Getting Involved: Basking Shark Scotland Tours

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By Brinkley Dinsmore

Cetorhinus maximus  is known by many names—sun-fish, bone shark, elephant shark, sail-fish, hoe-mother—but most commonly as the basking shark. This name is derived from their seasonal behavior of floating along the surface of the water, ‘basking’ in the sun, enormous mouths open wide for feeding. They don’t call them gentle giants just because they’re one of three species of plankton-eating sharks —these fish are the second largest fish in the world, sometimes reaching 12m in length. And where are these massive, passive sharks to be found when summer rolls around?  According to Shane Wasik, “the Western Isles of Scotland could be one of the most important international hotspots for them.”

Shane is the owner and operator of Basking Shark Scotland, a IMCC3 Basking Shark Scotland Logogroup dedicated not only to leading boat tours that allow people to see these amazing animals in person, but also to responsible practices concerning wildlife tourism.

Historically the basking shark has been targeted, because of it’s size and slow speed, for its valuable leather, meat, and liver oil. In the UK they now flourish under full protection, recently granted in 1998 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). Similar full protection has been granted in Malta, New Zealand, and parts of the United States, and the species has partial protection under CITES.

Nevertheless, their commercial value has led to over-exploitation and severe depletion of populations. Demand for basking shark products is still high in Asia, where the fins are used in soup and cartilage is an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine. The continued need to protect these animals has resulted in compelling conservation efforts that have seen growing interest in the last several years, in part because of operations like Basking Shark Scotland.

If you find yourself heading to Scotland this summer, it would be a perfect time to take a tour and get involved, as Shane tells us that “Seasonally in summer months they arrive in big numbers, attracted by rich plankton and possibly for mating. Truly an ocean wanderer, some tagged sharks from the area have travelled as far as the Canary Islands and crossed the Atlantic reaching a depth of over 1200m.” The migratory habits of these sharks make scientific study of them difficult, and as always, conservation work is not yet finished.

Shane and his crew consciously contribute to the responsible study of and development of interest in these animals. Shane explains why, saying that as the basking shark is “already protected in UK waters, given the sharks massive migrations it’s of great importance that the sharks have full international protection due their low fecundity rate.  During our Basking Shark trips numerous data is recorded so that continuous monitoring of the population can be undertaken and fed back to both Scottish and internationally based scientists.”

Interested in getting more involved in the conservation of these enigmatic wonders of the ocean? Shane’s Basking Shark Scotland is offering reduced rates on basking shark outings for IMCC3 delegates.  For more information and to take advantage of this opportunity, visit the IMCC3 Discounted Activities page.

 —Brinkley Dinsmore graduated in May 2014 from George Mason University, where she studied English and Biology. She is the Communications Intern for IMCC3 and plans to stay involved in the world of conservation communication. 

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The Ocean is Cold, Smelly and Dark: A Marine Biologist’s Introspective Into Our Connection With Nature

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By James Mortimor

We only look after what we care about; but what makes us care about the ocean? Until recently, I never considered the origin of my caring. I just cared! Most people in my social sphere also cared. I had been in a like-minded bubble without realizing it. A result of having a pre-school child is mixing with a variety of other parents; some of whom have quite different values. Recently, taking my daughter on a play date, another parent referred to the ocean where we live (Pacific Canada and location of IMCC2) as “cold, smelly and dark”. I was met by a look of indifference when I explained that my wife and I are marine biologists and our love of the ocean. I failed at the time to convert them. Upon reflection, I pondered the core connection to the ocean. What led to our different perception of the ocean? Was it geography – because the other parent was from the Prairies? That would be a simple answer, but I know dedicated marine biologists based in Winnipeg (they do Arctic work if you were wondering). Wherever you live there is at least some connection to the ocean – for instance oxygen in the air we breathe, medicines, food and transportation of goods [1]. So what made me see the ocean so differently to this other parent? The ocean, to me, is a source of great fascination and enjoyment. It dawned on me that I cared because I was exposed to nature and the outdoors at a young age leading to a strong personal affinity for the ocean. I beachcombed, rock pooled, fished, snorkelled, surfed and generally just enjoyed mucking about in and around the sea as far back as I can remember. It all started with rock pooling! I thank my parents for countless holidays in my early years sitting on often rainy and windy British beaches while I attempted to catch various intertidal fauna (blennies and gobies were a personal triumph). A beach holiday was not complete without a bucket and a net. I became interested in knowing more about the incredible array of shore creatures. In reality, I was a marine biologist before I even had a clue that such a discipline existed. I was lucky to be exposed to nature in a variety of ways as a child – whether making a frog pond, keeping fish, visiting museums, aquaria and parks, vacations with family and friends, or school trips. Similarly, when I talk to friends, within and outside of environment-related careers, their love of nature originates from childhood experience. Just writing about it brings a nostalgic smile to my face and something I can wax lyrical about over a whisky or a beer.

Courtesy of James Mortimor

Courtesy of James Mortimor

More importantly, this early experience has major repercussions for how we value the natural world. It makes me realise that an important part of my children’s upbringing is to foster their engagement with nature. Luckily, with the aid of a leaky mask, my 3 year old daughter already likes looking underwater to see what’s down there.   However, children are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature [2]. The implications of “nature deficit disorder” are very concerning for health and education [3] and, in light of our use and abuse of the world’s resources, how we value nature as a society. This is especially worrying when environmental education is being assaulted [4, 5] or subject to potential corporate interference [6, 7, 8]. To borrow from Dr. Russ Markel “Unfortunately, at a time when the natural world needs stewardship and advocacy the most – overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification, and global loss of biodiversity, are but a few examples of current challenges – humans are becoming increasingly disconnected from it. Nowhere is this trend more striking than with the remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature. In the US, in just six years (1997- 2003) the number of children with outdoor hobbies fell by half (Louv 2005). In the UK, in just one generation, the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places has fallen from more than 50% to less than 10%, and 11- to 15-year-olds in that nation now spend half their waking hours in front of a computer screen (Louv 2005). Most concerning is that as children’s engagement with nature declines, so too does the likelihood that the next generation will engage in the social and political advocacy needed to protect it” [9]. What does this mean for developing future generations of environmental stewards? It is crucial for our relationship with the planet to harness children’s intrigue [10] to connect them with nature [11, 12, 13]. To adapt a Jesuit maxim “give me a child and I’ll give you an environmentally conscious adult” [14]. I urge all attendees of IMCC and marine scientists in general (including myself) to: (1) step outside of your bubble from time-to-time; and (2) think and act to engage younger people to build a curiosity and appreciation of the marine realm.

James Mortimor is a marine biologist currently working in Canada. Find him on Twitter @Vit_Sea!

 

References

[1] Five Reasons We are All Connected to Oceans  http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/oceanscoasts/explore/five-reasons-we-are-all-connected-to-oceans.xml

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