Friday, July 27, 2012

Shark Killing Vigilante- Just What the World Needs

Enio Regis Biela is a self-proclaimed vigilante in a race to protect the human race from its eminent doom at the hands or mouths of sharks. He believes that in order for people to sleep soundly in their beds, he must rid the ocean of man-eating sharks Yes, that’s right, this man has gone on a shark- killing spree because he believes sharks will wipe out the human race if we do not wipe them out first. Nope, I am not making this up, but I wish I were. Shocking that such blatant stupidity still runs rampant in a world where environmental issues have become mainstream. I do not believe that ignorance is the sole culprit at the heart of this ridiculous situation. He may be blind to the reality of global shark devastation, but I do believe that he is completely ignorant. Ignorance is no longer a viable excuse in my book. Not everyone may be aware of the extent to which sharks are in trouble, but I am sure they have caught a news show, internet post or magazine article at some point. The world is a small place and the Internet is continuously making it smaller. We have access to a great deal of knowledge, albeit that some is complete crap, but we do have access.

I wonder if Enio believe his own conviction or if it is a ploy for attention. Maybe he is doing it to spite some, “tree hugging granola eating hippies that care about the planet?” Whatever the reason the outcome is unacceptable. Along with conservationists I am guessing that local fisherman are probably disgusted with the waste. I know in Bimini the locals were angered by weekend warriors cutting out the jaws of bull sharks and then throwing them back. They were wasting the whole animal that could feed a lot of people. I am not a supporter of fishing for sharks at all, but if the animal is dead at least make use of it.

I am sure by now, with the ever-growing power of social media, Mr. Biela is getting an ear full about his actions. I hate Facebook, but I also love it for this reason. I can reach out to a lot of my passionate friends who may not know a lot about sharks, but will definitely have something to say about this disgrace. Even if you do not want to jump in and swim with sharks, most people do not want to see them tortured. Look how small the sharks at his feet are. They are juvenile bull sharks that will never get the chance to reach breeding age. His conquest will no longer be quiet, as the release of this image has no doubt catalyzed a campaign against his stupidity and blatant disregard for life and the oceans.

Below is my message to Mr. Biela. I was not able to send it because his page no longer exists. In less than 24 hours I imagine the spread of his disgusting action has caused him to rethink, at least his heroic exploits via the Internet. We will be watching for his page to go live again and will not stop spreading the word.

Mr. Biela:
I am a concerned ocean advocate writing to you in regards to pictures that were posted on the Internet. Sharks are vital for our oceans survival and by no means is killing them the answer. If human were truly in danger of super predation by sharks then swimmers around the world would be wiped out. Sharks do not consider humans food. This is a scientific fact. Yes, attacks do happen, but most can be explained and possibly prevented. The media, leaving the truth out because it is not as flashy, exaggerates the stories. The juvenile bull sharks you have slaughtered pose no threat to humans, so in fact you are contradicting the goal of your vigilante mission. You are teaching those around you that merciless slaughter is acceptable. You have the right to hate sharks for whatever reason you deem worthy, although I doubt you have any reason ground in reality, you do not have the right to slaughter these animals.
I hope you think about all the letters and statements that you are undoubtedly receiving and ask yourself if this is really how you want to live your life. I have no doubt that you solo quest to save humans will be halted, but it would be an amazing thing if you chose to stop on your own accord.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dangerous Waters for Sharks in Western Australia

I have quite a few friends that work in Western Australian media and have received emails regarding the recent shark events that have been happening. I respect greatly their want of a different perspective, other than the hunt down and kill all white pointers methodology that rears its ugly head. As representatives of the media it is their job to cover the news, but they want to understand what is happening and why, as to not get caught up in the monster mayhem.

My first response is that yes, there are sharks in the oceans. There are lots of sharks in oceans all over the world. The human race is doing an outstanding job at reducing their numbers drastically, but they are still there. Each day millions of people venture into the ocean for a swim, dive, surf and each day millions of people have no issues with sharks. Most do not even realize that there are sharks in their vicinity and I am doubtful that many even think about sharks.

