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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Whale shark conservation and tourism

Gujarat in ‘shark’ focus ahead of introducing whale shark tourism BASHIR PATHAN Posted: Nov 27, 2008

Gandhinagar, November 26 : Foreign as well as domestic tourists visiting Gujarat will now get a chance to watch whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) from a close range in their natural habitat, as the Whale Shark Watching Tourism is all set to be introduced off the Saurashtra coast.

Note: Natural habitat!
It has also been proposed to work out combined packages involving other nearby tourist destinations to attract tourists. “This is to create awareness about the need for conservation and protection of the amazing whale sharks, and generate employment for the local fishermen,” said a senior Forest official involved in the project.

The whale shark was once known to be hunted along the Gujarat coast in large numbers. According to a survey conducted in 1999-2000, as many as 591 sharks had been reported killed for liver oil that was used for waterproofing wooden boats and the meat for export. India banned whale shark hunting in 2001, making it the first fish to be protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act,

Later, the Gujarat government launched an awareness campaign to protect sharks, involving local fishermen and religious leaders. The voluntary conservation programme now has local fishermen, especially in the coastal areas of Veraval, Mangrol, Porbandar and Sutrapada, playing an active role.

Are Singaporeans so far removed from a relationship with nature that they think keeping a whale shark in a tank is okay? There is NO WAY to duplicate in a captive environment what a whale shark experiences in its lifetime migrating across oceans. And similarly keeping a whale shark in captivity is IN NO WAY anything close to conservation, no matter how much Resort World Sentosa tries to pretend it is.

Come on guys, even India knows better.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Taiwan bans whale shark consumption & trade

Another country in our vicinity who took heed of the need for conservation of whale sharks.

How can Resort World Sentosa claim to be able to sustain these giant animals with "love" and "care" when they are obviously not suited for captivity! How is that loving and caring in any way? I think they only love and care for money and profit.
Taiwan bans whale shark consumption, trade by 2008
Craig Simons and Mark Davis, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 21, 2007

Taiwan will ban the harvest and sale of whale sharks beginning in 2008, a decision that could have repercussions at the Georgia Aquarium and other facilities where the world's largest fish are displayed.

The Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium, has three whale sharks from Taiwan, a major supplier of whale sharks. It is negotiating to get two more this summer from the Taiwanese government, before the ban takes effect.

The aquarium had four whale sharks until January, when a male, Ralph, died. A necropsy showed the fish died of peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen. He also had stomach perforations, possibly caused by force-feeding through a PVC pipe.

Taiwanese officials say they want to know more about Ralph's death before approving the export of two more.

The species needs protecting, said Brad Norman, director of Ecocean, an Australian nonprofit group working worldwide to protect whale sharks. He called the ban "absolutely fantastic."

"The number of whale sharks has dropped dramatically over the past few years and the ban sends a message both to Taiwan and the rest of the world that officials there recognize how imperiled this animal is," Norman said.

Malaysian ministry bans shark's fin soup

Wah usually Singapore takes pride in "making the first move" ahead of Malaysia, but I think in this case we need to follow in Malaysia's footsteps!

How will Singaporeans take the situation seriously if even the government says it's okay to have shark's fin soup at official functions.
Malaysian ministry bans shark's fin soup
from Channel NewsAsia, 15 September 2007

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has struck off shark's fin soup from the menus at official functions, to help conserve the species, a report said Saturday.

"By refraining from the consumption of shark's fin soup, it is hoped that the ministry would contribute in one way or another towards the current conservation efforts for sharks species," he said.

"Their demise would start off a domino effect, which at each stage could result in the depletion or overpopulation of other fish and marine species leading to an imbalance in the marine ecosystem," he said.

Shocking images show scale of fin trade

I wonder how long people can remain ignorant about what is going on at their doorstep! We sit in our restuarants eating sharks fin soup while a stone's throw away in Bali fishermen are feeding this demand by destroying whole shark populations. People who eat sharks fin soup are responsible for this demand, regardless of whether you eat it because it's already dead, or because it's in front of you. If everybody left the sharks fin soup at weddings, the hosts will know that it's not worth the money because nobody is enjoying it! You have to take a stand mah!

