Asian Dive Expo (ADEX) 2013 - All about whale sharks
Last weekend, I crossed a major event off my bucket list. Speaking at ADEX.
Every year of my adult life that I spent in Singapore, I went to ADEX. It’s a big space, full of diving goodies, underwater photos and brilliant people. I would go with dive buddies/best friends to network, get stickers to decorate my laptop and anything else, and just generally revel in the world of people who love being underwater.
I have genuinely missed it the last couple of years. But not 2013. With the theme of whale sharks, it was a perfect platform for the NGO I worked for last year to talk about whale shark research. Myself, the President of the NGO and bonafide big brother Dr. Alessandro Ponzo, and my favourite conservation photographer Steve De Neef were invited to give talks and participate in ‘The Big Blue Buzz’ - a “debate” about animals on display.
The “debate” wasn’t really that, two teams, that were actually far from opposite. We are all working towards the same goals, but represent a gradient of how to do it. At least the subjects of animals on display like captive dolphins, and the whale sharks being fed in Oslob were talked about, and I hope that we made a few people think about their decision, and research into what they are actually supporting and making an educated decision. Still, there were some strong personalities in the debate, and I wish we’d had time to say a bit more.
In fact, that’s pretty much the over-arching theme of my presentation - “Whale Sharks and Tourism - Finding the Balance”. Who doesn’t want to swim with a whale shark? However, we have to recognize that by being in the water we are affecting them. The whale shark code of conduct has been developed so you don’t scare them off, but studies show certain actions of ours cause them to exhibit avoidance behaviours (Quiros 2007). When we talk about tourism, we need to remember the multiplier effect. One shark cutting an interaction short might not seem like a lot. But what if it’s several times a day, every day. If they are there to feed at the surface, what’s the effect of driving them away? If they avoid certain areas because of tourists, what’s the effect on migration patterns. And this is all without feeding them.
I also touched on the issue of the controversial feeding practices in Oslob, Cebu. But that is a whole other post, for another time.
I hope that at least one person walked away thinking that they should do their own research before booking a holiday. To educate themselves, and make informed choices. I want people to start taking responsibility for their tourism, and not to assume that any and all wildlife tourism or nature tourism is “ecotourism”. It has a strict definition, and if you really want to support ecotourism, you need to do your research.
Passionate issues aside, I met up with old friends and mentors, met so many new and amazing people and long-time heros of mine. I manage to eat some of the amazing Singaporean food I have missed, and escape the heat of Philippine summer which might be the end of me. It was one of my best weekends ever.
This megamouth shark was fished in the Philippines on April 21, 2013. The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) is an extremely rare species of deepwater shark, so rare that only over 50 sightings have been recorded since its discovery in 1976.
Of the now 56 megamouth sharks recorded worldwide, 11 specimens (20%, most numerous next to Japan) come from the Philippines.
The megamouth is the smallest of only three filter-feeding sharks (the others being whale sharks and basking sharks).
Photo from CJ Fives for Butuan Bay Divers.
Rolling in the deep.
PerhapsMost definitely the coolest photo I will ever have with a whale shark. Taken by photographer and all round hero, Steve De Neef (www.stevedeneef.com).
This shot was taken whilst we were out on survey here in Southern Leyte last week. This individual is actually LSR-24 – the 24th shark our LAMAVE team has identified here in Sogod Bay. It’s a juvenile male and if you look closely at the photograph you’ll see it has a big scar across the back of it’s head- probably from a fishing line.
The photo shows me photographing the shark for identification. By taking photographs of the unique spot pattern on the left side of the shark – just behind the gills and above the pectoral fin - we can identify individual sharks – it’s effectively a cheap way of tagging whale sharks and it’s through this process that we are assessing the whale shark population in this area of the Philippines. One thing we are trying to find out is whether the sharks are hanging around or just passing through? This individual, LSR-24 has now been here for over a month, having first been identified by our LAMAVE team at the end of February this year. Whilst I took the photograph, he continued to feed slowly, the two of us, chilling just below 10 meters from the surface…
Followers, meet my friend Sally. She works for the Large Marine Vertebrates Project at the research base in Southern Leyte, Philippines. Follow her for first hand shark adventures!
