Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Philippines: Empowering Youth to Advocate for CITES

Guest Blog
by Leah Meth

Shark Defenders recently caught up with Anna Oposa, Chief Mermaid and co-founder of Save Philippine Seas and a passionate marine advocate. At just 24, she’s the youngest and only Filipino recipient of the €50,000 Future for Nature award, has represented her country at the British Council’s Global Changemakers Asian Youth Summit, was a delegate for the Philippines at the 2010 UNFCC conference, and a part of the Global Shaper Community at the 2012 World Economic Forum.

Nowadays, Anna can be found working to protect sharks back home. The Philippines are a very important vote this year at CITES, so we asked her to talk a bit about the importance of marine conservation there, her work, and her perspective on how young people can help bring about much needed change.

Anna and Waqi Whitetip
Leah: What inspired you to become involved in shark conservation?

Anna: I've always been fascinated with sharks. My two brothers and my dad became scuba divers before me, and they always shared stories about seeing sharks underwater and how they were nothing like the Jaws-like image most people had.

In 2010, I was a junior facilitator in a program called the Denso Youth For Earth Action held in Vietnam and Japan and one of the participants from Thailand, Bell, had a great passion for sharks. Her energy was infectious. The more I learned, the more interested I got. It's one of the more challenging fields in marine conservation, which keeps me on my toes. I believe that it's a good fit for my strengths as an advocate.

Leah: Can you tell us a bit about what the Philippine seas are like, their importance and some of the main threats that sharks and marine life are facing there?

Anna: The Philippines has been touted as the center of biodiversity because of its abundant resources. It provides seafood and livelihood opportunities in agriculture and tourism to millions of Filipinos. However, it's also the center of marine adversity. Even if we have many laws, illegal fishing still happens in a lot of coastal areas. Whenever one method is banned, another one pops up, and it's usually more destructive. The only species protected by law is the whale shark. Everything else can be hunted and fished

Leah: We’ve read all about your amazing initiatives and last year’s Future for Nature award. Can you tell us about what you plan to do with the award, your Thresher Shark Shelter project and your top down, bottom up approach?

Anna: I'm using the financial resources from Future for Nature to enhance the protection of Monad Shoal, a seamount east of Malapascua Island where thresher sharks are seen on a regular basis due to their unique relationship with cleaner wrasse.

The top-down, bottom-up approach means involving the national and local government in policy-making and law compliance and enforcement, and the communities and key stakeholders in the island to make the efforts sustainable.

The project has three essential phases: Information, Education, and Communication activities for eco-friendly diving practices; coastal law enforcement training for the sea wardens and strengthening the links among the government agencies; and improving the confidence of the school teachers in teaching environmental education to the youth.

Leah: We just read a study about how bad the public image of sharks – what do you tell people who are afraid of sharks? 

Anna: It helps to bring out statistics -- that there are only about 10 fatal shark attacks a year, while we human beings kill up to 73 million sharks a year. People are always surprised. It also helps to show the tourism potential of sharks. A good example is Donsol, in Bicol. When whale sharks weren't protected yet, it only had a few hundred tourists. When whale shark watching was established, the number ballooned to over 7,000 in a few years.

Leah: Shark Defenders is very much about empowering youth. What advice to you have to young people across the globe who want to get involved in protecting sharks? How can we make our voices heard?

Anna: According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 27. This, for me, means that there is no better time to be alive and young. The collective voice and needs of young people can no longer be ignored, especially with technology and media as great vehicles of empowerment. We can make our voices heard in many, many ways, from writing our government officials to initiating projects to participating in international campaigns like Shark Stanley. Our young age should always be seen as an advantage, not a hindrance. Our willingness to learn makes up for our inexperience.

For more on Anna and her work, visit

Shark Stanley meets The Shark

Cartoonist Anju Sabu and her character The Shark have joined the Shark Stanley campaign.  India will be a key player at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, and Shark Stanley will need all the help he can get.  Thanks, Anju!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dispatches from Bimini: It's Better in The Bahamas

Guest Blog
by Jillian Morris

Tigers, hammerheads, bulls, lemons, Caribbean reefs, nurse, and black tips are just a few of the species that attract divers, film crews, and scientists from across the globe to the crystal clear waters of The Bahamas. Known for its amazing shark diversity, The Bahamas is also no stranger to shark research, education, and conservation. The first Shark Free Marina in the world was established in The Bahamas and in July 2011 approximately 243,244 square miles were established as a shark sanctuary. International organizations have shined a light on protecting sharks in these islands, but the locals have been integral in making their voices heard about the desire and need to protect these animals.

My husband Duncan and I spend a lot of time on two tiny little islands in the northern Bahamas known collectively as Bimini. Despite being small geographically, Bimini is big on setting a standard for shark conservation and education.

The South island is home to the first Shark Free Marina as well as the world renowned Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab). Groundbreaking shark research continues under founder Dr. Samuel “Doc” Gruber and director Dr. Tristan Guttridge. Years of invaluable data has been collected and been instrumental in establishing legislation and regulations regarding protection of various species.

I was excited to share Bimini with Shark Stanley and knew he would get a warm welcome. My husband and I run a conservation media company called Oceanicallstars and we were Stanley’s first friends. He posed with us next to the Shark Free Marina sign at the Bimini Sands and then headed out to meet some more amazing people. Grant Johnson and Katie Grudecki are former Sharklab managers who now run eco-tours for the Bimini Sands and they were happy to snap a picture with Stanley. They educate guests about the ocean as well as the amazing mangrove forests so many animals, both above and below the surface, rely on in Bimini. Juvenile lemon sharks use the mangroves as a nursery area and this habitat is being threatened. It is all connected and people must realize how import saving wild habitat is. Even our puppy Lusca and my world-traveling shark Monty wanted to get their picture with Stanley.

