Sunday, August 14, 2011

Post-Shark Week Progress: basking shark taggings and California's AB376

Now that Discovery Channel's Shark Week has concluded and the entertainment frenzy that surrounds it has subsided, we all can get back to some serious-minded steps in research and policy to advance our understanding and conservation of these animals. Here are a couple of recent developments:

Basking Shark Tagging in Monterey
With each new study on sharks, scientists learn a little more about the wonderful world of sharks, but there are still some species that are shrouded in mystery. Take the basking shark, the second largest of all sharks, next to the whale shark, and one not to be feared as it is a filter feeder like baleen whales.

Preferring cold water, the basking shark has been studied in the North Atlantic, but limited studies have taken place in the Pacific. The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation has just started a more detailed tagging program in and around Monterey Bay, CA, utilizing satellite tracking tags that have been successfully used on other species like great white sharks. To date, only basic number/color identification tags have been used. With the use of an archival satellite tag - which can store various position, depth, and speed data for later retrieval via satellite - the foundation can accumulate more detailed and accurate data as to the movements of basking sharks.

Sean Van Sommeran, founder and director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, describes the basking shark as
"elusive" and, as they are recognized as threatened, are considered "commercially extinct."

Working in conjunction with Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Van Sommeran's foundation has tagged one sub-adult basking shark at around 15 to 16 feet in length and plans to tag more.

California's AB376 Anti-Shark Fin Bill Advances
This Monday, California's Assembly Bill 376, which prohibits sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins - much like legislation already passed in Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington - will take the next step on its way to a final vote. The bill will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee and for many of the bill's supporters, the big issue here is whether there will be any amendments tacked on to the legislation that will weaken it and provide loopholes for commercial operations to continue.

You can support and participate in various efforts being staged by a variety of shark advocate groups - Sea Stewards, based in San Francisco, is planning a bus ride tomorrow to Sacramento to make a physical presence in support of AB376. However, one of the best ways to make your voice heard is through direct communication to the members of the committee. Sea Stewards has provided a listing of the members' email addresses and sample email content.,


Dear Senators,

I urge you to vote for AB 376 without amendments. Scientists have testified that the suggested amendment to allow shark fins from domestic fisheries cannot be enforced and will lead to increased fishing pressure on domestic sharks and allow black market fins to enter the market.

Also, the MSC certification of fins is not a viable option. To date there has not been a well managed and sustainable shark fishery. Focused shark fisheries lead to collapse of the population. Sharks are vital for ecosystem health.

For these reasons please support this bill as written.

There are some powerful forces at work in opposition to AB376 that have pulled out all the stops to amend, if not defeat the bill, using accusations of anti-Asian sentiments or lost commercial and state revenue. It's getting down to the wire and the lobbyists will be playing hardball on both sides. Let your sentiments be heard by the elected officials - oddly enough, in this world of ineffectual politics, it can make a difference.

Read about basking shark tagging in the
Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Read about AB376 and what you can do at

No comments: