Taking the Bait: Cage Diving Day One

Many thanks to my “cage mates” Andria and Peter Eisenhauer for this footage of a white shark snacking on fish heads. Seeing that jaw drop down was one of the peak experiences of my life.   I love the contrast of the underwater sounds and the shouts of the crew on deck.

More soon!

Should I Get a Bigger Boat? Shark Attacks on Boats, People, Dogs and Seals

Events like this make me feel lucky to live in California.

This August 8 lecture at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum with shark legend Ralph S. Collier  and Peter Howorth promises to be fascinating!
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Should I Get a Bigger Boat?

Shark Attacks on Boats, People, Dogs, and Seals

by Ralph S. Collier  (President, Shark Research Committee)

and Peter Howorth (Director, Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center)

 Where: Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, California

When: Friday, August 8, 2014 • 7:00pm

Cost: $15 (SBMM and Shark Research Committee members), $20 (non-members)

To Register: Go to www.sbmm.org or call (805) 962-8404 x115

What should you do if a shark takes a fancy to your boat?  Yes, this really does happen––boats have been attacked by sharks.  Find out why this happens and much more as Ralph S. Collier, the west coast’s leading authority on shark attacks, explores various theories on why sharks attack everything from surfboards to boats, and from crab trap floats to people.  Learn what makes a shark tick and why it is such a supremely well-adapted predator.  Discover from Peter Howorth how attacks on marine mammals can serve as canaries in the coal mines, warning people of shark hazards, and what is being done about this.

If you are in the Santa Barbara area on August 8, 2014 please stop by. Directions to the Museum are available on the SBMM web site when you order tickets. After you order tickets please notify the SRC so we can place you on our Members list for this event. For confirmation of SRC Membership, and to obtain the $5.00 discount per ticket, please print out and bring this email. Seating is limited so order your tickets today. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you August 8th at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

 

South Africa: Part One

10443549_10203317320326529_6989897334538262958_nThe first thing I saw as I passed through customs in Dulles airport was a story on the news of a 7-foot white shark attacking a guy in Manhattan Beach. As everybody on earth probably knows by now, the young shark  hooked by an angler had reacted in a frenzy of fear and understandable confusion chomped some swimmer on the side. Over and over the clip played of the victim talking about how close he’d been to the shark, how he’d “looked him right in the eye.” I felt bad for the man’s wounds, but I sensed yet another summer of Fox-style news stories of shark attacks and jellyfish hysteria, and all I wanted to do was go back to South Africa.

Let me begin by saying no photographs do that country justice which is another way of saying my camera battery died and the photos I did manage to get are pretty much shit—gill slits, a broad back retreating under a wave, although my lovely travel companions have promised to share their stills and footage. While I lament my lack of images, in all fairness, I don’t think anyone got satisfactory footage of the resurrection either, and seeing the sharks was seeing God in action.

*****

As we rode out to sea from Simonstown on the Fallows’ boat, I sat with my fellow shark traveler Janet Sullivan, from Quincy, Mass. and we watched the water, I asked, “Do you ever have shark dreams?” Janet like many of the other amazing women I befriended on this trip, is no casual shark enthusiast. She sports a tattoo of a great white (In fact, it’s the well-fed one on the FREE HUGS sticker I sold at February’s Jaws benefit).

Janet said she did dream of sharks sometimes.

“What do they do in the dreams?”

She considered this for a moment.

“They’re just there.”   I understood. That’s how the sharks often appeared in my dreams and that’s how they appeared underwater.  Gliding. Silent. Complete. And pretty much indifferent to the people in the cage.

Feeling profound, I asked, “Do you believe in reincarnation?” Janet said she did.

Haven’t we all been fish at some stage? Was it far-fetched to imagine that some of us had been large, predatory fish?

How else to explain this strange affinity?

As we sped toward Seal Island, the calls of all the Cape fur pinnipeds sounded like sheep from some windy seaside pasture. Janet kept noticing that all the clouds in the early morning sky looked like sharks: dorsal fins dissolving into the morning light, arched wisps like failed breaches.

