photo generated by a family member's cell phone which had been e-mailed to Burgess.No further investigation or physical examination of Horton's right foot was conducted by Burgess, which was sliced open to a depth of 2 inches.

The wound measured about 1 by 3 inches.When reached by telephone at his offices at the Ichthyology Department at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Burgess asked if he could return the call a short time later, but he never did on Wednesday."There are teeth marks . . . I can show you a picture of the injuries to his foot," said Jeff Horton, who went on to describe the nature of his son's injury.

It included a triangle-shaped mark on the inner side of the teenager's ankle as well as other marks he said are consistent with a bite from a large shark.Sean R. Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif., has been following the purported attack in Surf City and has expressed his own skepticism."It was an apparent, possible shark attack," Van Sommeran said. "However, there was no solid evidence to implicate a white shark. . . . Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not all opinions are scientific and to attribute a nondescript injury to a specific species like the great white shark is irresponsible."

Levine said experts from her institute have also seen the cell phone photo and conducted a face-to-face interview with Horton in the presence of his parents. She said while it's difficult if not impossible to ascertain what happened to Horton, it's also impossible to say with any certainty it was a shark.

"Shark attacks have happened off the Jersey coast," Levine said. "However, our protocol is to first talk to the family and take a look at the injury to survey the bite."But in this case, Levine said Horton's parents declined to allow Dr. Richard G. Fernicola, a doctor of pain management and author of a book about the 1916 shark attacks at the Jersey Shore — the real life inspiration for the "Jaws" movies — to examine the wound.

Is it possible that the Megalodon may not be extinct after all?

Carcharodon megalodon was the apex predator of all time, the most fearsome creature that ever lived - a 70-foot, 60,000 pound prehistoric Great White shark. Hundreds of seven-inch serrated teeth filled jaws that could swallow an elephant whole. It could sense its prey miles away, inhaling its scent as it registered the beat of its fluttering heart, and if you ever came close enough to see the was already too late.Sound scary? Megalodon may still be out there, it only disappeared recently, perhaps as little as 10,000 years ago.

Are members of the species lurking in the deeper, unexplored ocean realms? According to author Steve Alten and his best-selling MEG series – yes! And New Line Cinema is banking on the popularity of this fearsome creature translating into success on the big screen. New Line recently optioned MEG, and is fast-tracking the project for a July 4th 2006 release, to be directed by Jan De Bont (Twister).

Meanwhile, Alten recently reedited and expanded the original novel, to be re-released by his new publisher, Tsunami Books, in July. “I always wanted to do a rewrite, adding more depth to the characters and expanding the attack scenes. The book’s being used in thousands of high school classrooms across the country as part of the Adopt-An-Author program, I wanted to make it more “teacher-friendly.”

The new edition of MEG will also have a startling new cover – a T-Rex being devoured by a Megalodon. Alten’s latest novel, The LOCH, a thriller about the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster, is getting rave reviews and was recently optioned as both a documentary and to Hollywood Producer David Foster, to be developed into a major motion picture.

“The documentary guys loved the science in the book,” says Alten. “With The LOCH it was especially important to separate the myth from the science. I never believed in the monster until I did the research…I do now.”And what about MEG?“It could still be out there. We know more about distant galaxies than the depths of our own oceans. Hopefully next July, we’ll be able to see what these monsters could do!”

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Unexpected guest in an unexpected place

A pop-off satellite tag on a great white shark has tracked her into waters previously thought to be mostly uninhabited by the fierce predators. "Tessa", a 4m adult female, was tagged by a team of international and New Zealand scientists at the Chatham Islands in early April. Since then, she has travelled more than 1000km north - when the team fully expected her to travel south or southwest. Great whites are considered cold-water sharks, so Tessa's route towards the tropics was surprising, said Department of Conservation marine ecologist Clinton Duffy. "We are fascinated.

We've no idea where she will go now," he said. They expected that Tessa and the other four sharks, including "Levi", a 3.5m male great white tagged in the same project as Tessa in April at the Chathams, would head either to the sub-Antarctic Islands south of Stewart Island to feed on one of their favourite foods, sea lions, or head towards Australia. The tag showed Tessa had swum a distance equivalent to half a kilometre an hour and her final pinpointed location was about 800km off New Zealand's East Cape in deep water. The shark obviously took a roundabout route because the sharks normal cruising speed was between 3-4km an hour, Mr Duffy said.

Tessa's tag detached on schedule just over a week ago. It then began transmitting data via satellite to New York-based marine scientist and team member Dr Ramon Bonfil. Once all the data is run through a specially designed computer program, scientists will know exactly where Tessa went. Three other sharks are yet to drop their tags and it would be interesting to see if the others followed a similar route, Mr Duffy said. The project is finding out more about one of the ocean's most deadly predators. Many scientists believe the great white is now more endangered.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The truth about great white sharks finally comes out!

Thirty years after "Jaws", the truth about the great white shark finally comes out. Posted by Picasa

Da-dum ... Da-dum ... Da-dum, da-dum da-dum da-dum!

Thirty years after the release of the movie "
Jaws" those two notes, repeated ominously, still scare the Bermuda shorts off some people. But real great white sharks, unlike the glutton that starred in the film, are more than just the swimming set of teeth that dominates their popular image.

Especially to scientists, whose understanding of the beasts has grown since the movie came out.
"The image has changed a lot since 'Jaws,'" says shark expert Peter Klimley of the University of California at Davis. "Now when a shark is spotted, everybody throws on their free-diving gear to go see them."

Great white sharks

Well, maybe not everybody, but certainly more than back in 1975.

