Marine Conservation News

Giant Manta Rays Protected as a Migratory Species

Eric Aubort
Nations Agree to Protect Giant Manta Rays

Giant Manta Rays Protected as a Migratory Species

UN Conservation Convention Accepts Ecuador Proposal to List Largest Living Rays to CMS Appendix I & II

By Eric Aubort


BERGEN, Norway, Nov. 25, 2011- Shark Advocates International is heralding today's agreement by Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) to list the giant manta ray (Manta birostris) under CMS Appendix I and II.





Protection Guidelines:

  • The listing obligates CMS member countries to provide strict national protections for giant manta rays and their habitats, and encourages concerted conservation action among Range States. Manta rays are under increasing threat from targeted fisheries driven by East Asian demand for their gill rakers for use in Chinese medicine.


From Shark Advocates International:

  • "We are elated that the CMS Parties have embraced Ecuador's proposal for protecting the magnificent and exceptionally vulnerable giant manta ray," said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. "CMS is an excellent vehicle for facilitating much needed national and international safeguards for this wide-ranging, globally threatened species."



  • Giant manta rays are found in tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate waters around the world, often along coasts and offshore islands. Some sub-populations number just a few hundred individuals. The greatest threat to manta rays is fishing; their large size, slow movements, and predictable aggregations make them easy targets.  Manta rays are protected in Hawaii, Maldives, Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador, Yap, Western Australia, and New Zealand, but migrate into unprotected waters of other countries and the high seas. Today's decision marks the first international agreement aimed at conserving manta rays and should spark new protections in key Range States such as Mozambique, India, Sri Lanka, and Peru.



  • Manta rays can grow to more than seven meters across.  Females are thought to produce just one pup after a year-long pregnancy. Manta rays feed on plankton filtered through their gills using comb-like projections known as 'gill rakers'. Demand for gill rakers is reportedly resulting in dramatic increases in targeted manta ray fisheries and subsequent depletion of some local populations.


Conservation Benefits:

  • Manta ray eco-tourism generates significant economic benefits for local communities across the globe, particularly in Maldives, Mozambique, and Hawaii. A new study estimates the worldwide value of manta-based tourism and filming at US$100 million per year.
    The European Union, Senegal, Madagascar, Australia, United States, Chile, Mozambique, Uruguay, and Norway expressed support for the proposal.



  • Shark Advocates International (SAI) is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to advance sound policies for sharks and rays.
  • Liz Morley, +1-843-693-5044,


Further Reading



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Shark fins Banned in California

Scott Gietler
The sale or possession of shark fins in California has been banned

Shark Fins Banned in California

Possesion, sale and distribution banned

Existing stocks may be sold until 2013

By Scott Gietler


Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill today, Friday, October 7th, that outlaws the sale and possession of shark fins in California.

Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino)  orignally introduced AB 376 in an attempt to stop what he and several environmental groups argue is a brutal practice that is wiping out large numbers of sharks. Fishermen usually remove the fins from sharks and throw the rest of the carcass back in the water. Oregon, Washington, Guam, and Hawaii have similar laws.

“The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans,” Brown said in a statement.

Millions of sharks are killed each year, and that harvest is threatening the existence of some species.

“Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90%, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing,’’ Brown said. "In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill.”

Sharks are mostly killed to produce shark fin soup. After the fins are cut off, sharks are thrown back into the water and quickly die.

Environmental groups were quite happy. “Today is a landmark day for shark conservation around the globe” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Senior Pacific Director. “The leadership shown by legislatures and governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii sends a strong message that the entire US West Coast will no longer play a role in the global practice of shark finning that is pushing many shark species to the brink of extinction.”

Photo of a happy reef shark, with its fins still on. Photo copyright Edwar Herreno.


Companion Bill 853 also signed

Bill 853 was also signed that allows existing stocks of on-hand shark fins to be sold until July 1, 2013. The ban on importing goes into effect on Jan 1st, 2012. It also exempts sharks legally caught by California fisherman. This bill was added as a compromise to help AB 376 get passed. Whether Bill 853 will turn into a loophole used by businesses serving shark-fin soup remains to be seen.

Assemblyman Paul Fong is a member of the Chinese-American community, and there is no doubt that this helped build support for the bill. Some chinese restaurant owners had felt unfairly targeted by the bill.

Thanks to everyone who helped pass this bill

Special thanks goes to for their efforts in getting this bill passed and signed, and of course to Assemblyman Paul Fong for introducing the bill.