Stanley was also happy to meet a few of the local students who love the sharks that are literally in their backyard. It is crucial for the next generation to know they have a voice and they can make a difference on behalf of the animals and the environment. These students should be proud to be Biminites and proud of the work their tiny little island is doing to save sharks.

We made our way to the Sharklab where Stanley hung out with director Dr. Tristan Guttridge and manager Jill Brooks. It was here Stanley met his first real shark, a juvenile nurse shark. These cute little guys, like Stanley, are great ambassadors for all sharks. Most people don’t use the word, “ cute,” to describe sharks, so when they see a mini version of one it catalyzes new thoughts and feelings about these stereotyped, “man-eating monsters.”

Stanley will continue to go on more adventures with us and hopefully meet some more sharks!

The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends

Click HERE to download your copy of The Adventures of Shark Stanley
Guest Blog
By Sage Magazine

Shark Stanley, the star of a grassroots campaign to protect sharks and rays, was already an international celebrity. Now he’s the hero of a children’s book, too.

The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends, available today in a special online release by Shark Defenders and Sage Magazine, follows Stan — a courageous hammerhead shark — and his three companions, Pierre the Porbeagle, Waqi the Whitetip, and Manta Reina, as they navigate human perils through their undersea home. The quartet dodges longlines, harpoons, slime-covered reefs, and garbage patches, along the way discovering how sharks and other predators help keep ecosystems healthy.

The four characters correspond to the four species of sharks and rays to which the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) will consider granting increased protection at its annual meeting in March. Hammerhead, Oceanic Whitetip, and Porbeagle populations have plummeted in recent years as a result of the shark fin industry, which contributes to the death of up to 73 million sharks every year. Mantas, whose gill rakers are prized in herbal medicine, are in similarly dire straits.

Enter Shark Stanley, the brainchild of Leah Meth, Onon Bayasgalan, and the non-profit Shark Defenders.

Last fall, Meth and Bayasgalan, students at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, decided they wanted to help get sharks protected at CITES. But how? The internet was already saturated with shark conservation petitions, and while many of these petitions were effective, the two students believed that a creative new strategy could mobilize grassroots and prod officials.

Photos are compiled from across the globe and turned into a unique petition.
Visit for information on taking your own photos.
Their solution: Shark Stanley, a cartoon hammerhead designed and illustrated by New Haven-based artist Daniel Yagmin, Jr. Like his predecessor Flat Stanley, Shark Stanley is intended to be cut out and photographed all over the world; unlike Flat Stanley, pictures of Shark Stan are uploaded to a network of social media platforms, forming the backbone of a global conservation campaign. While Meth and Bayasgalan hoped that Shark Stanley would gain traction, they never could have guessed that their creation would go so viral: to date, they’ve collected over 1,500 photographs from shark-lovers in 84 countries, and dozens of non-profits, aquariums, and dive shops have leapt at the chance to sponsor Shark Stanley.

“Our goal is to bring something new to the table, to provide an educational tool that goes beyond a signature on a petition,” Meth says. “We wanted to create a charismatic character with whom young people — and the young at heart — can build their own relationships, while making meaningful connections with youth around the world.”

To fully develop the personalities of their toothy protagonists, Meth and Bayasgalan hit upon the idea of incorporating a children’s book into their campaign. The duo recruited Yagmin to provide watercolor illustrations and fellow Yale students Ben Goldfarb and Monte Kawahara to co-write the book and provide graphic design, respectively.

Click here to download your copy of The Adventures of Shark Stanley
From the book, you can expect underlying themes you don't often find in the children's literature or mainstream campaigns. Shark fin fishing is a vastly nuanced problem, and the book’s creators sought to capture the full complexity of the crisis. “It was important for us to portray the global nature of the shark fin industry,” says Meth. “We wanted to demonstrate that the fin trade is driven by larger market forces, rather than simply villainizing local fishermen who are often just trying to make a living.” "We also wanted to take an equally broad approach to understanding the role of sharks in maintaining the health of the ocean as well as ecosystem services key to human livelihoods," she continues, "translating some of the more technical aspects of the effects of apex predator loss into something kids could understand and enjoy."

Spoiler alert: the book ends happily for all its characters. “Sharks and humans have always been portrayed as antagonists,” says Goldfarb. “We suggest that our relationship with sharks can be symbiotic, that sharks are worth far more to us alive than dead.”

Now Shark Stanley’s creators have to hope that the CITES delegates respond to the message. Each representative will be mailed a copy of the book, an informational packet, and a booklet of shark aficionados posing with their Stanley cut-outs — de facto "signatures" on a unique petition that displays the many global faces of shark conservation. Meth and Bayasglan hope to collect photographs from all 177 CITES countries.

In March, the duo will travel to Bangkok for the conference to ensure that Stanley gets his point across. Oceanic whitetips, hammerheads, and porbeagles narrowly missed protection in 2010, and the case for their endangered listing is even stronger this time around. If sharks and rays gain protected status this spring, Shark Stanley — or, more accurately, the thousands of Shark Stanleys now circling the globe — will deserve a hefty dose of the credit.