"Jaws" did irreparable damage to the great white shark's reputation, and every time there's another
shark attack, some people's minds jump to that old stereotype.

Yet t here are many other animals that are
deadlier to humans.

Marine biologists and educators have urged people to shed the perception of the great white shark as a vengeful, man-eating machine in favor of an intelligent, misunderstood, ancient sea creature.

Facts vs. reality

About six people are killed by sharks every year. Some 50,000 people die of snake bites. Elephants kill 500 people a year.

So why are great whites so feared?

At around 20 feet in length, great whites are the largest predatory fish. They're actually grey on top with a white underbelly.

This coloring pattern helps them hunt because it makes them difficult to spot from above and below -- the white belly blends in with the sky and the dark back blends in with the rocks below.

The distinctive coloring also distorts shark attack data and fuels the great white myth.

"They're the most often documented shark attacks, but not necessarily the most common," says George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File. "Great whites are easily identifiable and any attack by one is sure to be documented. Attacks by other sharks are often not recorded because the species was not identified."

The oversized creature in the movie stuck to a steady diet of beachgoers, but in real life, sharks
don't eat people.

"This whole idea that they are a man-eater is very wrong," Klimley told LiveScience. "They spit out humans. Humans aren't nutritious enough to be worth the effort."

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True, some people get bitten, but there are no records of anyone being consumed by a great white.

Powerbars for sharks

Sharks love fat. Fat produces twice the energy of muscle, so it's the most efficient food for sharks.
Great whites prefer baby seals, which can have up to 50 percent fat content. They stalk seal colonies waiting for these treats.

Klimley tagged five sharks and observed their seal hunting and feeding habits over the course of a couple of months.

"Essentially, they get this prey, get it in their jaws, and carry it until it stops struggling," Klimley said. "They let the blood drain, the seal floats to the surface, and the sharks go up and take turns feeding on it."

Seals are like Powerbars for sharks -- one morsel provides enough energy to sustain a shark for up to six weeks, Klimley said.

Seals are tough to catch. They can change direction quickly, jump out of the water, and swim at more than 25 mph. At shark dinner parties, there is quite a bit of competition over who gets a bite. Sharks decide the feeding order in a surprising way.

When one manages to catch and kill a seal, the other sharks smell the blood in the water and show up for the meal once the kill bobs to the surface.

"They have a very ritualized display on who gets the next bite," Klimley said. "The one that splashes the most water gets the next bite. People think sharks are dumb, but they're communicating."

Despite this family-style dining, sharks do not actually hunt together.

"We suspect that they move from location to location as a group, but when they're at the seal colony they're searching and hunting independently," Klimley said.

A day in the life

"Thirty years ago when 'Jaws' was being made, everything we knew about white sharks was based on periodic observations close to the surface," says Randy Kochevar of Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Since then, Kochevar has used electronic tags to follow great whites through the Pacific Ocean. The sharks swim up and down the California coast and as far away as Hawaii, depending on the season.

Researchers at the SharkLab at California State University, Long Beach have been studying sharks since 1969. They also track great whites with electronic tags, and their findings support Kochevar's.

"The adults are seen at offshore islands. We only see the young ones along the shore," SharkLab director Chris Lowe said. "We see lots of bottom fish in the stomachs of young sharks, so this suggests that they are eating near shore. Once they grow a little bigger, they eat bigger fish, like mackerel, tuna, and bonito. Then they hit 10 feet and head to the Fairlawn Islands to eat [seals]."

On the West Coast, shark researchers have found that great whites range from northern California -- during elephant seal mating season -- down to Southern California and Mexico, where most of the juvenile sharks hang out.

This type of information helps conservation efforts, not only in California but in other places where great whites are common, like Australia and South Africa, Lowe said. People used to fish along shore with gill nets and sharks were often caught. The technique is now illegal.

Catching sharks

Commercial fishermen still catch sharks accidentally, which as backwards as it sounds, is actually good news for scientists.

"We work with commercial fleets, and they know if they catch one, they should bring it in immediately," Kochevar said. "We've never been successful trying to get them on our own."

This is precisely how Monterey Bay Aquarium ended up with a
young great white that it was able to keep in captivity for 198 days. This shattered the previous record of 16 days, set in 1968, for keeping a shark in closed quarters.

Times have changed, as evinced by what happened to the previous record holder.
"The reason that that shark ended after 16 days was that the shark displayed aggressive behavior toward tank divers. Her time ended with a public execution," Kochevar said.
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Great White Sharks

Not "in our wildest dreams" could researchers have imagined killing the current record holder. It was released back into the sea.

"I think our view of these animals has really changed," Kochevar said. "Now we see them as the magnificent, graceful, important animals that they are rather than as the mindless predators or deadly eating machines as they've been portrayed."

The Monterey Bay Aquarium shark was incredibly popular with aquarium visitors and scientists alike.

"That baby shark was a tremendous ambassador for sharks worldwide," Lowe said.

"Everybody was scared senseless by that movie. It's very difficult to clear the memory and reset the mind," Klimley said. "That's why it's very important to me that places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium have white sharks on display. People can see white sharks behaving naturally and not in some contrived, artificial situation."

Unexpected move done by tagged great white shark

Tagged great white shark makes unexpected move – implications for conservation
New Zealand and Mexican marine scientists analysing the movements of great white sharks in the southwest Pacific say that news that one of the sharks fitted with a satellite tag in April had left New Zealand waters has implications for the species’ conservation and management.

The four-metre shark, nicknamed Tessa, was tagged at the Chatham Islands on 8 April by an international team of marine scientists led by Dr Ramón Bonfil of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr Malcolm Francis of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, and Clinton Duffy, a Department of Conservation scientst.

