October, 2009
               The Sea-gram
Shark Cruising
               Caribbean Reef Shark Photo (c) by Paul Mila, Nassau Bahamas
Paul at Coconuts

Welcome to the October issue of Sea-gram, the monthly newsletter for ocean lovers and divers everywhere, from 
Sea-gram is expanding globally, now reaching readers in Asia/Pacific, Europe, Australia, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the U.S. and Canada. Two comments from me: WOW! ; and, Thanks for your interest !
And all the more reason why I'd like to see you divers contribute a good photo, and share an interesting story about how you took your shot: your experience will travel 'round the world!  Send your photo & story to me at and I'll include it in a future issue.  
You might notice a theme in this issue: SHARKS!
When divers encounter sharks, actually a pretty rare occurance these days, they usually have good stories to tell. And the need for shark conservation is critical, for reasons we'll discuss in our feature article, Where Have All The Sharks Gone?
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I hope you enjoy Sea-gram !
 Paul J. Mila
The Story Behind The Photo . . .         
OK; whose got the fish?
               By Paul Mila, Carle Place New York
 Shark squeezing through  
We were on a ScubaNetwork dive trip to Nassau. Our goal: dive with sharks. Our dive operator was Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas, one of the best for shark encounters. Besides providing divers with the thrill of a lifetime, and stories to tell, Stuart Cove's divers also do much of the professional "shark wrangling" for movies requiring live shark photography, such as "Open Water," the dive movie about a husband & wife stranded by their dive operator in shark-infested waters. Don't know about other viewers, but after an hour of watching that couple blame each other for their predicament, I was rooting for the sharks!
On our adventure, we descended about 60 feet to a flat sandy bottom called "Shark Arena," near a 6000-foot deep ocean trench just south of Nassau, named "The Tongue if the Ocean." At the bottom we assembled in a circle, with our shark feeder in the middle. I expected to see a few sharks, not the twenty or so who decided to join us for lunch. After grabbing a juicy fish head from the feeder the sharks would exit our circle, and return for another snack. But swimming over our heads was too difficult for some lazy boys, who just pushed us out of the way and squeezed between us to get back in for a second helping, as in the above photo. Initially, getting bumped and jostled by these toothy, muscular predators was unsettling, but we got used to it. Luckily I'm from New York, so for me it was like riding a jam packed subway during rush hour!
Notice the professional photographers are wearing chainmail anti-shark suits. I was tempted to ask why they weren't offered to us, the paying customers, but I didn't want to appear like a wimpy killjoy. 
To see what the underwater mahem was like, click on this short YouTube excerpt from our dive video:
                                  Inside a shark feed
Some naturalists propose banning shark feeding, claiming it disrupts the sharks' natural behavior, and makes then identify divers with food. 
To their first point, while the sharks we encountered were definitely not trained or tame, one could say they have become somewhat conditioned. However, isn't it better to have live, partially conditioned sharks instead of no sharks? Countries like the Bahamas have done the math, and determined that while a dead shark may be worth a few thousand dollars, a live shark is worth a couple of hundred thousand tourist dollars. So they protect their local shark population, for economic reasons.
To their second point, I observed that as soon as the fish, and the smell of fish, were gone the sharks instantly disappeared and went back to doing whatever sharks do. They never harassed the divers or seemed to equate divers with food.
My conclusion: Whether you're for or against shark diving operations, without them many sharks would, unfortunately, cease to exist.
 * * * * * 
The shark photo above, while interesting, technically is not a good photo: too much backscatter, or pixillation, those distracting square dots in the photo. That's caused by sand in the water, reflecting the strobe's light back at the camera lens.
In this case, all the sharks were simply stirring up the sand.
When that happens, turn off the flash and shoot with ambient light. The backscatter will disappear, or will be less apparent. Sometimes, angling the flash, instead of shooting straight at your subject, will also minimize backscatter.
  Where Have All The Sharks Gone?
   The story of Stubby, the nurse shark . . .
Stubby the sharkThe story of one particular shark typifies the plight of the sharks.
Diving in Cozumel, my dive operator Alison told me about a young nurse shark that she thought had been born with a deformed nub of its front dorsal fin (nurse sharks have a second dorsal fin, back toward the tail). Hence, Alison named him Stubby. Over the years we watched Stubby grow from a 4-foot youngster into an 8-foot adult. Fully grown nurse sharks can attain 14-feet.
Diving Yucab Reef one morning, we were preparing to ascend when Alison spotted Stubby below us, hunting along the coral. We descended and watched him corner his prey in a small cave. Our group of four divers formed a semi-circle at the cave opening. We watched Stubby thrash his long tail, forcing himself into the narrow opening to devour whatever he had trapped, probably a lobster. When he wiggled backward out of the cave sporting a "remora beard" (photo above), Stubby was startled to see a bunch of bubble-blowers around him. He turned quickly and I shot another photo (below) as he swam away, right between my legs! Stubby, up closeI was sure glad his dorsal fin was "stubby"! 
One day a couple of years ago, Alison told me she had seen Stubby trailing a fishing leader from his lower jaw. Shortly afterward, Alison never saw him again. Perhaps as an adult, Stubby had expanded his hunting range out of Cozumel's protected park, and was taken by a fisherman. Or, Stubby might have been captured by an illegal poacher within the park.
I recently contacted Alison for background on this article. She hopes Stubby migrated north, and is happily swimming somewhere else. But Alison said, "I do not know why once reaching full adulthood he would begin to gradually move northward. There is a lot that I don't understand about nurse shark behaviour; I just observe. The only thing for certain is that I really, really miss Stubby :-( "