In Southern California, groups like OCDiving and Power Scuba made an extra effort to get the word out. Thanks so much!


Full text of bill AB376 and bill 853


Here is bill AB376

  AB 376, Fong. Shark fins.

   Existing law makes it unlawful to possess any bird, mammal, fish,
reptile, or amphibian, or parts thereof, taken in violation of any of
the provisions of the Fish and Game Code, or of any regulation made
under it.
   This bill, except as specified, would make it unlawful for any
person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark
fin, as defined.
   The bill, by creating a new crime, would impose a state-mandated
local program.
   The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local
agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the
state. Statutory provisions establish procedures for making that
   This bill would provide that no reimbursement is required by this
act for a specified reason.


  SECTION 1.  The Legislature finds and declares all of the
   (a) Sharks, or elasmobranchs, are critical to the health of the
ocean ecosystem.
   (b) Sharks are particularly susceptible to decline due to
overfishing because they are slow to reach reproductive maturity and
birth small litters, and cannot rebuild their populations quickly
once they are overfished.
   (c) Sharks occupy the top of the marine food chain. Their decline
is an urgent problem that upsets the balance of species in ocean
ecosystems and negatively affects other fisheries. It constitutes a
serious threat to the ocean ecosystem and biodiversity.
   (d) The practice of shark finning, where a shark is caught, its
fins cut off, and the carcass dumped back into the water, causes tens
of millions of sharks to die each year. Sharks starve to death, may
be slowly eaten by other fish, or drown because most sharks need to
keep moving to force water through their gills for oxygen.
   (e) Data from federal and international agencies show a decline in
shark populations worldwide.
   (f) California is a market for shark fin and this demand helps
drive the practice of shark finning. The market also drives shark
declines. By impacting the demand for shark fins, California can help
ensure that sharks do not become extinct as a result of shark
   (g) Shark fin often contains high amounts of mercury, which has
been proven dangerous to consumers' health.
  SEC. 2.  Section 2021 is added to the Fish and Game Code, to read:
   2021.  (a) As used in this section "shark fin" means the raw,
dried, or otherwise processed detached fin, or the raw, dried, or
otherwise processed detached tail, of an elasmobranch.
   (b) Except as otherwise provided in subdivisions (c), (d), and
(e), it shall be unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for
sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin.
   (c) Any person who holds a license or permit pursuant to Section
1002 may possess a shark fin or fins consistent with that license or
   (d) Any person who holds a license or permit issued by the
department to take or land sharks for recreational or commercial
purposes may possess a shark fin or fins consistent with that license
or permit.
   (e) Before January 1, 2013, any restaurant may possess, sell,
offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin possessed by that
restaurant, as of January 1, 2012, that is prepared for consumption.
  SEC. 3.  No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to
Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because
the only costs that may be incurred by a local agency or school
district will be incurred because this act creates a new crime or
infraction, eliminates a crime or infraction, or changes the penalty
for a crime or infraction, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the
Government Code, or changes the definition of a crime within the
meaning of Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California


Here is Bill 853


AB 853, Fong. Sharks.

Existing law makes it unlawful to possess any bird, mammal, fish, reptile, or amphibian, or parts thereof, taken in violation of any of the provisions of the Fish and Game Code, or of any regulation made under it.

This bill would create exemptions from a shark fin prohibition proposed by AB 376. The bill would require the Ocean Protection Council to submit an annual report to the Legislature that lists any shark species that have been independently certified to meet internationally accepted standards for sustainable seafood, as provided. The provisions of the bill would become operative only if AB 376 is enacted and takes effect on or before January 1, 2012.


SECTION 1. Section 2021.5 is added to the Fish and Game Code, to read:

2021.5. (a) Notwithstanding Section 2021, all of the following provisions apply:

(1) Any person who holds a license or permit issued by the department to take or land sharks for recreational or commercial purposes may possess, including for purposes of consumption or taxidermy, or may donate to a person licensed or permitted pursuant to Section 1002, a shark fin or fins consistent with that license or permit.

(2) Before July 1, 2013, any person may possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin possessed by that person, as of January 1, 2012.

(3) Nothing in Section 2021 prohibits the sale or possession of a shark carcass, skin, or fin for taxidermy purposes pursuant to Section 3087.

(b) (1) The Ocean Protection Council shall submit an annual report to the Legislature that lists any shark species that have been independently certified to meet internationally accepted standards for sustainable seafood, as defined in Section 35550 of the Public Resources Code, and adopted by the Ocean Protection Council pursuant to Section 35617 of the Public Resources Code, including chain of custody standards.