The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends went to press last week. The print version will be available for free at the Shark Symposium at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies on February 15; copies will also be distributed at Mystic and Norwalk Aquariums in the days prior to the symposium. The book will also be available for purchase online.

For more information about the Shark Defenders campaign, check out

Sunday, January 27, 2013

First Look: Of Shark and Man

Guest Blog
by Angelo Villagomez

I first met aspiring film-maker David Diley in October 2011 on a dive with the world famous bull sharks of Beqa Lagoon. I struck up a conversation with him because he had an arm wrapped in shark tattoos and a camera that gave me some serious lens-envy. In the years since we have kept up a correspondence. I caught up with him this week.

Angelo: So I see you‘ve been busy. Can you tell me about the video you just released?

David: This is the first of three teaser trailers for “of Shark and Man”, the film I’ve been working on since I quit my job in 2010. My life up to that point was not heading in the direction I had imagined when I was a lad, so I dropped everything, made the biggest life changes you could imagine, made myself homeless, and worked my backside off until I was able to make it over to Fiji for a month to shoot this film.

Angelo: So why Fiji? You could have done a story on sharks anywhere else. What was it about the bull sharks of Beqa Lagoon that intrigued you?

David: “Of Shark and Man” is part one of a series of films I am making called “From the Office to the Ocean.” Each part is location specific. I have dived with many different shark species around the world, but what makes Beqa Lagoon so special is not just the size of the Bulls there, not just the frequency of the Bulls there, and not just the sheer number of different species on the reef, but the back story as to how it came about, the effect on the local communities, and the historic significance of sharks in the area. I'm a story teller and it's a great story, whether you're a shark lover or not.

Angelo: And what do you hope to accomplish with your film besides telling a great story?

David: There are two things really. Firstly, to inspire people to see sharks in an accurate light, to appreciate them for what they are, to respect them and to ensure they are properly represented in the media, hopefully leading to empathy for their well-being in the viewer. Secondly, I want to do what I can to help raise the bar for shark related film and TV. Honestly, as someone who has grown up with sharks for the last thirty years, inspired by films by Stan Waterman, the Taylors and Eugenie Clark, I'm not hugely keen on the messaging and imagery used in so many of the more modern productions. Sharks have become a vehicle for self-promotion, dumbed down and aiming only at the lowest common denominator. Gone are the adventure, the genuine passion, and wide eyed wonder, to be replaced by sensationalised images designed to back up a story written by someone in an office somewhere thinking only about ratings.

That might sound harsh and although it's not the case with every modern day shark show or series, it's not often I see the kind of thing I want to see, so I figured if nobody else is going to do it, I might as well just do it myself. I'm coming from a place where I measure what I do against the classics “Blue Water, White Death” and “The Realm of the Shark.”

Angelo: And if people want to get involved in shark conservation, in Fiji or otherwise, what would your advice to them be?

David: In my opinion, it's always advisable to see how you can help in matters as local to you as possible, but I know from my own experience, that isn't easy if you live in an area which is not what you could consider “sharky.” If you want to be involved in global matters, before even thinking of “educating” others, you need to educate yourself. Local aquaria often run education and conservation projects, get involved with those, try to get involved with well-designed and structured initiatives run by credible organisations like Pew, Shark Defenders, Bite-Back, The Shark Trust, and CORAL.

The best way you can help really is through raising awareness. It's not that exciting, it's not sexy and it's not going to get you much thanks but what it will do, is help immeasurably in shining a light on the things which can have a quantifiable effect on the long term fight to help protect sharks. Most importantly, it's about pulling in the same direction and not being afraid to ask difficult questions, to debate and to be pragmatic. Contact the professionally run conservation groups directly and ask how best you can help and take the advice they give you, they are the ones who know how best to help.

Most importantly, try to enjoy what you contribute and remember, don't forget to celebrate the thing which attract us to them in the first place, they're awesome!

Angelo: And how can people help your project?

David: This film is not funded by a giant production company with hundreds of thousands of pounds to spend on post-production and promotion. This has been built on a foundation of love, passion, and determination and what we need more than anything is to reach as wide an audience as possible, sharing the trailers on your social media pages, blogs and mailing lists, joining our Street Team (email ) and generally helping to build awareness amongst people so that when the film is released, there is a genuine interest to see it. It's so easy to do and takes barely any effort yet it is enormously helpful, plus people can really be a part of something special.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

USA to support shark and manta rays at CITES

According to the Pew Environment Group, the Obama Administration has confirmed they will support the shark and manta ray proposals at the upcoming Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  The United States is also a cosponsor of the proposal to list  oceanic whitetip sharks on Appendix II.

This is great news!  But there is still much work to be done.  Passage of each of the proposals requires that  2/3 of voting members vote yes.  If you would like to show support to your government for shark and manta ray protections at CITES, you can take your photo with Shark Stanley and Friends and mail them to us.  We have the support of the White House, will you help us reach the rest of the world?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

CITES Works: Examples of Successful Species Conservation

In March of 2013, representatives from 177 nations will come together in Bangkok, Thailand for the next Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At the 2013 meeting, Parties will consider proposals for a number of commercially valuable marine species, including five species of sharks and two species of manta ray.

In effect since 1975, CITES is one of the oldest international multilateral environmental treaties and is based on the premise that some species of animals and plants should be protected from international trade and that other species can sustain levels of trade as long as it is regulated and monitored. Proposals are put forward by country proponents for inclusion on two Appendices and then voting occurs at the semi-annual Conference of the Parties.