A sad shark's tale: Shocking images show scale of fin trade
By Daily Mail Reporter 17th November 2008

An enormous haul of shark fins being readied for sale at Denpasar Fisheries Harbour on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Figures from the World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that in for 2006 alone 98,250 tonnes of shark fins were caught and sold, making up 13 percent of the world market.

Renowned freelance photographer, Gunther Deichmann, 58, who photographed the shark fin haul, is adamant the world should confront the growing issue of shark fin trading.

Gunther noticed hammerhead and black tip sharks in the haul and was particularly struck by the knowledge sharks are thrown back into the water alive and tailless, condemned to a rudderless, painful death.

'The sad thing about the catch is that they will just pack up and go out and do it again. This is a multi-million dollar industry and will not be stopped until all the sharks have been eaten it seems. I really don't know what all the fuss is about. The soup doesn't even taste good in my opinion,' he added.

As shark fishing continues to increase, populations are rapidly going into decline. The bodies of the sharks are simply tossed back into the water from giant ocean going trawlers after being caught.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Illegal shark fishing on Shark Island

National Geographic Society video about how the demand for sharks fin is affecting even the protected sharks in Costa Rica's Cocos Island National Park as they are hunted by illegal fishing boats and poachers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shark attack!

While I was looking for bona fide videos of shark attacks on Youtube I found this which is quite amusing! In fact most of the videos of "shark attacks" were backyard spoofs and other fictional films.

It is this "monster marketing" of irrational fear of sharks that creates an obstacle for the their conservation. This is a great letter from the International Shark Discussion Forum to Discovery Channel's about their marketing of Shark Week.

International Shark Discussion Forum Takes Stance Against Discovery's Shark Week 'Monster' Marketing
underwatertimes 19 Jul 07

It's no secret that people love monsters, blood, teeth and frights. On Shark Week, that seems to be what you are offering them, even though this subject matter fails to reflect current scientific understanding of these unusual and important fish.

For example, though there are about 500 known shark species, inhabiting a wide range of ecolological niches, your shows focus on the biggest top predators, especially the great white shark.

In recent years, conservation groups as well as individuals and scientists have become concerned to the point of alarm at the speed with which sharks have been depleted, mostly for the growing market for shark fin soup.

Casting sharks in a negative light leads to increased devastation of the species that you feature, even if that is not your intention.

Apart from the waste and brutality involved in shark finning, the threat of extinction is such an important part of the reality sharks face, that we ask why you have not used your power to publicize it. It is your responsibility as a credible media company to portray the perilous situation sharks face, thus bolstering consumer awareness and action.

On the contrary, we know from personal experience that you take the trouble to clip information about the finning crisis from your sequences about sharks, deliberately concealing the facts of this oceanic catastrophe from your viewers, who innocently believe that you are presenting them with science.

Your own words clearly express how you promote and prolong their "Mindless Man-eater" image, and contribute to an attitude that allows their mass slaughter with almost no public sympathy, nor protest: "Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever" "Deadly Stripes: Tiger Sharks" "Top 5 Eaten Alive" "Shark Feeding Frenzy"

In the 1970s, Peter Benchley's fictional best-seller, JAWS (which Steven Spielberg made into a blockbuster movie), dramatically increased our immemorial fear of sharks.

By the 1980s, that fear had largely given way to curiosity, resulting in an unprecedented amount research on them.

Thus, in the 1990s, as sharks became target species for Asian markets, scientific data were available to combat the new threat to sharks.

