Sunday, January 31, 2010

Please Support Hawaii's Shark Eco-Tourism!

Hawaiian shark eco-tours are under attack once again. Shark eco-tourism promotes appreciation and understanding of these magnificent and vital animals. Please help to support Hawaii's shark eco-tour operators!

Here's a summary of what's going on:

And lots more background information and facts:

And here's how you can help:

Send a written statement of support to these two offices:
(This has to happen as soon as possible, because hearings are being scheduled every day. You can use what you had written before for the City council or letters to the editor. Keep it short and sweet and tell them that you are strongly opposed to/appalled/disturbed/ shocked by :) any bills that will kill small businesses.)

-House Committee on Water, Land, Ocean Resources - Representative Ken Ito (Fax: 586-8474 email:
Reference House bill: HB2459, HB2664, HB2705, HB2483, HB2900

-Senate Committee on Land and Water - Senator Clayton Hee (Fax: 586-7334 email:
Reference Senate Bill: SB2330, SB2655

(save your letters so you can send them again for the next batch of committee hearings).

And if you live in Hawaii or are able to travel there, please get in touch with Stefanie Brendl about participating in the hearings.

Sample letter below. Please feel free to copy parts or the whole letter as you see fit. There is also a wealth of information available on the Why Sharks Matter website, including support letters written by other people.

Thank you for your help!

Dear Sen. Hee,

I am writing in support of two North Shore shark eco-tour businesses, North Shore Shark Adventures and Hawaii Shark Encounters. These responsible businesses, that draw tens of thousands of tourists every year, are being unfairly targeted by a series of five bills (SB2330, HB2664, HB2459, HB2705, HB2483) that have been submitted to this year's State Legislative session. It is appalling and unconscionable that public officials -- who are supported by Hawaiians' tax dollars -- would take up the State Legislature's time and resources with this series of bills that have no other purpose than to destroy two hard working and law abiding small businesses.

The proponents of these bills have been conducting a campaign of misinformation and misguided emotion with no regard to the facts or any common sense. A calm review of the facts and issues, however, presents a much different picture.

Following are some observations on the issues involved that I respectfully present to you:

1. Public Safety: There has been no evidence to indicate that these shark eco-tours pose a hazard to public safety, nor is there any indication that the tours cause a significant change in the sharks' behavior. Please see the following University of Hawaii study, which concluded that shark tours have a "negligible impact on public safety" (

Other activities in Hawaii's waters are much more likely to attract sharks close to shore and the surfers, canoers and swimmers. For example, the Waikiki Midnight shark hunt operates near the most populated areas of Waikiki and Hawaii Kai. Spear fishing goes on right in the surf zone where bleeding and struggling fish attract sharks.

It doesn't make a lot of sense that activities that attract sharks close to shore are apparently not considered to be a threat, while shark viewing tours that operate three miles offshore are being criticized as a hazard to public safety. Yes, these tours operate three miles offshore in 600 foot deep water, far from where any surfing, swimming or canoeing takes place. Participants view the sharks from Poly Glass cages that allow them to view the sharks with no risk of physical contact.

This anti-shark tour movement seems to be fueled by a fear of sharks and shark attacks that is way out of proportion to the actual risk. For example, according to the International Shark Attack File there have been five shark attack fatalities in Oahu since 1828, and the last one occurred in 1992. The shark eco-tours that are being targeted have only been in existence since 2001. Proponents of the bills in question, however, are using the fear factor to manipulate the public and attract attention to promote themselves and their personal agendas.

2. Hawaiian Culture - Aumakua: Please see the following Public Service Announcement that is currently being aired on Fijian television -- . Sharks are also very important to Fijians and other Polynesian cultures. Yet the Fijians do not consider shark viewing tours to be offensive or disrespectful. What does offend Fijians is the unsustainable killing of sharks that is going on throughout the world.

The Waikiki Midnight shark hunt attracts sharks with bait so that paying customers can catch and release the sharks. Is this activity not using the sharks for entertainment and profit? Yet shark fishing tours are not being targeted by these bills; only the shark viewing tours.

Shark fin soup is sold in Hawaiian restaurants and container loads filled with shark fins can be seen in Honolulu Harbour. If the welfare of the sharks is the concern here, it seems that the shark fin traders in Hawaii's ports and markets and the longliners in Hawaii's waters would be more appropriate targets.

