Ethical difficulties of whale shark snorkeling

Ethical difficulties of whale shark snorkeling

After spending a great week in Malapascua (Philippines), the world capital of thresher sharks, we headed to the southern Cebu, to the small town of Oslob, famous for having year-round whale sharks feeding. Here local fishermen realized that they can make money out of feeding whale sharks with shrimps.

We got from Oslob to the place by local “taxi”, sitting on the 2nd place on the scooter and holding my DLSR with UW housing in my hands, while driving along the wet slippery serpentine. That was the invigorating start of the day.

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Shark swim vertically and suck the shrimps from the surface. After a while shark become bored, swim several meters away and start feeding again. Local whale sharks are 5-6 meters long, much less than their maximum lenght – they can grow up to 14 meters.

If you decide to go there, you should remember about several things which can make your day worse than you expected. First of all, the number of tourists is enormous – everybody goes here for the whale shakrs. The smell of shripms is everywhere, and the visibility could be much better. Nevertheless, it worth visiting if you haven’t seen this big guys before. And you should also remember that you can go to jail if you touch the shark.

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How this way of making tourism affects the ecosystem and the living of wild animals?  Many conservationists claim that feeding in Oslob is wrong, unnatural and unethical. If you google “Oslob” you can find several articles with scary titles and pics of bloody corpses of whale sharks killed by bad guys.

I understand that conservationists who write such articles love sharks. And they also love shark diving in places like Tiger Beach or Capetown, where exactly the same process takes place – shark feeding, but with the different species of sharks. The only real difference is that here in Oslob anyone can go in the water with the sharks, while in Tiger beach and other places it looks like “diving for the chosen” or “diving for the brave”, because there we dive with dangerous sharks. Isn’t it hypocritical?

I love diving with sharks and I don’t blame anyone who feeds the sharks, as long as it doesn’t cause a real harm to the animal. If the animal feels uncomfortable, it will simply go away. And I don’t think that the shark can forget how to find food if you feed it.

What is your opinion?

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Tales from the White sea. Bearded seals.

Tales from the White sea. Bearded seals.

Bearded seal is the biggest species of pinnipeds in White sea. We found those guys on the Top island near Solovetsky archiplago.
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The isle of Top is small, ibnhabited rocky island with the lighhouse in the middle. This silent and remote place gives you feeling of primal magic. Rocks of the island are covered with bearded seals. When the tide is getting low, bearded seals relaxing laying half-water on the rocks and wait for water to go away. This is the best moment to see them either from the boat or from the shore.

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Seals are adapted for living in the water, so they feel vulnerable while being on the shore, and jump into the water immediately when the boat approaches them. Some seals are more calm and feel comfortable being several meters close to people.

After getting into the water, seal becomes brave and shows interest about the boat. He gets closer and stares at you. Transformation of bearded seal:

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Once we woke up a seal sleeping on the surface.

In several years population of bearded seals increased in the result of hunting ban in the White sea. This is a good news for us, but local fishemen are not so happy about population reсovery – bearded seals get caught in the nets, destroying it and even dying inside.

I made several efforts to take underwater pictures of bearded seal, which will be published a bit later.

 

Inuit traditional hunt for marine mammals.

Inuit traditional hunt for marine mammals.

It’s not a secret that Arctic is a very severe place. There are no trees, cereals can’t grow here. It’s impossible to survive by gathering or agriculturing. Arctic is not a place for human being. The only way to survive here is fishing and hunting everything you can find. So inuits from Greenland and Canada hunt and fish for living.

Hunting is not just a part of inuit life – it’s a core of their culture, basis of their self-identity. Every man is a hunter. Inuits hunt literally everything they can – seals, whales, polar bears, caribou, musk ox, birds etc. Their hunting techniques are unique and very interesting, so let’s leave this topic for the next article.

Whales are hunted by inuits during summertime.

When man kills the animal, he takes everything – meat for food, fat for lamps, skin for clothes, kayaks and houses, tendons for making ropes, colon as the waterproof material etc. Many people consider hunting as unethical and blame hunters, especially when it’s all about hunting rare and beautiful animals. But what about hunting if there is no other way to survive? I don’t blame people who hunt for living, if there is no other way to survive.

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Humpback diving away from our boat scared by engine sound.

This kind of traditional hunting takes place nowaday in the most remote northern regions of Greenland and Canadian Arctic.

However, the lifestyle of the most inuit people changed dramatically in XX-XXI centuries. Denmark and Canada pays benefts to them, and hunting is not essential for living anymore. The availability of technologies, especially firearms and motorized boats, has lead to the depletion of the Greenland coast.

Take a look at this poster. This one I bought in Tasiilaq during our trip to Greenland. This poster shows the whale species you can meet there. Is that true that you can meet so many species here? So why didn’t Greenland became a whale-lovers capital o the world?