We are no longer in the 1970s, and the archaic perception of sharks you present belongs on the History Channel, not the Discovery Channel. Peter Benchley became a spokesman for sharks and an ardent shark conservationist. We suggest Discovery Channel follow his example and move Shark Week into the 21st Century.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A suggestion to replace whale sharks at the IR

Singaporeans like to get up in arms about things and often we're accused of not coming up with solutions and instead just compounding on the problem. Well here's a solution to the whale sharks in captivity that sounds good to me!

unpublished letter to the media from WildSingapore.
Sea Shepherds on the Whale Sharks at Sentosa IR
Letter from Grant W. Pereira Asian Education Advisor Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

I read with concern your article entitled "Activist against having a whale of a time" by Krist Boo in the Straits Times (October 26th, Home page) that Krezner International plans to have an aquarium at the Integrated Resort to keep the endangered whaleshark and beluga whales.

How ironic on the same day, the "TODAY" newspaper had an article entitled "WHALE SHARK RESEARCHER, BRAD NORMAN WINS ROLEX AWARD" by Ashraf Safdar.

Mr Norman received this prestigious award from our President Mr. S. R. Nathan, by monitoring the movements of the endangered shark.

The whale shark has a migratory range of 13,000 km and can dive to 980 metres, can Kerzner build an aquarium to suit their requirements?

Perhaps the A.V.A. would like to comment about the legal implication of keeping an endangered species in a captive environment?

Perhaps also Kerzner would like to make their scientific research on the whale shark public so that marine experts can make comments on these findings.

The Singapore Government has always worked towards being a caring and sophisticated society and keeping a magnificent fish that needs both space and depth hardly augurs well with the international worldwide image we want to project.

Instead of a whaleshark in captivity, how about a sunken ship as an artificial reef so that our young can learn first hand about corals etc and how they support marine life. I am sure this would be a first worldwide as only divers have seen how these structures support marine biodiversity.

Let's abandon this high risk (and perhaps illegal) project and teach something positive to our youngsters instead of the negative lesson that money can buy everything even endangered mammals, fish and animals.
Does anybody else agree with this guy? I'd pick a ship wreck with a healthy coral reef ecosystem and many different species over a whale shark languishing in a glass prison anyday!

Expert view: Sharks are just not meant to be hunted

Here's a very good and concise explanation on why sharks shouldn't be commercially exploited.

by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
The Guardian, Tuesday November 11 2008

In some coastal parts of the world shark is a traditional part of the local fish diet. But pursuing them with modern fishing vessels can only lead to their rapid demise. Despite their astonishing success as a species - they've been around unchanged since the time of dinosaurs - they have a flaw in their otherwise perfect evolutionary design. Unlike most other fish, which produce vast numbers of eggs, and swim in huge shoals, sharks are just not meant to be hunted.

Rather, their place in nature is at the top of the food chain. That's why they are slow growers, who lay small numbers of eggs - or in some cases, such as the spurdog, give birth to live young. Start killing the adult breeding stock and numbers will soon crash to a tipping point. That's why extinction is a very real risk of commercially targeting certain species of shark.
Also see the Guardian's Sharks under threat gallery, and accompanying article Sharks and rays off UK shores critically endangered and facing extinction.

Basking shark feeding on plankton in the Atlantic Ocean. Basking sharks have small teeth and use their gills to collect food. Basking sharks are the world's second largest fish and listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shark fin is toxic!

The Environmental Defense Fund's seafood selector lists Shark as an eco-worst choice. It states:

If you decide to eat it, we recommend the following due to elevated mercury levels:

  • Women should not eat at all
  • Men should eat no more than 1 meal per month
  • Kids up to age 12 should not eat at all

Mercury enters streams, rivers, lakes and oceans primarily through rain and surface water runoff. Bacteria can then convert it to an organic form called methylmercury -- the form that is dangerous to people. When small fish with low mercury levels get eaten by bigger fish, the amount of mercury biomagnifies. For this reason, long-lived fish and top-level predators like swordfish and shark often have the highest mercury levels.

Mercury targets the nervous system and kidneys. Developing fetuses, infants and young children are at the highest risk from mercury exposure, since their brains and nervous systems are still forming. Fetuses can absorb mercury directly across the placenta, and nursing infants can get it from their mother's breast milk.

