Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pacific Oceanscape: ambitious plan taking shape with Cook Islands marine protected area

 Probably one of the most encouraging developments in ocean conservation of the past several years has been the formation of the Pacific Oceanscape - a plan to establish the planet's largest network of marine protected areas in the South Pacific. Another piece of the Pacific Oceanscape puzzle is falling into place with the Cook Islands MPA that will be, for the moment, the world's largest at more than 600,000 square miles. 

"It is a major contribution to the well-being of humanity," stated Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna stated. "This is the Pacific challenge we face. Do we take this challenge on with a name and identity that makes us small and not linked with the ocean in our own eyes and the eyes of the world? Or do we stand together with renewed pride and commitment as the world's largest ocean-island states?"

This is the result of ongoing efforts by the Pacific Forum, a co-operative between 16 Pacific island nations and supported by international conservation organizations, most notably Conservation International.  Starting with the Phoenix Islands marine protected area, in which Dr. Greg Stone, Conservation International's Chief Scientist of the Oceans worked closely with the Kirabati government that oversees the Phoenix Islands, the Pacific Forum has further plans beyond the Cook Islands MPA.  Forum member New Caledonia is planning a marine protected area of some 870,000 square miles.  Ultimately, the Pacific Oceanscape plan is to include a total surface area of protected ocean reaching 25 million square miles, roughly 10% of the entire planet's oceans.

"We believe, in fact, I know, that this is the largest multinational conservation initiative in history," said Peter Seligmann, co-founder and CEO of Conservation International. "This is the largest number of nations and the largest area geographically."

You can read about the development of the Pacific Oceanscape at Conservation International's website and there is a free iPad ebook on the subject available. (Click here to download.) 

Source: Conservation International
Source: International Business Times

Monday, August 27, 2012

Government Conservation Program Costs: who is picking up the tab?

Conservation is more than a philosophy or a moral viewpoint on the preservation of our natural resources.  It is a movement with a strong economic and political infrastructure.  And because of that, it needs support; support to fund government conservation programs, support to fund research and the execution and enforcement of policies and regulations.  What are you willing to contribute?

Indeed, the individual can have a profound effect by their own personal actions regarding preserving nature - from picking up trash to trying to remain as carbon neutral as possible to selecting what types of foods to eat - and the tides of public opinion can influence the directions our government officials will follow.

As reported by Richard Moore for, a large segment of that financial support of government efforts comes from a rather unlikely source - a source that seems both logical and ironic given the condition of many species and ecosystems today.  It is the hunters and fishermen.

According to preliminary results from a survey taken every five years by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the latest results show that hunters and fishermen are paying the majority of the costs for conservation programs in these 50 states.

" is the hunter and fisherman that continue to pay the brunt of conservation efforts as nearly 75 percent of the annual income for all 50 state conservation agencies is funded through the purchase of licenses and excise taxes on firearms, archery and angling equipment," Moore reported. 
What was also interesting with the survey results, was the growth of these two groups and the growth of more non-destructive conservation activities like wildlife watching or wildlife photography.  While all three groups have grown, it is the recreational conservation activities that has really blossomed.
Moore noted, "While the number of hunters 16 years and older rose to 13.7 million and fishermen increased to 33.1 million the biggest rise continues to be in wildlife watchers.  In 2011 nearly 71.8 million people fed, photographed or observed wildlife as a pastime spending a staggering $55 billion on these pursuits."  The total expenditures spent by all three groups is a whopping $145 billion.

Taken as a sign that conservation-minded recreational activities represents a greater and growing awareness of the importance of nature and conservation, is it unreasonable to ask that those who would seem to be most committed to conservation should be willing to pony up some of the cost?  Nature needs our emotional and intellectual support and it needs our dollars to help support the government policies and programs that many non-profit conservation groups pressure governments to install.

