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For several years, Shark Diver has been at the forefront of a remarkable evolution in industry-lead shark conservation and research efforts. In 2003, we reached out to the Californian and Mexican research community to begin the first ever industry-lead white shark research effort at Isla Guadalupe. The data that came back from that study has fundamentally changed what we know about resident sharks, our baiting methods, and even seasonal behaviors. The CICIMAR study has identified an integral predatory relationship with the Isla Guadalupe Fur Seal (Arctocephalus townsendi). While this fact may seem insignificant, less than 70 years ago the endemic population of seals was considered extinct, which now begs the question, are the white sharks at Isla Guadalupe a recovering population or a declining one?
The more shark science uncovers the more questions arise. The fundamental truth about industry-supported shark research is – with the research data regional shark populations stand a better chance of enabling real protections by management agencies. With a recently estimated global population of just 3900 white sharks, they need all the help they can get.
Nicole Nasby Lucas is a Research Biologist with the Marine Conservation Science Institute. Nicole has been studying the white sharks of Guadalupe Island, Mexico since 2001. Her research includes satellite tagging and tracking studies to examine migration patterns and behavior. She also manages the Guadalupe Island white shark photo-ID program and maintains a database of all sharks sighted at Guadalupe Island since 1999. The photo-ID program is important for tracking the visitation patterns of individual sharks as well as monitoring the overall status of the population. By using the unique coloration of these sharks, she’s been able to identify 241 individuals to date. This project started in 2001 and some of these sharks have been seen every year since. All of this research is crucial for the management and conservation of northeastern Pacific white sharks.
Nicole is also the host for our Shark Diver Science expeditions. She grew up around water near lakes in Minnesota, but was always drawn to the ocean. She got her open water SCUBA diving certification in the cold cloudy mining lakes of northern Minnesota, but quickly put those skills to use in the warm clear Caribbean waters while studying in the Turks and Caicos Islands, followed by working at a dive resort in Honduras. She pursued a graduate degree in marine resource management from Oregon State University and performed a groundfish habitat evaluation by integrating high-resolution sonar images with submersible transect observation data. She has also worked with the NMFS protected resources division, and was a Research Biologist with the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research working with satellite tagging and acoustic tagging technologies to study marlin, white sharks, bluefin tuna, swordfish, manta rays, black sea bass, and white seabass. She is interested in the behavior, migration and habitat use of marine fishes and sharks as well as the management and conservation of marine life and their habitats.
Nicole Nasby Lucas
Marine Conservation Science Institue
“My fondest memory of Isla Guadalupe was on a research trip with Shark Diver in 2004. I remember well a beautiful, large white shark swallowing a tuna concealing our first ultrasonic transmitter with Mauricio Hoyos-Padilla beside myself in a small boat next to the shark. The unique tagging and individual identification studies at the island have provided valuable new information and insights into the biology of white sharks here. Shark Divers clients, who come to this island to view white sharks, have contributed greatly to this project over the years.
Shark Diver has succeeded admirably in reaching out to, and supporting, the shark research community while introducing, in a safe manner, the general public to the world of the white shark. With their additional media outreach and with films like Island of the Great White Sharks they have done much to dispel the visceral fear of these animals shared by members of the public. In the past, the shout of the word ‘shark’ frightened bathers to stampede ashore on to the beach; now the same word creates excitement among divers and they eagerly enter the underwater world to view these spectacular apex predators in the clear waters off Guadalupe.”
Dr. Peter Klimley
Director, Biotelemetry Laboratory
Department of Wildlife, Fish, & Conservation Biology
University of California, Davis
“Due to its location as the westernmost island off Baja California and the resultant isolation, Guadalupe Island is a very difficult site to conduct research. Thanks to the initial vision and unwavering support of Shark Diver we have been able to be on site to conduct important tagging and DNA research, receive donations, and get logistical support. In tandem with Shark Diver we started our research program in 2003 and we have been working with the white sharks here for eight years, a stunning achievement for marine science in Mexican waters. As a white shark researcher I am impressed that Shark Diver has portrayed, in a positive manner, the white sharks here, and continues to treat the animals with utmost respect, which is a key aspect in the conservation of these magnificent sharks.”
Dr. Mauricio Hoyos Padilla
Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas CICIMAR
Shark Diver CEO was in New Zealand at a new white shark site on the South Island. While this site is not ready for prime time just yet, the conservation opportunities and current tagging and tracking efforts lead by Dr.Clinton Duffy will re-write the book on white sharks in the southern hemisphere. The new decade for commercial shark diving is very bright indeed.
