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illegal shark fins confiscated

Illegal shark fins confiscated in Costa Rica

illegal shark fins confiscated

Illegal shark fins confiscated in Costa Rica

One week ago, on November 19th, inspectors from SENASA, the National Animal Health Service, discovered shark fins from protected species in cargo being exported to Hong Kong. The fins included those from the oceanic whitetip shark as well as several types of hammerheads. These species were recently added to CITES appendix II and are no longer allowed to be traded.

The fins were identified with the help of Pretoma, during a training session. These training exercises are being conducted to help customs officials identify fins that belong to protected species and separate them from ones that are allowed to be exported.

The illegal shark fins were found in a random sample inspection of just three 40 kilogram sacks slated for export. As a result of the find, all 50 sacks were returned to the port town of Puntarenas and not allowed for export. So far, no legal actions have been filed against the exporters. A Pretmoa biologist said that there are many guilty parties in the entire export process and it would be unfair to blame the exporters alone.

Officials reported that both UPS and China Airlines cooperated with the investigation. It seeks to identify loopholes in the inspection process when it comes to the export of shark fins. There are several stages of inspection before the fins arrive at the airport for exportation, the last of which is at a processing plant and overseen by a veterinarian who is supposed to determine if banned species are among the fins.

"Clearly, the system is fallible and inefficient, the facts speak for themselves”

The investigation is calling on authorities to take a close look at the processing plant’s veterinarian, stating that he either signed off on the cargo without inspection, or knew the cargo contained banned species and simply looked the other way.

We certainly hope that inspections like these will be one of the first true enforcement measures for the recent policy changes and species protection. As we mentioned in a previous post, workshops are being held worldwide to help those responsible for identifying the fins of protected species.

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News on Shark Fining

dusky shark rescue atlas epic diving

Dusky Shark Rescue featured by Oceana

We were thrilled to share the story of Atlas with Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation.  They recently launched a campaign to bring awareness of the serious population declines of the dusky shark, and their desperate need for protection.

dusky shark rescue atlas epic diving

On the road to recovery, Atlas the Dusky Shark is free from his rope

Atlas was a large male dusky shark that came by our boat during this past Oceanic Whitetip Shark Diving season on Cat Island.  He had gotten his head caught in a rope which was causing a large wound circling his entire head.  Although a large adult shark, he was clearing very thin, even starving.  The rope was around his gills and pinning down one of his pectoral fins.  He was swimming awkwardly and unlikely to be able to hunt.  Atlas was not shy swimming among the group of divers and oceanic whitetip sharks.  After some time, he was getting closer and closer to us and it was obvious how serious his condition was.  We knew that if he rope was not removed, he would surely die.  We decided we had to make an attempt to cut him free.  The group, lead by Amanda Cotton of A Cotton Photo agreed to suspend their dive so that the crew could attempt the rescue.  It was uncertain how the dusky shark would react, and the group waited patiently on the boat to decrease the risk.

The shark swam slowly right up to the the three of us and Deb, Vin, and Amanda were able to cut the rope off and document the rescue.  It was one of our most rewarding experiences in the ocean and are so happy Oceana shared the story.

Here is an infographic from Oceana about the dusky sharks.  Check out their website for more great information.

dusky shark rescue

The Dusky Shark is in serious need of protection

Dusky Shark Rescue

Humane Society for protecting sharks and rays

Sharks & Rays – New Protections

The Humane Society International helps to implement new protections for Sharks and Rays

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora granted historic new protections to 5 species of shark this past September. They include the Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Porbeagle, and three species of Hammerhead (scalloped, smooth, and great). Now, in response to this protection, agents have the daunting task of picking out these fins from the mountains of fins that are unloaded off ships or prepared for flights.

The Humane Society International has helped organized workshops around the world so that experts and agents may get together to formulate a plan for enforcement. So far, they have taken place in Brazil, Senegal, India, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, with Colombia scheduled next month.

Humane Society for protecting sharks and rays

Demian Chapman, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences has been a leader at these workshops. Demian was recently awarded the 2014 Fellowship in Marine Science from PEW.

