Great White Sharks: With Chris Fallows


One of the most famous and feared sharks in today's oceans... The Great White Shark. The movie Jaws, many fear mongering 'documentaries' on Shark Week and TV and decades of misleading headlines and stories in the media, are just some of the main reasons that the great white has such a bad reputation and global misunderstanding. We recently teamed up with South African great white and shark expert Chris Fallows (as seen on TV) of Apex Shark Expeditions, to talk about great whites, other sharks and find out some more truths behind the ever impressive and beautiful species. Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias).


**KEY: SAI = Shark Aid International. CF = Chris Fallows.




SAI: In your experience, what would you say is the most common misconception of great white sharks?
CF: That there are a lot of them and that their population is growing because of protection. This simply is not true. Our data, collected daily over the past 18 years does not support this. Added to this is the fact that in South Africa we still have the worlds largest Great White Shark killing organisation, the KZN Sharks Board which kills between 11-60 great whites each year. There are dedicated shark long lining permits given out by the South African government and there is sport fishing for great whites, the fact that it is termed "Protected" is a farce. The only thing that keeps them alive, for example in South Africa, is eco tourism and a few dedicated individuals and organisations.


SAI: Some of your photos and films are truly incredible and capture great whites in a most natural way. How would you describe great whites and why should people ignore the fear mongering headlines and negative feelings surrounding them?
CF: Thank you. I would describe the great white as a evolutionary masterpiece that is magnificent in every way. Added to this is the fact that the longer you spend with them the more you appreciate each ones unique personality and just what a privilege it is to have them in our oceans. 




SAI: What can people do in their own communities and local areas to increase awareness for sharks?
CF: Start eco-tourism projects that take tourists out to see or dive with the sharks. There are so many shark enthusiasts out there that even small less spectacular species still attract lots of tourists. In this way local people derive an income from the sharks, add to a tourists list of opportunities in an area and most importantly attach a value and appreciation to keeping the sharks alive.

SAI: South africa is one of, if not the main home for great whites and they are mostly well respected and admired in South Africa. What makes south African waters so special for white sharks?
CF: Many South Africans who have seen great whites or done research into them have an appreciation of them. It is almost always those who have never bothered to get out there and see the sharks for themselves who do not value their presence along our coast. In terms of what makes the coast so special is that it is home to an incredible cross section of shark and prey species with both tropical, temperate and cool water environments been found on our coast. This makes it an area that sustains huge volumes of bait fish and in turn a massive seal population. This coupled with the previously ample supply of smaller shark species means that the great white has both it's preferred winter and summer prey available along long stretches of our coast and the perfect environment for them to live in.

SAI: Alex, Shark Aid International's founder and director has been to South Africa and dove with great white sharks. It was a life changing experience for him and many others that do it. Why is cage diving a great way to promote sharks and show the public the truth behind the majestic animals?
CF: Quite simply it is only through exposure to something that we develop an interest or passion in it. When people see a great white shark in the flesh, especially if it is done in a way that showcases the beauty and majesty of these animals then there are few who do not go home wanting to see it again and make an effort to help promote it's conservation.



SAI: More and more people seem to be getting in the ocean each year, thus "more shark attacks are happening" around the world. This is a common myth that needs some attention. What can you say about modern day shark and human interaction?
CF: It will always happen that there are rare interactions that result in attacks. The only way to prevent it is either to stay out of the water or kill all of the sharks. Neither of these things are a good option, especially the latter. With better understanding of the predatory sharks habits people can do a huge amount to cut down the already very small risk that they take when they enter the ocean. With less than 10 fatal shark attacks globally each year and more than 100 million sharks being killed by humans it is a very clear case of who should be fearing who. 

SAI: What can other countries and regions take from south african shark management to better protect the global shark population? 
CF: Very sadly I do not think South Africa is a shining example anymore. Whilst the sharks are protected here on paper there is zero enforcement of laws and it is only eco tourism operators who have a vested interest in the sharks as well as a handful of scientists and even smaller number of government officials who are actually trying to keep sharks alive. South Africa still has an active shark long lining fishery for both pelagic as well as demersal sharks and has as mentioned the largest great white culling program on the planet. This is not a good example. I would say the best way to protect sharks is to empower people to make a living out of them through eco tourism and if fishing for sharks is to be allowed, to do the research first and see what stocks are like rather than believe what fishermen tell those who issue the permits.

