Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Ultimate Feeling of Hopelessness in Taiji

This blog is more of a reaction to current events than it is an informative blog. For those of you who have seen the documentary, The Cove, you as well as myself are well aware of the brutality that is involved in the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society currently has a team stationed in Taiji, named the Cove Guardians, whose mission it is to document the slaughter and expose it to the world. This year, the Cove Guardians have an incredible weapon on their side, a weapon that whose power I and anyone else with a computer could witness. The weapon is a live feed from Taiji. On Friday, I watched as dolphins were driven into the cove to die a horrific death. Not a single part of the process was humane. First of all the way in which the fisherman drive the dolphins into the cove is basically the equivelent to someone banging on a drum right in your ear. The fisherman literally bang on various objects to horrify the dolphins into shallow waters. The pod that was slaughtered was a pod of Risso dolphins, a protected species in the United States. It was a truly heartbreaking experience seeing those animals driven into that cove. The pod literally fought for over an hour, trying to escape death. The fear that those animals had to be experiencing is probably the same as a person would feel if held at gunpoint for over an hour.

Here we are, the year 2012 and Japan is still insisting on killing dolphins. The pod of Risso dolphins, after being netted into the cove were brutally stabbed to death, with the exception of 3 who were set aside for captivity. Again, for those of you who have seen The Cove, you know what I mean by these animals are brutally stabbed to death. For those who have not seen it... Picture yourself being stabbed in the back until you die with what equates to a simple spear. You feel each and every stab and while that's happening you see the rest of your family experiencing the same thing you are. If that doesn't sound heartbreaking than I really do not know the meaning of the word. The three dolphins that survived will become show dolphins for some dolphinarium. Personally, I feel that there are more than enough dolphins breeding in captivity that there is no real reason to be taking more from the wild.

The live feed itself really brought into perspective that this is still happening. It also brought into perspective the sheer number of people that are against this slaughter. Virtually every second that I was watching the feed there were Twitter updates tagging Sea Shepherd and the Cove Guardians as heroes for what they were doing. Along with those thanks came a ton of people calling for the killing to end. Personally I do not use Twitter, but I don't think I've ever seen so many tweets at once or in one place. The feed made it quite obvious that Japan is very nervous about Sea Shepherd being at the cove. There were several different police forces present at the cove along with the Japanese coast guard. They are very much aware that their dirty truth is once again being exposed to the world and it is very easy to see that they are not happy about it. At the same time though, the feed is enabling the Cove Guardians to get slightly better views as to what is going on because the last thing Japan wants to see is their police going up to and starting problems with peaceful protesters. The Cove Guardians will continue to be on the ground in Taiji through March when this slaughter will come to an end for a few months before starting again in September. Japan seeks to kill some 20,000 dolphins total for this season as the entire world watches in disgust and horror. If you are unaware as to how this slaughter takes place follow this link. Fair warning though... It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Dolphins are some of the smartest animals in the world and here is a perfect example of proof on that statement. 9 Japanese fishing boats failed to trap a pod of dolphins in the cove today. The pod managed to escape from under the noses of any sonar equipment and from under the noses of each and every fisherman on those boats. They did this with no technology, just their brains. That is a feat that I seriously doubt any human could achieve, let alone a group of humans.

I applaud each and every one of the Cove Guardians who are on the ground fighting for these amazing animals. Sea Shepherd is truly doing a great thing by having these people documenting and exposing the slaughter to the world. The Cove brought the sadistic slaughter into the light and now Sea Shepherd, with the support of millions of people seek an end to the brutal and unjustifiable slaughter. For more information on the Cove Guardians and Sea Shepherd's campaign in Taiji visit

My next blog will be a return to the world of sharks as Costa Rica bans shark finning......... Again........ Really? Again?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sharks of Arabia Protected!

In the midst of all the turmoil occurring right now in the middle east, it appears that one Arab nation has decided to step up and help take a stand for sharks! The United Arab Emirates has decided that the time is now to protect sharks in the Persian Gulf. Not much is known about shark populations in the gulf, but many of the Ocean's apex predators have been spotted there. it is also one of the few places where groups of female whale sharks have been observed in groups. With an unknown shark population the gulf saw 20,000 tonnes of shark removed in 2011. UAE has now opened the door for the other GCC nations to follow suite in creating protection for sharks. These countries include Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. If these nations follow UAE the Persian Gulf would become an area of the world where sharks are a priority.