Fair enough that the hunters and fishermen contribute as some token for whatever negative impacts they may be imposing by their activities.  And sure, it would be grand if every living soul on the planet were to chip in, as with every breath they are all a part of nature.  But for those of us who appreciate nature as a recreational activity - ecotourism, wildlife safaris, photo expeditions, or just plain bird or whale watching - perhaps we should voice our willingness to pay some sort of a fee to support the very safeguards we demand of our elected officials to have in place. 

Just a thought. . .

Source & video:                

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

California's Sea Otters: study shows pluses and minuses in population growth

A recently completed study on the sea otter population along California's central coast appears to be a mixed bag of some measurable increases in numbers since 2010 but a virtual overall stagnation in growth since 2008.  Conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, the study noted a slight increase in the number of sea otters in 2012 but, with a total population estimated at 2,792, it is likely that the sea otter will remain on the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list.

"We're cautiously optimistic that the numbers are up a little bit from the last couple of years, which is great. But we're not going to jump up and down and say the population is skyrocketing again," said Tim Tinker, a University of Santa Cruz professor and overseer of the survey.

While conservation protective measures can certainly be held responsible for much of the improvement in numbers for a species that was nearly hunted into extinction for its fur, there are possibly several factors at work that could be contributing to less growth that would be desired by many researchers who study sea otters.

Pollution, infectious diseases, parasites, and toxic algal blooms are just some of the many threats that scientists are studying.  Many of these threats are fueled by man-made activities. However, one threat in recent years, which has contributed to the highest number of deaths in one population group, is not something attributed to mankind: Sharks.

With more elephant seals moving into Central California, the great white shark will follow.  And that increases the likelihood of sea otters encountering these large predators who might mistake the sea otter for a juvenile seal.  In the 80's and 90's, shark attacks accounted for 8 percent of sea otter deaths.  That figure has now grown to 30 percent.

However, as is often the case with humans, attacks by great white sharks do not result in the sea otter being consumed.  Dead sea otters are being found with the obvious marks of a shark bite, but the shark is not finding the sea otter as much of a tasty item as, say, a fat-rich elephant seal.

The long-term improvement in sea otter populations is encouraging and the current lull in growth could be a temporary statistical fluctuation.  More study is needed to see if all the various potential threats to sea otters are growing.  When it comes to shark attacks, this could be nature's way of balancing an ecosystem when there is any shift in another species' growth or decline (as with the growth of the shark's favored prey, seals and sea lions).  Nature could work it all out given time.

But the man-made threats deserve our immediate attention.  "We have been in the dark for over a year about how the sea otter population was doing and feared the worst.  Even though this year's count is up, we are still concerned about the overall health of the population following two years of sea otter deaths," said Brad Hunt, program manager for The Otter Project.

Said Jim Curland, director of the Carmel-based Friends of the Sea Otter, "In this case the (population) number being up is encouraging, but it doesn't mean we're out of the woods."

Source: The Herald - Monterey County

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ocean Health Index: scientists present new measurement that includes humankind

A cooperative effort by scientists from several ocean-related organizations including Conservation International and Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions has resulted in a new "health index" for rating the world's oceans.  On a scale of 0 to 100, the scientists gave an overall rating of 60.

As reported by Nika Soon-Shiong in the Los Angeles Times, the new index differs from other types of measurements that have been done in the past because it includes the presence of mankind, either as a positive or negative influence depending the specific factor being measured.  Those factors could range from pollution to sustainable fishing to shoreline protection, and more.

"The old model of trying to save nature by keeping people out simply won't work," said study coauthor Steven Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index for the nonprofit environmental group Conservation International based in Arlington, Va. "People and nature are not separate anymore."

Scores were given for particular nations, or the seas with which they share, and the numbers ranged from a high of 86 to a low 36.  The United States scored a near average 63.  The scientists gathered a variety of data: economic data from the United Nations; ocean temperature, sea ice, and UV radiation from NOAA; and considered 133 ocean economic zones.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "The index score for the United States suggests, according to the Nature study, that the country could improve its ocean health by supporting tourism businesses that are environmentally friendly; encouraging sustainable fishing practices; and investing in aquaculture to provide jobs and economic benefits to coastal communities.