This is the first time pop-off archival satellite tags (PAT tags) have been used to track white sharks in New Zealand waters. PAT tags collect information on depth, temperature, and light levels and store this for several months. This information is then used to reconstruct the animal’s movements. At a predetermined date and time the tags detach, float to the surface and transmit summaries of the data via satellite to the scientists.

Tessa’s tag began transmitting its position to Dr Bonfil at the Bronx Zoo at 11:19 hrs GMT on 5 July. The tag was 1000km NNE of Chatham Island and 800km east of the North Island, placing Tessa in international waters close to the southern end of the Louisville Ridge, a remote chain of underwater volcanoes.

The result surprised the team, because the shark had travelled across very deep water to an area not previously known to be inhabited by white sharks, Mr Duffy said today.

“The unexpected result demonstrated the value of the research and how little is known about these animals.”

“We speculated it was possible that white sharks may move out of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone to the north, as there have been occasional captures reported from tuna longliners fishing near the Three Kings Rise, but none of us expected any of the sharks tagged at the Chathams would head in that direction.”

Dr Bonfil said the use of satellite tags “provides an incredible insight into the lives of these large, mobile sharks, which was previously unattainable”.

Data collected from the tag would provide extremely valuable information on the movements of white sharks, he said.

The tag will continue to transmit archived information for another week, after which it will be possible to reconstruct the approximate route taken by the shark, estimate its swimming speed, and determine its daily depth and temperature ranges.

Dr Francis said that by studying the movements of tagged sharks, they “hoped to understand more of the species’ habitat requirements, migrations and behaviour. Without this basic information, it is very difficult to determine how much impact humans are having on them, and to decide on the best way to conserve their population.

Although white sharks have received a bad press in the past, we now realize that they have decreased dramatically in numbers in several parts of the world and need our protection. White sharks grow slowly and do not produce many young, so they cannot sustain high catches.”
Dr Bonfil said: “we have no way of knowing what the shark is doing in that area, it might be feeding up there, or moving further on, we don’t know.

However, it reinforces the need for international cooperation on research and management of this species”. Based on his previous work in South Africa he said it was “possible the shark would return to New Zealand, possibly even to the place it was tagged at the Chatham Islands.”
The remaining PAT tags are scheduled to release on 5 September and 5 October 2005.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Great white shark in Adriatic Sea

The Croatian marine and tourism ministry confirmed Wednesday the presence of a four-metre-long great white shark in the northern Adriatic Sea.

The confirmation follows eyewitness reports earlier this month of a shark near the northern Istrian Peninsula and also near the island of Krk, Croatia's biggest Adriatic island.

The ministry warned tourists to be cautious and not to swim too far from the coast, but could not confirm if the sightings were of one or more sharks.

Local authorities have been advised to put warning flags in the sea. The last reported shark attack in Croatia was 1971 and was not fatal.

Letter is the base of a debate on a great white shark's fate

Malibu's mayor pro tem and city staff appeared to be in conflict this week over whether the council actually requested a letter be sent to a Central California aquarium asking it to relocate a 4-million-gallon floating shark-holding pen away from Malibu's coastline.City Manager Katie Lichtig said in a phone interview last week that "the council instructed us to communicate the city's desire for the program to be in a less-populated area," a request confirmed in the city's action agenda.

Malibu's city limit extends three miles offshore.However, Mayor Pro Tem Ken Kearsley, in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, was adamant that this did not take place."[The council] did not request that the holding pen be relocated," Kearsley said. "The action agenda is wrong.""I would vehemently oppose a letter requesting relocation," he added.Kearsley said that the council did ask to clarify a few issues, but did not take action on the matter.

However, Lichtig, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, said there "was a consensus to send a letter."The Malibu Times received a facsimile of the letter late Tuesday afternoon, which was signed by Mayor Andy Stern.The letter, addressed to Randy Hamilton, vice president of husbandry at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, states, " ... concerns were raised regarding the safety of maintaining the shark pen the Malibu Bay Aquarium has placed off the shore of Malibu at Point Dume ...

"The letter goes on to state that while the city appreciates the benefits of the aquarium's White Shark Research Project, "our first priority must always be the safety and well-being of our residents and the thousands of visitors we welcome each year. Therefore, the City of Malibu recommends that a more appropriate offshore location in a less populated area should be utilized for the white shark pen."Again, Kearsley was insistent that the council did not request such a letter.

"That's not the way I recall it," he said. "We didn't pass any action, we did not have any vote on it."Kearsley confirmed this later Tuesday after he watched the tape from the June 27 council meeting and said what happened is Councilmember Sharon Barovsky had suggested a letter be sent inquiring as to whether the sharks that are released, could be released further off the coast from Malibu.Barovksy, who also watched the tape, confirmed this account."Mistakes happened, [especially] when it's late," Barovksy said of how the intent of the request could have been misunderstood.

The request came at the behest of Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, who brought the issue up during the public comment portion of the June 27 council meeting.Ulich said in a phone interview Tuesday that a concerned resident e-mailed her a link to the Web site, which detailed what happens to sharks that go into the pen and then are later released.

Conley Ulich said that the Web site stated that if the sharks don't eat, they are released into local waters."So we have hungry sharks being released into our waters," Conley Ulich said.Asked if she was concerned that a released shark could attack humans in local waters, she said, "Yes."When told of what Kearsley and Barovsky said regarding the letter, Conley Ulich said, "In my mind, it was a request to move it [the pen]."But she admitted that the council members could be right in their assertion.Mayor Stern said he was concerned about the issue as well, citing the recent shark attacks off the coast in Florida.