Despite not knowing the populations of the sharks in it's waters, UAE had laid out the following rules in regards to shark fishing in it's waters in 1999...

Article 23: It is illegal to conduct fishing operations using banned fishing gear or equipment
Article 24: Fishing is impermissible during fertilisation or breeding season (January to April)
Article 26: It is prohibited to fishing for sharks using trawling nets, bottom nets, nylon or drift nets
Article 34: It is prohibited to use explosives, crackers or materials that are harmful, toxic or anaesthetic to aquatics
Article 44: It is forbidden to catch living aquatic creatures to extract their eggs, skins, fins and any other parts (catch must be landed wholly at fish markets).
Article 44: It is forbidden to throw the dead fish waste and carcasses of whales and sharks into the water.
— D.B
Source: Ministry of Environment and Water
The following is a 2011 update that adds the following rules. 
Only launch styled vessels can be used to capture sharks in UAE waters
Vessels must be licensed by the ministry
Fishing capture limited to using only hooks style 1 and 2 and hooks must not exc eed 100 per vessel
Shark capture is prohibited from January to end of April during shark breeding season
Capture of whale sharks and saw fishes prohibited
UAE has set an amazing example for the rest of the Arab world as to what a serious protection plan for sharks should look like. Shark fishing in the Persian Gulf does occur and chances are shark fishing will never be illegal in the Gulf, so this is one of the next best things. The last point I kind of highlighted for a special reason. Saw fishes are endangered so the ban on fishing for them is very much so warranted. The banning of catching whale sharks is also an incredible thing to see. Again, the Persian Gulf is one of the only areas in the world where groups of female whale sharks have been observed. It's importance in the research of these animals is incredible because of that fact!

Like in the United States, shark fishing is something that is not going to go away, but if we can limit the number of sharks being killed through means such as the ones listed, we can begin to save these animals in our own waters. Simply banning shark finning isn't enough, time will tell if the restrictions UAE has put on shark fishing will preserve the shark populations in the gulf. If shark populations appear to stabilize, then UAE's plan could be a model for the rest of the world!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Final Solution in Australia and Ominous Signs in New Jersey

First off, I apologize if the title of this blog has offended anyone, it was not my intention to do so, but it is the topic of this blog.

This past summer sadly saw more shark attacks in one place than any year in recent memory. In Australia, 5 people were killed by sharks off of beaches on the western side of the continent. Since that time there has been an explosion of shark hate and fear, the likes that rival that of the fallout from Jaws. What that means is no good for sharks. In this case, it means that the premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett has issued a final solution for sharks in Western Australia. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term "final solution" I will break it down. The Final Solution was Hitler's master plan to eliminate the Jews from the world in an effort to make a "safer and pure" Germany. The effort would lead to the Holocaust in which millions of Jews and others lost their lives for essentially being who they were. Much like Hitler did to the Jews, Barnett has called for the total destruction of sharks. 

Yes it is a very sad thing that 5 people were killed, but there are many factors that need to be remembered. Factors that Barnett clearly has no intention on remembering. First is the overall odds of a shark attack. Statistically speaking you have a better chance of a vending machine falling on you than a shark attacking you. You have a better chance of being killed by ants, yes ants, than being attacked by a shark. Needless to say, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning, being in a car accident, or drowning in your bathtub than you do of being attacked by a shark. So the question is why the sudden tiny increase of shark attacks off the coast of Australia? Realistically, nobody knows 100% for sure, but there are several reasons that could have caused the increase of shark attacks in the area.

1.) Overfishing: Much like in the United States, fish populations are decreasing. What that means for the sharks in Australia is that their food is vanishing. So, the sharks start to look elsewhere for their food. They move closer to shore and happen to see a surfer on a surfboard. Chances are that shark has never seen a human so it goes in for a curiosity bite. The sharks are not trying to eat people at all in this case as none of the 5 people attacked were eaten. Simply put. Lack of fish in the Ocean does to sharks what massive food shortages do to humans. It makes them desperate and not want to starve so they move in closer to shore since they can't find food in the open Ocean, and sadly wind up accidentally getting themselves involved with people. In the case of people, starving and desperate people have been known to actually eat each other. So the concept of starvation and desperation should not be new. 

