Posted by: letsharkslive | November 24, 2010

Slaughter in Playa Del Carmen Mexico

Robin Culler kindly passed on this eye-witness report of shark slaughter in Mexico written by Steven Spencer.  If you know of a shark protection group in that area that can intervene, please contact ilafranceporcher@gmail.com  Thank you for any help you can offer! Ila

My name is Steven and i am writing in relation to some horrific Shark killings that have been happening close to the shores of Playa Del Carmen Mexico. You may have already heard something of this news but i am writing because all of the news that i am hearing and reading is very biased and largely untrue so i wish to write a true account to the best of my knowledge about these incidents and what has led to them.

I do not know if there is something that your organisation, or any organisation that you know can do about these occurrences, but i feel the need to write in true detail of what is happening as i am sure that if anything can be done then you will know better than i the people that could do something.

Playa Del Carmen is a tourist area that has grown considerably in the past decade. I have been diving there for 7 years, i have done many dives there as i have spent 5 months there every year for the past 7 years.

Bull Sharks visit these shores during the months between November and March. In my first 5 years of diving there i frequently saw groups of 2 to a maximum of 5 BullSharks in various dive sites, mainly Tortugas, Pared Verde and Barracuda. BullShark sightings were frequent during these months if diving regularly but could not be guaranteed.

Eventually one dive store called ‘Phantom divers’ began to feed an area regularly close to shore near a dive site called ‘Jardines’ and eventually the sightings of these BullSharks were very rare in other locations.

Phantom diveshop then began taking divers to the fed area close to Jardines and feeding these BullSharks whilst wearing a chainmail suit. BullSharks would gather there everyday during these months every year and eventually every other divestore in town hypocritically began running ‘BullShark dives’. I state hypocritically because every other diveshop spoke of their disliking of the Shark feeding but continued to make very good money from these dives.

I dived with these magnificent creatures many times, when they were in behaving naturally and when the feeding programmes began. Once the feeding programmes began they behaved very differently to before, if a boat passed overhead they would go into a frenzy as they expected food coming to them.

Anyway, the BullShark is not a protected species in Mexico and local fisherman have always killed 2 or 3 a year but now everything has all come to a very sad situation. I am aware of one true report where 9 were killed by a fisherman in one day and other reports have suggested that 25 were killed in 3 days. During my 5 months every year in Playa i would dive most days and i would estimate that there wouldn’t be much more than 50 BullSharks that visit these shores each year as i was frequently seeing the same ones, i only counted approximately 20 different ones. If this is the case then it is a large percentage of decline of this species there.

I am therefore 100% sure that because of this feeding programme it has herded them into one area making it very easy for them to be fished and slaughtered by local fisherman who now have the knowledge of their whereabouts. 2 or 3 killed a year before, and 9 killed in one day proves this is no coincidence and they would therefore have a better chance of survival if they were spread around as before.

Phantom divers is currently fighting for the rights for the BullSharks not to be fished for at this certain feeding point during the months that they visit the area, stating that the BullSharks congregate there to give birth, this information i know to be incorrect. They congregate there for the food that is fed to them and for no other reason.

It is obvious that the only interest in Phantom divers minds is the proffit that can be made from the BullSharks.

My interest is for the survival of these magnificent creatures and i hope by voicing my opinions, whether loved or hated might help towards this.

I thank you for your time in reading this and thank you for passing this information on to anyone who might be able to assist with this sad situation and if there is anything else i can do i would be happy to.

Steven Spencer.

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Responses

  1. Thanks Ila! Here’s my reply to Steven:

    Dear Steven,

    Thank you for writing. The shark killing incident from Playa del Carmen is heart breaking for sure. I agree with you that it’s important to review what led to this incident in order to hopefully prevent future tragedies like it. Certainly I don’ t know the solution to this problem, but would like to offer some ideas for discussion. In the meantime, I also forwarded your message to two shark scientists last night (after receiving your first message) to ask for their input. I’ve copied them on this message.

    Here are a few points to consider in this discussion:

    In general Shark Diving is good for sharks.

    Shark diving operations contribute greatly to changing the public’s perception about sharks and gaining support for shark conservation. Many, many people who have dedicated themselves to shark conservation (including me) came to understand and care about sharks through diving with them.

    Shark diving operations also create a powerful economic alternative to shark harvesting. Most governments and people still view sharks as just another fishery resource to be exploited, and don’t really care too much if sharks are wiped out. Demonstrating the value of sharks to dive tourism was the primary factor in the decisions to create shark sanctuaries in Palau, The Maldives and most recently in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

    The practices of baiting, chumming and feeding are controversial and have been heavily debated. I think that most divers would prefer to see sharks in a natural setting, but unfortunately there are very few places left where this is possible. A ban on all of these practices would devastate shark tourism and would be a huge blow to shark conservation.

    Sharks are under siege. Many species are being overfished to the point of no return, and gaining protections at any level of government is an exhausting uphill battle. The few places that have enacted full protections for sharks have done so because of their economic value to dive tourism.

    To anyone who cares about sharks and their conservation, please be careful here. There are many people who will take advantage of this incident and any criticisms of shark diving or any specific operations or practices to make a blanket condemnation of shark diving and shark tourism.

    You mentioned that the fishermen killed fewer sharks before the shark diving operations started. Those sharks, however, were by no means safe. Mexico has very few protections in place for sharks and is one of the top shark fisheries in the world. Shark diving operations or no, those sharks were in a great deal of danger. And now the people who live in the community are actually angry about the sharks being killed. I doubt that many people cared much when sharks were killed before.

    Sharks need to be protected in shark diving areas:

    In locations where shark diving operations are conducted, sharks need to be protected. I agree with you that advertising and promoting a location where sharks aggregate (for whatever reason) can (actually will) make them a target. This is obvious, but there is also a chicken or the egg situation here. It will probably be difficult, if not impossible, to convince the appropriate government to protect sharks until you can demonstrate the economic value. And of course it could be hard to do that before starting the operation that creates the value.

    HOWEVER, now that we have a number of examples throughout the world that demonstrate the value of sharks, we can approach governments with evidence clearly demonstrating that sharks are much more valuable alive to tourism than to fisheries.

    It’s a shame that no protections and enforcement were in place before this incident. This is something that needs to be addressed in Playa del Carmen and anywhere else that sharks are known to aggregate.

    Shark aggregations should be studied (using non-lethal research!):

    Studying sharks in important aggregation areas, such as Playa del Carmen, can help to increase our understanding of sharks’ behavior and their movements. This data can be used to justify protections in areas where they are needed most, and may also provide some insight into methods and guidelines for diving with them in a manner that doesn’t jeopardize the safety of the sharks or the divers.

    Moving forward.

    Let’s talk about getting some protections in place for sharks in this area. I’m looking forward to talking with you about a positive solution.

    Thank you!!

    Mary

    Mary O’Malley
    Shark Savers


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