When we anchored, no extreme adrenaline junkie chum-fest ensued. The Apex crew “called” the sharks by throwing out simple baited lines, seal decoys and with the thrumming vibrations of hands drummed on the side of the boat. Three people in the cage at a time. Snorkels. Wetsuits. No scuba bubbles, as they tend to drive  away the sharks. When someone on board called “To your left!” or “To your right!” or somewhat eerily, “Behind you!” we descended beneath the water and breathed and looked.

I remember a strange, but very real sensation in the cage that my legs were gone.

I remember thinking how lonely the long line with the fish head on the end looked as it spun in the silent green water.

But I didn’t really feel afraid.

The first day, the sharks materialized in a green  mist, only appearing gray when they came closer to the cage–the great papery slits of the gills puffing slightly, the dark intelligent eye, looking without much interest to the frantic figures in the cage. After so many dreams, movies, documentaries, pictures, after the weight of expectation, of epiphany, here was the animal I’d known only in dreams for forty some odd years. And they had silently appeared as they had in Janet’s dreams and so many times in mine–beautiful, silent, slow. They were simply there.

Of course long before I descended in the cage , I’d already screamed like a teenage girl at her first rock show, when the sharks breaching. It’s not easy to tell a swimming seal from a dark wave, but Chris and Monique Fallows are such expert naturalists that they can easily separate a young seal from a bobbing swell, or an explosion of water from an errant wave breaking over distant rocks. “Two o’clock! 150 meters!” The call goes out, the boat turns. If the birds have descended to the ring of white turbulent water, it means a kill, if not, the seal has usually gotten away and the shark has likely disappeared too. We often arrived just in time to see a sharp flash of tail and fin in a wake, or if we were lucky a blinding white belly as the shark breached, often with the snap of red jaws–all over in an instant.

There’s nothing like a morning spent watching seal predations to make one appreciate the particularly weird human position in the animal kingdom.

Watching the breaches, it’s hard not to call out as if it’s a sporting match, although we all feel bad for the young seals, it’s also terribly primal and exciting and it’s hard to not want the chase to continue, to see the lightning quick desperate acrobatics of the sharks. In one particularly gory breach, the shark surfaced sideways, blood pouring from its jaws, then promptly disappeared the turbulent surface. Two seabirds descended, each taking the end of some sort of long thin entrails in their beaks and flying away, as if engaged in some sort of morbid taffy pull.

When we cruised next to the rushing water of Seal island and saw the pups playing in the water that cascaded off the rocks, diving and surfacing, safe from “the ring of death” where the sharks cruise, it was impossible not to feel as if we were passing by some harsh, but enchanted isle of frolicking whimsical sea-children. We were stunned into a magical silence punctuated by “Awwws.”

I can’t yet properly describe what happened to me in South Africa, but I felt different when I stood on the Cape of Good Hope. Even more than the wild zebra browsing through the verdant scrub along the beach, was the new feeling I had looking at the water.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked at the ocean in this sort of trance. I remember standing once at San Simeon near Hearst Castle, looking past the hauled out bodies of the seals to the craggy rocks and thinking, “They’re out there.” In dreams I’d pull over to the side of the road and stare at the dark water through binoculars. Somehow in the dark I could still see and I could tell the fins from the swells.

I took many a real-life drive up the California coast, stopping at infamous beaches with NO SWIMMING signs, or hoping that if I looked long enough at the horizon, something would rise up. Always with longing and gnawing and a bit of metaphysical tension.

Yet as Janet and I stood at Cape Point, after the first day of breaching and the diving, as our lovely guide Alistair took our photograph at that intersection of oceans, I felt different. There had been no obvious communion between the sharks and me, no shattering tribal epiphany. I had come half way around the world to see them, and the sharks barely noticed I was there.

But something inside me had shifted just the same.

Cowspiracy: The Biggest Environmental Disaster Exposed

This is the documentary I’ve been waiting for!!! The biggest reason for deforestation, global warming, water shortages: cows. But even most environmentalists will not talk about this obvious issue.