The most likely scenario, however, is that Stubby's fate has been the fate of too many other sharks: overfishing. In a mere 30 years, humans have reduced the world-wide shark population by 90%. As the demand in Asia for shark-fin soup and other shark by-products increases, the pressure on their dwindling population intensifies.  
THE SCOREBOARD: Millions of sharks (conservative estimates range between 10 and 20 million; higher estimates range from 70 to 100 million) are killed annually by long-line commercial fishermen seeking tuna and other fish, drowned in gill nets and drift nets, intentionally slaughtered by shark finners, or killed in shark sporting tournaments and by other "recreational" fishing activity.
Sharks, on the other hand, kill approximately 10 humans per year. That's less than die from lightening, bee stings, and food allergies. If you shout "SHARK!" on a crowded beach you'll clear the water in a minute. Yell "PEANUTS!" in a restaurant and I doubt much would happen.
A 2008 NY Times article illustrated the threat to sharks:
 The key point to consider: Extinction is a one-way street; there is no re-wind and no replay!
First, the obvious: Don't eat or purchase shark products.
Most important: Support efforts to ban shark fishing. Many countries, such as Palau, have done this.
Story: Palau Bites Back 
Websites where you can get more information:
 Also, Google "Shark Decline" for additional websites.
About is your home for exciting dive adventure novels, YouTube videos about ocean creatures, and more.
Our most recent addition is Basic Underwater Photography, an introductory-level photo manual emphasizing a non-technical approach to obtaining good pictures. Great for divers who want to take good shots without spending their bottom time fiddling with their camera's manual settings and controls. Available on our website, either as an online download or hard-copy version.
November's Sea-gram: Our next issue will feature whales, now literally "under the gun," around the world. Many cetacean species will soon be dodging deadly Japanese harpoons in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, while others attempt evading Icelandic whalers in the North Atlantic.   
Thanks, and we'll see you next month!
Paul J. Mila 
 Paul in Cozumel
75 Titus Avenue
Carle Place, New York 11514
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In This Issue
The Story Behind The Photo: OK; Whose got the fish? Mayhem in a feeding frenzy!
Conservation Corner: Where Have All the Sharks Gone?
Featured Article in this month's  Conservation Corner: 
 Where have all the sharks gone?
 "Fins to the left . . . Fins to the right, and you're the only bait in town."
If we don't change our behavior toward
sharks, someday they might only exist in the lyrics of a popular Jimmy Buffett tune.
A contributing factor to people's negative perception about sharks is that sharks suffer from a serious public relations problem.
 Barbara Bridges, President & CEO of Stealth Pilot Productions, and a member
of the LinkedIn Group Ocean Champions, explains why: 
"In the past twenty years television
specials have contributed much toward saving wilderness and wild species --including establishing the need for
marine protected areas. The lamentable exception to these preservation efforts
are sharks -- the wolves of the sea.
Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week' still
uses a highly exploitative, blood-in-the-water approach to filming these Alpha predators. Sharks are just as necessary
to maintaining a healthy Marine environment as plankton, coral, the
smaller species of food fish, or whales. Discovery Channel, while ostensibly 'celebrating all wildlife', annually contributes to countless shark deaths worldwide by promulgating widespread panic and fear." 
  Shark up Close
Hi there! To find out why sharks
like me are edging closer to
extinction,
Sea-gram's Conservation Corner
article, featuring Stubby, the nurse shark.

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