"Will we be safer without it [the pen]?," Stern asked rhetorically. "Probably.""The humanity of it is a concern as well," he added, referring to the recent death of a juvenile female great white shark, which died after it was transferred from a holding pen in San Pedro to the pen in Malibu.In response to the concerns posed by Conley Ulich and others, Ken Peterson, public relations manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said he appreciates the council members' concerns and would be happy to answer any questions the city might have.

"[If I were] a council member and didn't know a great deal about sharks, I would want to ask those questions," Peterson said in a phone interview Tuesday. "That's a very reasonable thing to do."He said he has received no communication from the city except a phone call asking where and to whom a letter should be sent.Peterson said that since the inception of the aquarium's research four years ago, a total of three sharks have been put into the pen.

One, in 2003, was held for five days. It was not feeding so it was tagged and released from the site of the pen. Satellite data showed that the shark ended up traveling to Redondo Beach. The second shark was successfully sent to the aquarium after being held in the Malibu pen, and after six months, it was released off Monterey Bay. Within 30 days, tagged data showed it traveled to Point Conception in Santa Barbara.

The third shark was the one that recently died.Peterson said the protocol for shark release is after a period of time, if scientists didn't see signs of an animal swimming well, or feeding well, it is then tagged and released from the pen.Peterson said in conversations with lifeguards, they have affirmed that for the decades they've been working in Malibu, they have regularly seen great whites along the coast."They'll be there, whether we have a pen or not," Peterson said.As to where they are spending their time and where they move to and why, it's a mystery, Peterson said.

"That's part of the research," he said. "To learn what they're doing."Peterson did say that scientists do know that at the juvenile stage in life, the great whites are not feeding on marine mammals, therefore not confusing humans with their prey. Also, based on data from the sharks tagged, their range varies widely and they travel quickly, sometimes more than 100 miles offshore."They're not territorial, they range a lot from wherever they happen to be," he said.It is the aquarium's opinion, which is backed by science, Peterson said, that the operation of the pen would not pose a threat to people.

"If [we] thought there were a threat," he said, "that is not something we would be doing for ethical reasons, putting people in danger."As to why Kearsley is opposed to relocating the pen, he cited the importance of scientific study."It's a scientific study," he said. "Sharks are part of the environment. They have always been here, and always will be."Kearsley said he is an avid surfer and goes in the water everyday.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Nicolette Sheridan, an actress of the Desperate Housewives T.V. Show saves fiance from great white shark!

Nicolette Sheridan impressed fiance NIKLAS SODERBLOM during their first meeting, when she saved his life by attacking a great white shark which was edging towards him.

The actress was admiring Soderblom, then a stranger, surfing in the sea when she observed the shark's fin behind her future love.But the brave 41-year-old risked her life to protect Soderblom from the predator, by racing towards it and punching its face.

She says, "Niklas was on a surfboard and there was a huge great white shark that had come over from Catalina.

"I was doing my daily three-mile swim and I saw this fin and I swam as fast as I could and punched that shark right in the nose, repeatedly. And saved him!"

It's all in the tag!

The ghostly grey shape makes its first cautious approach towards the tuna-head bait bobbing in the water off Seal Island with an effortlessness and grace that defies description.We all know that great white sharks are big, but the huge size of this animal gliding through the clear False Bay waters comes as a major surprise to someone seeing the species in its natural habitat for the first time.It's long, very long, although University of Cape Town researcher Alison Kock estimates that it's "only" about four metres in length - still just medium-size for an animal that can reach an astounding 6m or more.

But even more surprising is its massive girth; it would take at least two, maybe three, people with joined hands to get their arms around it.

'And in summer the sharks aren't at the island - we might get one or two occasionally coming by'"It's like a bus," agrees Morné Hardenberg, dive-master of a commercial shark-cage diving boat in Gansbaai, who is helping Kock on this particular outing to Seal Island.The shark has been attracted to Kock's boat by a rank mixture of anchovy oil and water ladled into the sea - a practice called chumming - and by the tuna head tied firmly to a rope.

There's also a dummy seal, Flatty, made of styrofoam, which bobs behind the boat on another rope, providing the silhouette of a Cape fur seal which is the great white shark's main prey in this area.Surprisingly, the shark approaches the bait extremely carefully, making several passes at a distance before coming in for a taste.But it's a male, not what Kock is looking for, so Hardenberg quickly hauls in the bait before the shark can get hold of it.

It's all restrained and surprisingly unfrenzied - there's no snapping of jaws, no thrashing or gnashing of the triangular, razor-sharp teeth which are partly responsible for this species' awesome reputation. It is definitely not like the movies.After several unsuccessful attempts to get the bait, the shark leaves, but another is quickly on the scene - this time a female, about 3,5m.

To the trained eye, it's simple to differentiate between the sexes as males have a pair of easily visible appendages known as "claspers", one on either side of the pelvic fin - if you know where to look.Hardenberg uses the tuna head to lure the shark close to the boat, and at the last possible moment Kock "spears" it with a long tagging pole, planting a small barbed electronic transmitter into its tough skin, just alongside the dorsal fin.

The shark doesn't react, and returns several times before it too leaves the scene.Occasionally there are two sharks cruising around the boat, and at one time during the three-hour operation even three, but mostly there is only one at a time in view.This day most are males, but eventually another female - slightly larger at about 3,6m and dubbed "Dorsal Dot" - is lured close enough for Kock to plant a second transmitter, and the morning's work is done.

Altogether, 18 different individuals are identified during this trip - some way short of Kock's record of 36 in a single day.Kock is a PhD marine biology student who is researching the behavioural ecology of what is correctly called the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) in False Bay, and she's planning to tag 35 of these creatures this year, and another 35 next year, getting a good cross-representation of size and sex.

