SCS is a small volunteer run Society which has achieved an enviable record of conservation and research wins. The world today is obsessed with everything needing to be safe. A small adventure group of shark enthusiasts (SCS) simply can't afford the legal, insurance and administrative back-up which would guard against any risks of SCS having to pay out in the event of a claim or a legal action. The cost of our expeditions would have to double or treble!
When I read last year that a BBC film crew had to do a 'risk assessment' before filming a group of Morris dancers it brought home to me just how pathetic the world has become, we all know how dangerous knotted hankies can be! Today's adventurer who wants to be safe must wrap him/her self in cotton wool, go to bed and watch TV.
The directors of the Society are currently studying this problem searching for a way for our expeditions to be able to continue. It is with great regret therefore we have to announce that until this process has been completed, and a way forward found, we will have to suspend expeditions.
To our loyal supporters and past volunteers the message is 'We are not going away, won't lie down, and will find a way at going on, even if it involves all volunteers having to buy shares in cotton wool and avoid Morris dancers'! More to follow.
Kuwait, Northwest Arabian Gulf, April 11 - 25 inclusive (Report written by Richard Peirce)
Organisers - Shark Conservation Society
Leaders - Richard Peirce, Jacqui Peirce
Catering, Logistics, Firstaid,Shore base management - Jacqui Peirce
Scientific Advisor - Alec Moore
Volunteer researchers - Dareen Almojil, Mark Boothman, Shane Benzie Tony Bennett, Simon Collins, Emma Nichols, Stuart Nicholls, Al Reeve, Mike Sharland, Andy Sweeney, Mike Webb.
Documentary film crew - Zeina Aboul Hosn, Zan Barberton
We would like to thank :-
The general objectives were threefold:
The expedition took nearly two years to plan and prepare. During this period I made three visits to Kuwait. First I had to get the help of the Kuwait Coastguard with the provision of boats and a shore base, and secondly to work thorough the support and consultative processes to ensure that we had the backing of Kuwaiti organisations, and were planning the expedition on the basis of solid information.
Lt. General Yousef al Khorafi provided a vital link to the Coastguard and thereafter the help and support of General Sulayman al Fahad and Brigadier Jassem al Failkawi was invaluable. Mr Mijbil Almutawa and his staff at the Scientific Centre, Dr. Sulaiman Almatar and Dr. Jim Bishop at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, and Dr Mohammad Saif at the Department of Fisheries were all very generous with their support.
I selected sites for chumming based on advice from those already mentioned as well as fishermen and others. The chumming sites were selected to give us a near 100% coverage of the Kuwaiti waters that we were allowed to work in. Unfortunately we were not allowed to work around the rigs.
The expedition's scientific advisor, Alec Moore, will be publishing on various aspects of the market work carried out under his supervision. What follows is a snapshot report of the market work, it is in no way an attempt at a full chronicle of this aspect of the expedition.
Market surveys were carried out in al Sharq and Fahaheel markets between April 10th and April 25th. On many days both markets were visited, but on other days due to time or other constraints, only one of the two was worked in. Fifteen days of market visits by a small team of 3 or 4 led by Alec resulted in a total of over 1,500 specimens (sharks and rays) being processed. Species identification, sex, maturity, length, and numbers present of each species were all recorded.
Tissue samples were taken for researchers around the world and examples of most species were photographed. Fifteen shark and twelve ray species were confirmed identified as follows:-
SHARKS: Arabian Carpetshark, Arabian Smoothound, Great Hammerhead, Hardnose shark, Milk shark, Grey Sharpnose shark, Spottail shark, Spinner shark, Whitecheek shark, Blacktip shark, Bull shark, Pigeye shark, Hooktooth shark, Slender Weasel shark, Snaggletooth shark*. In addition, specimens of what initially appears to be the Smoothtooth Blacktip shark were collected.
RAYS: Longheaded Eagle ray, Mottled Eagle ray, Cownose ray, Banded Eagle ray, Spotted Eagle ray, Granulated Guitarfish, Leopard ray, Butterfly ray, Giant Guitarfish, Cowtail Stingray, Scaly Whip ray. In addition there is one currently unidentified Stingray (species 1).
Hitherto only one specimen of the Smoothtooth Blacktip shark is known to science, this was an animal recorded in the Gulf of Aden in the 1980's. Alec Moore is in consultation with expert taxonomists to confirm whether the specimens found in the Kuwait markets are in fact this species, Carcharhinus leiodon.
The three species most commonly encountered were the Whitecheek shark, the Milkshark and the Grey Sharpnose and these accounted for the vast majority of sharks in the markets. The Kuwait government, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the al Oula Fishing Company independently confirmed that between 40 and 60 boats were landing fish daily into the markets during the time of the expedition. Thus the 80 odd sharks being landed daily equates to less than two sharks per boat, however this is a generalisation and must be treated with great caution, the figure is only mentioned for general illustrative purposes.
