All posts by Ed O'Reilly


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.


The Kings of Chaos dive with the king of the sea

Rockstar royalty has touched down in South Africa! On Monday, June 10th, three of the eight iconic rock musicians touring the country joined Mike Rutzen and the Shark Diving Unlimited team in Gansbaai for a quick shark diving expedition before heading to Jozi for the next Kings of Chaos show, taking place this Saturday.

The Shark Diving Unlimited team was pleased to host the following musical legends: Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple, Ed Roland of Collective Soul and Myles Kennedy of Guns n Roses. All of these rockers are avid conservationists and Rutzen happily skippered the trip himself. The shark diving trip was quite a success, with idyllic weather conditions and a lively group on board.

Mike Rutzen rescues juvenile Blue Shark

On Saturday morning 18 May, False Bay Yacht Club members notified Mike on Shark Diving Unlimited’s research sailing vessel “Catalyst”, that a young Blue Shark was swimming bewildered and confused in the shallows in the marina at Simon’s Town.

With fellow club members John and Nina, they sprang into action, commandeered the club ferry and hauled the young fellow into the boat.

They then proceeded to take the shark out beyond the SA Navy harbour wall and set him free.

The shark was approximately 1.3 metres in length and was sexually mature. He had two holes, most probably from a gaff, in in his lower body near the head. He showed signs of extreme stress, but still seemed quite strong. Mike’s assumption is that a fisherman had caught him, brought him back from the trip and then decided to throw him overboard in the jetty/marina area.

Michael says “the problem is that most shark species are considered commercial fish within the Republic of South Africa’s borders, even though some of them are protected by Cites”.

A big thank you to all who helped in this endeavor.



Mike Rutzen to receive prestigious 2012 TOURFILM LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

The International Film Festival on Tourism Films will award world renowned South African Shark Specialist Michael Rutzen their highest honour on the occasion of the 45th Jubilee year of the Festival in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic on 04 October 2012

Gansbaai, South Africa, 15 August 2012:

Last year more than seven hundred films were entered into the Festival from 135 coutries around the world. TOURFILM attracts professionals from the global tourism industry, politicians, international media and the general public. The people of Czech Republic have a passionate interest in expeditionary travel, a hallmark of this small and highly educated nation.

In October of this year, Michael Rutzen will join a long line of luminaries in accepting the 2012 Tourfilm Life Achievement Award for his “contribution to extending human boundaries with respect to the world’s oceans, in particular for his pioneering work with sharks and reducing man’s innate fear of the marine environment”.

Former Tourfilm Life Achievement Award winners include Reinhold Messner, Dr. Jane Goodall, Renowned author Eric von Daniken, Mark Inglis (New Zealand’s double amputee who climbed Mt. Everest in 2007), Michael Palin, South African Mike Horn, Travel Channel Presenter Ian Wright, BBC presenter Charlotte Uhlenbreuk and – last year, Bertrand Piccard.

Bull sharks spotted at McDonald's

Two bull sharks have been spotted swimming past the McDonald’s restaurant in suburban Ipswich, south-west of Brisbane, 30km from the coast.

Goodna butcher Steve Bateman saw one of the sharks swimming through the flooded waters of Williams Street near his butcher’s shop in the St Ives shopping centre yesterday.

There were several reports of another shark spotted in Queen Street, the main street through Goodna.

Bull sharks have been spotted in the Goodna sections of the Bremer River previously, with fishermen regularly catching them from the Goodna boat ramp.

Ipswich councillor for the Goodna region Paul Tully said while it may sound almost too bizarre to be real, the shark sighting was valid.

“It would have swam several kilometres in from the river, across Evan Marginson Park and the motorway,” Cr Tully said.

“It’s definitely a first for Goodna, to have a shark in the main street.

“I know Steve (Bateman) and he wouldn’t say he saw a shark unless he really saw one.

“It’s not like there have been polar bears or crocodiles spotted.

“Bull sharks have been in Goodna for a long time in the Bremer.

“They are regularly in the Brisbane River and often swim up. I know a number of fishermen who have caught bull sharks.”

State Member for Bundamba Jo-Ann Miller also backed Mr Bateman’s bull shark sighting.

“Steve wouldn’t lie about something like that. He’s very well known in the community.”

Bull sharks are the third most likely shark to attack a human being. They are noted for their aggressive behaviour and often swim in shallow waters along coasts and rivers.

Mr Bateman was not available for comment.

Goodna was awash with water eight metres deep during the past 48 hours. The water receded dramatically overnight.

Police evacuated people from a large area of Goodna as large quantities of flammable gas spewed into the air yesterday.

Police said significant amounts of fuel had leaked into floodwaters from ruptured underground storage tanks at petrol stations near the St Ives shopping centre.

Queensland Times

Shark attack survivors plead case for attackers during rally at UN

BY Helen Kennedy

Tuesday, September 14th 2010, 4:00 AM

Survivors of shark attacks discuss their experiences at UN on Monday.

Nine shark attack survivors – some missing arms, legs or feet – came to the United Nations on Monday to beg the world to save their attackers.

“If a group like us can see the value in saving sharks, can’t everyone?” asked Debbie Salamone, 44, a Florida newspaper reporter whose Achilles tendon was severed in 2004 as she stood in waist-deep water.

The Pew Environment Group, which organized the rally, says a staggering 73 million sharks are killed each year to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy.

Fishermen slice off the fins – which can fetch up to $300 a pound – and dump the mutilated sharks back into the sea to bleed to death, according to the group.

“We’re decimating the population of sharks just for a bowl of soup,” said Australian navy diver Paul de Gelder, whose right hand and lower right leg were torn off last year in Sydney Harbor.

“I tried to go for the eyeball and realized I couldn’t because my hand was in his mouth,” he recounted of his close encounter with a 10-foot bull shark. “I punched him. I think that just upset him.”

Despite being maimed, de Gelder said, he came to New York to “speak out for an animal that can’t speak for itself.”

The Pew Environment Group says 30% of shark species – including great whites, smooth hammerheads, whitetips and threshers – are threatened with extinction or on the verge.

The shark fans want the UN to adopt curbs on shark fishing.

“We do not have scientific management plans for how many sharks can be caught,” Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, told reporters. “There are no limits.”

The survivors were between the ages of 21 and 55 and traveled to New York from all over the world.

With News Wire Services
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