Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rescued Great White Shark pups died!

Seven great white shark pups rescued after their mother was caught in a fisherman’s net last week have died.

Commercial fishermen in the East China Sea netted the pups’ 16-foot-long, 2,866-pound mother on Jan. 18. She was dead, but the seven pups found inside her still were alive and, although premature, were transported from the fishing dock in Yomitan to the Churaumi Aquarium at Ocean Expo Park in Nago.

The mother’s carcass also was taken to the aquarium for study.

“Because they were immature babies, they all died by Sunday, one after another,” said Keiichi Sato, a marine scientist with the Churaumi Aquarium. “The mother shark was believed to have been between the middle and late stages of pregnancy.”

“The chances were very slim for [the pups] to survive under the circumstances,” said Hideshi Teruya, another marine scientist at the aquarium. “Although it was unfortunate that the babies could not make it, they, as well as their mother, left very valuable specimens for us.”

Teruya said the aquarium was inundated with inquiries from international researchers who learned of the event from an article in Stars and Stripes.

“We have been receiving numerous e-mails from around the world, asking for detailed information on the sharks,” he said. “Some organizations said that they would like to see the specimen.”

The great white shark was snagged in a fishing net in the waters between Okinawa and the nearby Kerama Islands. Because sharks must keep swimming in order to breathe, it was dead before the fisherman could make it back to port.

The average size of a full-grown great white shark, known as the world’s largest predatory fish, is 13 to 16 feet, with a weight of 1,500 to 2,500 pounds — although some have been recorded at up to 22 feet and more than 4,400 pounds.

At first, the Yomitan fishermen’s association would not comment on the capture, fearing the news of such a large shark in the waters off Okinawa would deter tourism. But Teruya noted that most sharks steer clear of humans and the coral reefs that surround Okinawa usually keep the dangerous fish at bay.

Survivor of Great White Shark attack had head in jaws!

AN abalone diver has survived a terrifying attack by a white pointer shark, which swallowed his head and shoulders before he fought free of the predator.

Eric Nerhus, 41, was diving off the New South Wales south coast today when the 3m shark seized him head on, crunching on his head, shoulders and chest, he told friends later.

Protected from the worst of the shark's bite by a lead-lined weight vest, the diver stabbed and clubbed at the creature's head and eyes with an abalone chisel until it spat him free.

The shark's bite crushed Mr Nerhus's reinforced face mask, broke his nose, and shredded his wetsuit.

With blood pouring from deep wounds to his head, chest and back, Mr Nerhus surfaced off Cape Howe, near Eden, to be pulled aboard a boat by his son Mark, 25.

Suffering blood loss and shock, he was flown to Wollongong Hospital, where he was stable and conscious tonight, telling friends of his miraculous escape.

"He was actually bitten by the head down, the shark swallowed his head," said fellow diver and friend Dennis Luobikis.

"I think Eric's the first professional abalone diver that's actually survived a white pointer attack," added Mr Luobikis, 52.

"Eric is a tough boy, he's super fit.

"But I would say that would test anyone's resolve, being a fish lunch.

"He'd have a better chance of winning the lotto (than surviving that attack), and I think he would have rather done that."

The attack occurred around 10.30am (AEDT) today as Mr Nerhus was searching for abalone in weedy, murky waters nine metres deep.

"He come up to the surface, he was going: `Help. Help there's a shark, there's a shark'," son Mark Nerhus told TV networks.

"I went over and there was a big pool of red blood and I pulled him out of the water and he was going: `Just get me to shore, get me to shore'."

Divers in a nearby boat gave first aid and one radioed his father, who was flying overhead in a spotter plane, to call for emergency help.

The Snowy Hydro Rescue Helicopter arrived shortly after 11.10am and airlifted Mr Nerhus to Wollongong Hospital, where he may undergo surgery as early as tomorrow for his injuries, a spokeswoman said.

But tonight, Mr Nerhus was sitting up and talking about his experience and was in a stable condition, the spokeswoman said.

Doctors said the shark had "taken the diver completely into its mouth".

But Mr Luobikis said Mr Nerhus' weight vest had probably saved his life.

All divers need lead to submerge but abalone divers use a lead vest rather than a weight belt.
"We've always felt (the vest) would probably help us in a shark attack and this is the first time we've had it confirmed," Mr Luobikis said.

There had been a rash of white pointer sightings in recent weeks thanks to unusually cold waters off Eden, but such an attack was unheard of, Mr Luobikis said.

"I have been a professional diver in Eden for 36 years and I'm not aware of any white pointer attacks in that time," he said.