Sharks are not apparently targeted in the fisheries we observed, but tend to be net-caught bycatch of little value. There is an unfortunate belief among coastal inhabitants of the Gulf that eating young sharks increases male potency. Unfortunately for the sharks because they get eaten, and unfortunate for the men (and their women) because it doesn't work! Both the Fisheries Department and al Oula felt that the sharks in the markets at the time of our research were sharks caught in Kuwaiti waters i.e. top northwest half of the Gulf. The vessels seen landing sharks and rays at Fahaheel were all small (6-7m) open boats with small engines which mainly worked within close range of the coast. Fish brought in to Kuwait markets from outside the Gulf, or even from the lower Gulf, have to be cooled and the relatively small volume of ice available on commercial fishing vessels, and the low value of sharks, makes it not worthwhile cooling them compared to more valuable fin fish. This fact reinforced the likelihood that the sharks we found in the markets came from Kuwaiti waters.
Unlike the at sea, surveys some larger shark specimens up to around 2m in length were observed in the markets. However many of these larger animals, such as Pigeye and Hammerheads were still immature.
Using the dictionary definition sharks do not appear to be abundant (plentiful) in the Gulf. Comparing what we found at sea and in the markets even with Britains depleted seas was a worrying and sobering experience. Whilst such a comparison has no scientific validity it will certainly ring home with British readers.
However for the following reasons this picture may not indicate depletion.
I deliberately picked April as the time for the expedition because the water temperature of 24 degrees is the mid point, of the range (12 degrees - 36 degrees). We hope that similar studies will now be carried out, both in the markets and at sea, at both ends of the sea temperature range in winter and summer. Should this be possible over the next few years, and as long as our studies are followed as the model, then a really meaningful data picture of sharks in the northern Gulf would start to emerge.
I have high hopes that the exceptional Dareen Almojil (one of our volunteers) will take this forward and the Shark Conservation Society, will help her in every way possible.
Frozen sardines supplied by Mr Ali Hyat of al Oula Fisheries were the material used for chumming which proved effective, although conditions for chumming were often difficult. Wind over tides, strong currents, and fast tidal races affected some of the sites chosen.
We had hoped to be able to do over 200 hours chumming but the security situation meant that one of our Coastguard boats had to be re-deployed to active duty. We had been offered two boats to compensate for not being able to chum through the night. The loss of nights and the second boat halved the hours we had planned to chum. By the end of the expedition we had chummed 111 hours 35 minutes which was indeed half of what had been envisaged. The chum was deployed both in bags and bait tubes.
The shore based catering logistics, first aid, domestic arrangements and administration were run by Jacqui and I. The research volunteers were divided into three teams led by Alec Moore, Mark Boothman and Mike Sharland. The market work was supervised by Alec Moore and the at sea operations were supervised by me. Due to the planned through the night chumming having to be abandoned, and the loss of our second boat, the original plans had to be modified on an almost daily basis. Our volunteer force was superb at adapting to continually changing plans. Shark handling, shark angling, first aid, photographic skill, seamanship, chumming experience, etc. etc. were all skills that had to be distributed among the teams.
Our usual rigid working in pairs for two hour shifts was abandoned due to the forced changes in plans, and each team of four worked as a whole team for each period at sea. During after dark periods the chummed area close to the boat was illuminated so that any animals approaching the boat could be identified.
The Kuwait Coastguard vessel was a three engine, 12 metre interceptor with a blue light on top. Really good fun for cruising around between chumming sites! The Kuwait Diving Centre also provided us with an 8 metre diving boat for two days, which was a useful addition.
On the basis of a 15 day at sea expedition it should have been possible to achieve around 250 hours of chumming. Due to the restrictions already mentioned only 111 hours 35 minutes were achieved. This certainly reduced the validity of the chumming part of the exercise however, we did cover all the sites planned and did so extensively with intensive chumming. For this reason I dont believe the loss of planned chumming hours was as damaging as it might have been. Certainly more hours would have increased the chances of encountering additional species, but otherwise, given what we found, I think the additional hours would have reinforced the picture rather than presented a new one.
111 hours and 35 minutes produced the following confirmed identifications.
We identified 7 sharks at sea out of the 16 species recorded in the market. In addition at least two species of rays were seen, cetaceans (humpback dolphin and finless porpoise), on two occasions - a turtle (Green or Hawksbill), and a real abundance of catfish almost to nuisance levels in places.
No large sharks were encountered at sea and apart from the naturally small Whitecheek, Milk and Grey sharpnose sharks most of the sharks, including the larger species seen in the markets, were immature which highlights the vulnerability of elasmobranchs as late maturing.
As with any research programme we had our limitations. I have already referred to our having lost most of our night time at sea activity, and the fact that we worked at a mid point in the temperature range (23-24 degrees), while it is generally considered that the best months for large shark numbers are July and August in the upper end of the temperature range. In addition to the market and at sea data, an enormous amount of anecdotal data was also collected.
Due to lack of previously recorded data it is impossible to form conclusions as to the current abundance status of sharks and rays compared to the past. The Whitecheek shark was the only species found to be plentiful to a small degree.
We worked (chummed) eleven areas extensively and certain species responded well to the chum used (sardines), so I am satisfied that what we saw is a reasonable indication of what species are present at the time of the year we worked.
If our work is carried on it will in time give an accurate indication of the northwest Gulf elasmobranch picture and then conservation strategies can be worked on if required.
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Dateline 16th March 2015.
We would like to draw all members attention to a campaign to ban shark fins soup from all government related events in Singapore. The campaign is collecting pledges and you can go online at Campaign.com/FINishedwithFINs to sign up.