One Hour Swim Around the Seal Colony Challenge to the Scientists who support cage-diving

In the interests of public safety. Is this not worth testing and reporting on ?

----- Original Message -----
From: SealAlert-SA

Sent: Thursday, August 31, 2006 5:57 AM
Subject: One Hour Swim Around the Seal Colony Challenge to the Scientists who support cage-diving

Dear Ryan Johnson and to the other co-authors of the shark pro-chumming paper,
One Hour Swim Around Seal Colony Challenge


    Thank you for your reply. As you state there is a difference of opinion. When sea users are getting attacked, eaten alive and losing limbs. This is not the time or place, to play games with peoples lives and safety.
    I do not believe your research was sound or even objective to say the least. In fact, your main objective, "is there cause for concern", was completely ignored. Making no attempt to even see the possibility of a policy that does not attract or chum or feed sharks. You in fact continually contradict your own findings, 4 dependent sharks off Mossel Bay and regard chumming off a beach as an extreme contravention of a regulation. Why - because these actions do indeed attract and alter sharks natural foraging behaviour.
    You ignore the hundreds of shark interactions with humans, people getting attacked or that more boats are attacked in False Bay by sharks than the rest of the world combined or even after 4 years the significant drop in shark attacks in Florida after they banned shark feeding - nor offer any explanation.
    You even ignore a blanket official wildlife policy which states "the feeding of wild animals is not allowed" or that fact that DEAT introduced a regulation as far back as 2000, (by some of your very own co-authors) that made the feeding of even a lesser predator, who has never been recorded as taking a human's life, even in the context of tube-feeding a rescued 7 month old seal pup - as a criminal offence.