Since sharks are such an integral part of Hawaii's culture why not promote shark conservation, education, respect and understanding? What the shark viewing eco-tours are doing is educating and enlightening, promoting understanding and respect, not fear. How is this bad?

3. Sharks are vital to the health of the marine ecosystem. Hawaii's tourism industry depends heavily on its marine resources. Without sharks to keep the oceans in balance, the ecosystem begins to fall apart, and everyone suffers. Sharks should be protected, not vilified.

4. Impact on tourism and small businesses: A decision to ban shark tours would shut out 40,000 tourists from the North Shore. These tour operators are generating tourism dollars for the local economy. They are hard working small business owners who pay taxes. The tourists who go on these tours also stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and go shopping. Especially during these challenging economic times, is it wise to take actions that will drive out small businesses and tourists? Stirring up fear of shark attacks doesn't seem to be a good idea for tourism either. This fiasco has generated a huge amount of press, not just locally, but internationally as well. And it does not show Hawaii in a favorable light.

It's understandable that Hawaiians would want to see some kind of regulation or oversight of shark tour operations. Irresponsible tour operators certainly could endanger their clients, generate negative press and even possibly endanger others. This statement applies not only to shark tour operators, however, but to many recreational activities.

But why attack responsible tour operators who are operating three miles offshore in deep waters far away from any surfing, canoeing or swimming?

Please consider all the issues and the potential consequences of any proposed actions. And please don't allow Hawaii's Legislature to be hijacked by this witch hunt mentality that aims to destroy small businesses and recklessly divert the State's attention and resources from much more important matters.

Thank you very much for your time and attention!


Monday, January 11, 2010

First Annual South Florida Shark Conservation Party a Huge Success!

Sunday, January 10, marked the first annual South Florida Shark Conservation Party. The event was hosted by Shark Savers, Oceanic Defense and Shark Safe Network at Pro Dive International in Ft. Lauderdale.

The purpose of the gathering was to introduce and unite local folks and beyond who love sharks and healthy oceans, and want to get involved with shark conservation efforts. The crowd consisted of scientists, divers, students, boat captains, and the general public. Clips from Lawrence Groth's extensive archive of shark footage were shown while fun music played in the background.

One goal of the event was to raise money for the Shark Savers/WildAid billboard campaign to "Say 'no' to shark fin soup" currently being run in China. From party donations, we will be able to purchase 15 bus stop billboards! This is a very exciting outcome of the shark celebration. For more information on the campaign and purchasing these billboards yourself, go to here.

The shark party revelers were treated to PSA screenings produced by Shark Savers/WildAid. These powerful PSAs feature international basketball star Yao Ming, and other known celebrities and athletes. To view the Yao Ming PSA, check out this page . Julie Andersen of Shark Savers introduced the PSAs as well as gave updates on the campaign. We are proud to contribute to such a creative and effective cause!

Joe Romeiro and a virtual Bill Fisher, of 333 Productions, debuted their latest film, "A Lateral Line." Along with visually stunning shark footage, the film includes graphic coverage of a shark kill tournament. One astonishing scene shows the beating heart of a long-dead mako. Sad, but incredibly convincing. The film was well-received and we continue to applaud the efforts of our friends at 333.

Samantha Whitcraft from Oceanic Defense followed by presenting their 100% catch and release video to the audience.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, Dr. Gruber, Steve Stock, and Bill Parks each spoke to the room about what has been accomplished in 2009 and what their plans for conservation and research are for 2010. They expressed words of encouragement and heartening after seeing the progress that has been made this past year. Walt Stearns was unable to attend, as he was away on a dive trip.

Finally, the inimitable Andy Brandy Casagrande IV entertained the masses with his infectious songs about finning (anti, of course!) and being a great white shark.

We are grateful to Pro Dive for volunteering to host the event. Even though our plans for an evening boat ride were scrapped due to Florida's unseasonable cold, we were able to stay indoors at Pro Dive and enjoy an evening with good friends. The food and drinks from Coconuts restaurant were delish. Special thanks to Sergio for the three exceptionally well-designed shark cakes!

So far, photos from the party can be viewed on the Facebook pages of Samantha Whitcraft, Fort Lauderdale Dive Report by Pro Dive International, Brendal Davis, Thomas Sergent, or Felix Leander.

A hardy thank you to all for your support and attendance of the inaugural South Florida shark conservation party! See you all again next year!!