“Many shark species, including those listed on CITES, simply can’t keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand. “Protective measures must be scaled up significantly and enforced in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extirpation of some shark populations in our lifetime.” -Demian Chapman

We’re proud to have worked with Demian during his ongoing research on Cat Island with the Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. Much of his groundbreaking work has offered new insights in the species and helped push for their protection. He is truly an advocate for sharks and conducts his research in the least invasive ways currently possible.

Humane Society International

Tens of millions of sharks are killed annually to meet the demand for shark fin soup—an unsustainable rate that is driving some populations to near-extinction. Many are killed by the cruel practice of finning, in which fishermen cut the fins off a live shark, then dump the animal back into the water to die slowly.

Learn more information here.

oceanic whitetip shark diving

Global Protection for the Oceanic Whitetip

Landmark conservation efforts went into effect for three species of sharks and all species of manta rays that start a long road to recovery for these decimated animal populations.

In March 2013, Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) added porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great, and smooth), as well as all species of manta ray to CITES Appendix II. Appendix II-listed species can be traded, but only if the trade is legal and does not cause detriment to the species in the wild.

Under these new rules, international trade in sharks that are commercially exploited in large numbers, like the oceanic whitetip, will be regulated for the first time.

Implementing the regulations, of course, will be the major obstacle to truly protecting sharks, like the oceanic whitetip. However, this does reflect the crucial shift in thinking that is the first step towards true protection.

oceanic whitetip shark

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Interested in diving with this rare shark species? Click here to learn more about our oceanic whitetip shark diving expeditions.

dusky shark rescue atlas

Dusky Shark Rescue

During this past Oceanic Whitetip Shark Diving season on Cat Island, the crew at Epic Diving successfully rescued a dusky shark in desperate need of help.

The crew and guests of our annual A Cotton Photo expedition were horrified to see a large male dusky shark arrive near the boat with a very deep wound around his head. The animal never got close that first day, but we were able to see a large rope, presumably discarded fishing gear, that was tightly wrapped around his neck, just behind the gills. He was rather skittish and would not approach any of the divers, so we never had a chance to intervene.

epic diving dusky shark rescue

Male dusky shark suffers deep wound from discarded fishing gear

On the very next day, we were all surprised that he returned to the boat. This day, his behavior was much different. He came very close to the group and it was quickly apparent just how significant his predicament was. Not only could we see how deeply the rope had dug into his skin, but one of his pectoral fins was pinned back, and the shark was incredibly skinny. He was a large male with a disproportionally huge head on his emaciated body.

Everyone agreed, we had to do something. This shark was dying a slow death. We worked slowly and cautiously to feed the shark a few bits of fish, we he gladly ate up. After realizing that he was approaching closely and confidently, we put our plan in motion to free him from the rope.

The guests were very courteous giving up there time in the water with 5 Oceanics and the dusky, so that we could attempt the rescue as safely as possible. Vincent and Debra Canabal, owners of Epic Diving, along with Amanda Cotton, the expedition leader, slipped back into the water with a few tools, and cameras. We used some more bait to lure the shark closer to us, as well as to distract him from our mission. We were all fearful that we’d only get one attempt at the rescue. If the shark felt pain or threat, he’d likely take off and we’d never seem him again.

As the shark came in, we managed to get right behind his head (and mouth) as he approached to bait. As gentle as possible, the rope was lifted from his flesh and a pair of Tripura shears made quick work to cut it off. While doing this, the shark rolled over completely epithelial a bit if thrashing, and spun right out if the rope.

At that same moment, all 5 oceanic whitetip sharks changed their behavior immediately. They simultaneously charged at the divers and dusky shark in a rather agitated way. Fortunately, the crew was able to keep the oceanics at bay and they won pent back to their normal, calm behavior just as quickly as they changed.