SAI: Along with great whites, what other species of shark inhabit south african waters?
CF: More than 120 other species! Making our coast amongst the most shark rich in terms of diversity in the world.

SAI: Can you share one of your most fond and favourite experiences in the water with great white sharks?
CF: I guess my most amazing experience was watching a minimum of 28 different great whites and perhaps as many as 40 feeding on a 11m long whale carcass in 2000. It was simply incredible watching their social structure break down and huge 15ft sharks lying next to each other, pecs overlapping as they gorged themselves on the fat and energy rich blubber, WOW that really was phenomenal!



SAI: Where can people go to find our more about what you do?
CF: Check out www.apexpredators.com or subscribe to my wife Monique's Free newsletter on this site that gives each months highlights with the various sharks, species and locations that we work at. It is a great way for people to live vicariously through the amazing lives we have with these and other remarkable marine creatures and hopefully get motivated to join us or another eco tourism company where they can see live sharks for themselves.

A Closer Look At Nurse Sharks

We have recently been working with shark organisations around the South Florida area to see what they do to help spread a positive message about shark conservation. Whether it's shark diving, educational projects, photography, we have seen what they do first hand. This post is focused on one of the projects we really thought was a great initiative to help educate the public about sharks and further diminish the misunderstanding and horrible reputation that sharks have.


22nd February 2014, we visited the marine park Theater Of The Sea. Since early 2013 they have been offering a close up encounter with the beautiful Nurse Sharks that are local to the Florida area. The chance to see sharks up close, touch them (respectfully) and swim with them, we thought was a great idea, albeit it is in captivity, but this is not an aquarium. Theater Of The Sea's shark programme is definitely a good idea/tool to help educate the public about sharks!

Our liaison for the day way Lacey Russell, she has been working with these sharks for 2 years. We started off with a talk about the handling of the sharks, their management within the park and how the programme has been going since it started. We were pleased to hear that the sharks are very popular and people have shown keen interest and want to be in the water with them and see them up close.

Dentricles (Skin) of a Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

So once orienteering was over, it was time to get in the water!
The water is brought in straight from the Atlantic ocean, with a pump system that circulates the water. There are also natural surroundings such as mangroves and other plant life so the sharks are in an environment, built based on their natural habitat. They have been trained to learn certain things, feeding, recall, but apart from this, their behaviour was similar to the way they are in the wild. The were very shy and hesitant at first, but as the day went on, they became more and more confident.

Susana (left) & Alex (right) carefully holding Mabel & Coco
We gently walked into the water, careful not to distress the sharks and sat down on a submerged bench, where the feeding takes place. We were introduced to the 5 sharks they have here and one by one, got to meet them individually. We held them correctly, had them swimming around us and fed them some of their favourite diet. Squid.

video

Coco, the largest male has definitely made it known he is the dominant shark there. He was the most confident and energetic and put himself first in line to be fed. Each shark is specifically fed with their individual requirements and favourite foods. Maintaining the natural amount they would consume daily to keep them in the best health possible.

It was very clear the sharks are well looked after and it was a pleasure to see the sharks behaving so closely to how they would in the wild. If they didn't want to be held, fed or handled they can swim away and move around as they want, with no intervention.

We would never condone touching a shark in the wild, but in this well formed and controlled environment, with the passionate shark team they have, we definitely left feeling that they are doing something worthwhile for sharks at Theater Of The Sea. Children and adults can really learn about nurse sharks and through them, realise sharks are not mindless killing machines. They are incredibly complex, instinctive animals that given the opportunity can show you the truth, each species is so different from each other and they are all incredible, placid and misunderstood animals that deserve a positive reputation and continued protection.






Swimming with Nurse Sharks & Keys Shark Diving

20th of July 2013; Shark Aid International went on a wonderful snorkel trip with Keys Shark Diving. It was a trip that served two purposes; of course to swim with sharks and also to establish a partnership between our two organisations for future work and trips together, for both us and anyone wishing to explore the amazing reef and swim with some Nurse Sharks, and various other marine life - the trip was a great success!

On this snorkel trip, 3 and a 1/2 miles off Marathon in the Florida Keys, we shared the water with all kinds of wonderful and spectacular wildlife! We saw Grunts, Snappers, Rays, Parrotfish, and of course SHARKS! We also saw a juvenile Cuttlefish and some beautiful and healthy reefs!

