Journey with sharks

Bull Shark nicknamed Taryn. Picture: SUPPLIED

The 1975 American thriller, Jaws, shaped my misunderstanding about sharks.

This persisted throughout my teenage and young adult years.

Apart from capturing my wildest imagination, the movie made me view these underwater legends as a ferocious human predator.

It got to a point that whenever I went for a swim in the sea I’d develop visuals of the man-eater lurking underwater – serrated razor-sharp teeth, emotionless eyes and prominent dorsal fin.

Many like me once saw sharks as the ultimate maritime terminator that would prey on you unless you kill it.

The irony is that they are not killing us.

We are murdering them at such astronomical rates that these misconceived sea creatures currently face a global crisis.

With the scare of overfishing and marine pollution, many of their populations are on the brink of decimation.

According to conservative estimates, 100 million sharks are murdered each year through illegal shark killings, the biggest culprit is our craving for shark fin soup, a delicacy in parts of Asia and the Europe equivalent of caviar.

Scientists believe, if unchecked, the number of killings will surpass sharks’ ability to maintain their population in the wild.

Over the next 12 months, The Fiji Times would be part of a national campaign called My Fiji Shark (MFS), a shark adoption programme which hopes to one day save these ancient marine wonders from extinction.

Adopt a shark. That’s what I’d encourage individuals and businesses keen to make a difference in the lives of these misunderstood carnivores who play a pivotal role in keeping our coral reefs healthy and maintaining a balance in our marine ecosystem.

The Fiji Times has adopted the four sharks – Taryn, Sharkbite, Tip and Whitenose as special “ambassadors”.

These bull sharks are regular visitors to the Shark Reef Marine Reserve (SRMR), the country’s first National Marine Park.

They also have personalities just like humans. For example, small, quirky and sweet, Taryn is one the most endearing and popular female Bull Sharks frequenting the SRMR. Because of her magnetic personality, Taryn is elevated to the rank Shark Superstar.

The ‘King of Attitude’, Whitenose is undoubtedly one of the most special and hugely popular male Bull Sharks frequenting the SRMR.

His dashing looks, assertiveness and friendliness make Whitenose an absolute staff favourite, a crowd pleaser and a Shark Icon.

The tip is one of the sweetest and most popular female Bull Sharks frequenting the SRMR. Her imposing physical attributes, friendly assertiveness and dynamic interactions with divers make her a true crowd pleaser and give her the highest ranking of a Shark Icon. Small, friendly and endearing, Sharkbite is one of the most recognisable and also, most popular male Bull Sharks frequenting the SRMR.

His unique looks, magnetic disposition and friendliness make Sharkbite an absolute crowd pleaser and a shark superstar. As crazy as it sounds, I will first need to undergo diving lessons in order to attain PADI Open Water certification.

This will then allow me to meet and follow the four sharks in the wild throughout 2019. I hope to get firsthand experience of sharks during their mating season, when they give birth, as they grow, during their ups and downs and their journey in the wild. Furthermore, this will also allow me to join Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD) during some of its spectacular shark feeding dives in Beqa waters.

We’d also have access to researches, marine biologists, industry experts and other conservation activities which we will share with the public.

BAD has over 200 named sharks who are Fiji residents.

About 50 of them are regular visitors to the SRMR.

When you ‘adopt’ a shark, it’s almost like adopting a person – with a name, a personality and a history.

Not only will you learn about shark behaviour and shark biology but also become a vital part of the ongoing support and advocacy for these misunderstood animals.

Revenue generated from ‘My Fiji Shark’ will be used to support existing shark conservation measures, fund research and the purchase of research materials, create new shark conservation and inshore fisheries management programs, and build an independent Shark Lab to conduct in-country shark conservation research.

The initiative will also aim to assist the government if and when they will implement their voluntary commitments made at the
2017 UN Ocean Conference co-chaired by Fiji and Sweden.

To be given a ‘name’ they must exhibit a permanent identifiable mark, injury or genetic feature which would enable them to be
recognised during the dives monitored and entered into the scientific database of the Marine Park.

For instance, Taryn, our female superstar can be recognised by her left pectoral fi n which is irregularly slashed in half.

“She has been visiting SRMR since January 2014, she is one of our younger and smaller sharks with a possible age of approximately
five to 10 years and a length of well under two meters, “according to BAD’s shark profile.

On each shark dive, BAD’s staff marine biologists observe and record which named sharks are present, their interactions, feeding
behaviours and physical attributes notating injuries, pregnancies, mating scars and more.

Only a handful of sharks can be ‘named’ during any given year.

The Shark Dive, which I hope to be part of once I get certified, takes place in the SRMR five days a week at three levels of diving,
with feeding occurring at each level.

At the deepest levels are the Bull Sharks, mid-level are Grey Reef and Whitetip Reef Sharks, and on the top of the reef are Whitetip
and Blacktip Reef Sharks.

While it is possible to see up to eight species of sharks on a single dive, members of these four species are present on a daily
basis while Tawny Nurse, Sickle-Fin Lemon, Silvertip and Tiger Sharks are less frequent visitors to SRMR.

Sharks have unique personalities, much like you and I.

Some have been visiting the SRMR for over 15 years, while others have just begun.

They display characteristics of being shy, outgoing, inquisitive, friendly, dominant, playful, sneaky, quick, witted and more.

Moreover, their personalities and behaviours evolve as they grow older and continue to frequent the SRMR.

Throughout the My Fiji Shark campaign, you will be introduced to a side of sharks you never knew existed with the hope that
you’d understand them more and dispel myths and stereotypes about them.

Every reader of The Sunday Times will be provided with exciting insights into my journey with sharks through updated pictures,
video clips, news, feature stories and media events.

You can also follow our journey with sharks online.

My Fiji Shark Initiative is a tripartite partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), South Pacific
Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD).

It hopes to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life Below Water) and raise the profile of marine eco-tourism and conservation in the region.

More Stories