Animals and plant species on Appendix I are prohibited from international commercial trade while species that are added to Appendix II are included because there is a need to ensure that trade is maintained at sustainable levels. Trade in Appendix II species is monitored through requirements for export permits and justification that exports will not pose a detriment to wild populations (i.e., governments make a “non-detriment finding”). An Appendix II listing is not a trade ban, but rather a means by which sustainable, legal trade can be facilitated and ensured for the future.

Some examples of species that have benefited from the protections afforded by CITES:

Photo: National Geographic
African elephants (Loxodonta africana) were listed on Appendix I of CITES in 1989 due to high levels of poaching for ivory in the 1970s and 1980s, with some countries reporting a decline of more than 75 percent. Encouragingly, populations of the following Range States have since been transferred back to Appendix II and limited ivory trade has begun: Botswana (1997), Namibia (1997), South Africa (2000) and Zimbabwe (1997) as populations have recovered from the poaching. Other populations, in East Africa in particular, have been able to increase due to the benefits of the Appendix I listing and reduction in poaching for the international ivory trade.

Photo: Wikipedia
Vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna) are thought to be a wild ancestor of alpacas and are found high in the South American Andes of southern Peru, western Bolivia, north-western Argentina, and northern Chile. Historical records suggest that before the colonial period, the population was in excess of several million individuals, but by 1960 the population had been reduced to around 10,000. Their fur is used to produce high quality shawls. Strong international and national conservation efforts, including being listed on CITES Appendix I and now II, has resulted in an increase in the population to nearly 200,000 animals in less than 30 years. The trade is now well regulated under Appendix II—having benefited from a period of inclusion in Appendix I.

Photo: National Geographic
The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) currently has a large and healthy population, but during the 1950s this charismatic species was in danger of extinction. American alligators were hunted aggressively for their skin used for luxury leather goods such as purses and belts. This species was given multiple domestic protections and was listed on Appendix II in 1979 because of significant international demand for leather products. It is still listed on Appendix II, which ensures that trade in products from this species is controlled through the use of permits and quotas. The US is a major exporter of American alligator skins, bringing in jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.

Photo: USGS
The paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) is found in 22 U.S. states, mostly in major rivers such as the Missouri, Ohio and Mississippi. This species suffered heavily from legal and illegal harvesting in the past, due to its valuable meat and eggs, which are sold as caviar. The species was listed on Appendix II of CITES in 1998 and now most trade in this species is limited to caviar from aquaculture sources. The species is now threatened more by habitat destruction and river modification as a result of dams throughout the Mississippi River basin.

Photo: Virginia Herpetological Society
The common box turtle (Terrapene carolina) has suffered from decreased population numbers because of habitat destruction caused by agricultural and urban development. Collection for the international pet trade has also significantly decreased populations in some areas. Box turtles are a long lived animal with a slow reproductive rate which makes it difficult for the species to sustain these types of pressures. The species was listed on Appendix II of CITES in 1995 (and proposed by the United States), and trade is now far less of a threat to its existence.

Photo: Queen Conch Working Group
The queen conch (Strombus gigas) is an edible marine gastropod that occurs throughout the Caribbean Sea, including Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, into the Gulf of Mexico. The queen conch has been heavily fished for its meat, while the shells and pearls are sought by collectors and for jewelry. Because these animals are slow-growing, late to mature (3-5 years), and tend to aggregate in shallow water to spawn, they are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing. The Queen conch was listed on Appendix II in 1992, and has benefited from increased collaboration among countries of the Caribbean on its conservation and management as a result.

Carlotta Testifies for Shark Protections in Yap

Thank you, Mr. Chair for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Carlotta Leon Guerrero. I am a former senator from Guam and double past president of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures. I also represented the Pacific on the Pew Ocean Commission, where I worked to make recommendations on US ocean policy. I have worked on marine policy issues for nearly two decades.

I offer my testimony today as one of the leading experts in establishing sustainable shark management in the Pacific. Over the last three years I have worked with the Pew Environment Group to develop policies for protecting sharks in the CNMI, Guam, and RMI. I am currently working with conservationists in Fiji, Kiribati, and FSM on passing similar measures.

Sharks are important to Micronesian culture. In Chamorro we call them Halu’u, and our fishermen have always respected them. The earliest writings by western visitors marveled at how we had no fear of sharks.

I am here today to tell you that sharks are also important for our environment and our economy.

By protecting sharks, they will in turn protect your reefs. As predators and scavengers, they maintain the ecological balance of the marine ecosystem. Remove the sharks and you risk disrupting that delicate equilibrium.

The number one draw for Yap divers are the sharks and manta rays that swim in your waters. While this body has been forwarding thinking in protecting mantas, creating one of the first global sanctuaries for this species, you have not yet acted on sharks. While no economic studies have been completed specific to Yap, your neighbor Palau has quantified the value of the shark diving industry as worth $18 million per year, about 8% of GDP.

By choosing to pass this law Yap will join a growing movement of Pacific people to protect these important animals. I encourage you to implement fines that will adequately deter the economic incentive to fish for sharks. And I encourage you to work together with your neighbors on issues related to enforcement, research, and education.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero is the executive director of the Ayuda Foundation and a former member of the Guam Senate.  The Yap Legislature is holding a public hearing to create a shark sanctuary today. Yap is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Take Shark Stanley to Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean

Some of Stanley's supporters in South Korea
Shark Stanley may only be one month old, but he's already been to 73 countries all across the globe.  Our goal is for him to visit all 177 CITES member countries before the next convention of the parties begins on March 3 in Bangkok, Thailand.