Then after the array of marine life, the Nurse Sharks arrived. Ranging in sizes from a tiny 3 feet to a large 8/9 foot big shark. They were all very docile and so beautiful under the water, swimming peacefully and gracefully the entire time. It seems like the 'big boys' of the group are in charge (when are they not?) because not long after they arrived, the smaller ones left the spot! They were around our location for 3/4 hours during our snorkel, which was amazing because they provided us with some really nice footage and photos.

Nurse sharks sometimes get a bad wrap for not being as 'exciting' or 'cool' as the other species,
but we were very excited by their presence and we find them extremely cool!

We then went to another location; deep reef. We waited patiently for an offshore deep sea shark and were happily surprised by what joined us, the tiniest baby Reef Shark any of us had ever seen! While we waited for other sharks to turn up we saw some other amazing animals and some in particular being Sunfish! Incredible!

As mentioned earlier, the trip served two purposes, and the final one was to establish a partnership between Shark Aid International and Keys Shark Diving. Be on the lookout for unique and tailored shark trips to reefs with Nurse sharks and offshore trips with Bull, Tiger, Hammerhead sharks and more! We will be working together to show you sharks in their natural habitat, whilst educating those who are new to them and maybe helping already shark enthusiasts learn some more about each species and get them out with these incredible animals! We are currently in the process of working out the details to make sure each trip is exciting, fun, informative and educational. For more information links are provided below.


See you in the water!


Written by Susana - US Coordinator, Shark Aid International

For more information and booking please email us at: sharkaidintl@live.com
Be sure to visit Keys Shark Diving's website too! www.keyssharkdiving.com

Great White Shark saved from entanglement! Shark Aid International and Marine Dynamics EXCLUSIVE!

Our good friends and biologists from Marine Dynamics provide regional protection for great white sharks through cage diving tourism, tagging projects and a watchful eye over them in their area. Due to the abundance of fish and marine life in South Africa, fishing is popular (amongst some). Because of this, sharks and other animals get caught up and entangled in nets and fishing lines and can be severely harmed and possibly killed. This blog entry is to show you just one of the accounts where Marine Dynamics free a shark from a fishing line, saving its life and setting it free! Shark Aid International covers this exclusively providing a summary and analysis of the situation.

The coast of Gansbaai, South Africa; a thriving marine ecosystem. Seals, whales, African penguins, and home to the ever impressive Great White Shark. With the abundance of white sharks in the area, there is a huge cage diving tourism attraction. One can get the chance to go out on a vessel with a professional team, experience seeing the amazing animal from the boat and underwater in the cage. An incredible experience for all! Shark lover or not!
     Marine Dynamics, part of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust aren't just a cage diving business. They actively contribute to the protection and sustaining of shark life. The cage diving gives people a chance to see white sharks up close and personal, providing a platform to educate the public and shark enthusiasts about the animal, its status and what needs to be done to help them.

Abandoned fishing gear like nets and lines cause great harm to the animals and the surrounding environment. As you can see from this video:

The Marine Dynamics crew free a Great White Shark from a fishing line

So as you would have just seen, together with a good team of people who care for the wildlife, the right tools and materials to carry out operations such as this, the great white shark and other animals can be saved. But unfortunately this is only one success. Many sharks face this same peril everyday and not all can be saved. Through learning more about these sharks, understanding their behaviours and movements we can share the knowledge and effectively increase awareness of what is happening to this incredible species and provide better protections.

Both Marine Dynamics and Shark Aid International work closely together to help raise awareness of what is happening to great white sharks and to provide a community in South Africa, of shark enthusiasts from both organisations.


Please join us at our websites:
Marine Dynamics - (http://www.sharkwatchsa.com/)
Shark Aid International - (http://sharkaidinternational.org)

Petitions Galore...


As promised, here is a list of current petitions for you shark lovers to sign and share amongst your friends. I've tried to gather ones to cover a wide variety of shark-related issues, and also many regions of the world. However, knowing there are endless petitions out there I haven’t included every one made. Also, petitions are complex, and need to be written well to ensure the intended level of protection is considered, or the right issues addressed, have correct background information and also aimed at the right people to ‘sort it out’. So I've tried to include ones I feel meet this ‘criteria’.