2.) Accidental Baiting: Sharks have an incredible sense of smell. They can sense a drop of blood in water from a mile away. Australian fishing boats could very well accidentally be attracting sharks closer to shore. One very popular method of fishing is called chumming. For those who don't know, chumming involves throwing ground up fish into the water to attract larger fish. It makes perfect sense for a fisherman to want to do this, but at the same time, chumming can and does attract sharks. Many charter boats are known to start tossing chum overboard while returning from a trip. Sharks can and do follow the chum into shallow waters near beaches. In this case, it is not the sharks fault some people decided to give it a free meal up to the beach. Where there is food, the shark will generally stay until it's ready to move on. 

3.) The Case of Mistaken Identity: This one is pretty simple to understand too. Picture a great white shark swimming through the water. Now picture what a sea lion would look like from underneath. Long body, two short flippers in front and two short flippers in the back. Keep that image in your head and picture a surfer lying on a board from underneath. Long body, two short flippers in front, and two short flippers in the back. Well what do you know? They look quite similar don't they? Almost every time a shark bites a surfer, the shark leaves and does not return. Simply put. WE ARE NOT ON THE MENU. 

So here is the plan. The plan in Western Australia, if implemented would be simple. Hire people and spend tax dollars on killing every single shark that is seen near a human in the Ocean. Sounds like a joke right? It's not. This plan would see men on beaches with weapons waiting to blow any sharks head off if it is seen near a human. I really have to stress the word any because there are many endangered species of shark that can be found in the waters of Western Australia. One of those is the Great White Shark which is estimated to have a global population of roughly 3,500. In a sense, this call to exterminate sharks would be the same as calling for the extermination of whales or any other endangered animal on land or sea. The ironic thing in this case is that the animal that is being exterminated is responsible for less human deaths than household dogs every year. The basis of the plan is to increase security at beaches for surfers and swimmers. Not for nothing, but if there is a moving shark near me I am not going to want anyone shooting at an animal that is right next to me. The danger of that in itself would be enough to deter me from going into the water. Chances are high that someone will accidentally be shot which will do nothing but cause more problems. 

If this final solution in Australia occurs we could see a drastic change in the local scene out there. Different species of fish will start to take over and local fisheries could easily find themselves with far more problems than a lack of fish. With no sharks the seas simply cannot survive which brings us to an incredibly ominous sign that has started to happen in New Jersey.

There has been much talk about the cost of living going up everywhere. Gas prices are insanely high, food costs more than it did, taxes are up, etc etc. Hidden by the increasing costs of seafood, in this case scallops, a much larger problem lurks. This year, New Jersey saw an increase in the price of scallops. To fisherman the price increase means more profit which makes them happy of course, but the concerning statistic isn't the fact that the price went, it's why. The increase in the price of scallops is not a part of the ever increasing cost of living. The number of scallops caught this year was far less than in years prior. What that means is less supply and a high demand. This caused the prices to go up. There are simply not enough scallops to go around anymore and I have a gut feeling that we will continue to see a decrease in scallop catches over the next few years. Now what does all of this have to do with sharks? The answer is simple, the food chain. Over the last two years New Jersey and other east coast states have seen a sharp rise in ray populations. Naturally rays eat shellfish such as clams, scallops, etc. In New Jersey, a ray has virtually no predators. The majority of sharks that come close to shore in New Jersey generally do not eat rays. These species include sandbar sharks, young sand tiger sharks, dogfish, and others. Naturally, large species of shark keep ray populations in check. Despite so many shark sightings this summer, there were virtually no sightings of sharks that often prey on rays. The one exception was the sighting of a lone hammerhead. Tiger, bull, large sandbar, hammerheads, dusky, and porbeagle sharks all eat rays and are normally seen off of New Jersey during the summer. Over the past few years though this has simply not been the case. 

What we are potentially seeing here is the start of a food chain collapse. Man kills over 70 million sharks every year for various unsustainable and twisted reasons. There are not enough sharks left in the Ocean to effectively keep food chains together anymore. With the lack of sharks in New Jersey, here is what is starting to happen. Ray populations are increasing rapidly as shark populations decrease. As a result, shellfish populations are decreasing rapidly. Shellfish are filter feeders which means that as they vanish, water qualities will begin to change. With no food left the rays will eventually die off and all that will be left is an Ocean in chaos. Not only will this particular food chain collapse, but it will cause the collapse of countless others. Shellfish are so important to the Oceans that in reality, without them there can be no clean Ocean. The only hope the shellfish have is that sharks are saved now. Sharks are the only thing preventing the seas from becoming barren underwater wastelands where nothing will be able to survive. In the end that spells just one thing for life on land... Death...