Saturday, February 21, 2015

Great Hammerhead Shark Video Clip, Bimini, Bahamas

I just returned from a grueling trip to Bimini, Bahamas.  Bimini is the closest of the Bahamas Islands to the US.  It is only 60 miles from Miami.  Ironically, it's the most goddamn difficult island of the Bahamas that I've had to get to.  I've flown to Nassau in one day, filmed scenes for a commercial the next day, and flown all the way back home from Nassau on the third day, easily and without stress.  This trip was nowhere near as easy.  It was one of the most stressful trips I've had to take, because these days, if you miss your connection, you are sh** out of luck with the airlines and have to find a way home by relying on the largesse and professionalism of the airline that is supposed to fly you back. 

There is no reliable way to get to and from Bimini.  I'll write more, but I wanted to post a clip today.  I finally got back to my home today after three days of planes, ferries, and automobiles.  More on that later.  Here's a clip:

I was scheduled to dive with great hammerhead sharks for five days, but the trip was cut short by weather.  So I had one day of diving with these spectacular animals.  I got to Bimini on Saturday afternoon, flying Silver Airlines from Fort Lauderdale.  Unfortunately, most folks' checked luggage did not arrive with the flight.  (Silver Airlines had not made their scheduled flights for the three days before Saturday.  The small plane was packed with folks who had been stuck at the airport, literally, since Wednesday.  One couple on our trip had been forced to sleep overnight at the FLL airport because there were absolutely no hotels available anywhere within a 100 mile radius or more).

I therefore only had my GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition camera.  I had never used it underwater before -- just for surf videos and stills, and aerials with my drone.  I had no lights.  I had no way to hold the housing well.  But the next day we went out, and the sharks were there.  The good folks leading the trip let me dive with loaner gear but did not have any wetsuits, so I dove with just running shorts (sorry, everyone on the dive -- you saw my very large gut).

I am impressed with the GoPro footage.  This clip was shot at 1080 frames at 60p.  I then conformed it to 23.98 fps, so it is slowed down a bit.  These sharks are spectacular, very cool to see.

Thanks to Joe Romeiro and Bill Fisher of 333 Productions for organizing the trip, to Mike Black and Jamin Martinelli for working so hard for our group of divers (doing EVERYTHING needed), and the Bimini Big Game Lodge for being so understanding when we got weathered out.  And hey, I have to thank United Airlines for getting me back home relatively easily when my plans changed.  I usually complain about airlines, but United Airlines did good.

A last note:
I just saw on Facebook that our trip leader, Mike Black, a terrific and gentle guy, got beat up in Bimini a day after seeing most of our group off the island. If he got beat up by thugs sent by the competition, then that is really monstrous, vile, and shocking.  He may have voiced opposition to the tagging of these sharks. 

The older hammerhead sharks all had numerous tags on them; one or two had 4" squares of flesh ripped off behind their dorsal, probably from "researchers" who had caught them and glued tags on them, which then ripped off. I used to study marine biology, even was in the PhD program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. But I am now sickened and opposed to the constant, unending tagging of large marine animals.

Update 3-3-15: I've received a few comments from researchers.  One of the comments was the usual stuff that you get from any researcher who feels offended or disagrees with something you say.  "You're ignorant, you're an idiot, you are not qualified to say anything, etc."  

Another comment was actually more reasoned.  When I have the time, I'll post the comment and my answers.  Sean, if you read this, please send me your email address so that we can communicate directly and privately. 

As for tagging: Like anything else, too much of something can make that -- not a good thing. My strong opinion is that there's been too much tagging now. My friend and mentor Howard Hall wrote a good piece about the subject of tagging at:

Here's the concluding paragraph and a later comment from Howard after his article:
"A post-graduate credential often qualifies marine biologists for permits allowing the tagging of endangered animals as well as species in marine protected areas. As sport divers we generally celebrate these programs and accept the damage done to wildlife as a justified sacrifice in an effort to conserve ocean habitat and species. And I am sure many of these programs are critical in that regard. But I also suggest that, as members of the sport diving community, our acceptance should not be blind."

"Thanks for all your comments. After forty years watching the decline of wildlife in our oceans, this particular hypocrisy has become especially irritating for me. I read the report Melvin mentions about sea lions targeting salmon that are tagged with transmitters. An unforeseen consequence of tagging. And I would love for Tony to write about humpback fatalities due to tags. That should get the blood pumping. And it is great to hear the Rachel has moved from tags to photo IDs.
I'm presently at Tiger Beach. Earlier this year researchers caught and landed over forty tiger sharks, cut them open, and installed transmitters in their peritoneal cavities. A few of these sharks still come back to Tiger beach and you can see the stitched up incisions. Other sharks have disgustingly infested holes in their dorsal fins from bolt tags implanted years before. Just lovely."

Back to my thoughts: 
Tagging of marine life has reached ridiculous levels. I've seen images of researchers fishing and landing great white and tiger sharks, then lifting them on small boats to tag and otherwise manhandle them -- in the name of science. Who knows how many of these animals die after being so severely stressed? 
A bird biologist told me a story about researchers counting roseate spoonbill nests in Florida. Roseate spoonbills suffer from reduced/changed habitat. They are easily stressed and will leave their nesting areas. Researchers are concerned about their population. A study was proposed and funded, and researchers studied a population in one roosting area by rousting the birds off their nests, banding the parents, counting eggs and chicks, etc. They stressed the birds so much (not hard to do at all) that all the birds left the nesting area, their nests, and their eggs and chicks. In the name of science, these researchers managed to very quickly destroy one of the few remaining roosting sites preferred by these roseate spoonbills.