We realize this petition is more involved than those from other groups, but we're convinced the impact will be so much greater.  Anyone who participates in this campaign has taken the time to print up Stanley and his friends, cut them out, take photos, and load them onto social networks.  That's a lot more difficult than clicking like on Facebook or signing an online petition.  It's also a lot more involved and in doing so shows the commitment of the shark conservation community.

So if you haven't taken your photo with Shark Stanley yet, what are you waiting for?  Print him up, cut him out, and email us the photos.  And if you've already taken photos of yourself, can you contact friends you may have living in the following countries and ask them to participate?  As you can see, we need your help to find Shark Stanley more friends in Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean:

Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Ukraine.

Latin American & Caribbean
Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syrian Arab Republic, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

There’s science, and then there’s politics

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According to the Pew Environment Group, the UN Advisory Panel that makes recommendations for proposals at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has recommended support for the oceanic whitetip, hammerhead, and porbeagle shark proposals at this year's convention of the parties in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Food and Agriculture Organization unanimously agreed that oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks meet the criteria for CITES listing. For porbeagle, the majority of the panel members also believed the species met the criteria for listing on Appendix II.

While the panel was unable to come to a decision regarding the manta ray species, they did acknowledge various risk factors including their low productivity, the seasonal and predictable aggregations, the lack of reliable catch and population information, and lacking management at the regional and international levels in many areas.

This doesn't mean that the fight to list sharks at CITES this year is over; far from it. We're just getting started.

The FAO panel makes its recommendations based on science, which requires data. The data strongly suggests protections are needed for the shark species. For manta rays, the data isn’t there, but the writing, so to speak, is on the wall. The science also doesn’t say they are healthy, which is an important fact to point out.

CITES is all about politics. There are countries that want to see sharks protected, and there are countries that do not. The undecideds are being lobbied by both sides to vote their respective ways.

If anything, the urgency is even higher. The science says these protections are needed, but there is a very real threat that politics will get in the way. That is why we need to show the global support for these proposals. And that is what Shark Stanley and friends are doing.

If you haven't taken your photo with Shark Stanley yet, what are you waiting for? And if you have, can you ask 20 friends to do the same?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Deconstructing Shark Fin Industry Spin II

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

The Calgary Herald this morning contains some very well constructed arguments against shark conservation in a story Opposition builds against Calgary’s shark fin ban. The topic of shark fin industry spin looks like it will be one that comes up a lot this year. Challenge accepted.

A group called Coalition for Transparent and Accountable Government “suggests that since finning is illegal and widely denounced, the shark ingredients that wind up in pricey Chinatown soups come from other means, and that most shark species aren’t at risk of becoming endangered.”

There are two questions to dissect here: (1) Are sharks fins served in Canadian shark fin soup killed by finning; and (2) are most sharks endangered?

The Coalition for Transparent and Accountable Government argues that “the majority of shark fins have been legally harvested.” They are probably right.

Shark fishing is legal in much of the world and for the most part there are no controls as long as they are not finned. There are no annual catch limits in place anywhere on the globe. And in places where maximum sustainable yield has been determined, it is often surpassed. This has led to many species being overfished and overfishing is still occurring in much of their range.

The problem of overfishing, however, is different from finning. Finning does not refer to the act of killing a shark. A shark is only considered finned when its body is dumped at sea. Shark finning determines how a shark is killed, not how many sharks are killed, or rather, how many sharks live.

It is impossible to tell if the shark fin in a bowl of soup was finned because a finned fin and a legally caught fin look exactly the same and taste exactly the same.

Therefore, banning shark fin soup has little to do with shark finning. The shark fin bans do not necessarily reduce the incentive to fin sharks, but by legislating a reduction in the trade of shark, they reduce the amount of shark parts in global trade, and ultimately the number of sharks that are killed.

Conservationists should be comfortable with this. It is not a bad thing to move away from finning campaigns because the practice has already been banned throughout most of the world. That is something to celebrate. However, the very real threat facing sharks today is not finning, but overfishing. There is still much work to be done on that. 

This leads us to the second question of whether or not most sharks are endangered. The Coalition for Transparent and Accountable Government is right, most sharks are not endangered. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses only 143 of the 450 or so shark species as threatened or near threatened with extinction. 143 does not meet the threshold of most sharks, it only reaches the threshold of many sharks.

However, most of those 450 sharks are deep water species that rarely come into contact with humans and they are not the species being killed for soup. Last year, the Pew Environment Group looked at what species of shark were appearing in shark fin soup and found that most of them were threatened or near threatened, including endangered scalloped hammerheads. A similar study in Vancouver had the same results.

Therefore, while most sharks are not endangered, most sharks killed for their fins are. That is why a ban on shark fin soup is justified.

Alyssa Sablan is Shark Defender's student intern.

Shark Stanley Goes to Hong Kong

Guest Blog
by Onon Bayasgalan

Shark Stanley is a curious shark indeed! Although he had visited 67 countries in the past month, meeting absolutely amazing people across the globe, he still had a thirst to do some more travelling. As a New Year’s gift, I told him he could travel to any country he wished, as long as it was warm (I wanted a holiday too, you see). He answered without a moment’s thought that he wanted to go to Hong Kong.

He was very happy about the progress that was made in China, where shark fin soup will be banned from being served in state banquets in two years. However, he knew that Hong Kong was still one of the main hubs where shark fin soup is on seafood menus. He wanted to see these stores and restaurants with his own eyes, and I truly couldn’t shield him from seeing what was really out there.