[and everything else, actually]
This week marked an important e-mail milestone for me: I received my 100th request for a job. I do not mean job offers (i.e. people saying “David, we’d like to hire you”), or requests for job advice (i.e. people saying “David, can you point me in the right direction?”). I’d be thrilled to answer any of those e-mails (particularly the job offers). I mean job requests (i.e. people saying “David, please hire me”).
I get all kinds of e-mails from readers, and I’m always happy to answer them. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that applying for a job in this way is incredibly ineffective. I thought I’d take some examples from some of my favorite job request e-mails to explain to you all how not to apply for a job working with sharks.
1) Don’t contact people who obviously aren’t in a position to hire. I’m a 26 year old graduate student living pretty close to the poverty line. The total budget for my research project is likely much less than the value of your car. While I may be the only person working with sharks that you know of offhand, I am not in a position to hire anyone.
2) Learn a little bit about people before you contact them.
I received several e-mails from people hoping to work with me doing things that I don’t do (“I would love to study great white sharks with you”, “I would love to work with you in South Africa”, etc). I too would love to study great white sharks in South Africa, but that’s not what I do. I study sandbar sharks in the United States. Asking to join me on something I don’t do shows that you haven’t thought terribly hard about contacting me, and that would make it less likely for me to want to hire you (even if I was in a position to hire).
3) Communication medium matters. A famous shark researcher I know (who actually is in a position to hire) told me that he gets between 25 and 100 e-mails a day asking to work with him. It’s pretty easy to delete an e-mail, it’s a lot harder to ignore a ringing phone. Please note that I am not asking you to call me (see advice #1, I can’t hire anyway). However, I use this to point out that how you contact someone matters. We once received a request for a job as a 3-sentence comment on a blog post (it may have actually been on our “about the authors” page, I don’t remember). This is not remotely professional or acceptable. It was several weeks before we noticed this comment, and it didn’t even include any contact information, so we couldn’t get back in touch with the person to direct them to advice #1.
4) I judge you when you use poor grammar in e-mails. If you are applying for an extremely competitive job that requires intelligence, demonstrate that you are intelligent by writing complete sentences and avoiding typos. It’s also important to note that spell check does not identify words that are correctly spelled but not the word you meant to use (i.e. you apply to the Wharton School of Business, not the Wharton School of Bunnies. This is a real example I just heard from a friend who works as an admissions officer for Penn- the applicant was not admitted). Take the time to read your e-mail more than once to make sure it doesn’t make you sound like a fool.
5) Don’t insult the person you are asking for a favor. Someone told me that none of the dolphin labs were hiring, and that sharks were always their second favorite animal. Andrew and I have a mutual acquaintance who asked us for help getting into marine biology graduate school after she failed several times getting into medical school- she wanted to take the “easier route” like us. Even if I was in a position to hire, I wouldn’t hire someone who insulted my career choice the first time we communicated.
6) Learn a little bit about the job you are applying for before applying. Lots of people tell me “they want to work with sharks” and then ask “what exactly do you do?” in the same e-mail. This again tells me that you haven’t thought terribly hard about this career. We like people who are motivated, and it’s hard to be motivated if you don’t even know what you’re applying for.
I hope that this advice helps!
Travels of Pregnant Great White Sharks Revealed
by Douglas Main
For the first time, migrating great white sharks have been tagged and their movements around the oceans tracked for years, as opposed to the few months they have previously been tracked, according to a researcher.
Scientists used special satellite tags that tracked several sharks from a specific great white population for up to three years off the coast of Mexico. The study found that adult female sharks complete a two-year breeding cycle and avoid male sharks whenever possible, said study author Michael Domeier, a researcher and the president of the Marine Conservation Science Institute.
Published recently in the journal Animal Biotelemetry, the study followed four female great white sharks from their mating grounds off Mexico’s Guadalupe Island until they returned 24 months later, Domeier said. During the first 18 months, the females followed an ambling path through the open ocean, he said.