The tags are read by a scanner in one of 28 receivers attached to weighted tyres sunk around False Bay, at points from just past Kogel Bay and at Gordon's Bay on the eastern side of False Bay, to Macassar, Strandfontein, Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Simon's Town, Partridge Point and Cape Point - and, of course, at Seal Island.

The most popular bathing areas of Muizenberg and Fish Hoek are particularly well covered with four receivers each.Each time a tagged shark swims past a receiver, its identity and other information is recorded, including when it arrived, how long it stayed, at what depth, and when it left. "On a day like this (a beautiful, calm day with clear water and a very small swell) the receivers will pick up signals from at least 600m or 700m, but I work on an average of 400m," Kock says.

"We're working on the assumption that if the sharks are inshore, they're swimming parallel to the coast, and we try and put in an inshore and an offshore receiver to try and cover that.""And I'll definitely pick up any tagged animal coming into a bay like Fish Hoek."Her research has been designed to answer specific questions, she explains. "The main aim of this project is, firstly, to gain a better understanding of what white sharks are doing in False Bay, what times of year they occur here, which areas they frequent, and how long they're there for.

" Secondly, she wants to see whether and how the sharks react to various factors."I'm trying to correlate these shark movements to activities like trek-net fishing, water-user activities such as bathing and surfing, the state of the river mouth at Sandvlei in Muizenberg corner, and activities at Kalk Bay harbour such as the cleaning of the boats and fish offal from there.

"She is particularly interested in the relationship with trek-net fishing because it involves many potential prey species."

I'd be very surprised if white sharks weren't attracted, and so I'd like to investigate that further," she says.It is still too early in her research to come up with any conclusive findings, other than some of the shark movements around Seal Island."The white sharks seem to start arriving at the island from May and concentrate here, and we see the seal predations which last through to about September."

"And in summer the sharks aren't at the island - we might get one or two occasionally coming by."Great Whites are known to range incredibly widely, with some having been recorded as crossing to the coasts of other continents. There is no certainty yet about where the False Bay sharks go during the summer, but Kock thinks at least some remain in the bay.

"This is one of the main things we're trying to find out, but from aerial surveys, from interactions with fishermen and kayakers and divers, I really think we have a year-round presence of white sharks in False Bay, and we need to get a better handle on that."She's also researching behavioural differences between different size sharks and between the sexes.

Her boat, Xiphodon (named, appropriately, for an extinct giant mako shark), the tags and the receivers are all sponsored by the Save Our Seas Foundation which operates out of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.Kock wants more people to have the experience of seeing great white sharks in their natural environment, and regrets the high price tag of the commercial trips - around R900 a person."I really wish that more South Africans could see what happens out here."

"When there's a shark attack, there's this impression that there's this 'rogue' shark that has come into False Bay and is now looking for someone to eat.""That's just such a wrong impression, it's so far from the truth!""It's tragic when there's a shark attack, but I really think that for having so many of these top predators in our waters, we are actually co-existing with them."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A shark's tale being told by scientist

A gray dorsal fin suddenly poked out of the shallow waters of the Cape Cod estuary. The slate gray coloring of the shark's back turned bright white at its stomach. The fish looked about 14 feet long.

''It was like a scene from 'Jaws,' " said Greg Skomal, the shark specialist for the state's Division of Marine Fisheries, of his first up-close glimpse of a great white shark in the Atlantic. ''I was absolutely in awe."

Skomal, 43, became a quasi-celebrity because of his role last fall in coaxing the 1,700-pound leviathan back out to sea from a Naushon Island lagoon. The female shark, nicknamed ''Gretel" by the public, captivated locals, tourists, and media from around the world during its 14-day captivity. Skomal, who studied great whites off the coast of southern Australia, relived his experience with the famous shark Wednesday night for a sold-out audience of 400 at the New England Aquarium.

The movie ''Jaws" gave the great white a bad reputation, said Skomal in an interview. Through his work, Skomal tries to debunk the myth that sharks prey on people. The great white is a small-brained fish, he said, and isn't good at telling the difference between humans and its usual prey -- dolphins, seals, or sea lions.

Two recent shark attacks along Florida's Gulf Coast injured one boy who was fishing in waist-deep water and killed a girl who was swimming 200 yards from shore; both sharks were believed to be the more aggressive bull shark. There have been no shark-related deaths in New England waters since 1936, when a teenage boy from Dorchester was killed in Mattapoisett by what was thought to be a great white, according to an aquarium spokesman.

Atlantic great whites are shrouded in mystery and tend to feed far off shore, Skomal said. Because sightings are rare, researchers do not know much about their migratory patterns.
''Personally, it was like a gift," Skomal said of the surprise visitor to the Cape. ''It was the single highlight of my career to spend 14 days with a great white in a New England estuary."

Doubting the shark would stick around for long, Skomal pulled out a spear and tagged the base of its dorsal fin with a satellite tracking device so he could study its movements over the next six months.

''I thought she'd swim out as easily as she swam in," he said. ''I was grossly wrong."

The next morning, the shark was still swimming near the middle of the pond where the water was deepest, at about 25 feet. It was too scared to head towards the shallow rocky opening to the ocean.

For the next week and a half, Skomal and about 20 others tried to lure the shark out with bait -- blue fish, tuna, even a dead seal. They made silt clouds out of powdered lime, hoping to cloud the water and edge the shark closer to sea. They generated an electric field. The shark ignored them all. Skomal spent nights at a friend's house in Falmouth, returning to his Martha's Vineyard home only to grab more clothes.

