Monday, November 9, 2009

White Shark Tagging: controversial technique flounders in the Farallons

Controversy is now dogging the white shark tagging efforts of Dr. Michael Domeier of the Marine Conservation Science Institute. The SPOT (smart positioning or temperature) tagging began in Isla Guadalupe under the eyes of a film crew for a National Geographic Channel program to air on the 19th. It involves a technique whereby the shark is hooked and reeled on board, aerated with a water hose, while the crew literally drills and bolts a satellite transmitting tag to the shark's dorsal fin.

This is a rather elaborate tagging technique that has generated much concern within the shark conservation community (click here for prior posting about the Isla Guadalupe taggings, and here are two from other sites: click here and here).

Now, Dr. Domeier has moved northward to the Farallon Islands and, with the approval of Maria Brown, superintendent for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, has been tagging sharks there but with less than optimal success. Apparently, one shark swallowed the hook deep into its throat causing the bait's float to become lodged in the shark's jaws, thereby blocking access for the aerating water hose and requiring the cutting of the hook by working straight through the shark's gills. All in all a disaster in humane animal treatment as far as I'm concerned.

While there are concerns about the stresses this type of tagging places on the shark, there is also the question as to the need for more data acquired in the Northern California area. Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford, Dr. Pete Klimley of UC Davis, and others have amassed a considerable body of data that tracks the migratory patterns of these animals. They and their colleagues just recently issued a detailed report that can be viewed in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, published online on 11/04/09 in the Biological Sciences section ("Philopatry and migration of Pacific white sharks").

I always felt that this particular tagging technique was a more elaborate mousetrap than necessary. Now its efficacy has become controversial, the California data may ultimately be redundant, and the National Marine Sanctuary must defend a decision to allow catching a protected species in a manner that would most likely not be allowed for, say, a protected marine mammal.

Too many questions, too much controversy. . .

Read article in Bay area

1 comment:

Shark Diver said...

The number one rule of shark conservation science should be "do no harm."

The second rule should be "and that includes reality television shows in the name of science."

I am not sure when conservationists and researchers decided to join reality television shows, but now it has happened little good has come of it.

Case in point.

As blow back for a seriously mishandled shark tagging effort at the Farallone islands continues to cause upset and anger within the shark community here in the Bay Area, a simply titanic media wave complete with PR agencies and live interviews on all major news networks pushes what is touted to be a 10 week reality television series about hooking great white sharks for science.

The show even has an actor from L.A in a supporting role.

Is this science?

Perhaps it is, and then again perhaps it is a for profit production masquerading as science.

The conflict of interest here is the reality television crew are also the crew members who hook the sharks, and fund the tagging research. A new and some say chilling departure from standard research models unencumbered by the addition of 24/7 embedded film crews.

The fact remains that this team made a complete hash of a recent tagged shark, so bad in fact that industrial bolt cutters had to be employed to cut a hook (a copy now proudly displayed on television junkets) through the sharks gills to remove only a fraction of it from the animal. The rest was left embedded inside the shark..

The team, film crew, and PR machine all claim this animal is "still alive and well," few if any within the shark community believe them. Tonight the first reality episode airs to a primed and waiting public. In the end it will be up to them to decide if hooking white sharks for science is a reality television show they want to follow or not.

As for the magnificent shark that tonight either lies dead at the bottom of the ocean or continues to live with 60% of "the largest hook ever made" still embedded in its throat, the answer to that basic question is self evident.

We would like to officially demand that Fischer Productions and Dr. Michael Domeier take the time, about as much as they have spent promoting their reality television production, to provide "proof of life" for this shark and long term "independent monitoring" of the animal.

It is the least they could do, and it is the right thing to do.

Patric Douglas CEO