Responding to the Gulf Oil Disaster, Shark Diver CEO Patric Douglas quickly puts together a small team of researchers from around the country to look into the development of pseudomonas putida and like bacteria for bio remediation. Four weeks into Americas worst oil spill our team presents British Petroleum with plans for the world’s first “Mobile Bio Reactors,” able to brew a proprietary pseudomonas cocktail using waste oil from regional deep fryers in the Gulf. Estimated tank to oiled beach time would be 12 days per batch with 100,000 gal per batch, there are plns for an initial ten Bio Reactors. Pseudomonas and like gram negative bacteria has been proven to break down crude oil into harmless components. The project is ultimately shelved by the Department of Homeland Security after a comment from a regional boss who declares “that there bio reactor looks just like them ones Saddam had in Iraq”.
Our team gracefully exists the region, once you roll up on that wall there’s no where else to go. The oil spill remains the worst natural disaster in American history. To this day beaches and marshes are still fouled with Gulf oil. Sometimes you get projects that are so big in scope that you ultimately fail in the effort. But you have to try in the face of a disaster of this magnitude.
Shark Diver starts on a new direction with Project Blue. Unveiled at the Green Oceans Forum in Miami where CEO Patric Douglas is a guest presenter along with ocean conservation titans like Dr.Sylvia Earl and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Project Blue seeks to create mini Marine Protected Areas worldwide. Project Blue is ongoing with site launches in 2012.
Shark Divers in tandem with Wildcoast, a Mexican based NGO, enables a series of Mexican documentaries about Isla Guadalupe, shark conservation, and the white shark research efforts at the island by CICIMAR. The documentary series, one of the largest of its kind, is shown across Mexico on Televisa and Univision it wins a series of broadcast awards in Mexico highlighting the immediate need for further white shark protections at Isla Guadalupe and around Mexico. The project is a necessary counter point to a recent rash of staged shark attack videos coming from Isla Guadalupe and shown on national television. These unfortunate programs highlight Guadalupe white sharks as nothing more than biting machines, not the animals we have come to know over the many years we have interacted with them.
Shark Diver is asked by a DARPA funded project off the coast of Maui to train team divers working on a self propelled robotic ocean wanderer in non leathal Tiger shark interaction protocols. Shark Diver writes the protocols, provides the non lethal protection technology, and trains the crew members, saving Tigers and educating team members.
Responding to the sport fishing deaths of two adult female and gravid Tiger sharks in the Bahamas, just miles from a site we conduct Tiger shark diving operations on, Shark Diver created the Shark-Free Marinas Initiative. The goal for this initiative was to bypass government agencies and create regional shark protections while providing an educational tool for sport fishermen to promote catch and release.
The SFMI was adopted early on in the Bahamas by Jillian Morris who converted a few key marinas kicking the program off. In Fiji, thanks to Stuart Gow and Mike Neumann 80% of the marinas are now Shark-Free. Marina owners do not allow sharks, dead or alive, to be brought back to their sites. In 2009 The Shark-Free Marinas concept became a full blown reality with it’s new director, marine biologist Luke Tipple, and partnerships with the American Humane Society , Fishpond, and Guy Harvey. The initiative is also supported by a host of high profile celebrities including Slash from Guns n’ Roses, Bill Maher, and Nigel Barker. The SFMI effort is ongoing.
Shark Diver launches Underwater Thrills, our blog. The mandate for the blog is to provide a platform for industry news, conservation initiatives and industry thought. The global shark diving industry is now a $200-300 million dollar industry with operations spanning from the Red Sea to Mexico. Underwater Thrills also tackles some of the deeper industry issues that resonate around the world, from chumming, to anti-shark diving initiatives. The blog is controversial, but 25k readers come here each and every month, and a series of Facebook and alternate shark blog sites are spawned because of it.
Shark Diver working in tandem with RTSea Productions helps launch the first ever in depth documentary on Isla Guadalupe, Island of the Great White Shark. The documentary has been in the works since 2004 with Shark Diver offering multiple free trips to RTSea Productions to film the white sharks and our crews.
The award winning documentary by RTSea is a first ever behind the scenes look at commercial shark diving operations, the ongoing CICIMAR research tagging and tracking program, and a look into the controversy of chumming. Our goal with this film was to help portray white sharks in as natural a setting as we could without the media hype traditionally associated with shark productions and enlighten viewers to the immediate needs of funding critical research. This documentary remains the only industry documentary of its kind.