On the 11th day, local fishermen cast netting to force the shark to swim south. Skomal and the others nudged it through the opening by spraying water.

But the shark instead swam into a neighboring bay that was only about 4 feet deep. Again using water pumps, he and others finally freed the shark Oct. 4.

The next day, he spoke about the shark in an interview with ''Good Morning America." Afterward, he got an e-mail telling him the tracking device had fallen off the shark about an hour after it swam out to sea.

"It was like a kick in the stomach for me," said Skomal, who had spent up to six hours a day with the shark. ''I went from one of my highest highs to one of my lowest lows."

Still, Skomal said he hopes to have the opportunity to track more great white sharks in the Atlantic. Skomal predicts that the summer will bring one or two credible reports of a great white sighting within miles of Cape Cod.

''This was just the beginning of learning more about this elusive critter," he said.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Recommend book on truth about great white sharks

It has been 30 years since the movie Jaws was released, and North American interest in white sharks -- usually referred to as great white sharks --hasn't abated much in the interim. Tune in to the Discovery Channel, and you are likely to catch a shark show almost any time.

Shark Week is the year's biggest draw. That many of these purported documentaries lack a cohesive story line, shamelessly manipulate their biological subjects and anoint dubious pseudo-scientists as "experts" apparently does not keep viewers away from their much-needed white shark fix.

Sharks, fundamentally, are the ocean's anti-heroes, the predators people love to hate. And, as anyone in the media will tell you, sharks sell. It is sad that these majestic survivors of Devonian waters have been largely relegated to cheap thrills, sweeps-week entertainment and teases on 24-hour news networks.

There are, of course, many who have a nobler view of sharks. One of those is author Susan Casey, in The Devil's Teeth. Casey has explored her passion for white sharks in a way for which many shark groupies would kill -- she made forays off San Francisco to the Farallon Islands, the home of North America's most robust white shark population. There she rubbed elbows with scientists and had the opportunity to encounter white sharks at close quarters. Recollections of those experiences are the subject of her book.

White sharks are the largest of the predatory sharks, reaching lengths of 20 feet. Like most shark species, their populations have significantly declined worldwide as a result of overfishing, habitat loss and reduction in the abundance of their natural prey. White sharks are protected in many areas of the world, including the United States, Australia and South Africa, and serve as poster children for their imperilled sister species.

It is ironic that sharks, the mostly highly adapted and respected predators in the sea, possess a biological Achilles heel: Long lives, slow growth and limited production of live-born young make these species much more vulnerable to fishing pressure than their bony-fish cousins. As a result, even if fishing were to be halted immediately, it would take many decades for most species of sharks to recover to former levels.

One would expect that Casey, a fine writer with excellent magazine credentials (the Toronto native is development editor at Time Inc. in New York City), would turn this once-in-a-lifetime adventure into a big-time piece. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Though the natural history part of the book is splendid, Casey's love of her subject -- the jacket copy calls it an "obsession" -- has turned part of her story into a fan's narrative in which people and events are viewed consistently through rose-tinted glasses. These overly sympathetic characterizations result in this reader questioning the integrity of some of her observations.

For instance, virtually all of the story's players are described as if they were soap-opera characters, where even winos are studs and all women wear Size 6. Perhaps, as a biologist, I am too close to the subject, but when scientists, even unproved graduate students, are uniformly characterized as handsome or beautiful, rugged and nimble, incredibly intelligent and possessing unparalleled skills, I am naturally skeptical. I know for a fact that most of us don't fit that description; like all folks, we have warts.

As a result, in places this tale reads more like an infomercial than a documentary, as if Casey were writing about loved family members she hoped not to offend.

Ornithologist turned shark-watcher Peter Pyle, for instance, comes across as a fine naturalist, one more than happy to retreat to the isolation of the rugged, stormy and forbidding Farallons.

Secondary characters are all given some individuality. On the other hand, Casey, who is really the book's central character, honestly portrays herself as a neophyte suffering the rigours of substandard housing and food commonly endured by field biologists.

The book also suffers from an unfortunate real-world ending that mutes the momentum of the story. One anticipates a stirring finale to this tale of lives spent waiting for huge predators to gobble up the nearest elephant seal, but it seems rather to fade away. Since one of the story's biologist heroes ends up losing his dream job as a result of bowing to the author's obsession, the final impression is one of Casey gaining material for her book at the expense of one of her main characters, who ends up holding the bag for her actions. What could have been an uplifting communion-with-nature story becomes a mini-tragedy that leaves a bad taste.

That said, it is Casey's handling of natural history -- the sharks and the abundant bird life -- that is the book's great strength. Her background on the history of the Farallons is captivating stuff and. By and large, the biological facts she provides are accurate, although there is some misinformation scattered throughout. Her fascination with the sea and its creatures is infectious. And no one will question Casey's writing, which (like her characters) is intelligent and stylish and conveys both her fear and awe at occupying the same ocean as such magnificent creatures.

Pick up The Devil's Teeth if you are interested in natural history or just can't get enough of sharks. It is a good, if not totally satisfying, read. A segment of the story has appeared in Sports Illustrated, presumably because shark watching, like ogling models in swimsuits, is now regarded as sport (the Farallon researchers have to cope with boatloads of divers).

The book could even become a bestseller since, well, sharks sell.George H. Burgess is director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. He is also curator of the International Shark Attack File, which has investigated shark attacks since 1958, and is involved in shark conservation.

The Devil's Teeth is worth reading!

Roughly 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Farallon Islands, a tightly supervised national wildlife refuge, offer shelter to an assortment of birds and seals. Part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the islands also attract one of the world's largest congregations of sharks. From September through November, scores of them swim close to the shorelines.

In "The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks," Susan Casey writes with awe and wonder of these islands, "fragile, hollow in places, and made of eighty-nine-million-year-old granite, much of which has gone rotten and crumbles to the touch."

She describes the sharks' mysterious annual appearances, their habits and behaviors, and her interactions with Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson, who have studied the creatures for more than a decade and a half as part of the Farallon Islands White Shark Project. Unfortunately, however, she does not provide enough information about the men's personalities. Their portrayals remain incomplete.

Casey, a development editor in New York City for Time Inc., first heard of the Farallon Islands in 1998 when she caught a BBC documentary, "The Great White Shark," on Pyle and Anderson's work. Fascinated by the images onscreen, she wanted to learn more.

The islands seemed to her a place where "the usual rules of civilization did not apply ... where nothing was fake and nothing was for sale, where cars and credit cards, cell phones and expensive high-heeled shoes got you nowhere, where animals thrived while people died in any number of unlikely ways."

Separated from the rest of Northern California by jagged cliffs, treacherous rocks and miles of ocean, their access restricted by federal law to biologists who monitor the wildlife there, the Farallones, she discovers, do indeed exist in a realm of their own. They are isolating and invigorating, mystifying and mesmerizing.

The great white sharks that arrive near the islands each autumn are equally mesmerizing. Casey talks at length with Pyle and Anderson about them. Through various arrangements, she is able to spend time with the men on site, in the weather-beaten house on Southeast Farallon Island they share three months out of the year and on their boats.

According to the author, the same sharks come to the same spots in the Farallones in part to hunt. They are drawn to the seals there -- "northern elephant seals, harbor seals, fur seals ... all barking and bellowing, draped on the rocks like a blubbery carpet." The male sharks return every year. But the females return only every other year, often with gashes around their heads. Where do they go when they are not near the islands? To warmer climates to give birth? Are their wounds mating related? Questions abound.

Through research and observation, however, scientists do know that the creatures -- to which Pyle and Anderson have given names such as Cal Ripfin, Bitehead and Jerry Garcia -- exhibit individual personalities. They have distinguishing characteristics. "There were aggressors and there were clowns; there were mellow sharks and peevish sharks and sharks that meant absolute bloody business." Casey also looks at the ways in which Pyle and Anderson complement each other. Although the men come from slightly different backgrounds, they share a passion and commitment.

Pyle, one of the Farallones' head biologists, is a highly regarded ornithologist and natural historian. Though generally friendly and receptive, he has a low tolerance for people with misguided priorities. Chasing birds, he has hitchhiked over the years through Nicaraguan jungles, Indian slums and Samoan fruit bat colonies. But the least likable place he'd seen in the world, he said, was Walnut Creek.

Anderson, raised in Tiburon (Spanish for "shark"), grew up a shark fiend. Pictures of sharks adorned his bedroom walls. He heard stories about the Farallones throughout his childhood and made his way there over several years. "He could see things about the sharks that no one else could. He had a sixth sense for knowing where to look at just the right moment, and eyesight one could fairly describe as bionic."

What the author doesn't do, though, is provide a strong enough sense of the scientists' lives outside of work, of their interactions with friends and families in Inverness, for example. Do their friends think they're obsessed? Do their families worry each time they leave for the Farallones? Do the men get extraordinarily restless the other nine months of the year?

Perhaps Pyle and Anderson did not allow Casey access to their everyday lives. Perhaps they believed the important anecdotes centered on the sharks. But the details would have been nice. They would have provided contrast.

They would have created a more complete depiction of these men, whose careers for close to two decades have been devoted to the preservation of the Farallones and their inhabitants. They would have helped transform "The Devil's Teeth" from an ordinary narrator-driven story into a compelling character-driven drama.

He fights with great white sharks for a living!

Great white shark hand tagged by a scientist to help studies and research. Posted by Picasa

Great white sharks may be the poster child of marine predators. Yet scientists know surprisingly little about Carcharodon carcharias.

To map their movements and chart a course for the protection of great whites, one research team is getting up close and personal with the sea's top predator.

For three years Ramón Bonfil, a conservation scientist and shark specialist with the Bronx-based Wildlife Conservation Society, has been hand-fitting South Africa's great whites with dorsal-fin satellite tags. The tags reveal the sharks' day-to-day and long-term movements.
Bonfil's capture technique includes a heart-pumping face-to-face meeting with the king of the ocean food chain.

"It's a potentially dangerous situation, but we try to minimize the risk for both the scientists and the sharks," Bonfil said. "We don't want to kill a shark by mistake while studying it. Accidents can happen, so we're careful to work on nice flat water without risking more than we should."
Great white sharks can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) long and weigh up to 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms).

Wildlife Conservation Society researchers began their shark-tagging project with "small" great whites, which still measured an impressive six to seven feet (two meters). The team has subsequently fitted animals measuring nearly 13 feet (4 meters) and weighing 1,650 pounds (750 kilograms).

The sharks are caught on a hook and line, and then maneuvered into a specially designed metal "cradle," which lifts them out of the water for three to seven minutes.

While researchers fix a satellite tag in the animal's dorsal fin, veterinarians pump seawater through the mouth and gills of the great white and inject drugs and vitamins that help the shark to recover from capture stress.

The entire process, from hookup to release, lasts about 15 adrenaline-filled minutes.

"When we did the first shark, we were very nervous, because we thought it would be thrashing and trying to bite everybody," Bonfil said. "But amazingly, when we took it out of the water, it was quiet and calm."

"As we started going to larger and larger sharks, they [became] very difficult to get into the cradle. But once in the cradle, they also became [quite] tame."