To prescribe in permitting conditions that holders "must attract" and entice sharks with 25kg of fish on a rope - that this is neither conditioning or feeding. Is simply beyond all logic. 
    As you have chosen to rebut my request to err on the side of caution. Stating your 'science' is solid. Accept my challenge in the interests of public safety and future protection of white sharks.
    It truly amazes me. How you as scientists acknowledge that you know next to nothing about white sharks. Not their population size, diet, reproduction, number of pups nor have you ever even raised a single white shark to even glimpse its feeding behaviour even for a month or year. To after a handful of trips to sea. Are willing to formulate a national policy that could condition and change hundreds if not thousands of potential man-eating sharks (if not already done so) already swimming just metres off public beaching areas - and state with certainty risking peoples lives, in actions that could be detrimental to sharks, seals and in fact the whole marine eco-system - that there is no risk to all, including the environment and species within.
    Knowing that your research is full of 'holes' to start with, ignoring completely prime inter-related species seals, their behaviours and official policies therein - 17 individuals attempt to push policies through for 11 others that will literally affect hundreds of thousands of others and could potentially threaten future income involving millions, if not hundreds of millions of rands - is in my opinion criminal.
    Your scientific reviews are not only a threat to the future conservation of seals and white sharks, but are in fact, a very real threat to the future safety of sea users around cage diving seal colonies. Unless properly researched and sound environmental steps are put in place. You risk turning False Bay and other sites into a shark attack capital of the world, not only on seals but on members of the public.
    I stand by my research and back-up such which physical action. That was taken from thousands of hours of first hand experience. The question is will you?
   My question to all of you is - what happens to the people, the sharks, the seals or the environment,
if you are wrong ?
   The issue at stake is recreational safety and white shark conditioning. These are concerns that do not suffice in paper form alone (no matter how much scientifically accredited), but in fact need to be translated into physical safety.
    I refer to your report paper "South Africa's White Shark cage-diving industry - is their cause for concern?". Written by yourself, A Kock, M Bester, L Compagno, S Dudley, C Griffiths, T Teswick, P Kotze, K Laroche, M Meyer, H Oosthuizen, S Swanson and L Jacobs.
    This report was forwarded to a supporter of Seal Alert-SA in response to his concern whether cage-diving does in fact condition white sharks and therefore creates a risk to sea users - by Sanlam who provides the funding to WWF-SA. Who in turn is
facilitating a policy to manage white sharks and the recreational safety in the waters of the western Cape. Mr F Louw of Sanlam stated "I also attach a paper that scientifically proves that their is no link between shark cage diving and attacks".(The paper co-authored by yourself)
    As you further disregard and in fact, make snide remarks of my years of invaluable research and expertise, whilst confirming and I quote - "
I cannot comment on this opinion, I am not an authority on seal history" and "I cannot comment on the historical occupation of seal at False Bay. But both seals and sharks were in the waters/on the island way before cage diving was even a glint in the eye of any budding operator".
    You state, "
Your ancedotes in NO way refute my findings. Your findings are nothing more than interesting anecdotes that can be potentially explained via numerous reasons (that is not saying you are incorrect in your interperatation, just you have no way of saying one way or the other). Without systematic collection of data, evoking scientific techniques, and putting your findings up for peer review and publication they are meaningless. Random introduction of anecdotes simply do not cut it. If you take the trouble to follow the path and get your work published, then and only then can they be useful to anybody else".    
    Could you perhaps confirm the following;
Are you qualified or a PhD student?
Has your work been published and peer reviewed?
Who funded your research and was it you that approached them or them you?
How much funding did you receive?
    I submit equally that your 'pen-pushing scientific reviews' are equally meaningless, until tested under physical challenge.
    As you and your co-authors contend the waters are safe -
prove it?
    As you now lay claim to all these correct scientific techniques, and as you claim are now useful (to those of us most at risk of attack), and which present a very serious concern to us. Perhaps you and all your co-authors, including Dr Deon Nel and Sanlam's Frank Louw, would be willing to support your pen pushing "key findings" contained in your paper and I quote, "It is highly improbable that the 'conditioning of sharks' to a cage diving vessel would increase danger to human water users such as swimmers, surfers, scuba divers and kayakers" - by simply putting your scientific paper thoughts into physical action.
    Physical action that you, your co-authors and funders, expect thousands of sea users to accept and risk their life and limb over 500 km of prime recreational coastline everyday, so that 11 cage diving operators can make some money.
One Hour Swim Around Seal Colony Challenge
      Francois Hugo of Seal Alert-SA challenges you all to put your scientific 'expertise where your mouth is'. I will spend one hour swimming around any seal colony not previously engaging in cage diving or chumming within 10 nautical miles of said colony - un-aided or in any protective clothing or equipment, except a drysuit. During any time of day or night.
      I therefore challenge you to do the same around any of the cage-diving seal colonies you purport to claim does not condition and there is no link between cage diving and attacks. (for those of you that can't swim you may use a flotation life-jacket)
    Should you fail to accept this challenge within 24-hours of written confirmation. I request you withdraw your paper and reviews, and support an end to attracting sharks either through baiting, chumming, feeding or whatever conditions is contained in current cage diving permits or codes of conduct.
   These conditions naturally apply to Sanlam's Esme Arendse and Frank Louw, and WWF-SA's Dr John Little and Dr Deon Nel and Jason Bell of IFAW, and each co-author of your paper.
I await your response to this important public safety challenge.
For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA
----- Original Message -----
From: Ryan Johnson
To: SealAlert-SA ; Alison Kock ;
Cc: ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;;
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 10:44 AM
Subject: Re: Sanlam sponsorship of WWF - White Sharks ate fish, then Seals - now they hunt you - who is responsible?

