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News of Sharks

MARCH 2014


March 31 , 2014 - Judge Dismisses Challenge to California’s Shark Finning Law

by s.e. smith

California’s sharks are safe for now, at least, since a federal court dismissed a suit filed by the shark finning industry in an attempt to overturn California’s groundbreaking 2011 legislation targeting finning.
This practice, in which fins are removed from live sharks who are thrown back into the water to die, is brutal, inhumane, and unnecessary — and it would seem that the federal district court agrees. The dismissal marks the latest in a long line of blows against attempts to turn back the clock on California’s finning regulations.
The story starts with the legislation in 2011, which prohibited not just finning, but also possessing, handling, selling, trading and other financial activities related to shark fins. Initially, the federal government opposed the law, fearing that it might interfere with national marine fisheries management, but it ultimately came around, harmonizing federal law (which prohibits finning but not other practices) with the state law. As in other areas of the law, California was allowed to have a more stringent standard than the federal law required (as, for example, with emissions laws for California vehicles).
Shark finning industry members immediately opposed the law, and they were joined by Asian-American advocacy groups who claimed the law was discriminatory in nature because it targeted a traditional practice. This required careful consideration and review, as federal courts take such accusations very seriously. However, these groups withdrew their suit in February after a very large shark fin bust in San Francisco, clearly fearing that it wouldn’t be successful.
The other suit still remained, however. In deliberations, the federal court determined that the law served an important function in conserving California sharks and protecting human health and welfare. In addition, the court felt the law was not inconsistent with federal law, and could be allowed to stand without interfering with the function of federal jurisdiction over marine fisheries and marine animal protection. The court’s decision was counted as a win by conservation groups concerned with the dwindling number of sharks worldwide.
This law sets an important precedent for other states, which could use it as model legislation to restrict the ownership, sale, trade and use of shark fins within their borders as well. In California, conservationists argued, while federal law made finning itself illegal, it was perfectly legal to own fins. This created a situation where there was still a legal market for the delicacy, which created openings for fins exported from elsewhere as well as a black market in illegally taken fins. California’s law tightens up the net, making the oceans that much safer for sharks.
Laws like this can be tricky, as they definitely do have a disparate racial impact — shark fin soup is a delicacy in the Chinese community, and thus Chinese people are most likely to be affected by the law. The court determined it was constitutional on the basis that the impact was not intentional, but it does raise an important question: can the Chinese community come up with a palatable humane alternative to shark fins so they can carry on traditional recipes and ways of living?




March 30 , 2014 - Can science stop sharks attacking humans?
By: Helen Scales of BBC NEWS

Sharks have patrolled the oceans for at least 400 million years and evolved into a huge range of remarkable species.
There are deep sea lantern sharks that glow in the dark, wobbegong sharks that grow shaggy beards, and majestic, plankton-sifting whale sharks - the biggest fish in the sea.
Nevertheless, when many people think of these animals, one thing comes to mind: shark attacks.
As a beachgoer, diver or surfer your chances of encountering a shark, let alone being killed by one, are in fact incredibly slim; lightning strikes, bee stings and car accidents all pose far more of a threat than sharks.
In reality, people kill millions more sharks than sharks kill people.
A quarter of all shark species, and their relatives the rays, are threatened with extinction, according to a recent report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The main threat to sharks is overfishing and in greatest peril are the largest species.
But a controversial cull of sharks was recently ordered in Western Australia following a spate of attacks.
Scientists are now looking at other approaches to deal with the shark attack issue.
Prof Shaun Collin is leading a University of Western Australia (UWA) team of neurobiologists who are learning to think like sharks.
"We're trying to tread this very fine line of protecting both humans and sharks at the same time," Prof Collin told the BBC World Service programme Discovery.
By studying shark brains and shark senses, the team is developing and testing various non-lethal repellents. The aim is to manipulate the sharks' finely-tuned senses in ways that discourage them from approaching and attacking people.
One of these is a "shark-proof" wetsuit designed to make people look like poisonous, black and white banded sea snakes, something that many sharks tend to avoid.
The stripy wetsuit was first thought up years ago by marine biologist Walter Starck. Now a detailed understanding of shark vision is helping the UWA team to bring this idea up to date.
Nathan Hart, assistant professor at UWA, explained to me that sharks don't see as well as humans.
"We've made sure that the size of the bands can be detected by a shark from a certain distance," he says.
Tests of the new wetsuit design are currently underway. This involves wrapping the fabric around a barrel filled with dead fish and watching how sharks respond to it in the wild.
It is still early days, but so far, Nathan told me, the results have been encouraging.
"Based on what we know about the sensory systems of sharks, they should reduce your risk to some extent," he says.
"Just like a seatbelt in a car, it doesn't reduce your risk to zero; it's a matter of reducing your risk by a certain amount and by as much as possible," he adds.
As well as trying to protect individual swimmers, another tactic is to make certain areas out of bounds to sharks.
"We can try and define areas on the beaches where people are confident they can go and swim," says Dr Hart.
Bubble curtains could be deployed to keep sharks away from popular beaches.
The idea is to lay perforated hosepipes across the seabed and pump air through them and create a plume of bubbles that sharks may decide not to swim through.
Sharks can see and hear the bubbles and also feel them with their lateral line, a system of sense organs many fish have.
"It's a system of what's known as 'distant touch'; it detects vibrations and very low-frequency sound in the water," Nathan explained.
Early tests showed that tiger sharks eventually pluck up the courage to cross a barrier of bubbles, suggesting they have the ability to learn.
Eugenie Clark, a veteran marine biologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, pioneered studies of shark learning back in the 1950s.
Nicknamed "The Shark Lady", Dr Clark trained captive sharks to press targets with their snouts and ring bells for a food reward. She showed for the first time that sharks can learn and remember things.
Eugenie told me about the time she took a trained baby nurse shark as a gift for the Crown Prince of Japan who shared her fascination with fish.
"The airline gave me an extra seat for the shark. Most people didn't know, he was such a tiny thing he was less than two feet long. But he never made a mistake," says Eugenie.
Recently, I witnessed for myself the capacity sharks have to learn and in particular that they can learn not to attack people.
I went diving off the Pacific island of Fiji and saw my first bull sharks, notorious as one of the most aggressive shark species.
Locals from Beqa Adventure Divers have trained a population of around 100 bull sharks to approach a diver, one-by-one, and gently take a chunk of fish offered to them by hand.
The sharks have learned how to behave if they want food.
"They know us very well," Fijian divemaster Papa told me before I jumped in the water. "That's the good thing, they know what's going on."
Preparing for the dive, I wasn't exactly sure how I would react to seeing these giant predators. But as soon as I got down beneath the waves my nerves evaporated and I saw just how graceful and calm bull sharks can be.
There was no safety cage or any sort of repellent and I never felt in any kind of danger.
As well as helping to shift the sharks' bad reputation as insatiable killers, the Fijian divers are showing that a live shark in the water is worth far more than a dead one.
In Fiji and elsewhere around the world, sharks are under immense pressure from the demand in Asia for shark fin soup.
Back in Western Australia, the shark cull continues amid beachside protests.
The problem has been an abnormal high in shark attacks, with seven fatalities over the last three years compared with 20 in the last century.
The response of the Western Australia government has been to lay baited hooks offshore from popular beaches. Any great white, tiger and bull sharks that are caught and are larger than 3m long are shot and dumped at sea.
One opponent of the cull is shark attack survivor Rodney Fox. Fifty years ago he suffered a horrific attack from a great white in South Australia but since then has become a dedicated shark advocate.
"We just have to learn how to live with the sharks and not just kill them from fear," he told me.
He thinks killing sharks deliberately is an unscientific and irrational strategy to try to reduce the attack rate.
But Western Australia's government says the cull is in place to protect swimmers and surfers. Premier Colin Barnett has said: "The West Australian government is absolutely confident that the policy in place is the right policy and we intend to continue it."
An open letter from more than 100 scientists has urged Mr Barnett to reconsider the cull, highlighting its environmental impact and the low chance of catching the individual sharks responsible for the attacks.
"Every scientist that I've heard of and talked to all agree that it's not the thing to do," says Mr Fox.


