Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New shark discovery off the Galapagos reported

During a time when sharks are being driven towards extinction, this is amazing news.

New shark discovery off the Galapagos reported
David Perlman Wednesday, March 7, 2012
California Academy of Sciences
Bythaelurus giddingsi

The new shark species lives at the bottom of the ocean. In the seas of the world where sharks of all kinds are fast disappearing, a deep-diving San Francisco biologist and his colleagues have discovered a new species of shark among the Galapagos Islands.
With its razor-sharp teeth, the shark is well equipped for its role at the top of the ocean's food web, said John McCosker, the chief of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences who led the discovery. But it's not much like the feared great white: This one is a modest-size bottom-feeder. McCosker, together with Carole C. Baldwin, curator of fishes at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and Douglas J. Long, a shark specialist at the Oakland Museum, reported on the new species in the latest issue of Zootaxa, an international journal published in New Zealand.
Life on the bottom
The shark is a member of the catshark tribe, a bottom-dwelling sluggish group of fishes with small teeth that are found all over the world, McCosker said. The team has named the new species Bythaelurus giddingsi.

"The closest living relative of this species would be the swellshark, a shallow-water coastal species seen by scuba divers in California," McCosker said. "They spend their life on the bottom and probably feed on other fishes and invertebrates.

"Their teeth are small and sharp and evolved to grasp their prey before engulfing it."

McCosker and Baldwin collected seven small to moderate-size samples of the new shark while diving inside the submersible called the Johnson Sea-Link during an expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 1998 - a long time ago, it may seem.
7 sharks captured

But in the slow-moving ways of animal identification and naming - a science known as taxonomy - the team's detailed description of the new shark species has just been reported. The seven sharks ranged in length from 9 to 18 inches, and were all sexually immature. As McCosker and Baldwin syphoned them aboard the submersible, several sharks swam past appearing much larger and more mature, "either too fast or too large to be collected," McCosker said. 
Meticulously analyzed

To determine that the sharks were in fact members of a new species, the scientists carefully measured them, dissected them, analyzed them and described each organ. All seven are now preserved for other scientists at the academy in Golden Gate Park.

Roughly 375 species of sharks exist in the world's oceans, and a new one may not seem all that important, but every shark species around the world is being heavily overfished - primarily to harvest their fins for shark fin soup, a major Asian delicacy. The result, McCosker noted, is a worldwide decline in shark populations.

"Sharks are the top predators of the ocean, and if any one of them goes extinct it can cause the loss of an entire ocean food web, which is why I want to save those primary predators," McCosker said. 
Named after a hero

The scientists named the new species for Al Giddings, a retired San Francisco underwater filmmaker who was with McCosker and Baldwin in the Galapagos directing an Imax film for the Smithsonian Institution at the time of the discovery.

Giddings, 74 and a veteran diver now living in Montana, rescued a companion who was badly bitten by a great white shark off the Farallones 40 years ago by diving into the blood-covered water, pulling the injured victim away from the beast's teeth, and towing him to the fishing boat where companions lifted him aboard. The companion survived.

David Perlman is The San Francisco Chronicle science editor.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Tide is Turning

I have always been an optimist in my life. After yesterday's blog, I feel I must also post a positive note.

A lot has happened since I first got involved in the shark finning issue way back in the early 90's. I remember one of our first victories was when we convinced Singapore Airlines to stop serving Shark Fin Soup. Some months later it was the turn of  Thai Airways to oblige. Progress was slow but we were getting to the people.

Things took a huge boost forward when together, the Internet based Shark Group and the Let Sharks Live Network, we declared "2009 the International Year Of The Shark". A total of 68 World wide Organizations, Groups and Clubs joined forces in this project.

The following excellent video produced by Bloom and the Hong Kong Shark Foundation shows exactly how the Tide is Turning. 

Yes the tide is turning and we can all play a major part in it. Say NO to Shark Fin Soup and spread the word.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How many Sharks?

This new video has hit the net. It shows a street in Hong Kong  covered with shark fins. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had seen this street before. A quick search revealed that I was right. In 2010, Alex Hofford filmed the same street.That video can be seen here.

Fins drying up on a Hong Kong Street. Photo by Alex Hofford.
I am not trying to minimise the importance or the impact of what Gary Stokes has filmed. In fact, it is important that these issues keep coming to light, and the public made aware of them.

When ever something like this makes its way to the media, the question that comes to mind is; How many sharks were killed? It is simply impossible to answer. Whether it is hundreds, thousands or millions we will never know. How can one calculate the numbers?

I tried to do a little experiment with a photo taken from the video released by the  Pew Environment Group shown below.

This is a single shark fin fishery in Taiwan. Taiwan ranks as the 4th largest Shark fin trader in the World.