Tonight’s Los Angeles premiere is sold out, but I am going to the San Diego screening in July.

Click here to find out about upcoming screenings of Cowspiracy.
PLEASE spread the word about this important film!

Day 349 6/19/14: “Ghosts” by Mary Oliver

“Ghosts” is the most eloquent poem I have ever read about vanishing things.  She also gives great dignity to cows–one of those “invisible” animals whose suffering we’d rather not know much about.

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Have you noticed?

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Where so many millions of powerful bawling beasts

lay down on the earth and died

it’s hard to tell now

what’s bone, and what merely

was once.

The golden eagle, for instance,

has a bit of heaviness in him;

moreover the huge barns

seem ready, sometimes, to ramble off

toward deeper grass.

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1805

near the Bitterroot Mountains:

a man named Lewis kneels down

on the prairie watching

a sparrow’s nest cleverly concealed in the wild hyssop

and lined with buffalo hair. The chicks,

not more than a day hatched, lean

quietly into the thick wool as if

content, after all,

to have left the perfect world and fallen,

helpless and blind,

into the flowered fields and the perils

of this one.

4

In the book of the earth it is written:

nothing can die.

In the book of the Sioux it is written:

they have gone away into the earth to hide.

Nothing will coax them out again

but the people dancing.

5

Said the old-timers:

the tongue

is the sweetest meat

Passengers shooting from train windows

could hardly miss, they were

that many.

Afterward the carcasses

stank unbelievably, and sang with flies, ribboned

with slopes of white fat,

black ropes of blood—hellhunks

in the prairie heat.

6

Have you noticed? how the rainimages-10

falls soft as the fall

of moccasins. Have you noticed?

how the immense circles still,

stubbornly, after a hundred years,

mark the grass where the rich droppings

from the roaring bulls

fell to earth as the herd stood

day after day, moon after moon

in their tribal circle, outwaiting

the packed of yellow-eyed wolves that are also

have you noticed? gone now.

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Once only, and then in a dream,

I watched while, secretly

and with the tenderness of any caring woman,

a cow gave birth

to a red calf, tongued him dry and nursed him

in a warm corner

of the clear night

in the fragrant grass

in the wild domains

of the prairie spring, and I asked them

in my dream I knelt down and asked them

to make room for me.

 

Day 346 6/16/14: Sea Pigs & Other Ocean Oddities

1. Meet the humble and truly weird sea pig.

2. This great white encounter in Sydney Harbor looks pretty fake, but it’s still fun to watch.

3. How much do you know about whale vaginas? How much do you want to know? 

4. Texas Teen Survives “Bump and Bite.” 

5. Ancient Sea Creatures “rowed their way to prey.” nothosaur

Day 334 6/4/14: Deep Sea Gossip

Whale painting - after1. The young Florida woman who was attacked by a bull shark had a funny feeling about the dark water. 

2. Find out why artists Marina Abramovic, Ed Ruscha and others have placed their art in a sunken vault at the bottom of the sea.

3. Whale hidden in Dutch landscape painting finally free.

4. Can new technology slow extinction?

5. Ever wondered what it’s like to live underwater for 31 days? Sure you have. And soon you’ll know.

Day 341 6/1/14: Two Weird Orca Stories for a Sunday

This first story is about how orcas around the Farallon Islands up by San Francisco keep the local great white population in check. Nature is brutal, and orcas are smart, dispatching our heroes with “stuns” and “karate chops.”

The second piece is about the World Wildlife Fund’s support for SeaWorld. While I recognize that it’s impossible not to be a hypocrite in this world (To cite one example out of many in my life, I oppose industrialized fishing and factory farming and yet participate in by buying food for my cats), some of these ethical conflicts are really glaring and galling. It’s good for SeaWorld’s image to support the WWF, but how can the WWF fight to protect the vanishing habitat of wild animals with money from an organization that keeps whales in swimming pools? If you’re not too burned out, please sign the petition asking the WWF to end its relationship with SeaWorld. images-4

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