Yes, it is possible to meet different whale species here. But there is not so many whales – you can see much more in other places. The second thing is the whales are extremely shy here and they dive immediately when they hear the sound of engine – the sound of death for the whales. We didn’t seen one single seal or caribou, but what we have seen was shops where you can buy narwhal’s horn, polar bear’s claws and other cute souvenirs.

Tooth of killer whale in the local shop. Tasiilaq, Greenland.

What is the meaning of hunting for the most inuint nowadays? The possibility to kill animal for selling it’s parts to the tourists? For example, would you like to buy a toy seal covered with the real seal fur? Does hunting remains being a core of inuit culture, or is it just a way to get some additional money? Could you count killing narwhal by riffle as the traditional hunting? I don’t have the answers. What’s your opinion?

Hall of our hotel in Tasiilaq. On the right from bear’s skin you can see narwhal’s horn.

Happy ending story

Happy ending story

Human impact on planet Earth is becoming more and more obvious nowadays. Excessive resource usage, global warming and species extinction are the most notable effects of humankind presence on the planet.

According to IUCN data, 844 species of animals and plants became extinct during last 500 years. And the reason for this extinction was, doubtless, a humankind, because 500 years is not the a significant time for natural exticntion.

Helpless dodo bird from Mauritius, Tasmanian thylacine, two giant ostrich species – moa and elephant bird, steller’s sea cow decimated in 27 years after being discovered…  the most known, but the lesser part of sad stroies of extinction caused by people. Plenty of species are still moving to the edge. Our grandkids risk to be born in the world without tigers, black rhinos, blue whales and other animals.

But this chronicles contains happy ending stories. I would name the whaling ban and the acceptance of CITES among the most important points of wildlife conservation in XX century.

For USSR and Eastern Europe, wisent recovery became the most notable achievment.


Wisent also known as European bison, got such names as “Tsar’s beast” and “The lord of Taiga”. This giants look like a relicts survived from the Ice age and can grow up to 2 meters height and weight up to 1200 kilos. Such big and beautiful animal was popular hunting target and became nearly extinct in the beginning of XX century. Plenty of national parks and zoos were destroyed or abandoned after Worl War I. In 1926th the last wild wisent was killed in mountains of Caucasus, and from 45 to 70 individauls left in zoos and private reserves.

After the terrors of war were gone, scientists and conservationists from USSR and Eastern Europe have cooperated to start the wisent recovery programm. After decades of hard work, the goal was riched – today wisent population counts 4500 individuals, and most of them live in the wild. There are three most important places in CIS where wisent population was recovered – Belovezhski forest, Caucasus nature reserve and Priokasko-Terrasny nature reserve, where I took the pictures for this article.

This story has became a great example of how human efforts can  save a species that nearly gone extinct. I hope we all can make a right conclusions from this lesson.

 

National property

National property

Africa is full of wildlife. This is a white rhino, which is considered to be the national property and protected in most African countries, and South Africa is not an exception. Africans love rhinos, but some of them love money more and become poachers. Every poacher tries to grab a part of rhino’s horn and sell it to China. The horn powder costs a lot in Chineese black markets, because somebody still believes in it’s magical power for improving man’s potency.

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Chineese black markets have brought many animal species to the edge of extinction. What do you think, which punishment would poacher get for an attempt to kill national property? Would it be a couple of years in jail and a fine of several thousand dollars? The right answer is death. If rangers of national park or other protected territory meet a poacher, they have right to kill him. Africans are very good in protecting the world where they live.

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Orcas in Norway 2016. First day at sea.

Orcas in Norway 2016. First day at sea.

Our fingers were crossed for the weather. And it worked! On the second day we left the shore and headed north for the whales. Arctic morning is dunk, ship covered with snow, waves, short briefing and the hope for encoutering whales. Probalay, this feeling of hope is even stronger than the excitment of encounter itself. You feel this hope from the very begginig of planning the trip up to this special day when everything should happen.

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And here are the first orcas. We have met them in half-an-hour way from the harbour! Three years ago it was the end of 4th day.

Several pods passed our ship, but we decided not to chase them. Those whales were traveling, which means you can’t get really close to them – they will just pass you on high speed and dissapear in the blue. What we really needed was a pod of hunting whales.

We met a single male orca near the fishing trawler, which is not unusual – orcas are often feeding on fish which falls out of trawling nets. The strange thing was that the ship was not fishing that time, just standing on one place, but the whale was keeping close. He was behaving agressive, tailing and breaching, so we decided not to enter the water. It’s generally known that you should avoid getting close to the single male orcas and to goup of sleeping orcas.  

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We have seen a great illsutration for the plastic pollution of the ocean, which became a big problem for our planet. Even the most dangerous and smart predators in the ocean suffer from plastic.

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