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Richard Peirce


Richard Peirce

Sharks are fish well that's pretty obvious. Has Richard finally discovered a blinding truth, or gone nuts? No... the reason I made that obvious statement is that being labelled 'fish' is a huge problem for sharks and not always fair. Of course they are fish, but makos, threshers, white sharks and porbeagles are all semi-warm blooded, and like mammals, produce live young. The 'fish' tag means they are a food source for humans and therefore fair game. Cetaceans are not generally regarded as food by most of us. They have a human-friendly image, as air breathers, they are more visible, and therefore benefit from much more protective legislation around the world than sharks do. In terms of names it's almost as if there's an anti-shark conspiracy. When presented on menus and sales boards angel sharks are often called monkfish, and spurdog sharks are often referred to as rock salmon. It would be really interesting to label them properly and see if there was any effect on sales.
Halcyon Eclipse Infinity
While we're on the subject of eating and table manners it seems that white sharks are picky eaters, which probably explains why they are not interested in consuming humans. I was on the phone to my friend Chris Fallowes in South Africa last autumn and he made me green with envy when he told me he had spent all day watching white sharks feeding on a dead eleven-metre whale in False Bay, South Africa.

The feeding was also observed by Alison Koch, a researcher from the Save Our Seas Foundation who commented, "Contrary to their reputation as mindless killers, the level of selectivity for which parts of the dead whale they ate was extraordinary. They targeted the energyrich blubber, often making repeated 'test bites' where no flesh was removed, and removing flesh only once they had determined it was what they wanted. If they got a mouthful of muscle, they often spat it out". She said their feeding patterns may shed light on why over seventy per cent of white shark attacks on people are 'bite and release'. "It is evidence that when they bite into a surfboard or person wearing a wet suit, they can immediately determine it's not something they want to eat".
Also, last autumn the Blue Reef Aquariums popped up twice on my radar. I was in the Gulf organising this April's Shark Conservation Society research expedition in Bahrain when I got a call from the Newquay Blue Reef saying they had had a juvenile Blue shark handed in which had been found being bashed about by the surf on a north Cornish beach. They were trying to keep the young shark alive by swimming it forward, but while this was keeping it alive, it wasn't strong enough to swim by itself. Sadly the animal was put down. What's interesting is what was a blue shark doing so close to shore? Our pelagic trips go out anything from eight to twenty miles to find blue sharks. They are almost unheard of right inshore. My guess is that this little animal had been caught on rod and line, released, and then disorientated it swam inshore and in a weakened state got bashed up and washed onto the beach. We'll never know what happened but I don't think my guess is far away.

Another shark, a 4 ft 5 inch starry smoothound female was caught on rod and line last autumn in the Channel and ended up in the Southsea Blue Reef aquarium. This was a breeding age female and this species breeds in captivity, and is one of our species whose population is under least threat.

We write these columns several weeks, sometimes a month or two in advance of publication so it's difficult to be bang up to date with conservation news and developments. Nevertheless at the time of writing in mid December the conservation community were hoping that the UK government would take a strong position at the December Fisheries Council, and support the EU Commission's position which we expect will deliver on the pledges made in 2009 which were:

A continuation of the zero TAC (total allowable catch) and bycatch ban on porbeagle sharks, a zero TAC for the spurdog shark (spiny dogfish). Prohibition on the landings of white shark, basking shark, angel shark, common skate, white skate and undulate ray.

In early December, the news was dominated by WikiLeaks and Sharm el Sheikh. The leaks sent the U.S. Government running for diplomatic cover, and in Sharm el Sheikh panicked swimmers and snorkelers deserted the seas following a series of shark attacks in this popular Red Sea destination. Sharm el Sheikh attracts millions of tourists a year, many of them divers, and on Tuesday November 30 a Russian swimmer emerged from the water streaming blood from leg wounds. Moments later another Russian man, and then a woman were attacked. The next day brought the fourth attack, this time on a Ukranian man. Beaches were closed and two sharks were caught, a mako and an oceanic whitetip. Local authorities claimed that these sharks were the animals which had attacked the humans. However a photo taken by a diver of one the oceanics responsible for one of the attacks didn't match that of the oceanic which was caught and killed. During the attacks, arms and legs were severed and two of the victims were said to be in critical condition. On Sunday December 5 came the fifth attack and this time it proved fatal when a seventy-year old German female snorkeler was killed by a shark, suspected to be another oceanic whitetip. The Egyptian authorities flew in shark experts to try and establish the cause/s behind the attacks. It may be that by the time you read this the causes are known, but at the time of writing the speculation was that the sharks had been brought inshore by various illegal chumming activities or by dead sheep being dumped from animal transporting ships. What is not speculation is that the sharks were almost certainly reacting to manmade events or circumstances and the image of sharks and shark conservation efforts will suffer.
Aquamarine Silver
We are allowed to plug our products, so here's a plug for my latest book 'Shark Attack Britain', which came out at the end of last year. The book is selling well and I think it's fair to say that it gives a new twist to shark attacks and will surprise you. Together with 'Sharks in British Seas' (book and DVD), and 'Sharks off Cornwall & Devon', 'Shark Attack Britain' can be bought either from the Shark Conservation Society Shark Shop or from NHBS or Amazon.
Diving Chamber Treatment Trust

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