I am not a bird expert so some of my facts may be off-course, but I believe the basic premise that researchers disturbed a bird species enough that they left an uncommon nesting site. Here's what I found from a quick read of Audubon's archives:

"But a great many nests have failed on the other keys. Since the late 1970s spoonbills in the bay have re-nested if things have gone wrong, and I see signs that some failed nesters have moved over here to try again. Let's hope."
Attempts by many of the bay's breeding pairs to nest or re-nest often fail, as (despite Lorenz's hopes) they did this spring.


Steve Welch said...

Great Clip, Norbert!

Michele said...

Thanks for your post, Norb. Very enlightening...

182436hike said...

This is a comment from a shark researcher at the Shark Lab in Bimini:

"the shark he is talking about is an animal we have known for a year it has a nasty patch on his back. This animal was only tagged with a Casey external national marine fisheries service tag. That would never have produced such a mark. My guess is prop scar turned bad due to shark suckers. I guess this guy had no idea great hammers are endangered and the station founded the (dive) site."

Sean said...

Your blog post seems to have made its way around, and unfortunately not for the better. I'd like to make a few comments. Bimini is like most of the other Bahamian Out Islands. It can be frustrating coming and going at times but those of us used to traveling here have very few issues. It isn't like traveling to Nassau (as you've mentioned) or Freeport. They don't land 747s here and I think that is a great thing. The real Bahamas are places like Bimini, Cat Island, Andros, etc. Not exactly remote, but not exactly urban centers either. Bimini is easy to travel to, situated just 48 miles from Miami and 52 miles from Fort Lauderdale, you can come over by boat in a few hrs with good weather. Something you can't easily do in Nassau. Besides Florida, you can also catch flights daily from Nassau on Western Air or Sky Bahamas. I highly recommend this option. With a 9am flight and a 4pm flight on Western you can often travel from home to Bimini in the same day. Flamingo Air makes daily trips from Freeport making it another travel option. In reality Bimini is one of the easier islands to come and go from, by boat or plane. You just have to know where to look or have guides that actually know the islands.

In terms of Mike Black, I personally don't know him, however I can tell you his conspiracy theories are out to lunch. I believe he's removed all those postings and issued an apology. He'll be lucky if he doesn't face legal issues for his online rant. I think the really monstrous, vile and shocking actions were on his part for bashing the island and other operators here.

You mentioned that you were in a PhD program. I would expect someone with your education to research something before posting utter nonsense. I hate to say this but many of us got a good chuckle out of your comment. We all know exactly the shark you are talking about, or at least a couple that fit your description. The holes you are referring to are clearly bite marks from other sharks. They have been well documented this year and there are many pictures of them in various stages of healing. There are no tags being placed by "researchers" that are being glued on their backs. The actual tags have been placed by the Bimini Biological Field Station (SharkLab), who are the ones responsible for discovering this amazing site. They do this in the water, free diving, so as to not have to physically catch these relatively delicate animals. They have been placing tags on these animals long before any commercial dive boat came to Bimini. Thankfully many of the boats and divers support the research efforts. A number of them donate to the lab and have even purchased tags. One dive boat provides all the dive gear for the Shark Lab to deploy and collect the array of underwater receivers that is listening for and recording the presence of these animals.

The PEW Trust and BNT were both driving forces behind creating the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary and both support the Shark Lab. PEW just held an important shark meeting at the Big Game Club, because of the Shark Lab's role here in Bimini. It involved other Caribbean nation governments in the initial stages of a push to widen the protection of sharks from the Bahamas to a larger Caribbean wide area. International agreements like CITES, which we all hailed as a success with their recent additions, including hammerheads, rely heavily on scientific information and stock assessments. Without this information species listings are doomed to fail. It would be nice to see more people like you support the research efforts, especially in this case as you are diving in an established research site. I understand that the tags are often unsightly and I can respect that as an amateur underwater enthusiast myself, but there are bigger issues out there then your own personal images. I have no issue photoshopping out tags (and sometimes I do) so I would think someone of your reputation would be vastly better than I.

Jane said...

.The Bimini Sharklab also offers tours to the public and not only give an overview of the 25 years of research they have been doing along with answering any of your questions, but also gives a hammerhead research lecture to the diving tourists who are interested. It's obvious that in the past few years, Great Hammerhead diving in Bimini has become a major attraction. It is important to both the sharks and the islands of Bimini that tourists support local businesses from travel, to lodging, to food, to diving. You see, if tourists coming to do hammerhead dives use a Florida operated dive charter and either never or barely set foot on Bimini, then the island has no way of showing the Bahamian government that this tourism is vital to their economy. Better yet, if there is no link of tourists travelling to Bimini to dive, especially for the sharks, the Bahamian government has no incentive to protect these sharks or this tourism, so in the end everyone would lose out. I have been to Bimini on several occasions and not once have I felt threatened and I would even go as far as saying you are better off walking down the streets of Bimini by yourself than any other major city in the United States. It's hard enough for scientists these days to jump through the hoops of permits, funding, etc. without the added burden of the public interfering with their research. It is also hard enough for the small developing island of Bimini to get a steady income from tourists without Florida businesses coming in, providing competition and taking away from locals' means of making a living. It is imperative that we support the science and the locals because, as you can hopefully now see, the end result should be something that is adding to the longevity of marine ecosystems, the sharks that inhabit them, and the tourism that revolves around them. I think it is also important to remember that if it wasn't for science, or the tagging of sharks we wouldn't know anything about these creatures, their migration, behavior, habitats, importance in the ecosystem, etc. so the shark diving community would be highly lacking without the scientific evidence that supports your hobby.