Children exposed to mercury before birth may exhibit problems with mental development and coordination, including how they think, learn and problem-solve later in life.

Mercury exposure can also harm adults. Symptoms can include numbness, burning or tingling of the extremities (lips, fingers, toes); fatigue; weakness; irritability; shyness; loss of memory and coordination; tremors; and changes in hearing and blurred vision. Extremely high mercury levels can permanently damage an adult's brain and kidneys, or even lead to circulatory failure.

That is terrible! I wonder if the people who want to help their parents save "face" at their weddings are aware that they are instead exposing all their relatives and friends to toxic chemicals.

This Shark Fact List goes further to state:

The legal limit for consumption of methyl-mercury, set by the EPA, is 0.1 microgram per kilogram of body weight. Studies have shown shark meat contains as much as 1,400 micrograms of methyl-mercury in one kilogram. A person weighing 155 lbs would therefore get 50 times the legal amount in one single portion of shark steak.
Sounds "delicious" indeed.

Whale sharks at Sentosa Resorts World

In case you don't know they want to put whale sharks at the new oceanarium at Sentosa Resorts World. This is expected to be completed in the next year so we have to do something about it soon!

From the Resorts World Sentosa website: "The Marine Life Park is set to be the world’s largest oceanarium, with 700,000 fishes. The oceanarium programme offers guests the chance to admire dolphins up close, or dive with and feed menacing tiger sharks."

You have to question their commitment to conservation simply from this statement.

Whale sharks at Sentosa IR? Bad move, say activists
Resorts World promises 'top-class' care as animal welfare groups raise issue
Ang Yiying, Straits Times 29 Aug 08;

The Singapore Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Nature Society of Singapore and the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) had objected publicly to the plan when Resorts World at Sentosa unveiled it in 2006.

Whale sharks can grow to 12m long and possibly up to 20m.

Acres executive director Louis Ng said: “They shouldn’t gamble on the lives of whale sharks.”

...Nature Society of Singapore president Shawn Lum said there was no wide consensus that keeping these whale sharks in captivity was good conservation strategy.

There has been no sign of official disapproval of Resorts World’s move.

Of course no official disapproval lah, come on there's money to be made for the tourism industry. They probably think Singaporeans will just roll over and lay down on this issue like with many others.

Singapore Airlines' shark fin stand

It has been widely spread in Singapore that Singapore International Airlines had stopped serving shark's fin on their flights since 2001 in view of conservation.

Isn't it a bit strange then that FairTrade SG found this on their website.


In one of the most competitive shark’s fin markets in the world, Ping’s restaurant’s reputation for exceptional shark’s fin dishes places it as one of the best dining experiences in Bangkok.

Singaporean owner/chef Mr. Saetia Hung Ping has had more than 45 years of experience in the industry. Personally handpicking only the finest shark’s fins, the chef conjures a wide variety of seafood and Teochew cuisine.
As long as businesses have money to make they cannot be depended upon to take a stand on conservation. We need to stop buying this ridiculous dish! The lack of demand is the only thing that will make a real difference.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shark attacks in perspective

A lot of people I talk to seem to think that sharks are evil and just like to bite people for fun so they don't feel any guilt about the inhumane and wasteful way sharks are being slaughtered.

Here are some statistics that will hopefully change the way you view shark attacks.

  • There is a far greater chance of winning a national lottery than of being attacked by a shark.
  • According to figures published by the New York City Health Department, for every person around the world bitten by a shark, 25 people are actually bitten by New Yorkers.
  • A study on one Australian beach, which teems with sharks, revealed that only one out of every 30 million bathers is attacked by a shark.
  • A great many more people are injured or killed on land while driving to and from the beach than by sharks in the water.
  • More than 6 times as many people are struck by lightning every year in Florida (one of the world's shark attack hotspots) than are attacked by sharks.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic of all - and this really puts things into perspective - is that, in an average year, for every person killed by a shark, we in turn kill many millions of sharks.