Sharks are curious and when there is a foreign object introduced into their environment it is worth further exploration for the possibility of it being a prey item. If humans had to hunt and work hard for every meal, we too would be more observant of our surroundings and the happenings in them. When I speak to school groups and the question about shark attacks comes up I ask the kids this: if a new student walked into the cafeteria would you turn and look? Would you wonder who they were and what they were doing? I can ask adults a similar question: if you are sitting at your local watering hole and new face appears doesn’t everyone pause for a moment and assess them? It is a natural reaction among most animals, humans included, to respond to a new stimulus introduced in your environment. We do this all the time, but if a wild animal does it than they must be man-eating monsters with the sole mission of wiping out the human race. Way too many horror movies!

I am not claiming to be an expert on Australian sharks or sharks in general, but I do know a thing or two about shark behavior and migratory movement. Great whites, “white pointers,” are a highly migratory species of shark traveling thousands of miles each year. They travel for mating purposes and following optimum food sources. The white sharks return to Isla Guadalupe and the Farallon Islands from August to December to feed on juvenile and inexperienced elephant seals. If you had to hunt for every meal rather than ordering off a menu or walking to the fridge, wouldn’t you would follow the food too? This is not rocket science, but really common sense.

The human race slaughters a mere 100 million sharks a year and not to belittle the tragedy of human deaths that have occurred, but the numbers are not even comparable. If sharks wanted to consume humans as a food source then attacks would not be bite and runs, but instead be feeding events. Globally thousands of people would fall prey to these animals, if this were the reality. We are not on their menu. As food fish move towards shore sharks will follow them. We see the great migration of sharks each early spring in South Florida as the move along the eastern coast following shoals of fish. This is a logical explanation for their aggregation and a pretty remarkable sight to witness. If you chose to swim or surf in schools of baitfish then there might be issues. Would you take a stroll through a group of isolated juvenile zebras or antelopes on the Serengeti? No, that would be crazy right? Think about it? If you put yourself in the area of a massive apex predator that is looking for its next meal then you might find yourself as an item of interest. I grew up in Maine and people always go to the dump to see the black bears. People take donuts and other goodies and dangle them out of the car window for pictures. When the bear attacks, the people are considered idiots. A person swimming through schooling baitfish or water where fishermen are dumping scraps gets attacked and it is the shark’s fault? Really?

I have been in a shark cage in less than clear water and have looked up at a, “ seal” made out of carpet. It definitely looks like a seal, but I know it is not. A shark cruising in the area will no doubt come check it out on the off chance that it is a meal. Great whites do not have hands like we do and the element of surprise is important when trying to reduce the likelihood of a fight or the prey escaping. They move in hard and will use their mouths to determine whether the item is food or not. This is unfortunately a bite first and ask questions later situation. In most cases they let go, but human flesh is delicate in the jaws of a massive animal and severe damage is most usually the end result.

Because the attacks seem to be happening with more frequency people are assuming that there are more sharks and acting as thought this is a terrible revelation. According to the Australian Shark Attack File there have been 2 shark related fatalities in 2012 and there were only four in 2011. The news would make it seem as though hundreds of people were being decimated at the hands of a rogue man hunting white pointer. We should all be thrilled that there are more sharks, but in reality this is not likely the case. We are removing their food source at a devastating rate with commercial fishing and the slaughter of seals and sea lions in parts of the world. These animals are working hard to survive and may be taking greater risks at feeding opportunities. Moving close into shore with people, boats and pollution is a great risk for their animals, but it must be deemed worthwhile in an attempt to find nourishment. There are also more people going into the ocean as the human population continues to explode. These explanations are logical, but not nearly as exciting as sending people on shark killing missions of revenge. As I write this, the Western Australia government has issued a shark hunt to kill after the most recent incident. The mindless slaughter of a CITES protected animal is certainly not the answer.