March 26 , 2014 - Shark gives Florida student two-hour ride and stars in YouTube video

by: Reauters

A hammerhead shark dragged a college student in his kayak up the Atlantic coast for a two-hour "South Florida sleigh ride" that the kayaker taped with a head-mounted camera and posted on YouTube.
Adam Fisk, 22, posted a five-minute clip of his adventure titled "Lone Man Gets Towed for Miles in Kayak by 11 Foot Hammerhead Shark."
At one point, Fisk dunked the camera into the water and recorded the shark swimming ahead of the kayak.
A student at Florida Atlantic University, Fisk set out in a kayak on Sunday with several poles to go fishing before the shark took his bait near Boynton Beach, Florida.
"I threw my bait out and went to reel my other one in so I wouldn't get tangled, and I just had time to pick up the rod before the other one already got picked up by that hammer," Fisk wrote on the YouTube site.
"It must have been sitting right under me and I had no idea."
Fisk is a member of Team Rebel Fishing, a group of extreme anglers, according to its website. The group estimated Fisk was dragged by the shark for 12 miles.
Fisk declined to comment on Wednesday.
He wrote online that the shark took him out to sea and around in circles, ending in Lake Worth, Florida.
"Hooked a hammerhead in 50ft of water and got drug out to 250ft," Fisk posted in his Facebook account of the ride under the headline, "I took a South Florida sleigh ride today and I aint talkin Santa Claus."



March 25 , 2014 - Shark-attack survivor Bethany Hamilton wins pro surf contest at Pipeline
By Nadine Kalinauskas , Yahoo!

When Bethany Hamilton was 13 years old, she lost her left arm in a shark attack.
The Kauai surfer returned to the water one month later, still determined to become a pro surfer.
Hamilton told her story at numerous speaking engagement around the world. She got involved with a variety charities and launched a foundation, Friends of Bethany, that supports shark-attack survivors and amputees. And she kept surfing.
Her 2004 biography, titled Soul Surfer, was adapted into a movie.
Last year, she married Christian youth minister Adam Dirks.
And now, at the age of 24, Hamilton is making headlines for winning a notable pro surf competition, her first win in nearly a decade.
Last Thursday, Hamilton earned top spot at an event at the Banzai Pipeline, a surf reef off the North Shore of Oahu, one of the world's most renowned surfing spots.
"I usually lose so this was great," Hamilton said, according to the TransWorld Surf website. "In my first heat I got a little barrel and I wasn't even expecting it but I always keep my eye out because you never know out here and I kind of tucked in and I made it out and that was a pleasant surprise."
Grind TV reported that Hamilton was given no special assistance or privileges at the competition and still clearly defeated her competitors in the 4- to 5-foot waves at the 2014 Surf-n-Sea Pipeline Women's Pro.
"So stoked I won the #WomensPipePro today! It feels good to surf & compete well; & take the win!" Hamilton wrote on Facebook.
Hamilton told Outside magazine that she hopes her win will help people see her as a good surfer, not just a surfer with a disability.
"A lot of people just don't know I can surf," she said.
She took home $2,000 for the win and was given the Banzai Sushi award for the best tube ride.








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