They then arrived in off Baja California to give birth to shark pups, putting themselves at risk of running into shipping traffic on their voyage along the shore, the study found.
“During the time the females are giving birth along the Baja Peninsula they are exposed to an array of commercial fishing activities that put them at risk,” Domeier told OurAmazingPlanet in an email. “Of course, the baby white sharks are at even more risk since they spend the first years of their life in coastal waters and their small size makes them even more susceptible to capture.”
Once the young sharks are born, the females return to Guadalupe Island to mate again.
The study found a high prevalence of bite marks on the sharks. Male sharks “bite the head, flank or pectoral fin of females during the mating ritual, but certainly these sharks are biting each other out of aggression as well,” Domeier added. “Males may be battling it out for access to females or preferred hunting grounds.”
While the females return to mate every two years, the males only return every other year. When they’re not mating, both males and females may range as far afield as the waters off Hawaii, Domeier said.
The researchers tag the great white sharks by affixing the device to the tip of the animal’s dorsal fin, during which time they are very close to the predators.
“It’s surreal and humbling,” Domeier said. “It is also stressful since the shark’s life is in our hands during the short time it takes us to capture and tag each individual.”
Source: Live Science
Photo Credit: Neil Hammerschlag
100 years of unprovoked shark attacks (1912-2013)
Andrew Barr and Richard Johnson | National Post
Surfer numbers have increased dramatically since the 1950s and advances in wetsuit technology mean people are going into the water all year round and staying out in the surf for longer periods, all of which increases the odds of someone being attacked by a shark. With this in mind, the National Post’s graphics team takes a look at the century in unprovoked shark attacks.
Blue = Male survivor
Pink = Female survivor
Black = Fatality
Looks pretty colourful to me.
Read more here including a break down of activities during the attacks and a close up of injury location (if any).
This is a great visual back up for this (Attn: NERDS: Free journal article). Remember when I posted about a new paper seeking to reclassify human-shark interactions? No? That’s ok. Here’s a snippet from the abstract:
There are few phrases in the Western world that evoke as much emotion or as powerful an image as the words “shark” and “attack.” However, not all “shark attacks” are created equal. Under current labels, listings of shark attack may even include instances where there is no physical contact between shark and human. The dominant perception of intent-laden shark “attacks” with fatal outcomes is outdated as a generic term and misleading to the public. We propose new descriptive labels based on the different outcomes associated with human–shark interactions, including sightings, encounters, bites, and the rare cases of fatal bites. We argue two central points: first, that a review of the scientific literature shows that humans are “not on the menu” as typical shark prey. Second, we argue that the adoption of a more prescriptive code of reporting by scientists, the media, and policy makers will serve the public interest by clarifying the true risk posed by sharks and informing better policy making.
Speak Up For the Blue is an awesome website full of marine conservation news, solutions, career tips etc.
*This is the most useful interview I can direct you to: Samantha Whitcraft from SharkSavers* talks about how she got into marine conservation, internship experiences, and what you can do to make yourself a more desirable asset to marine conservation.
It’s a long Skype interview, but it’s one you definitely want to bookmark and come back to. I already have.
…They’ve had similar enemies, life histories and PR problems.
Tara Haelle | Slate
Shark conservation has been growing for years, grabbing similar attention to the plight of the whales in the 70’s and 80’s (and 90’s).
With a common ‘enemy’ in mankind, older sexual maturity, long gestation times and low litter sizes, sharks and whales have a lot more in common than you might think.
Check Tara Haelle’s article on the recent milestones in Shark conservation.
A fisherman recently caught a bull shark of the Florida keys and found something pretty unusual inside - a fetus with two heads.
Very few examples of two headed sharks have ever been recorded. This is only the sixth known case, and the only time it has been observed in bull sharks. The condition is the same as in human “conjoined twins” - the embryo begins to split, but does not do so completely.
More info: http://bit.ly/11DHfpk
The Discovery Channel office building during Shark Week