Monthly Archives: August 2013


Shark Finning: the facts

Shark finning, or simply finning, is the brutal practice of hacking off a shark’s fins for food, normally used for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup.

Once their fins are hacked off, the sharks are thrown back into the sea. They then die slowly and painfully as they starve to death, get eaten by other fish or suffocate because they cannot swim properly and enough oxygen into their gills.

Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year at a rapid speed to keep up with the demand for shark fins on the black market. This cruel practice has caused sharks to become endangered worldwide. Several species are now at a critically endangered level with almost 95% of their population killed off since the 1970s.

  • Blacktip Sharks have fallen by 93%;
  • Tiger Sharks by 97%;
  • Bull Sharks, Dusky Sharks and Smooth Hammerheads by 99%.

Many people are unsupportive of the decline of sharks and the cruelty of finning. This is due to two factors.

  1. The shark is not a ‘loveable’ animal and is unjustly seen as a monster. Because of the movie industry, notably Jaws, sharks such as the Great White are seen as vicious man-eaters. This is an unfounded stereotype used only to promote movies and television and to entertain people. Unfortunately, many people have taken this image to heart. However, when one actually reads about sharks in scientific reports, journals and articles, one finds that they do not seek out humans for food and are actually docile creatures. It has been proven that the odds of a shark killing you are extremely slim and there are many other animals much more violent and dangerous than sharks.
  2. People are ignorant of the importance of sharks. Coupled with their publicity as terrifying monsters, people do not educate themselves about sharks and some are indifferent to shark finning. The consequences of the decline in sharks are dire. If sharks become extinct, the ocean will lose a key part of its eco-system. As an apex predator, the shark is integral in keeping certain populations at bay. A lack of sharks on the east coast of the USA has seen a decline in shellfish because sharks are not there to balance the small shark, ray and skate populations who mainly eat shellfish. Imagine if all lions were extinct; there would be an overpopulation of herbivores.

How you can help

Luckily, there are many compassionate people and organisations that are banding together to fight the shark fin trade, especially in the USA. In South Africa, shark finning is illegal but there are many other countries where it is not, such as Mozambique. You can aid the international campaign by visiting these sites and signing the petitions or donating money to end shark finning.


Shark Diving Unlimited is one organisation that, not only advocates for sharks, but uses their resources for research and conservation; educating the public on the importance of these animals. With another amazing Shark Week behind us, let us all take action and help preserve the species.




Shark Week 2013: Why you should support the campaign against shark finning

Shark fin soup is a delicacy that tens of millions of sharks have been killed for. Here are a few facts about shark fin soup that will hopefully prompt you to support the banning of shark finning.

Why are sharks killed for their fins?

Sharks are caught and their fins are hacked off for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup. Their fins are used to make a gelatinous soup that is tasteless and contains no nutritional value. Shark fin soup is also highly expensive; one shark fin can cost up to $400. Shark meat itself is of low value therefore shark finning is done on the boat after which the sharks are thrown overboard where they die from suffocation, drown or are eaten by other fish.

Why should people care?

Shark finning has killed tens of millions of sharks to date. At this moment, every species of shark is endangered. The systematic destruction of the species has serious consequences for ocean’s eco-system. Sharks are necessary apex predators who have been around for 300 million years. They regulate the population of other species of fish and mammals by eating them as prey.

What can you do?

  • Support organisations that work to preserve sharks such as Shark Diving Unlimited
  • Sign petitions and support legislation that work to ban shark finning
  • Refuse to eat in restaurants that serve shark fin soup or shop where shark fins or shark products are sold
  • Spread the word by letting everyone know about the importance of campaigns against shark finning
  • Keep an open mind and educate yourself on sharks by watching educational programs or better yet, embark on shark cage diving trip.

Watch this video on how humans are destroying the ocean’s eco-system.




Conservation Talks 2012

2012 got off with good start as Mike has been invited to do conservation talks and presentations from several universities and institutions.

First up we have the Atlantis, The Palm, in Dubai, where Mike and many others like Steve Kaiser, Rima Jabado and Robert Bennet discussed measures to conserve sharks in the UAE waters. They focused on the damage at the top end of the marine food chain.