As well as banning shark fin imports, you can ban exports, the practice of shark finning in the first place, the sale, or the possession of shark fin. Almost all of these petitions in different areas are written differently. Obviously, to ban all shark products, and remove all man-made threats to sharks would be ideal too, but there are other petitions for that! We need to show that we care about these issues though, so maybe when some sorts of regulations are put in place that those are properly enforced, and have a better chance of not being ‘lifted’, or taken out of effect. The more pressure we put on governments the better, in my opinion. And after each failed attempt, we can only keep trying to relive the pressure currently crushing shark populations worldwide.

An example of a recent success, Project Aware petitioned for EU vessels, operating anywhere in the world, have to land sharks with their fins naturally attached. This means we know what species, how many were caught, and reduces the amount of sharks able to be exploited for their fins. However, vessels from other countries, will abide by their own laws, and illegal activities by certain EU vessels, unfortunately, is not guaranteed to not take place. Still, no doubt an achievement to be proud of and a hop, skip and a jump in the right direction! But let's keep going..

Fin Free/ Finning Practices
Let’s start with a big one. For a worldwide shark fin ban- 120,000+ and still going, let’s keep this up (there’s over 7 billion of us that *could* make a difference..


Ask major worldwide hotel chain, Hilton Hotels, to stop serving shark fin soup- everywhere! (Stop Finning)

Ask Muji, Japan to stop selling shark fin soup- Japan is an area to focus on, and this young activist definitely deserves a fins up!

For a ban on the sale, possession  distribution and consumption of shark fins in Calgary- By, Hannah, a passionate teenage activist (worth a follow on twitter @Bushbabey)


Shark Meat & By-products


(Tried to get some on shark meat but most are now closed, if you have any you’d like to share, please do!)

Hunting/ Culling of Sharks



I think I have the main ones, but there are many others and if you are looking for something area or issue specific, I suggest you Google away! Many are closed too. If any major ones spring to mind, I will add them in! If anyone has any they’d specifically like to share, please do so in the comments.

Finally.. If you were thinking of creating your own petition for your own cause (whatever it may be!), then I direct you to this blog post all about how not to write a petition. As I’ve said before, it should be well planned for the best possible effects! So, be my guest, change the world in your own little ways! 

Doing Your 'Bit'


Hello again shark lovers! I return once again to give you some ‘food for thought’.. I recently gave a talk at an Animal Aid meeting in Bournemouth, and the rather enthusiastic bunch were quite keen to hear how they could get involved. So, whilst we continue to work toward a few other (hopefully) upcoming projects, I thought I’d share a few things that you can easily do to ‘do your bit’ in saving sharks. So here goes..

First and foremost, signing petitions, including ours is a simple way of saving sharks whilst sitting comfortably on your bottom! These CAN be effective, if written well and presented to the right people in the right departments, and so on. They can range from stopping shark finning and the sale of shark meat, lobbying against culls and the use of shark exclusion nets, and probably almost all of the threats I listed in one of my previous posts. I will, as it seems apt, shortly be constructing a blog post with a series of petitions you can sign & share, and point you in the right direction of information on how best to create a petition, if you wish to do so!

Secondly, going ‘Fin Free’ seems to be a big thing at the moment and there are several initiatives in the UK coming up to get people (and counties/ cities) involved in this movement.  This kind of project requires a lot of effort and attention to detail, so I will hopefully be able to focus yet another blog post on this in the future and also personally be a part of pushing for one of these projects close to my home. So with this one, please watch this space!!
     In the meantime, shark fin and shark meat is sold in restaurants and markets all over the world. If you shark fin soup available, you can always put your thoughts forward about getting it removed from the menu- just make sure, again, you have a few facts to back yourself up. An unaggressive approach will most likely work best!
     Similarly, with shark meat, it is worth asking the fishermen/seller where they got it from, how it was caught, what species it is etc. Again, not to be offensive, as this will only cause conflict. If there is cause for concern, try to take the issue further and contact the appropriate legislative body. You’re probably not going to make the fishermen change his mind on the spot after all. The important thing is to always gather your research before making a proposal, and if you can, gather as much support as possible. Sharing your concerns with us, we can hopefully get other shark lovers to write the same/ similar email/ letter to the same people to put more pressure on the issue. It’s well worth a go.