Mr Luobikis said sharks pass abalone divers quite often but the divers never know, since they are head down, working.

"It's one of the hazards of the job – you accept it.

"They could swim over the top of you and you wouldn't even see them."

Last month, a 15-year-old boy lost part of his leg to a shark which attacked him while he was surfing near Esperance, in Western Australia, and another man had his leg bitten while surfing at Bells Beach in Victoria.

Last January, a scuba diver survived a great white attack off the coast of Perth by fighting off the shark with his speargun and then his hands.

But a 21-year-old woman died that same month when attacked by three sharks while swimming off North Stradbroke Island, in Queensland's southeast.

Between 1995 and 2005, Australia reported 74 shark attacks, second only to the US state of Florida, according to the US-based International Shark Attack File.

Great whites are the world's largest known predatory fish, with an average length of between 4 and 5m.

But they can grow up 6m in colder waters.

Sharks, including great whites, are protected in Australia.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Shark tale told by shark attack victim

One of the worlds' most chilling tales of survival was told by the very man who escaped the jaws of a great white shark. The attack happened in 1963 but Rodney Fox still draws big crowds to hear his story, like the one at the Tennessee Aquarium Friday evening. 44-years ago Rodney Fox was taking part in a south Australian spear fishing championship.

As he was about to spear more fish the blood stained waters attracted a very unwanted guest. "I was just about to pull the trigger when I felt this huge thud, crash, and hit me into my chest. It actually knocked the gun out of my hand, the mask off of my face and I was hurled through the water faster than I could swim," Fox said. The crowd that packed Tennessee Aquarium auditorium came for a lecture series on sharks.

That day in 1963 left Fox 40-feet underwater, in a state of panic, trying to gouge the great whites' eyes. "Instinctively I pushed the shark away, but my hand went right into it's mouth over it's teeth, ripping. Before it chewed my arm off I quickly dragged it out, but I dragged it high and that actually cut every tendon, except for [the index] finger, in my hand and it was a real mess," Fox explained. Part of the sharks' tooth remains in Foxs' wrist.

During the presentation Fox played several short films, some with old news footage showing him in a hospital bed during an interview two days after the attack. During his struggle with the shark it became more interested in Foxs' bait, and he surfaced in time to get a breath of air. A boat happened to be nearby and the people aboard brought him to safety and a hospital. His wounds were horrific: crushed ribs, deep punctures and tears to his side that exposed internal organs. Through the years Fox kept his interest in sharks, and continues to tell one of the worlds' most fascinating survival stories of all time.

Fox recalled that "last year, a chap came into our shark museum in Los Angeles where we have a small business there, and he walked up to me and he said 'you won't know me, but I was the orderly that opened the door of the ambulance." Fox became an expedition leader and reknown underwater photographer of sharks, who's work you've seen in the movie "Jaws" and "Blue Water White Death." His work has also been featured in National Geographic films. For more information, go to

6 m great white shark clears popular beach

ABOUT 100 swimmers were evacuated from a popular tourist beach at Phillip Island, southeast of Melbourne, after a six-metre shark was spotted nearby.

Water Police quickly urged swimmers to leave the water at Cowes and neighbouring beaches when the shark was seen near the Anderson Street boat ramp at Cowes.

Nick Boch, who runs The Hut Boat Ramp Cafe, said a woman had spotted what she first thought was a "silver dolphin playing in the shallows".

"A woman who was fishing came in and she was hyperventilating ... she said: 'I've just seen a shark – a really big one'," Mr Boch said.

"So I phoned fisheries, Marine Safety Victoria, Parks and Wildlife and the police. Fisheries had already had a sighting reported."

Mr Boch said he believed it was a great white shark, which reportedly had a half-metre-long dorsal fin.

He said the shark could have been searching for fish waste after fishermen cleaned their catch offshore.

When some jet skiers learned of the nearby shark, they raced across the waters, trying to find it and scare it away.

"I didn't see the jet skiers come back, but I would have told them they were a pack of fools," Mr Boch said.

Police evacuated tourists and beach-goers on the island's northern beaches, ensuring no one would be hurt.

No sightings of the shark have since been reported.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Gang" of killer whales killed a great white shark

LATE IN THE afternoon one recent winter day, Palos Verdes Estates resident Katy Penland looked out to sea and saw the telltale misty-white puffs of a whale blow several miles off the Redondo Beach Esplanade.

As a longtime naturalist, Penland knew that migrating Pacific gray whales were a common sight between December and May, so she assumed she was experiencing her first whale sighting of the season.