Boosting the global index score rests mainly on improving sustainable fishing and cultivation of marine organisms for food provision as well as halting the loss of coastal habitats, the study found.

Generally speaking, higher-income countries had higher scores thanks to better environmental regulations and more money to devote to ocean-friendly pursuits. But there were several exceptions, most notably Singapore (which scored a 42) and Poland (a tad better at 48). Both countries had low levels of food provision from the ocean and fewer "lasting special places," among other problems.

Conversely, developing countries like Seychelles and Suriname earned relatively high scores — 73 and 69, respectively — thanks to high levels of carbon storage, sustainable harvesting of natural ocean products, coastal protection and opportunities for artisanal fishing."

With plans to recalculate the score each year, the scientists hope that the new ocean index will provide policymakers with a helpful yardstick as to how measure current conditions and policies.  After all, these are people who do not make decisions outside of human considerations, like it or not.  By including human interests in the ocean than the new measurement will not only reflect our mistakes or failings, it will also highlight how the ocean benefits mankind and, remarkably, vice versa.

Source: Los Angeles Times. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Right Whales & Sound: study indicates ship noise impacts whale communications

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's most threatened whales.  Listed as endangered by the IUCN and the U.S. Endangered Species Act, its current population worldwide is perhaps only 550.  Once heavily hunted by whalers for its rich bounty in whale oil (hence the whale's name), today the whale is threatened by derelict fishing nets, known as "ghost" nets and by collisions with large commercial ships.

Right whales feed in the cold waters from New York to Nova Scotia, then migrate southward along the U.S. coast to Georgia and Florida to give birth.  Unfortunately, they do this in the midst of busy shipping lanes.  Whales have been sighted with large scars on their backs from encounters with ship propellors.  Speed regulations and policies have been put in place to have ships keep a close watch for whales and shipping lanes have been re-routed as needed during certain migratory periods.

However, according to the conclusions of a three-year study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, large commercial ships are imposing another threat upon the right whales: noise.

The sound of the ships, in particular the bubbles produced by the propellors, is of sufficient magnitude as to significantly reduce the ability of the whales to communicate with each other.  In the rich feeding grounds off Massachusetts, the whales communicate to find food, navigate, mate, and just engage in small talk.  The intrusion of the ship noise could impact the whales ability to hunt for food - they often communicate to coordinate their hunting efforts - and this could lead to a lower calorie intake which, in turn, can lead to a reduction in reproductivity.

From 2007 through 2010, researchers study the noise levels and the communications of nearly 90 whales, using underwater recorders place on the bottom in the sanctuary.  It was determined that, compared to 50 years ago, up to 67 percent of the whales' "communication space" in the sanctuary and surrounding waters has been lost.

While other studies have taken place to confirm a detrimental effect, the researchers say that a considerable amount of additional research is required to truly quantify what impact the change in the whales communication will actually have on their health and well-being.

"We still need to know what that loss of communication means," said Leila hatch, marine ecologist with the sanctuary and lead author of the study's report published in the Conservation Biology journal.  "Those are big additional leaps we need to make. We're looking for the links. All behavioral changes usually have some cost. It may be that animals have some flexibility in what they can do. We have to remember, though, that they are constrained, by cost in energy [used] and by physiology, like how loud they can go" to compensate for the ship noise.

Hopefully, further study will provide the answers to steer ships, literally and figuratively, in the right direction.  Can the whales adapt to their noisier surroundings?  Or can ships alter their behavior - a challenge given the great distances that sound can travel underwater.

"We certainly don't understand how exactly this sort of problem will affect the animals, or what it will disrupt. It seems highly likely that not being able to hear from the distances they once did, for which they became adapted, would seem to have a detrimental effect, " said Charles Mayo,director of right whale habitat studies at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.

Source: Cape Cod Times

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

California's White Sharks: groups petition NOAA to protect a threatened population

Much of my experiences with sharks over the past seven to eight years has been centered on the great white shark, in particular the white sharks that congregate annually at Isla Guadalupe off the coast of Baja, California.  The documentary film, Island of the Great White Shark, that I completed early on during this period, came about during a very exciting time in white shark research.

Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford University and head of TOPP (Tagging of Pacific Predators) had compiled enough preliminary tracking data to propose an amazing theory regarding white shark migratory patterns.  Using various telemetry transmitters attached to sharks, Block and her team were able to determine that the great white sharks found at Isla Guadalupe and off the Central California coast appeared to migrate to an area in the mid-Pacific.  They humorously nicknamed it the "White Shark Cafe."

This was heady stuff.  To think that two populations of white sharks were taking the same journey to one central, albeit rather vast, location - well, this had the imaginations of many shark researchers and advocates in overdrive.  What was attracting them to this area?  A food source?  A potential breeding ground?  And if so, were the Baja sharks and the California sharks related?

One of the next steps, then, was to determine if any mutual DNA traces could be matched between the two groups.  My friend, Dr. Mauricio Hoyos, at the time a young graduate student working under the guidance of Dr. Peter Klimley of UC Davis in Sacramento, California and Dr. Felipe Galvan of the marine institute, CICIMAR in La Paz, Baja, continued his work tagging and tracking the regional hunting patterns of Isla Guadalupe's white sharks, but he also began taking biopsy samples for DNA studies.

As my documentary showed, taking a biopsy sample was not always easy.  It entails getting very close to a shark and poking through the shark's tough skin with a small spear outfitted with a tip that would remove a small plug of flesh.  Over time, many samples were analyzed and compared with biopsy samples that were taken of white sharks in California.  As a filmmaker, I was rooting for a genetic connection as I was hoping that the White Shark Cafe would prove to be some monumental white shark breeding ground.  With that fact, I was contemplating a pitch for a film project to document heretofore unseen white shark breeding behavior.  (Typical for an ambitious producer, I was conveniently ignoring the fact that the White Shark Cafe covers an area the size of Texas, so finding white sharks actually engaged in mating would be like finding a needle in an oceanic haystack!)

The results of the DNA studies found that there were no genetic markers, no familial connection between the two populations of white sharks.  Well, there went my documentary pitch, but far more important than my self-serving interests was the fact that researchers now knew these two groups of white sharks were unique to themselves.  And that made them all the more priceless.  But just how many white sharks are we talking about?

At Isla Guadalupe, several research groups, including the Pfleger Institute in San Diego, had photographically cataloged many of the the island's sharks.  This family album, as it were, has grown over the years and has proved to be a valuable reference guide in identifying sharks as they return year after year to Isla Guadalupe in the fall months.  The current number of sharks at Isla Guadalupe is estimated to be around 100 to perhaps as many as 130 individuals.

However, there was no accurate count for the white sharks of Central California.  In 2006, I interviewed Dr. Klimley for my film and he mentioned that a population study was about to get underway.  Subsequent to that interview, I kept in touch with Peter and a couple of years later, he mentioned to me that one of his students, Taylor Chapple was going to begin the study but they were coming up short on cameras.  I offered Pete and Taylor the use of a spare still camera and underwater video camera, and Taylor began his research in earnest.

Taylor's results were made public last year and the numbers were disconcerting.  Taylor's estimated size of California's adult and juvenile white shark population combined was only 219.  This was far less than anticipated by many shark advocates and it highlighted the perilous nature of the white shark in a world where sharks are either commercially hunted or caught as accidental bycatch in drift and gill nets set to catch other fish commercially sought after.  With great white sharks being slow to mature and reproduce (females typically reproduce every other year and give birth to perhaps 2 or 3 pups), the loss of even one mature white shark can have a profound impact on the population's ability to sustain itself.

In Tuesday's Washington Post, environmental writer Juliet Eilperin reported that three major conservation groups involved in shark conservation have petitioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to list the West Coast population of great white sharks as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Shark Stewards made their case citing the various genetic studies undertaken by researchers like Mauricio Hoyos, Taylor Chapple, and others.