With a little reluctance, I told him that we could go to Hong Kong only if we also visited the island Hainan (where it is warmer). So, at the crack of dawn on New Year’s Day, we left the John F. Kennedy airport for a new adventure. Here is a collection of photos we took throughout our trip.

There were moments where Shark Stanley had to hide in my bag while I looked at shark fins, inspecting their prices and sizes. He was not disheartened by these visits, and in fact his resolve to fight for the cause of our campaign became only firmer.

The photos speak for themselves, but I have to say, I was supremely impressed by Shark Stanley’s display of compassion. He would sit down for long conversations with all kinds of people, always taking care to listen to their stories. His natural curiosity sparked their interest in him, and they were always happy to pose with his friendly self. However, a couple of policemen, grocery store ladies, and a handful of stewardesses were a little shy about posing with him while on duty.

Our funniest experience was when we met a grumpy man who became all giggly, and most bashful when we asked to photograph him. He only relented to posing with Manta Reina if he could hide completely behind her massive physique (he has the red plaid shirt on)! Stanley managed to have coffee with Manta Reina and Pierre the Porbeagle in Hong Kong for an afternoon, but the rest of the trip was all business.

Stanley is back to traveling solo again! The last we spotted him, he was in India. Be nice to him if you see him, his only agenda is to have meaningful conversations with wonderful people.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two Perspectives on Indonesian Fishermen

The Asahi Shimbun (a Japanese newspaper) published a story yesterday, Japan's fishing industry offers huge opportunities for young Indonesians.  The story explains how Indonesians are learning Japanese, attending school, and landing jobs fishing in the coastal waters around Japan.  It is a good piece of reporting and very interesting, capturing a slice of life you might not otherwise know about.  There is no mention of sharks, but there is discussion about the fish processing plant in Kesennuma, the one time shark fishing capital of the world.  Kesennuma was flatted by the 2011 tsunami and several Indonesians working there survived the tragedy.  The Daily Yomiuri reports that the fishery in the region is approximately half what it was prior to the tsunami.

The story published two days ago on Stuff, Taiwanese fishing boats a threat to killer sharks, is a bit sensationalist.  First of all, oceanic whitetips and silky sharks are not killer sharks.  But it does have some important messages and is worth the read.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Take the Shark Stanley Challenge

Bronze shark bracelets courtesy of iDesignworks/Louise Chong
We’re on the lookout for the “best of” Shark Stanley and are offering prizes to the winners. We have three categories, and the winner of each will receive a unique bronze shark bracelet made by Canadian artist Louise Chong (retail value $250) and official certification as a Shark Stanley Global Ambassador.

Shark Stanley agrees: It's more fun in the Philippines.
Best ‘Shark Stanley’ Photo
We are looking for the single photo that will represent the global youth of the world and their wish to protect sharks at CITES. Elements that will go into the winning photo are: (1) smiling, happy people; (2) photos with celebrities; (3) iconic locations in the background; (4) artistic quality of the photo; (5) likes; (6) shares; and (7) comments. Email up to five entries to Our editors will pick their favorites and upload them to an album on Shark Defenders Facebook page (we encourage you to have your friends like, share, and comment on the photo). A winner will be chosen on February 14, 2013. Points will be deducted for: (1) photos with no people; and (2) doctored photos (i.e. using photoshop instead of an actual cutout of Shark Stanley).

For example, when Shark Defenders was trying to get the Obama Administration to respond to our shark petition on We The People, we posted a photo of Barack Obama on a skateboard with nunchaku jumping over a shark while dodging an exploding helicopter. We think this photo might be doctored, so we would not consider it for this contest.

Best ‘Shark Stanley’ Facebook Album
Create an album on your Facebook page and upload photos of your friends and family holding Shark Stanley. Email the album link to (make sure the album is public; if we can’t see it, we can’t judge it). We’ll pick the best album on February 14, 2013.

Consideration will be given to: (1) number of photos with different people; (2) number of people tagged in the album; (3) likes; (4) shares; (5) comments; and (6) photos from multiple countries. We encourage you to have your friends like, share, and comment on the album. Points will be deducted for: (1) photos with no people; (2) and doctored photos (i.e. using photoshop instead of an actual cutout of Shark Stanley)..

Best ‘Shark Stanley’ Media
Media, whether it is YouTube, television, blog, or print, will help Shark Stanley travel around the world. This category is intended for our partners, but is open to the general public. Create a YouTube video, blog, or appear on television or in the newspaper and send us the link at Consideration will be given to: (1) global reach of the media; (2) creativity of the piece; (3) resulting web traffic at from the media. We’ll pick the best media after the CITES meeting on March 31, 2013.

If you have any questions, please contact us at We reserve the right to alter the rules and/or cancel this contest at any time.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shark Stanley Visits Guam

I think I know what those Chinese characters mean.
Shark Stanley hit the shores of Guam last week and visited some of the island's famous iconic spots.  George Washington High School's Marine Mania club sent in these photos.  They are the best set of photos we have received so far.  We have posted the photos to our Facebook page.

Beautiful Tumon Bay
Shark Defenders is compiling all of the Shark Stanley photos into a unique petition that will literally show the faces of shark conservation around the world.  We need beautiful, smiling faces from around the world.  The best photos will be those taken in front of iconic locations that government decision makers will recognize.  In Guam these locations are near the ocean and relate to ancient Chamorro culture.  What are these places in your country?  Those are the photos we want you to send us.