But there was nothing common about what Penland spied on that Dec. 5 afternoon.
After driving to the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula's Rocky Point to get a better view through her binoculars, Penland made a startling discovery.

"The first animal in my binoculars was a male with a very tall dorsal fin, at least 4 feet in height," she said. "At that moment I said, 'Holy moly, those are orcas!' "

Penland mobilized.

"I ran to my car, grabbed my cell phone and called the (Point Vicente) Interpretive Center right away," she said. "I didn't have Alisa's number, but I knew the center would, and that's who you call when you see killer whales. Those are her babies."

For more than 20 years, Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a marine biologist, educator and director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society's Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, has been studying killer whales.

"I became fascinated by them when I first saw Orky and Corky at Marineland," said Schulman-Janiger, a native of Long Beach, who now lives in San Pedro. "I spent hours by that tank, and it had a huge impact on me as a kid. To this day, I still have vivid dreams about killer whales."

Her whale work - which included studying a beached blue whale several years ago at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, where she met her husband, David Janiger, a curatorial assistant in the Los Angeles Natural History Museum's department of mammalogy - has involved all types of orcas.
Unusual, elusive gang

But her primary focus has been on the Los Angeles Pod, or L.A. Pod, a highly unusual and elusive gang of killer whales that has long prowled the waters immediately off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Named by Schulman-Janiger in 1984, after her first on-the-water encounter with the group, the L.A. Pod is distinctly different from the three known types of killer whale populations, known in the marine world as "eco-types."

Called transients, residents and offshores, the three existing eco-types are differentiated from each other by their behavior, eating habits, appearance and vocalizations. DNA tests have confirmed that the three types are genetically distinct from one another.

The L.A. Pod, however, appears to be in a class all its own.

Much smaller and more muscular than the others, they have their own vocalization dialect, unique markings, a one-of-a-kind dorsal fin shape and a penchant for lurking very close to shore, opportunistically feeding on fish and marine mammals.

The animals, Schulman-Janiger said, can be very social, curious, playful and friendly to observers in nearby boats. But the 13- to 15-member pod also can be aggressive.

Flexing their fins

More than once, individual animals have enjoyed flexing their fins and asserting their dominance by harassing other sea creatures, such as sea lions.

Perhaps the most notable incident of unusual behavior by a member of the L.A. Pod, sometimes called "the odd pod," occurred in October of 1997.

Two female L.A. Pod members, called CA2 and CA6, attacked and killed a great white shark at the Farallon Islands off San Francisco. It was, at that time, the only recorded attack on a great white shark by a killer whale.

The numerous differences between the L.A. Pod and other orca populations, Schulman-Janiger said, suggest that the L.A. Pod might represent a new kind of killer whale eco-type.
But without conclusive DNA tests, scientists can't be sure.

Awaiting their return

Members of the L.A. Pod were last spotted nine years ago, right after the attack on the great white. Three L.A. Pod members were seen off La Jolla headed south, toward Mexico. Since then, Schulman-Janiger has been watching and waiting for the L.A. Pod to reappear.

Could Penland's December sighting have been of the L.A. Pod, back again after so many years?
"It's possible," said Eric Martin, co-director of the Roundhouse Marine Aquarium at the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier, who also was watching the mysterious pod of orcas at the same time as Penland, but from farther up the coast.

"I never count it out," he said. "Since these animals live as long as we do, and we can only spot them from a boat or the cliff of Palos Verdes, they could be out there right now, and we just haven't been at the right place at the right time. Anything is possible."

Martin has been working with Schulman-Janiger in her ongoing study of the L.A. Pod since he first encountered the pod up close.

"The first time I got (a look at the) L.A. Pod was Oct. 28, 1984," he said. "I'll never forget that day. The big male, we call him Notchfin, breached, then he swam right beside my inflatable boat and looked right up at me. That day is what got me started studying wild killer whales."

Schulman-Janiger, who was with Martin that day, called the whale sighting "an intense, electrical connection," and in the years since then, she and Martin have been on call, launching Martin's boat at a moment's notice whenever a killer whale sighting is made. Even Martin's 11-year-old son, Cody, has been bitten by the whale bug.

"Nowadays when the phone rings, Cody asks, 'Is that Alisa?' " Martin said.

"He loves to go out with us, and he's becoming quite a good photographer of marine wildlife."
Unfortunately, whether that killer whale sighting last month was of the L.A. Pod remains a mystery, as no known pictures were taken.

"I'm hoping it was them," said Schulman-Janiger. "It's been nine years since we've seen L.A. Pod, and it's killing me. I've gotta know if it was them. If I could just get my hands on one picture, I'd know."