Shark Diver creates and brands Shark Divers our film and television, and shark tourism development company. Over the past several years Shark Divers has done a number of pro-shark media pieces, including an award winning shark conservation series for Televisa in Mexcio. Shark Divers remains committed to pro-shark productions, decrying industry members and production companies who depict sharks as simple ravening killers or who conduct stunt work with sharks under the guise of conservation. In a time of profound crises for most shark species productions that denigrate sharks diminish conservations ability to enact regional and worldwide protections for them. Shark Divers has gone on to work with many of the the major news media outlets, Discovery Channel, documentary crews and even Playboy TV. Shark Divers ongoing mandate is to work only with pro-shark pro-industry productions.
Shark Diver becomes involved in the multi-national effort to get Chinese B2B web portal, Alibaba.com, to cease sales of shark fins on its platform. Shark Diver coins the term “NY Stock Exchange for Shark Fin” to describe the volume of shark fins sold on this platform. Shark Diver rolls out a series of high profile media awareness pieces targeting Yahoo! inc 40% stake in this company.
Over the next two years Shark Diver places news hits with ABC News, CNN, NBC, Business Week Magazine and follow up interviews. The goal for these media hits is to elevate the message, hopefully impacting investors and management within Yahoo! inc. In 2009 Alibaba.com does a complete reversal and ceases all sales of shark fin on its site and on sister sites.
Shark Diver creates, brands and completes the media roll out for the Guadalupe Conservation Fund website. The website is designed to educate the public and channel private funds into conservation projects for Isla Guadalupe and the ongoing CICIMAR project studying white sharks. In 2008 the website is turned over to the International Community Foundation with a broader mandate to support a growing numbers of shark conservation project within Mexico. This project is ongoing.
Shark Diver contacts Dr.Peter Klimley from the U.C Davis Telemetry Lab and Dr. Felipe Galvan from Mexico’s CICIMAR in regards to the first ever cooperative cross border shark tagging and tracking effort at Isla Guadalupe. The project is managed by Dr. Maurico Hoyos with a mandate to tag and track white sharks using external, internal tags, place and monitor listening base stations around Guadalupe and conduct DNA sampling.
The data from this groundbreaking project is changing the way we understand the local movement patterns of Guadalupe white sharks, population density, and feeding patterns. Shark Diver was the first and only commercial shark diving company in the USA to initiate a program of this scale in Mexico. The program is ongoing.
It’s been an amazing decade for us here at Shark Diver, and we have not been alone in this wonderful journey. Along the way we have met and become friends with some of the most creative folks in the industry. Folks who have lead the industry in new directions by example, and who have steadfastly made sharks and the conservation of these magnificent animals their top priority.
To sum up our feelings about commercial shark diving and our industry we’ll leave you with this blog post from 2008. The climate for sharks in 2008 was not the same as it is today. Back just a few years ago there were only a few NGO’s pushing for shark conservation efforts and most commercial shark diving operations did not consider conservation as a high priority.
Thanks to the efforts of a few industry leaders much of that has changed, but there’s still a long way to go.
There’s an old French saying “Noblesse Oblige”.
It roughly translates in to Noble Obligation. Those who are on the front lines of an issue and who can effect change have a noble obligation to do so.
That brings us to the state of commercial shark diving worldwide. The industry is valued at $300-400 million dollars and for the most part, operators are content to show divers sharks, make money and repeat. Without a doubt the current state of “Noblesse Oblige” in our industry is at an all-time low.
Let me qualify this statement before the angry emails start. In our world, effecting change with sharks goes beyond just interacting with these animals on a commercial level or aligning ourselves with non-profits that are doing all the heavy lifting. You have to be engaged, you have to create directional focus and motivate people who might not consider it, to be active in the shark community. Let’s face it with 80 million sharks being killed each and every year there’s little room anymore for fence sitters who are content to just make money diving with sharks.
Operators should be bound by “Noblesse Oblige” to create conservation efforts outside their operations. That means real and lasting projects that further the protection of sharks, shark science, and conservation.
Having said this, there are some simply stunning projects out there that are fully supported by many forward thinking commercial shark diving operations. They are, unfortunately, the minority of the industry and we can do much better beyond a few online petitions, some POS material on a vessel, and an eco-chat with our guests.
As front line sentinels, operators from California to South Africa are often the first to report trouble, and have a key insight into the health and direction of local shark populations. One of the misnomers is that real and effective shark conservation costs a lot of money, it does not.
It does take time and effort beyond operations.
There are many within the shark community who are trying to make every year ‘The Year of the Shark.’ To that may we add “Tiburon Noblesse Oblige”… the hope that operations worldwide look to where they can become involved, create local efforts, websites, focus, and direction.
We cannot allow shark NGO’s to shoulder the shark conservation burden alone. Noblesse Oblige can and will effect lasting change for shark conservation.
Time is a luxury that sharks, unfortunately, do not have.