Dear Mr Francois
"and the many others whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting yet"
Please find response below. I have learnt from the past that email debates are exercises in futility, so this will be my only entry into the debate you are conducting.
1. "definition of 'conditioning' ...astoundingly naive"
>This is Oxfords biological dictionary definition of classical conditioning, thus they will have to take the proverbial punch on the chin. With respect, however, I would suggest that oxfords professors, such as Clutton Brock, Robert May, Richard Dawkins and colleagues are quite qualified to define classical conditioning. I would personally side with their understanding of animal behavior and conditioning
2. "Any kind of interaction, with or without food has the potential to change marine predators behavior - and therefore create a potential risk".
> Yes any human interaction 'may' or 'may not' change the behavior of an animal. But the wide connotations of 'behavioral change' is very different to the restricted behavioral paradigm of 'associative learning'. Chasing an animal causes behavior changes, shooting an animal causes behavioral changes, picking up a wild animal and transporting it 100km causes behavioral changes... my paper is on 'associative learning'.
> Potential risk for what? humans interacting with the animal, the animal safety, the mindset of humans who disagree with human/wildlife interaction? This presumed link is between "behavioral change" and "potential risk" is unjustified in this statement as you fail to define both in your argument.
3. "A wild seal stranded, carefully approached and simply massaged - becomes dependent temporarily to that area. A clear behavior change is visibly noticeable that involves an immediate loss of fear. No feeding is involved".
>The Seal appears to be getting a positive resource from you that is not food, possibly social bonding, perceived protection, perceived maintainence, I can not be sure. The gain of this resource can promote conditioning. White sharks only potential resource gained from cage diving is food, thus only food rewards are relevant in the assessment.  
4. A seal rescued and rehabilitated in the wild. Returned to the wild, but returns annually every year for two weeks. Relocating me in several different locations, with associated boats ranging from 60-tons to no boats at all. Seal never accepts food from anyone else and after feeding immediately leaves the area.
> A possible indication of the 'rearrangement gradient' in play. The seal fails to have the conditioned response evoked by neutral stimulus different from you/your boat (e.g. a 60 ton boat). Same was a shark conditioned to a 30-40ft cage diving vessel wouldnot have the response evoked by a swimmer or surfer.
5. Pups hand raised in the wild and constantly raised on tube-feeding, reject the tube after 11 plus months, and self forages. Never accepting solid feed. Upon their return months later, ignore all offering of hand feeding.
> This is termed weaning. It has nothing to do with the development or loss of a conditioned response.
6. A seal rescued and fed in Simonstown dockyard and then brought to Hout Bay and released. Stayed for two weeks, until it started rejecting the feed. After some days of not eating it swam directly back to the first initial site where rescued and waited there, 100 km away.
>If you kidnap a seal and transport it 100km from its original location, I am not surprised that your attempts to conditioning failed. I suggest next time keeping it on a chain if you do not want it to leave you and return to the wild (that is tongue in cheek). Animals have patterns of habitat use for a reason, maybe the seal did not want to be rescued. 
7. A seal fed 20km out at sea, will return the next day at the exact same time, after only one initial feed.
>A seal located in the same place on successive days, and accepting food is not evidence that conditioning has been established after one day! It could be a feeding ground thus the seal typically returns to daily (because there is fish?), the seal may not have left, or some human may have been feeding it for weeks before you turned up. This is the problems with trying to turn anecdotes into evidence.
8. There is literally hundreds of observations that would completely refute your findings, albeit with seals and not with sharks. The question is, is shark behavior fundamentally different to that of seals, to with certainty state there is no risk presented by cage diving activity. I doubt it, if so why use definitions related to 'dog behavior.
> Dog behavior was used, because the process of 'conditioning' across taxa is similar - ergo the definition. The ability of animals to learn (i.e. speed) differs. Mammals are typically far quicker at been conditioned than either fish or sharks.
> Your ancedotes in NO way refute my findings. Your findings are nothing more than interesting anecdotes that can be potentially explained via numerous reasons (that is not saying you are incorrect in your interperatation, just you have no way of saying one way or the other). Without systematic collection of data, evoking scientific techniques, and putting your findings up for peer review and publication they are meaningless. Random introduction of anecdotes simply do not cut it. If you take the trouble to follow the path and get your work published, then and only then can they be useful to anybody else.