The dusky shark stayed with the group for another few hours and we all wished him well as the boat pulled away.

dusky shark rescue epic diving

Vincent Canabal, Debra Canabal, and Amanda Cotton just after freeing Atlas

Once back on the surface, we reAlized why the oceanics behavior changed so suddenly. The rope that was around his neck smelled worse than the chum we used and we believe the oceanics were simply trying to join the kill they likely thought we initiated. With the obviously wounded shark, the smell from the wound, and the rolling dusky, the oceanics must have thought we went in for the kill. As soon as they realized the dusky was fee, swimming better than before, they backed off.

It was a truly incredible and rewarding experience. Amanda Cotton gave Atlas his name, very fitting give the experience. We all hoped to see him again, but would have to wait nearly a month for that.

A few weeks after the incident, the crew was thrilled to see him come back up our chum slick. Atlas was back, and looked so much better. The top, deepest part, of the wound had almost completely closed and he he certainly gained weight. From that day on, he was a daily visitor to the boat, and let’s just say, we tried to fatten him up. He remained a reliable visitor for the rest of our season and we are anxious to see if he’ll be around next year.

Dusky Shark Rescue

Scuba Diving Magazine

dusky shark rescue in scuba diving magazine

Featured Video

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protect oceanic whitetip sharks

Protect Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

oceanic whitetip sharks at CITES

Proposed Threatened Listing for the Oceanic Whitetip SharkOceanic Whitetip Sharks proposed for CITES protection

This information was sent out by PEW to help get people involved in this part of shark legislation. You can find the info on PEW’s site here.

On the site, you can enter your information and send the email out to your Senators, Representative, and Secretary Kenneth ‘Ken’ Lee Salazar. The whole process takes less than a minute, and could help raise awareness among the decision makers about the depth of the problem.

Here’s the email that will be forwarded on your behalf:

Dear [Decision Maker],
The global demand for shark fins, meat, liver oil, and other products has driven numerous shark populations to the brink of extinction. Their life history characteristics, such as slow growth, late maturation, and production of few offspring, make sharks particularly vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover from decline.

In particular, global populations of oceanic whitetip sharks have fallen significantly. They are listed as Critically Endangered in the Northwest and Central Atlantic Ocean, and Vulnerable globally, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In the Gulf of Mexico, scientists estimate that oceanic whitetip populations have dropped by 99 percent in just over four decades.

Although a few countries and regional fisheries management organizations have started to take steps to address the worldwide decline of oceanic whitetip sharks, these measures do not have the global reach that a listing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) would have in helping this vulnerable species. The next opportunity to protect additional species under CITES will be in March 2013 in Bangkok.

The United States proposed listin oceanic whitetip sharks at the last CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP), but it narrowly missed being adopted. A U.S. proposal for oceanic whitetip sharks for the March 2013 CoP could help protect an extremely vulnerable shark species and would be noncontroversial in the United States, considering that only $1,057 worth of oceanic whitetip sharks landings have been reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service in the past decade. Although the clock is ticking, the U.S. government has not formally announced its intentions for the upcoming CITES CoP.
I am writing to urge you to ensure that the United States submits a proposal to list oceanic whitetip sharks on Appendix II of CITES and to do so far enough in advance of the Oct. 4 deadline to allow other governments to co-sponsor it.

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]

It really only takes under one minute to get it done, and you’ll receive a confirmation from each of the officials letting you know your voice was heard.

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

Interested in diving with this rare shark species? Click here to learn more about our oceanic whitetip shark diving expeditions.

Map of the Bahamas

A win for shark protection proponents

GREAT news today! The government of the Bahamas agreed to pass legislation to prohibit the export of any shark or shark product from the Bahamas. Thanks to the Bahamas National Trust, PEW, Guy Harvey Research Institute, and all those who who supported this project. A special thanks to the local community on Cat Island for joining us at the meeting and signing the petition. It was an honor to be a part of this!

Read the full story here

pew trust

PEW fights for Sharks at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

The Pew Environment Group for sharks

PEW remains one of the leading conservation groups with an active voice towards shark protection. The group is attending the IUCN World Conservation Congress, sometimes described as the world’s biggest “trade show” for conservation and development. This year it will be held Sept. 6-15 in Jeju, South Korea.

This large global conservation event, bringing together some 4,000 delegates from governments and conservation organizations, aims to improve how we manage our interactions with the natural environment.