From the left: Steve Kaiser (vice president of marine science and engineering at Dubai’s Atlantis hotel, The Palm, which houses the world’s third-largest aquarium). Michael Rutzen (shark expert and conservationist, owner of the eco-tourism shark cage diving company Shark Diving Unlimited). Rima Jabado (Marine Biologist, busy creating a catalogue of the sharks species, some of which have never been described before, in the United Arab Emirates waters for her PhD Project). Robert Bennett(Manager, Large Exhibits at Atlantis aquarium, The Palm)

This event made some big waves as it hit news channels around the world, a clip below shows some interviews with Mike and Rob on City 7 News.

Media Watch

Newspapers also welcomed the events as it made frontpage news on many of the tabloids in the UAE. Below just to name a few that had published the events




Please visit the Atlantis Blog for more events and information that are run by Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai.


This year Shark Diving Unlimited sponsored the field work for PhD student Craig P. O’Connell from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, providing the materials and logistics for his project.

This project was authorized by the Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, cooperating with Prof. C.A. Matthee (Stellenbosch University), Sara Andreotti (PhD student, Stellenbosch University) and Michael Rutzen (Shark Diving Unlimited) as field work supervisor.

The aim of this project is to find an alternative non-killing solution to the anti-shark nets to protect both beach goers and sharks around our coastline.

It was great to have Craig in our team and we’re looking forward to see him back in South Africa.

Please look at this short video of video of Craig’ s field work


New Sharksafe Barrier System to protect both sharks and people

Not only are sharks strikingly beautiful, but without sharks patrolling the seas marine ecosystems would be thrown entirely off balance. Sharks weed out weak and sickly prey, keeping other species fit. Additionally, sharks keep the ocean healthy by feeding on prey species, ensuring that they don’t become overabundant. In essence, the shark is one of evolutions most impressive success stories.

Yet, sharks are feared and in some cases ostracised. For many, the great white shark is considered a dangerous predator with a penchant for human flesh – films like Jaws and Open Water have simply perpetuated this gross misjudgement. Going shark cage diving is one of the best ways to dispel misconceptions for yourself, but due to a somewhat crippling public fear of shark attacks, preventative measures such as shark nets have become the norm in coastal areas.

As an apex predator, the great white shark has been a protected species since 2005 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, Appendix II) and the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS); furthermore, due to rapid population declines, the species is listed as vulnerable to extinction according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, Category VU A1cd+2cd; Dulvy et al. 2008)

While protecting swimmers from potential shark attacks, shark nets actively injure sharks and have led to the strangulation and suffocation of all kinds of sea animals. As traditional shark nets have unquestionably caused more harm than good, an eco-friendly shark barrier called Sharksafe which will not only shield swimmers, but protect marine life too, has been developed.

The project is the result of a huge collaborative effort between the PhD candidate Craig O’Connell from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Dr. Conrad Matthee and Sara Andreotti from Stellenbosch University, and Mike Rutzen of Shark Diving Unlimited. The team have been developing the Sharksafe Barrier since 2011, each contributing their areas of expertise and, in some instances, funding.

The Sharksafe Barrier is constructed from rigid pipes that emit a magnetic barrier which, when erected on the seabed, resemble seaweed. These features are effective in two ways: sharks are sensitive to magnetic fields and it will deter them from attempting to swim through the barrier, and great whites seem to particularly detest kelp and tend to avoid it – an observation made by Rutzen, who has an intimate understanding of great white behaviour.

The Sharksafe Barrier’s deployment cost which amounts to R10 000 000, is built to sustain functionality for over 10 years while withstanding up to seven metre swells and requiring a maximum of one check-up per year. Therefore, besides being environmentally friendly and long-lasting, the associated manual labour once the barrier is deployed will be minimal .

Under the guiding eye of Rutzen et al. the Sharksafe barriers have been exclusively erected at Dyer Island in Gansbaai by Shark Diving Unlimited vessels, who also offer shark cage diving. Stellenbosch University has patented the system. In the long run, it is hoped that this new alternative to shark nets may actively reduce the number of related marine life deaths and curb the few shark attacks which actually occur.