9. The bottom-line in my opinion should rather err on the side of caution. If there is but the slightest chance that cage-diving changes condition and therefore poses a risk. It should be stopped. The line should be drawn if people have been seriously attacked and hurt - without prior provocation.
> I agree with caution, that is why I where a seat belt when I drive and do not drink and drive. I do not stop driving altogether. With the cage diving industry, every effort should be made to stop any feeding and thereby remove any possibility of conditioning.
>Without prior provocation?.. Are you suggesting that unprovoked attacks by white sharks on humans did not occur before cage diving? I refer you to burgess 1996, in Klimley and Ainley - Biology of carcharodon carcharias. Simply incorrect.
10. Consider this. What proof would convince you that cage-diving does condition and pose risk. If a shark tagged at the Seal colony by cage-diving operators was killed whilst attacking a bather in Fish Hoek - would this constitute proof?
I would pose a second question, what do you require to accept that cage diving is not augmenting the risk to humans? To be blunt, it is very apparent that you have entered this debate with an established point of view that will not be changed by any science that I may produce. Thus it is pointless for me to try, and to expect anything other than rejection of my findings from you. Propaganda is the selective acceptance and rejection of information and evidence in accordance with pre-established beliefs. What you want produced is propaganda not science.
Indices that would prove conditioning... (1) quicker arrival of sharks to CD boats, (2) increased contact time at boats, (3) increased residency and failure to move away from area in typical fashion, based on base line data, (4) harassment of similar boats that are not chumming, (5) Change in daily habitat use towards concentrating activity in near vicinity of where cage diving boats operate.  I can go on there are many ways to test conditioning.
11. The accepted 'naturalness' of these seal colonies and their relationship to shark predation and therefore the cage-diving industry.
> I cannot comment on the historical occupation of seal at False Bay. But both seals and sharks were in the waters/on the island way before cage diving was even a glint in the eye of any budding operator.  
12. The attracting and chumming aspect alone, and whether or not this impacts or conditions.
> The attracting process without feeding will not condition the animal for reasons that no reward is gained. We have proved that failure to feed results in negative conditioning in which sharks begin to ignore chum slicks and cage diving vessels.
13.The risk to bathers, surfers or sea-users of such activity.
>huh?  the whole paper is on this? I do not understand
14. I prefer to divide the seal colonies in the Cape as east and west coast. With the dividing line at Cape Point. The reason for this is simple. Geographically those east colonies during pupping time in December experience the prevailing SE winds as on-shore and on the west coast as off-shore. 
See below and attached with regard to the unnaturalness of these seal colonies. How in effect this serves to attract sharks to this area and hence the cage-diving operations. (your comments on this point of view what be welcomed).
> I cannot comment on this opinion, I am not an authority on seal history.
15. You are aware of the following;
The two attacks off Kommetjie and Noordhoek.
> Yes
16. The west coast seal colonies display none of the behavior associated with white sharks at the east coast colonies.
>Yes, from limited observation on W coast
17. The relevant abundance and regular sightings of white sharks in tunny and snoek fishing grounds 10-40 km off kommetjie.
18. In the 1940s a caretaker being hired to shoot sharks at Clifton to keep bathers safe - as a full time occupation.
>No, but I will accept your word for it. The question remains was it a full time job in respect of getting a 'full time salary? or was the guy actually busy shooting sharks left right and center.. Simply having someone there is not an indicator of high shark abundance.
19. If the act of attracting, enticing or chumming off an adjacent to swimming beach is consider an extreme contravention of the regulations (key findings of your review). The how can you at the same time state that this 'conditioning of sharks' is not a very real risk to sea-users.
> The contravention was chumming out side of his area, the extreme part of my statement was that he was a long way out of his area. Thus very conspicuous. Where you chum makes no difference to whether a shark will be conditioned or not. Thus his actions are not relevant to the conditioning debate. I am not a spokesperson of DEAT, but I suspect the concern is around concentrating sharks off swimming beaches by chumming. Increased sharks, increased human/shark encounter possibility, increased attack possibility. Not the issue of conditioning, thus not a contradiction.
Hope this helps
Ryan Johnson