“The new science sets off alarm bells for all of us, as no one expected the population to be so dangerously low,” said Geoff Shester, who directs Oceana’s California program. “Great white sharks are powerful allies keeping our oceans healthy, and they need us to protect them far more than we should fear them.”

Now the bureaucratic process begins, as the petition and all the research information provided will be reviewed by NOAA.  Should the agency find the petition actionable, then a status review will commence.  This is where an organization like the Center for Biological Diversity will sinks its teeth into the case (pardon the pun), as they are known for wielding the law and the courts to push federal environmental agencies to fulfill their legal obligations and not let issues fall through the governmental cracks.

But it is important for the U.S. to take this issue seriously, not only for the sake of the sharks but for the country's conservation image as a whole and its ability to prod and negotiate other nations to take proactive steps to preserve natural resources.

As Juliet Eilperin reported, "The petition came on the same day that a group of leading American shark and ray scientists, the International Union for Conservation of Nature Shark Specialist Group, issued a report saying 13.5 percent of shark, skate and chimaera species in North and Central America face the threat of extinction."

With the facts at hand - with other nations contemplating white shark hunts as emotional, knee jerk reactions to several unfortunate attacks - this could be a defining moment for the future of California's white sharks and for U.S. credibility as a true ocean conservation advocate.

Source: The Washington Post

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hammerhead Sharks: what was Mother Nature thinking?

Discovery Channel's Shark Week starts up this Sunday.  Know how I know?  Easy, just look at all the various shark news items papering the Internet today.  From the latest human/shark encounters to updates on various shark fin ban movements or legislation, sharks are stepping in to fill the void of the close of the summer Olympics.

The Mother Nature Network posted a quick look at the always curious hammerhead shark.  For most folks, great white sharks or tiger sharks can evoke fascination mixed with a little apprehension, but the hammerhead is often the one that leaves them scratching the head in bewilderment.

What was Mother Nature thinking when she drew up the plans on that one?

For me, there are two questions that come to mind with the nine species of hammerhead sharks.  The first is why?  The Mother Nature Network examines the three most common explanations and they all revolve around the shark's hunting capabilities, particularly for the larger species which like to include stingrays as one of their favorite prey.

The broad head of the hammerhead shark increases the surface area where the shark's electrical sensory organs are located.  These gel-filled pores, called Ampullae de Lorenzini, allow the shark to sense the subtle electrical fields given off by animals - as an example, stingrays camouflaged and buried under a thin layer of sand.

With eyes in each end of its head, the hammerhead is also able to increase both its stereoscopic vision (the ability to see directly forward) and its overall field of view (by swinging its head side-to-side, it is able to see above, below, and behind better than many other shark species).  The better the vision, the better the animal is able to hunt.

Finally, when hunting for stingrays, the hammerhead shark actually uses its unique shape to help shovel under a buried stingray, flip it over, and even pin it to the bottom.  This elaborate ballet that allows the shark a measure of surprise while it bites the stingray's pectoral fins, thereby eliminating the prey's ability to escape, has been documented and is quite something to see.

So, those are the three most common explanations as to why - why a hammerhead shark has evolved to have such a unique shape.  There's a purpose behind it that proves beneficial to the shark's survival.

The second question is a much challenging one to answer: How?  We can see why it has this shape and that it benefits its hunting abilities, but how did the evolutionary process start with a "conventional" shaped shark - if, indeed, that was it's original root form - and then Nature said, "Hey, I've got a whacky idea."

Evolutionary researchers have seen evidence of the adaptive radiation process, wherein plants and animals adapt to their surroundings and various requirements to ensure survival, and it takes hundreds of thousands of years for most species.  But there have been occasional jumps or sudden detours - either radical departures from the norm or greatly accelerated changes.  What was the case in the hammerhead shark?  What was happening in its surroundings that the gene pool decided to change little by little from one generation to the next, repeatedly, to where it eventually reached the iconic and unusual shape that we see today.

Evolution is no simple linear, A to B to C, process.  But its underlying motivator, that of survival (of the fittest, the most resourceful, or the smartest) has produced a staggering diversity both on land and at sea.  No better example than that of the genus Sphyma: the hammerhead shark.