Finding a photo

Penland and Martin reported that two boats were in the water following the orcas, who appeared to be feeding on a large school of fish a few miles off shore.

Though no one knows who was aboard those boats or from what port they hailed, the researchers are hoping that photographs were taken, and that they'll somehow surface - or, for that matter, that any pictures of killer whales taken off the Southern California coast at any time in the last nine years will come to light.

"Pictures are the key," Schulman-Janiger said. "Even a shot of one dorsal fin. Somebody may have a picture of L.A. Pod sitting in a desk drawer. Somebody may have the missing link that solves the mystery of where they've gone."

She said the last known photos of the L.A. Pod showed large, warm-water barnacles attached to the animals, suggesting they could be holed up in Mexico.

But no one can say for sure.

"Just because they haven't been photographed doesn't mean they're not here," she said.

"Chances are small that they're wiped out. It's more likely that they've relocated, perhaps due to a shift in food source. And that doesn't mean that they're gone for good."

Until they show up again, Schulman-Janiger and Martin will be panning and scanning the horizon looking for the L.A. Pod.

"I'm like a dog with a bone," Schulman-Janiger said. "I just can't let it go."

Two towns and a great white shark made history!

About a century ago, Cliffwood Beach, a section of Aberdeen, boasted a bustling boardwalk, played host to social activities such as baby pageants and was home to a swimming pool. There, visitors could compete with famous athletes such as Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimmer who later became known for his role in "Tarzan" films, said Edward Fitzgerald, township historian.

It was around the same time that neighboring Matawan began to burgeon as a manufacturing hub for products such as ceramic tiles, while trains passed through the area to bring goods to other destinations, said Helen Henderson, a former president of the Matawan Historical Society who has written books on the Matawan-Aberdeen area.

"Today those factories are no longer manufacturing sites and, most of them, the buildings are no longer standing," said Henderson of Keyport.

Today, Matawan and Aberdeen are two different municipalities with two different forms of government, but they share a common past, both originating from Middletown Township, said Fitzgerald, 46, of Aberdeen.

The founding of the Matawan-Aberdeen area took place in the 1680s, when 24 Scottish Presbyterians settled in what is now known as the Freneau section of Aberdeen, according to "Matawan and Aberdeen: Of Town and Field," a book published in 2003 by Henderson and the Matawan Historical Society.

Like many Monmouth County communities, both municipalities have a strong agricultural background, Henderson said.

Established as Matawan Township in 1857, Aberdeen was part of an area that is now Matawan borough. In 1896, Matawan borough and Matawan township split, Fitzgerald said.

In November 1977, the voters of Matawan Township voted to changed the municipality's name to Aberdeen, creating a community identity separate from Matawan.

Aberdeen was, and still is, home to various neighborhoods that developed their own unique characteristics, Fitzgerald said.

The Oak Shades section, along Lower Main Street, began developing in the 1860s and at the turn of the 20th century saw an influx of Italian immigrants, whose descendents still are in the area. Developer William J. Levitt could be considered the father of the Strathmore section, Fitzgerald said.

"It was set up as a planned development, a community that would stand on its own," Fitzgerald said of the neighborhood, which included what are now Strathmore Elementary School and the Strathmore Bath and Tennis Club on Lloyd Road.

A notable event in Matawan's history was the shark attacks of July 12, 1916, at Matawan Creek.
While swimming with a group of boys in the Matawan Creek, just west of where it intersects with the train trestle, 11-year-old Lester Stillwell of Matawan was mauled and killed by a great white shark, according to Dr. Richard Fernicola, an expert on the attacks.

When news of the attack spread, a group of men including W. Stanley Fisher, 25, of Matawan hurried to the creek. While Fisher was in the creek searching for Stillwell, he was attacked by a shark and nearly dismembered, according to newspaper reports at the time. The shark tore Fisher's right leg almost off his body. He died later at the hospital. Stillwell's body washed up near the train trestle two days later, Fernicola said during an interview last summer as the borough remembered the 90th anniversary.

A Matawan landmark is the Burrowes Mansion, which is listed on both the state and national Registers of Historic Places. The Main Street structure was built around 1723. It was later owned by John Burrowes, a businessman who had come to be known as the "Corn King." His son, John Burrowes Jr., was a major with George Washington's Revolutionary War army. On May 27, 1778, the younger Burrowes returned home from Massachusetts to visit his wife, Margaret Forman, who was living in the mansion with the elder Burrowes and family. In a skirmish, a company of British loyalists pursued junior through the house, firing muskets into the attic. He escaped through a window.