Shark Fins drying up on a roof in Taiwan.
In this photo I counted 176 "trays" of shark fins. Some contain around 20 fins, others as much as 50 or more. I will play it safe and say that each contains 20 fins. That means that here we have over 3,520 fins. If the fins are left out to dry for a week and replaced, than the total of fins in a year will be over 183,000

Lets imagine that in all of Taiwan there are only 25 traders. This would give a total of 4,576000 per year. Considering the fact that Taiwan is only the 4th largest, than Indonesia, India and Spain are catching much more, but for the sake of my argument... lets say they are all equal. 18,304,000 shark fins in one year!!

What about all the other fleets? Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Costa Rican, South African....... etc.... What are the global figures? No one will ever know the truth. Part of that is because a lot of these catches are illegal and do not get reported to fisheries authorities. 

Now before I get bombarded, keep in mind that my numbers are just guess work and they are just estimates based on one photo and a little info. There is nothing scientific about my totals. My only aim is to show the vast numbers of sharks that are being killed just for soup. Be it 15, 32, 73 or 100 Million makes not much of a difference when a plate of soup is driving sharks to extinction. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

EU start discussing Commission's proposal to close Shark Finning Loopholes

The European Parliament’s work on the Commission’s proposal to close the loopholes in the EU finning ban has begun in earnest. Here is an update from this week's news that has also just been posted to

Fisheries and Environment Committees Consider European Commission Proposal

1 March 2012
BRUSSELS: Shark Alliance representatives were on hand this week as the European Parliament Fisheries Committee considered and debated for the first time the European Commission’s proposal to close major loopholes in the EU ban on shark finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). The Commission has proposed ending special permits that allow fishermen to cut off shark fins at sea and land them separately from the bodies, under a derogation to the overall EU requirement for landing sharks with their fins still naturally attached. Portugal and Spain are the only EU Member States still issuing these special permits, a fact that was clearly reflected in the afternoon’s debate.

Maria do Céu Patrão Neves Member of European Parliament (MEP) from Portugal started the discussion in her role as Committee Rapporteur. Despite insisting that she had an open mind on the matter and was listening to all sides, all of Patrão Neves’ arguments were based on those offered by the Portuguese and Spanish long-distance freezer vessels, which make up the EU’s largest shark fishing fleet. With little supporting documentation or specifics, she cited concerns about economic hardship, safety, hygiene, and storage to argue against the proposed “fins naturally attached” policy, and called instead for delay of the regulation and compromise measures. She questioned the Commission on why they were moving forward with the proposal, apparently forgetting that she was among the 423 MEPs to sign in 2010 a Written Declaration urging the Commission to propose a complete ban on removing shark fins on board vessels. Patrão Neves was vigorously supported by MEP Carmen Fraga from Spain, who argued, also without specific figures, against imposing this “costly measure” that would have “major repercussions” in the future.

MEPs Struan Stevenson (UK), Vice Chair of the Committee, Raül Romeva i Rueda (Spain), Chris Davies (UK), and a designee for Kriton Arsenis (Greece) argued adeptly in favor of the Commission’s proposal, casting great doubt on industry’s arguments based on examples from other countries, while highlighting the great number of vessels with special permits, the biological vulnerability of sharks, and the need for the EU to lead rather than lag behind a growing number of countries effectively imposing fins-attached policies.
A representative from the European Commission reviewed the loopholes associated with the current regulation, stressed that there were practical solutions to all concerns raised, as detailed in the Impact Assessment, set the record straight regarding the number of special permits (approximately 200), and refuted the assertion that their proposal, which has been years in the making, was “hasty”. Patrão Neves, however, was “extremely disappointed” with his response, asserted that MEPs were there to “defend the fishing industry of Europe”, and reiterated her opposition to the proposal.
Earlier in the day, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee discussed the same issue, beginning with a draft opinion report from MEP Andrea Zanoni from Italy that strongly supported the Commission’s proposal. Zanoni’s report then received enthusiastic endorsements from all MEPs taking the floor, including MEPs Daciana Sârbu (Romania), Sandrine Bélier (France), Martin Callanan on behalf of Julie Girling (UK), and Chris Davies (UK).
The process to amend the EU finning ban will continue to heat up throughout the spring. In the coming weeks, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves is expected to release her working document with a proposed compromise for consideration by the Fisheries Committee. Her draft report as well as an informal document reflecting the views of the European Council of Fisheries Ministers should become public in mid-March. Stay tuned to the Shark Alliance website for updates on this critical process and ways that you can help us achieve a strong and enforceable EU shark finning ban. 

Great Whites No Cage: A Reporter's View.

CNN Reporter Anderson Cooper joins South African Michael Rutzen and dives unprotected with great white sharks. An interesting encounter from the point of view of a reporter. Awesome photography that brings back many memories of my trips with Mike at Dyer Island.