Source: Mother Nature Network  

Electrifying Coral Growth: promising artificial reef project in Florida

Electricity - long before we learned that all animated objects generate some level of electrical current or field, it was viewed as a source of life from the gods or god.  Bolts of lightning brought Mary W. Shelley's monster to life in Frankenstein, and a good jolt or two has saved more than one individual thanks to the emergency defibrillator.

But those are big, powerful doses.  At very low levels, electricity can also be a source of life.  An example of which would be the use of very low-level voltages to stimulate coral growth.  This has been used with artificial reefs in several parts of the world, and it is now being tried in Florida's Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.  Not far off the town's coastline are reefs easily accessible to divers, in 15 feet of water, 250 yards off shore.  Six years ago, the town leaders, realizing that an expansion of their reef system would be good for conservation and tourism by both establishing new attractions for divers and providing some relief from "diver pressure" on existing natural reefs, commissioned the non-profit Global Coral Reef Alliance to install a steel rod framework that is electrified at very low levels through solar panels.  

The low levels of electricity stimulates calcium carbonate - the foundation of all coral reefs - to bond onto the steel rods (the framework resembles an aircraft hanger in shape).  The stimulation forms a substrate that is conducive for a wide variety of sedentary marine creatures, form corals to oysters.  It also provides a platform for the attachment of living coral that has either off from natural reefs or has been nurtured in a laboratory or aquarium setting.

Electrical stimulation of calcium is also being used for humans.  Low-level stimulation has been shown to accelerate bone growth and successfully used with patients following orthopedic surgery.  In this oceanic application, pioneered by Global Coral Reef Alliance's Thomas Goreau and patented under the name Biorock, it works in a very similar fashion and, while it does have some detractors who question it's effectiveness, for Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, it appears to be working.

“It’s definitely attracting fish,” said Stephen Attis, president of Vone Research which did the actual installation. “The structures are growing calcium carbonate. The amount of oysters on it and how fast they’re growing is amazing. It’s very promising.”

Promising, yes.  But no one is expecting a full-fledged coral reef overnight.  A fully formed reef will still take many years, if not decades, to be realized.  But given the precarious state of the world's coral reefs due to climate change, pollution, and other man-made activities, any effort that provides coral reefs with some sort of assistance while we address the need for a defense against those threats that jeopardize coral's survival - well, that's a welcome little jolt.

“This is a really neat project and I believe it’s going to work,” Attis said. “We’re already seeing growth, and once we transplant corals, it’s really going to change. It should be exciting.”

Source: Sun-Sentinel

Thursday, August 9, 2012

VW Beetle Meets the Sharks: lighthearted moment during Shark Week

In case you hadn't noticed, it's a nutty world at times.  So, to help preserve one's sanity, it helps to set aside some silly time.  Even when you take it with a grain of seriousness, silly is just that.  Silly.

And that holds true for even a somber subject like shark conservation.  You need those lighter moments just to recharge the batteries.  And so this year, for Discovery Channel's 25th year of Shark Week, they have teamed up with Volkswagen and the ubiquitous Beetle to broadcast a commercial during Shark Week that has my friend, marine biologist Luke Tipple, cruising the desert white sands of Tiger Beach in an underwater version of a VW Beetle shark cage.

Actually, a lot of time and effort went into the making of the craft - modeled after a Beetle turbo, and given the flat sandy area that is Tiger Beach, off the northwest corner of Grand Bahama, it was probably a lot of fun to toodle around in, powered by two underwater scooters.

Crass commercialism?  Oh, sure it is, but Discovery has bills to pay and Shark Week brings in huge ratings which can be music to the ears of advertisers.  Last year, Discovery partnered with Gillette on a commercial with two divers trying competing razors in shark cages.  Luke was also involved in that commercial, too. Fortunately, he was the one using the Gillette razor.  The other poor soul nicked himself with the competitor's blade and, well, you can imagine the commercial's implied outcome.  Another tongue-in-cheek departure from reality and it probably sold a few razors as well.