"Over the years, it has had many lives," Henderson said, adding that ownership changed several times. The house is now a museum.

The Burrowes Mansion is one of the few artifacts left that serve as a reminder what life was like centuries ago, she said.

Today Matawan, like other communities near major urban areas, has become a busy municipality home to many commuters, she said.

"Instead of a village with a farming development, it is now a suburban bedroom community," Henderson said.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Fishermen to be involved in research on sharks

NETS 4km long will be put in place at 200 sites along the southern coast of Australia as part of the biggest survey of shark numbers ever undertaken.

Argentine researcher Matias Braccini will work with commercial fishermen to set the nets at least 500m from shore in an effort to learn more about the movements of sharks, their habitat and breeding patterns.

The fishermen will be allowed to keep the sharks that comply with their quota, giving them an incentive to help with the study, which was prompted by fears stocks have been badly depleted.
"One of the main objectives is looking at the school shark, and one of the problems is it has been heavily reduced," Dr Braccini said. "There was this belief in the past that the stocks were endless."
The fishermen will count all sharks caught in the nets, which will be put in place at sites from the Western Australia-South Australia border to eastern Bass Strait, and report their findings back to Dr Braccini.

The study is being part-funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

Dr Braccini, who arrived in Australia in 2002 to study for a PhD at Adelaide University, is hoping to begin travelling with commercial boats in coming weeks. It is expected to take up to 18 months to compile the data.

He hopes the study will shed light on the extent of over-fishing.

"In shark fisheries in the world there is no real information in abundance," he said.

Dr Braccini said the shark fishing industry was not well managed before the introduction of quotas and legislation banning the killing of species such as the great white.

"The school sharks were not managed early in the past century," he said, adding that when studies were conducted in the 1970s and 80s, researchers found the average shark size had been greatly reduced.

Australia's commitment to shark research attracted Dr Braccini to the country.

"I started working on sharks in 1999, and when I started doing research I started reading newspapers," he said. One of the worldwide researchers on sharks was his present boss, Terry Walker, based in Victoria.

Dr Braccini contacted universities around Australia, and Adelaide University allowed him to work in Victoria at the Marine and Freshwater Resources Institute, where he is supervised by Dr Walker.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Great White Shark forces dolphins to beach themselves

A marauding great white shark is the prime suspect for a pod of dolphins beaching at Pukehina on Saturday morning - spurring a mass rescue by holidaymakers.

Nine dolphins, some of them showing fresh wounds, astounded residents with their headlong plunge to shore.

Angie Martin said she had never heard of dolphins beaching themselves in her 25 years at Pukehina. "I've seen a lot of things but not that. It was the strangest thing."

Joel Larsen spotted the dolphins about 800m out from shore at 9am.

"They were really hoofing it, nothing was stopping them."

To his amazement, instead of swerving away, the dolphins plunged through the surf and beached themselves en-mass at the northern end of the beach, in front of 561 Pukehina Parade.

The dolphins' agonised thrashing triggered an instant response from holidaymakers and residents who rushed to their aid.

Within 15 minutes, most had been hauled back off the beach, turned around and were swimming back out to sea.

But it wasn't all plain sailing. Mr Larsen said one of the three that he pulled back into the surf had a big chunk bitten out of its tail.

And because it was rare for dolphins to strand themselves like this, he believes they were being chased, probably by the great white shark or mako that had been seen cruising Pukehina's reef.
Two of the three dolphins he helped shepherd out through the surf spun around and beached themselves again.

Rescuers said the dolphins were mostly smaller younger animals and more vulnerable to attack.
Trudy Wepa said three of the dolphins she saw had bite marks and were bleeding.

"We were all looking out for a shark."

She said they had to turn around a few of the dolphins three times before they finally headed in the right direction.

Ms Wepa said it was so special to feel the dolphins settle down when they were touched and rubbed, as if they knew the people were there to help.

Another rescuer on the scene early, 18-year-old Peter Sidwell from Sydney, said the response was fantastic. When he spotted the dolphins beach themselves, he pulled on a pair of boardies and sprinted. "I ran as fast as I could, I would have broken some records."

He said the dolphins looked a sorry sight when he reached them, thrashing about and "going spastic" through their blow holes.

Within a few minutes, about 30 people were in the water helping with the rescue and up to 100 had gathered on the beach to watch.

Pukehina Surf Life Saving Club patrol captain Kevin Barugh was at home when he spotted the pod about 1km off shore. "It looked like something was chasing them."

He hauled three off the beach by their tails and then turned them around by pushing their noses.
Most swam off first time.

"Once they were out the back (of the surf) they were away."