Even Sirena the mermaid loves Shark Stanley
Shark Stanley has been to 60 countries so far, well on his way to 177.  Additionally, over 50 organizations, clubs, dive shops, and businesses have signed up as official partners.  Becoming a partner is simple: just write a blog or story about Shark Stanley on your website and help us get at least 10 photos.

Shark Stanley goes for a swim
Guam has been at the forefront of shark conservation for several years now.  In 2011, Governor Eddie Calvo signed a law banning the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin.  At the time, Guam was only the third place in the world to have such a law.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Shawn Heinrichs: Manta Reina's International Ambassador

Guest Blog
by Leah Meth

The goal of the Shark Stanley and Friends campaign is to find supporters of shark and manta ray conservation in every single country voting at the upcoming Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand and have them take their photos with Shark Stanley, Manta Reina, Pierre le Porbeagle, and Waqi Whitetip. Each photo will represent a ‘signature,’ and we are compiling a petition that will show the global faces of shark conservation to give to government officials voting at the meeting. As of this writing, Onon and I have reached 56 countries, well on our way to 177.

We are teaming up with conservation organizations, dive shops, classrooms, scientists, and other caring individuals to advocate for these protections. We hope to introduce many of our partners to you through a series of interviews we are writing for Shark Defenders.
Shawn Heinrichs with Manta Reina.
Visit for more info
When it comes to manta rays, one can’t go very far without coming across the name of Shawn Heinrichs. Shawn is an independent filmmaker and founder of Blue Sphere Media, a production company specializing in underwater, adventure, and conservation films. He also serves on the International Board of WildAid, on the Board of Shark Savers, and is an Associate Director of Manta Trust.

I had the chance to catch up with Shawn this week and we talked about his work with manta rays.

Leah: You have a pretty cool job, Shawn. How did you get involved in manta ray conservation?

Shawn: I have been filming underwater for over a decade and fell in love with manta rays immediately upon my first encounter with them. They are such gentle and graceful creatures, and the connection they make with divers is undeniable. Several years ago I noticed manta rays appearing in shark markets, lined up in the streets and being butchered. This was heartbreaking to witness and I had to learn more, so began a journey of discovery that revealed a growing fishery for mantas. It turns out they are being targeting for their gills which are used as an ingredient in alternative medicine. This long journey resulted in Manta Ray of Hope.

Leah: And I understand Manta Ray of Hope has been a driving force behind getting both species of manta proposed for listing at CITES. How will a CITES listing help?

Shawn: CITES listings are binding upon the 177 member nations that are party to the treaty. By listing mantas under Appendix II, any member nation desiring to trade in manta products will be required to demonstrate that these fisheries are sustainably managed. Given mantas extremely low reproduction and growth rates, this will be difficult to demonstrate.

Leah: Are the proposals going to pass? What kind of support do they have?

Shawn: Over the past year there has been a groundswell of support to protect mantas. As awareness builds about their vulnerability and the current state of overexploitation, scientists, NGOs, and individuals are rallying to support them. Currently a growing number of nations are responding to that call and committing their support for the proposals, but we need more support!

Leah: So what can people at home reading this do to help?

Shawn: Though the CITES voting process sometimes happens behind closed doors by delegates from member nations, there is still an opportunity for the global community to have their voice heard. Anyone who cares, can take their photos with Shark Stanley and Manta Reina and send them to their CITES representatives. Also, after taking their own photos, go help us find people in all 177 countries to do the same.

Leah Meth is a masters student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Contributing Editor at Shark Defenders.  For more information on manta rays and what Shawn is doing to protect them, visit

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gleek Out with Darren Criss

Darren Criss and Shark Stanley
Look what we found on Instagram this morning.  That's Glee star Darren Criss with Shark Stanley.  Thanks for the photo, CarriLynn!

International Trade Killing Endangered Sharks in Fiji

The Fiji Times reports this week on a possible cause of death for the 50 baby scalloped hammerhead sharks that washed up on an island near Suva, the capital city of Fiji.
Dr Demian Chapman who is an internationally recognised shark expert also conducted a study on the shark fin trade in Suva and he said there was a possibility of foul play in the deaths. “The concentration of so many washing up in an area does suggest a fishery discard. Notably, litters of 30 plus are possible in this species,” Dr Chapman said.

Perhaps a gravid female was killed and her pups removed during gutting and discarded. Fin traders would pay good money for adult scalloped hammerhead fins,” he said.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) as endangered, meaning these animals face a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.  The killing of 50 juvenile scalloped hammerheads is the moral equivalent of killing 50 baby giant pandas, sea otters, or blue whales.

Throughout most of its range, the killing of scalloped hammerheads is unregulated and unreported.  Listing this species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II as proposed by Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, will improve the situation, much as it has for other animal species. Adoption of the proposal will result in strict regulation in order to avoid utilization and trade incompatible with the survival of the species in the wild.

The proposal will be adopted with the affirmative vote of 2/3 of CITES member countries at the convention of the parties being held in Bangkok, Thailand in March.  If you live in a CITES member country (such as Fiji), you can contact your government officials and ask them to vote in support of the shark and manta ray proposals.  Your country’s representative is listed on the CITES website.  You can send them emails, write letters, or make phone calls.  You can also participate in the Shark Stanley and Friends campaign and help us showcase the global support for shark and manta ray protections.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Introducing Waqi Whitetip!