Newspapers
are the shark lovers’ worst enemy. Most of them are all over ‘attacks’, little or big as they may be, and make sharks out to be the enemy. An unforgiving force of nature whose only aim is to consume the entire human race. Very often, they miss out or pay little attention to the fact that, as previously stated, these incidents are rare and require more research. They can also advocate the mistreatment of sharks, or potentially showcase such things as okay (depending on the views and impressionability of the reader).
     Now, to stop moaning about them and encourage you to ‘be the change’. Inform the newspaper (via email, or comment on the online article) that you are unhappy about the language used, the lack of correct information (always try to provide a source to back yourself up!), or whatever it is about the content that could affect the perception of sharks. If you’re lucky, they could take it down from the website or think twice about their next shark article. It’s a long shot with media folk, but worth a go, and as always the more voices, the better! It’s quite evident that conservation topics or animals in general needs much work in the media department.

The main lesson of the day is that every action counts, and we need to flag up all the little issues that are building up to this huge conservation problem. If you see something you do not like, then try to change it as best you can. Take the time to make a well thought out action plan in order to get the best results. If you fail, then keep trying! We are here if you need our help, and please email sharkaiduk@live.co.uk if you want any advice or assistance. We will always try to do our best!
     Please, if you will, share past, present or pending future experiences on this blog post, with regards to making a stand for what you believe in. Additional advice or information is always welcome, and most definitely as is inspiration from other projects or campaigns.  

Learn. Understand. Share.


Now I have explained why sharks need help and are important, the next thing I wanted to bring to the table is our current main objective. With regards to conservation topics it is well known that ‘education is key’. No word of a lie. It really is! If people don’t know about the issue, then it will continue to go un-noticed, and that probably means that it will worsen or created bigger issues. We try to educate through different means, as often as possible. Our social media sites keep supporters up to date with the latest shark news and research, whilst inspiring debate, and sharing thought provoking images. Of course these are our main source of advertisement for our personal events, projects and campaigns. Which brings me to my next three points..

We have attended & plan to attend all kinds of events. Bearing in mind most of these are funded out of our own pockets, and therefore we are limited somewhat. But when we run an event, we like to target the general public where we have a chance to introduce new facts which we can only hope stick in their minds and spread by word of mouth. I’ve personally only done a couple but its great interacting with the public and actually witnessing the learning process take place. It’s amazing! And for them to then want to shake your hand or ask to get involved gives you a sense that you have made a little bit of a difference! And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?.. You can stay aware of our up and coming events on Facebook, Twitter & our website.

One of our educational projects, we wish to continue & expand upon (Photo credit: 'So What?')

Now, projects! We plan to do many, but this is a case study we are particularly proud of. If you haven’t heard of ‘So What?’ you should have! Currently based in Manchester (wanting to spread further!), they run after school clubs about conservation topics- sharks included! Recently, we got in contact with them to see about helping each other out! We have a series of fact sheets on our downloads page on our website, and they happily used these in one of their clubs and the kids made the fantastic posters seen above! One pupil even went home and made a sculpture of a shark based on our anatomy fact sheet! See our Facebook album for more examples. Neither of us are teachers, and so being unable to teach ourselves, we are more than grateful to Matthew Payne for allowing us to contribute to his educational programme, and we plan to continue to support ‘So What?’ in any future projects concerning sharks. A real pleasure! Please take a few moments to visit the ‘So What?’ website, Facebook and Twitter and see what other fantastic things they do!

So we started out with a petition to campaign against the sale and harvest of shark fins in the UK & EU, which if you haven’t, please sign it here! Sharks and the oceans need a lot more of this kind of attention and we have various campaigns coming up. We don’t like to give away too much, but we will make you aware in due course. Again, please keep an eye out on our social media sites, and I will be posting on here too!

We hope to do as much 'educating' as we can, as we know the impact it can have, especially when concerning the next generation, as with ‘So What?’! The wonderful thing is (and this is where my inner geek comes out to play!) we never really stop learning, unless we want to. There are always new things to discover and share, and I hope this blog will be another means to do just that. 

I’m going to finish with a quote I picked up in a paper I used for my final project, which I believe to be very apt for the occasion and is a personal favorite  "..for in the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught"- Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist and poet.