The release of a healthy shark may be the most perilous part of the procedure. "Some of the larger sharks, when they feel the water, once they feel that they are back in their element, they go mad," Bonfil said.

Though likely disconcerting for the sharks, the ordeal is ultimately for their own good. The satellite-tracking tags can help Bonfil and other scientists better understand great white shark migration patterns.

"Even though they are big, spectacular predators and one of the most immediately recognizable animals in the ocean, there are still profound gaps in basic knowledge [of great whites]," said Randy Kochevar, a marine biologist at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium. "How long do they live? Where do they breed? We don't know the answers yet."

Shark Life in 3-D

Satellite tags provide clues to such questions, because they allow scientists to track sharks in near-real time. Whenever a shark's tagged dorsal fin breaks the ocean surface, the device uploads a satellite radio signal. The feed can deliver data to desktop computers in one to two hours.

The tags track great white movements, enabling scientists to learn where and how the predators spend their time. Information on depth, water temperature, and light levels allows researchers to measure the animals' daily movements in 3-D.

Such technology has been a boon to shark researchers all over the globe.

"We try to imagine the world in which sharks live," Bonfil said. "Where do they spend their time on a day-to-day basis? On the surface? On the bottom?"

"[Without tags] we really don't have more than snapshot glimpses of what they do or how they use ocean habitat," Kochevar added. "As far as really understanding what their life is like over a 24-hour basis, we had no way to get that view at all [without tagging]."

The tagging data also reveals long-distance movements, migrations, and population dynamics that offer a clearer picture of larger shark society.

"To protect great whites we need to know their geographical range and their population structure," said Robert Hueter, who directs the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida.

"For these reasons, such studies are vital," he said. For example, Hueter wonders if the great white sharks found off the northeast U.S. coast are the same population found in the Mediterranean.

Great whites are heavily protected in South Africa, where Bonfil conducts his tagging project. But the shark researcher points out that such protection will mean little if the animals he studies routinely leave those waters for other regions where they are vulnerable.

Bonfil is currently awaiting data from great whites recently tagged near New Zealand, which could suggest whether those two populations are interrelated.

"Some [sharks] stay in a single spot for months at a time, and some move a lot," he said. "Unfortunately there is no pattern that we can identify as yet."

"This may be the largest-ever study of great white sharks' spatial dynamics, but it's still based on just 31 animals. We need much more data, and this requires better funding."

Hueter, of Mote Marine Laboratory, believes that further tagging research will reveal important patterns in shark distribution.

"I've been tagging [various] sharks for over 30 years, and one thing that's emerged is that these animals appear to show patterns of returning to specific areas," he said.

"It's very likely that great white sharks will have the same kind of patterns," Hueter added. "They're not mindless ocean nomads, but they are navigating to specific points, with flexibility, of course, for prevailing conditions. Finding out where those important habitats are located is critical for their protection."

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The book "The Devil's Teeth" is overshadowed by real attacks in Florida

Devil's Teeth a must read book that reunites fears, facts, fascination and fiction. Being based on real stories is a bonus. Posted by Picasa

Pop culture is so ingrained in our psyches that the tragic shark attacks along the Florida Panhandle spark memories of Peter Benchley's iconic shark tale, Jaws.

"Every fear on our list": Author Susan Casey explores humans' fascination with sharks.

But real-life attacks overshadow those found in novels, and that's why The Devil's Teeth by Susan Casey is so chilling: Every word is true.

Subtitled A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks, Casey's book recounts her time with the gigantic predators near the Farallones, a cluster of relatively unknown islands 27 miles off San Francisco, where the sharks come for part of the year.

The islands, located within a National Marine Sanctuary and surrounded by turbulent waters, are off-limits to all except biologists such as those associated with the Farallon White Shark Project (though shark-diving expeditions are available offshore). In 2001, Casey, a writer for Time magazine, obtained a one-day permit to visit. Then, two years later, she returned and lived for a few weeks on a boat just offshore.

About the book

The Devil's TeethBy Susan CaseyHenry Holt, 291 pp., $25

Her experiences are told in a lively and detailed account that pivots on the sharks and why we love to hate them:

"Great white sharks ... occupy the bean-shaped niblet of our cerebral cortex reserved for fear of being eaten by something — particularly something that lurks, hidden, in another element, waiting to burst into ours. Great white sharks, emerging out of lightless depths with a maniac smile, neatly encapsulate every fear on our list."

Centuries ago, sailors called the islands "Devil's Teeth" because of their jagged cliffs and dangerous waters. Casey uses vivid descriptions to take us there.

After a great white kills a seal, she writes, "the seal was whittled down to kabob-sized remnants."
Of the amazing number of birds on the island: "There were one hundred thousand murres on the island ... packed tight as bowling pins on the sea cliffs."

On the challenge of living in a desolate place: "Nervous breakdowns snuck up on people after an eight-week run of bleak weather, a few missed grocery drop-offs, a piggish housemate or two, and days spent watching animals kill and eat each other."

And on getting close to a shark: "They could plainly see the scars all over its head and its two-inch-long teeth, backed by rows of spare teeth."

Casey weaves in the history of the Farallones and the environmental horrors visited upon them through the centuries. In the 19th century, the seals were hunted nearly to extinction, and entrepreneurs stripped the islands of more than 10 million bird eggs to be sold on the mainland.
The islands received protected status nearly four decades ago, and the seals are back. So are the birds. And so, too, are the sharks.

The great whites "seem like the closest thing we've got to living dinosaurs," she writes. "Their otherness is what both compels us and scares the pants off us. That, and their several sets of teeth. It's a complicated relationship."