Guest Blog
by Leah Meth

Waqi Whitetip and her pilot fish sidekick Pipa have joined Shark Stanley and his friends on their campaign! Now all of the species of sharks and manta rays proposed for Appendix II listing at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in March are together and they’ve told us that nothing can stop them from making sure they’re protected this year!

You can help Waqi with her mission by printing this picture of her, cutting it out and taking a photo with her wherever you wish. Shark Defenders is compiling these photos from all over the world into a unique petition which we’ll send to governments voting at CITES.

Waqi Whitetip Downloads:
Waqi Whitetip - 8.5"x11"
Waqi Whitetip - A4
Large Waqi Whitetip Cutout

Visit Shark Stanley's Homepage for Downloads of all his friends.

Recently, Shark Defenders caught up with Shark Stanley and his crew, and asked their newest member to tell us about herself:
  1. I’m known for my distinctive large, round, white-tipped dorsal fin and wing like pectoral fins.
  2. I’m an open ocean shark: in fact, I’m one of the most widespread species of sharks and can be found all throughout the tropical and warmer areas of temperate seas.
  3. You can usually find me cruising slowly near the top of the water column, covering huge tracts of the ocean as I search for food. I’m not very particular about what I eat; I’m more opportunistic than picky.
  4. We’re quite independent and solitary and aren’t really found around members of our own species. However, you’ll often see me with a pilot fish entourage, which make a living picking parasites off of me! Other friends that usually hang around me include remoras, mahi mahi and sea turtles.
  5. One thing that humans usually find really interesting is that sometimes we hang around with pilot whales, swimming around in their big pods. Scientists think this is because the whales help us find squid to eat when they dive to forage.
  6. I’m one of the most threated sharks out there. A recent estimated a population decline of 70% between 1992 and 2000. We were once one of the most abundant species of oceanic sharks, but sadly, not anymore.
  7. Our large fins are very valuable and as such, we’re Critically Endangered in the Northwest and Central Atlantic, and Vunerable worldwide due to the shark fin trade.
  8. Our populations also suffer because we are caught in large numbers as bycatch, especially by pelagic longlines.
  9. While we do have some protection under some of the regional fisheries management organizations, these do not regulate international trade or protect us throughout our whole range.
  10. CITES Appendix II listing was narrowly missed at the 2010 CITES meeting, needing only a few more votes for adoption. This year, I’m confident that it will pass: the proposal is both scientifically justified and absolutely necessary to make sure that trade is sustainable.
Join Shark Stanley, Manta Reina and Pierre le Porbeagle to make sure this proposal passes!
Leah Meth is a masters student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Contributing Editor at Shark Defenders.

Shark Stanley Reaches 50 Countries

Maryam on a windy day in Doha
Shark Stanley has been on a whirlwind trip around the world to look for people who will support protecting shark and manta ray species at the upcoming Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species in Bangkok, Thailand. This morning Shark Stanley and his friend Manta Reina visited a young girl named Maryam in Doha, Qatar, his 50th country since the start of the campaign.

In addition to visiting 50 countries, Shark Stanley's materials are now translated into 12 languages: English, Español, ภาษาไทย (Thai) , العَرَبِيَّةُ (Arabic), Nederlands (Dutch), Indonesian, Tagalog, 日本語 (Japanese), Français, Deutsch, 繁體字 (Chinese), and Português.

Shark Stanley still has a ways to go before he reaches all 177 countries, especially those in the Caribbean, Africa, and Eastern Europe.  If you have any connections in other parts of the world, or if you can translate our materials into your native language, please contact us at  We are also still adding partners everyday and hope that your organization will join us.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Help Shark Stanley Speak Your Language

Shark Stanley has been translated in fifteen languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese German, Italian, Dutch, Croatian Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese,, Thai, Indonesian, Tagalog, and Japanese.  Fliers in each of those languages are posted below.  If you would like to have Shark Stanley translated into your language, we are looking for volunteers to translate our English text into your language.

Shark Stanley Downloads:
ภาษาไทย (Thai)
日本語 (Japanese)
繁體字 (Mandarin)
Nederlands (Dutch)
العَرَبِيَّةُ (Arabic)
Hrvatski (Croatian) 
Italiano (Italian)  
Русский Язык

This is the English text that needs to be translated:
Help Shark Stanley

“Hello friend! My name is Shark Stanley and I am traveling around the world to find friends who will support shark and manta ray protections at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in March.

If you would like to help me with this mission, you can print this picture of me, cut it out, and take a photo with me anywhere you wish. Then please send me this photo along with your name and nationality! My supporters are compiling your photos from around the world to share on their blog and web pages, and sending them to governments voting at CITES to get their support! Help us reach our goal of finding 50 organizations and celebrities to partner with, and to collect at least 5000 photos from all 177 CITES countries!”

Send Photos:
Upload your photos to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram tagged with @SharkDefenders, #SharkStanley, and the country where you live (i.e. #USA #Brazil)


You can also send your photos directly to your country’s CITES representatives:

More info:
If you can help, please contact us at  We are also still building our coalition of supporters.  If your organization is an official supporter and translates our text, we will put your logo on the fliers you translate.

Visit Shark Stanley and Friends' Homepage for links to every download

Also, if you would like to take one of these translations and create your own flyer or poster, please email us and we'll send you the files for the cutouts.  As you can probably tell, we are not professional designers.  Your contribution to the Shark Stanley campaign could be to be design professional graphics and handouts.




Nederlands (Dutch)
العَرَبِيَّةُ (Arabic)
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