The thought of removing great whites from the protected species list in Australian waters is absurd. Western Australia Fisheries Minister, Norman Moore has stated that he agrees to the removal if the government consents. These animals are in a desperate race against time and we are already doing a fantastic job at killing them off, why on earth would we make it even easier to continue the exploitation of these ocean guardians? Enjoy a big fish dinner? Without sharks you won’t enjoy much of anything from the sea? We need sharks. Our oceans need sharks. Australia’s waters are dangerous, for sharks that is.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why Are We Teaching Kids to Kill Sharks?

My last blog highlighted a 12 year old boy that is speaking up on behalf of sharks; this blog is about encountering two different boys on the same day that were attempting to harass or kill a shark. We were able to stop one and actually get the whole group excited about sharks. It is amazing the impact that just five minutes of education can have.

On Sunday I was out boating with some friends just off West End Grand Bahama and we stopped at a small cay to enjoy the view and chat with some other boaters. Some guys were fishing in the flats and we really didn’t think anything of it. Our friend had mentioned that they see black tip sharks and nurse sharks out there, so we were hoping to get a glimpse. There were hound fish around, but not much else. We soon learned that they were catching hound fish to use for shark fishing bait. As this conversation started, Duncan and I were standing out in the water enjoying a good wallow and avoiding the army of mosquitoes. I was thrilled to overhear my friend, now an avid shark advocate and one of my dive students, explain why they should not be catching sharks. He was polite and informative. Duncan and I looked at each other and smiled.

The guy fishing pitched the bait into the water and said we might want to get out. We explained that we are those people that go into the water when someone yells, “shark.” He laughed. We grabbed some of the pieces and started breaking them up, trying to attract in some sharky friends. Within five minutes a good size black tip shark cruised in. The whole group got excited and seemed surprised that were trying to get it closer to us. We watched the shark for about fifteen minutes and then headed to shore. The fisherman explained that he thought sharks were really cool and asked why we loved them so much. I was a little confused, but expressed my love and passion for the ocean. This launched a great conversation with him and his fifteen year old son about sharks, shark diving and filming. The boy asked a lot of great questions and said he was thinking about being a marine biologist, but didn’t want to be stuck in a lab. His dad also said that he had once dreamed of being a marine biologist. You may not be a marine biologist, but anyone can be a shark and ocean advocate. I am hoping that we added a few recruits to the army.

The other kid we encountered was via the Internet and was actually fishing for sharks off the dock of a massive marina on the north island of Bimini; a Shark Free Marina I might add. The photos showed four or five adults around the boy as he hooked an adult lemon and reeled it in. I was so angry when I saw the images. Why put signs up? Why get involved if you do not care to educate the people that are in violation? I have no idea whether they killed the shark or released it, but this action should never have gotten to this point. Why harass animals, whether it is banned or not. What are you proving? What are you teaching your son? Is he a man because he can drag a shark onto the dock? Is he tough? Is he cool? What is the purpose? It is also frustrating that this marina is not upholding the commitment that it publically announced.

As an ambassador and a regional board member for the Shark Free Marina Initiative, I have done a lot of outreach and work in the Bahamas. I have seen first hand the disgusting act of sharks being strung up on the dock. I have witnessed fishermen catching sharks from the docks, only to drag them up and torture them. For some reason throwing a bunch of fish scraps in the water, luring in sharks and then dragging them on the dock to cut out their jaws, is entertaining.

Being a shark free is amazing, but only if you actually enforce it. The staff members at The Bimini Sands Resort and Marina and Old Bahama Bay are very diligent about upholding the commitment and explaining it to those in violation. There is a sense of pride in respecting the ocean environment that surrounds them. There may still be fear and misunderstanding, but the staff members are excited to be apart of something that matters. They are helping to take care of the beautiful ocean that surrounds the islands of the Bahamas.

This group probably did not go visit the Sharklab and learn about the mangroves and why this area is so crucial for the sharks. Maybe if that boy had gotten to touch a juvenile lemon shark he would not have wanted to drag one onto the dock. Maybe the adults wouldn’t have encouraged this unnecessary activity. Maybe if someone had been there to explain Shark Free Marinas, the whole group would have more respect for these animals. There are a lot of, “what ifs,” but education is powerful and we must keep pushing forward with that.