Pew is attending the conference to highlight a number of conservation issues and ensure that some of the biggest marine and terrestrial conservation challenges facing the world today are adequately addressed.

This is their statement on Global Shark Conservation:

The overfishing of sharks and resulting depletion of shark populations and species around the world risks the health of entire ocean ecosystems. Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year primarily to support the global shark fin industry, which supplies the market for an Asian luxury dish, shark fin soup.

Pew is extremely concerned that 30 percent of assessed shark and ray species around the world are classified by the IUCN Red List as threatened or near-threatened with extinction, and alarmed that approximately two-thirds of the shark species commonly caught in high seas fisheries are classified as vulnerable.

At the Congress, Pew is working with many partners on a motion to urge all shark range and fishing States to prohibit fishing vessels from retaining any sharks listed as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened on the IUCN Red List, unless a science-based management plan is in place for the species.

Pew would like to see the IUCN Congress adopt a motion urging governments to take strong, meaningful action for shark conservation—whether within their waters or on the high seas—including strong management and enforcement efforts, and international cooperation.

Pew Protects Sharks

Pew is extremely concerned that 30 percent of assessed shark and ray species around the world are classified by the IUCN Red List as threatened or near-threatened with extinction
nternational union for conservation of nature

Oceanic Whitetip Shark – IUCN’s Assessment

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

The IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature, recently published the report from their Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group. The report can be downloaded in it’s entirety here.

Here’s an excerpt from their section on Oceanic Whitetip Sharks. It’s scary to see the dramatic reduction of animals throughout the oceans, particularly what’s happening in the Nothwest and Western Central Atlantic. The regional data their suggests a 99.3% reduction of the Oceanic Whitetip Shark population over just the past 40 years. While data varies in quality and there is not doubt insufficient data for precise measurements, fishing pressures need to be dramatically reduced while these calculations are fine-tuned. The current pace is moving at a terrifyingly unsustainable pace.

Global: Vulnerable

The Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) is a formerly widespread and abundant large oceanic shark subjected to fishing pressure virtually throughout its range. It is caught in large numbers as a bycatch in pelagic fisheries, with pelagic longlines, probably pelagic gillnets and handlines, and occasionally pelagic and even bottom trawls. Catches, particularly in international waters, are inadequately monitored. Its large fins are highly prized in international trade although the carcass is often discarded. Fishery pressure is likely to persist if not increase in the future. Outside of the areas detailed below, this species is under similar fishing pressure from multiple pelagic fisheries and there are no data to suggest that declines have not also occurred in these areas, given there are similar fisheries throughout the range. As such, a precautionary global assessment of Vulnerable is considered appropriate for the Oceanic Whitetip Shark. Efforts are underway to improve the collection of data from some regions and effective conservation and management of this species will require international agreements.

Northwest & Western Central Atlantic: Critically Endangered

The Oceanic Whitetip Shark is assessed as Critically Endangered in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic because of the enormous declines that have been reported. Two estimates of trends in abundance from standardized catch rate indices were made from independent datasets. An analysis of the U.S. pelagic longline logbook data between 1992 and 2000, which covers the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic regions, estimated declines of 70%. An analysis of the Gulf of Mexico, which used data from U.S. pelagic longline surveys in the mid-1950s and U.S. pelagic longline observer data in the late-1990s, estimated a decline of 99.3% over this 40 year time period or 98% over three generations (30 years). However, changes in fishing gear and practices over this time period were not fully taken into account in the latter analysis, and there is currently debate as to whether or not these changes may have resulted in an under- or overestimation of the magnitude of these declines.

nternational union for conservation of nature

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List

Interested in seeing this rare shark species? Click here to learn more about our oceanic whitetip shark diving expeditions.

Published by: IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group, Vancouver, Canada.
Copyright: © 2012 IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group.

man vs shark infographic

Sharks! It’s a Numbers Game.

Spend 1 minute and take a look at this video below. It’s well organized PSA on the problems facing sharks, and the oceans in general. Spread the word and help shark conservation!

Here’s an infographic showing the danger to sharks.