There's an interesting kharmic thread through all of this for me personally.  The first car I ever owned was a hand-me-down VW Beetle from my older brother.  I drove it for years through my Woodstock hippie days, my guitars and drums packed in back to fuel my passion for music.  Now, many years later I have grown another passion for the preservation of sharks and, lo and behold, who should return but that dome-shaped little icon from Deutschland. 

And the circle goes round and round.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shark News: a lot is riding on Discovery's Shark Week, sharks hunted at Reunion Island

This Sunday will begin Discovery Channel's 25th year for Shark Week, and as it hits the quarter-century mark, it finds a lot riding on its success.  While Shark Week has been heralded within the entertainment industry as a major revenue-maker, it has also received considerable criticism over the years for perpetuating shark stereotypes and myths and emphasizing shark attacks over shark conservation.

This season's programming should prove to be interesting as there appears to be a few more pro-shark programs scheduled - or at least so it would seem by the advance publicity.  Discovery channel has also chosen to push the use of social media by teaming up with Thunderclap in support of three major worldwide shark conservation organizations: the Pew Environment Group, Oceana, and Shark Savers.  Through Thunderclap, Twitter and Facebook users can pledge to these organizations and when a certain level is reached, a mass message is sent turning the cause into a trending topic - and giving Shark Week more exposure along the way.

Discovery is very clever in promoting Shark Week and they have a lot riding on its success this year.  The network recently announced its earnings and while they should respectable growth and profitability, they did come under expectations.  Additionally, Discovery is expecting advertising revenue to soften a bit and they have had to juggle some of their other programming due to the competition offered by the Summer Olympics.

For shark advocates (and Shark Week critics), perhaps they will begin to see more of a change in focus in the type of programs Discovery offers.  Shark conservation efforts continue to gain momentum both nationally and internationally and the folks at Discovery are smart businesspeople.  I expect they will react to any public trend or attitude that will provide a continuing high level of viewership - and therefore a high level of advertising revenue.

One definite downside in recent shark news is the decision of the French government to allow for a number of sharks to be culled around Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean where there has been a rise in shark incidents - 7 attacks and 3 fatalities since 2011.  The government will be paying a bounty for bull sharks, suspected of being the primary predator involved in the recent spate of attacks.  Unfortunately, while bowing to public pressure and feeling the need to take some sort of immediate proactive action, the powers-that-be in Paris are failing to notice, or simply ignoring, the fact that the bull shark is considered a 'near threatened" species by the IUCN and that such culling efforts typically end up not confining themselves to one particular species.

According to reporting in the San Francisco Chronicle, environmental groups are advocating a different approach that centers on measures to limit the disposal of waste along coastal areas, a practice they believe attracts more local fish and, by extension, more sharks who are lured close to shore to feed.  Unfortunately, it doesn't sound as dramatically decisive in the island's best interest to curtail throwing garbage in the sea, compared with boldly eradicating the evil predator responsible - the unsuspecting shark who is simply behaving the way nature intended for tens of thousands of years.

Source: Fast Company
Source: Washington Post
Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Imperial Cormorant Dives Deep: researchers capture ride-along video of bird on the hunt

In the long tradition of Greg Marshall's "Crittercam," researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Research Council of Argentina were able to safely and securely attach a small video camera - often referred to as a "lipstick" camera because of its small size and lipstick case-like shape - to the back of an imperial cormorant.

By doing so, they were able to document for the first time, a cormorant diving in search of food (successfully, I might add).  The bird reached an approximate depth of 140 feet in as little as 40 seconds, with the camera recording the descent into darker and darker water and the cormorant cruising the bottom until it succeeds in snatching a small fish which it brought to the surface.

Filmed in a coastal protected area in Patagonia, Argentina, the research involves studying where the birds hunt and feed so as to determine if there are any high priority feeding areas that may require additional protection.  There are around 3,500 pairs of imperial cormorants in this particular location and since these birds do not migrate, how and where they feed becomes critical in providing any degree of conservation and protection.

Source: Huffington Post