From the Shark-watcher's Handbook by Mark Carwardine (a zoologist, presenter of the BBC program Nature, and author of Last Chance to See) and Ken Watterson (research scientist and Churchill Fellow, and founder of the Basking Shark Society).

Friday, November 14, 2008

'Jaws' author became shark conservationist

Excerpts from Peter Benchley's obituary article in 2006.

Peter Benchley, 65; 'Jaws' Author Became Shark Conservationist
By Valerie J. Nelson, February 13, 2006 in print edition B-11

Benchley, who became a conservationist and expressed regret over portraying sharks as killing machines, died Saturday of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and fatal scarring of the lungs, at his home in Princeton, N.J., his wife, Wendy, said.

The movie became one of the top-10 grossing films of all time, when adjusted for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo, a website that tracks theatrical receipts. It also caused ocean-goers to be terrified of even dipping a toe into the sea.

“Jaws” was “entirely fiction,” Peter Benchley repeated in a London Daily Express article that appeared last week.

“Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today,” said Benchley, who also co-wrote the screenplay for “Jaws.” “Sharks don’t target human beings, and they certainly don’t hold grudges.”

In recent years, Benchley became an active advocate for shark protection. He campaigned against shark fisheries and traveled around the world to make undersea documentaries that had him swimming with sharks and whales. He also lectured on marine conservation.

His final book, the nonfiction “Shark Life” (2005), was aimed at educating young readers about the dangers of the sea.

Near the end of his life, Benchley expressed a revisionist take on his tale of ocean-going terror to the Daily Express. “I hope that ‘Jaws’ will have brought sharks into the public interest at a time when we desperately need to reevaluate our care for the environment,” he said.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shark's fin: Singapore takes a much bigger bite

Excerpts from a Straits Times article earlier this year.

Consumption jumped from 182 tonnes in 2006 to over 470 tonnes last year
Jermyn Chow, Straits Times 10 May 08.

AFTER four years of decline, the consumption of shark's fin spiked last year, with more than 470 tonnes eaten despite pleas from environmental groups for consumers to cut down.

'Globally, there are fewer sharks in our waters that can be hunted now, so naturally prices go up,' said Mr Dennis Yio, director of Chin Guan Hong (Sharksfin), Singapore's biggest shark's fin supplier.

If even the suppliers are confirming this information shouldn't we be doing something about it? The businesses obviously won't because they'll continue to make money if the prices go up!

Hotels, including the Orchard Hotel and the Mandarin Oriental, also say shark's fin remains one of their most popular dishes at their Chinese restaurants and wedding banquets.'Most of the couples' parents consider this dish a premium and without it, they would lose face,' said Mandarin Oriental's communications director Ruth Soh.

Still, the hotel ensures that the fins it buys are only from fish farms, and not those that are harvested in the wild, or 'finned', she added.
Shark farms? Where got such thing one!

Just this week, the Singapore Environment Council and international conservation group WildAid renewed their calls for people to slice their shark's fin intake, adding that globally, between 40 million and 70 million sharks get killed for their fins each year. Environmental groups say about one-third of shark species in the world - some 126 - are classified as being at risk of extinction or critically endangered.

That message is sinking in for some. There are couples who insist on alternatives to shark's fin soup at their wedding dinners, hotels admit, and at least two airlines - Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways International - stopped serving shark's fin on their flights in 2001.
Why would some people rather spend money on marketing and illusions of "high-class" living than NOT spend money and save our environment? Feeding the people is one thing; feeding a myth or one’s ego is another thing entirely.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Enter the sharkman!

Hello everybody, since this is my first post I think I should introduce myself a bit. I watched the documentary Sharkwater at Post-Museum last week and I was shocked by what is happening around the world. Did you know that the demand for sharks fin soup is causing up to a 90% population decline in some shark species?

Being a diver myself and a lover of the marine environment I think we should try to let everybody know about this. I hope this blog will provide useful information and updates about how we can help before this wonderful big fish totally disappears forever!

Thanks to a few generous friends we have many things in the pipeline for the next few weeks which will slowly appear on the blog. So stay tuned!