(2) A report to be submitted pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be submitted in compliance with Section 9795 of the Government Code.

SEC. 2. This act shall become operative only if Assembly Bill 376 of the 2011-12 Regular Session is enacted and takes effect on or before January 1, 2012. 


Further reading

In The News: Fish Uses Tool to Get Food

Michael Zeigler
The first video of tool use by a fish has been published in the journal "Coral Reefs" by Giacomo Bernardi, professor at UC-Santa Cruz.

Fish Uses Tool to Crush Clams

Orange-dotted tuskfish on video uses rock as an avil

First known video of fish using a tool taken in Palau

Similar behavior seen in California



In recent years, there have been several reports of divers witnessing wrasse using a rock as an anvil to crush shellfish. Now - for the first time, there is video proof of this remarkable behavior taken in Palau. In addition, a video has surfaced in Southern California documenting similar behavior in a different wrasse species. 

In the Palau video, an orange-dotted tuskfish, Choerodon anchorago, digs a clam out of the sand in shallow water, carries it over to a rock, and repeatedly throws the clam against the rock to crush it. Giacomo Bernardi, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, shot the video in Palau in 2009. The behavior was observed three different times over a course of 20 minutes.

"What the movie shows is very interesting. The animal excavates sand to get the shell out, then swims for a long time to find an appropriate area where it can crack the shell," Bernardi said. "It requires a lot of forward thinking, because there are a number of steps involved. For a fish, it's a pretty big deal."

"Wrasses are very inquisitive animals," Bernardi said. "They are all carnivorous, and they are very sensitive to smell and vision."

Bernardi, who studies fish genetics, said there may be other examples of tool use in fish that have not yet been observed. "We don't spend that much time underwater observing fishes," he said. "It may be that all wrasses do this. It happens really quickly, so it would be easy to miss."


Other Wrasses perform similar behavior

In 1995, a yellowhead wrasse was observed in Florida engaging in similar behavior, and in 2010 a sixbar wrasse was observed in an aquarium setting.

A still photo from Australia has also recently captured this amazing behavior in a wrasse:

wrasse fish using tool underwater

First photo taken of a wrasse using a tool to break open a shell. The fish was using a rock as an anvil. Photo by Scott Gardner, taken in the Keppel region of the Great Barrier Reef in November, 2006.


Amazing video showing the wrasse using the rocky reef as an avil, taken in Palau. In the video, the fish first digs up a clam, and then travels quite a ways in order to find a good rock to use to help break open the clam.


Story source

University of California - Santa Cruz. "Fish uses tool to dig up and crush clams." ScienceDaily, 29 Sep. 2011. Web. 29 Sep. 2011.

Journal Reference

    G. Bernardi. The use of tools by wrasses (Labridae). Coral Reefs, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s00338-011-0823-6. Here is a link to the original paper.

Story photo credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Santa Cruz



Similar Behavior Witnessed in Southern California

In the video above, taken in March 2010, a female sheephead wrasse Semicossyphus pulche is observed trying to break apart a crab by slamming it against a rock.  La Jolla Shores, CA.  Video by Jackie Patay.

Jackie Patay comments on her observation.  "Late morning, I was solo diving the La Jolla Shores [California], along the canyon edge, south of Vallecitos Point. I stopped to hover and watch the behaviors of the various fish.  I observed this female Sheephead continuously picking something up, shaking it like a dog, and repeatedly slamming it against the rocky outcropping.  I came in for a closer look, and caught this little bit of video.  As you can see, she was successful in breaking it apart, and enjoyed her meal.  This was not the first time I saw sheephead do this."

This is an amazing video captured right here in southern California!  Thank you very much for this submission, Jackie.  ~Editor

These still photos and videos show us how much we still have to learn about the intelligence and behavior of the species in our oceans.


Further reading

The Cove finally opens in Japan

Scott Gietler

 Unbeliveable - "The Cove" finally opens in Japan - a stunning reversal

Film documenting the slaughter of Dolphins finally shows, a win for marine conservation

By Scott Gietler


"The Cove" - a documentary loved around the world by marine conservationists, underwater photographers, divers, and most of the rest of the world almost didn't play in Japan, the country that needed to see it the most.. until now.

"The Cove" documents a horrendous slaughter of dolphins, almost too sick to believe. The slaughter takes place in Taiji, Japan - a town on the southern coast of Japan, directly south of the tourist meccas of Kyoto and Nara. Dolphins are stabbed to death en mass by hunters using hooks, knives, and harpoons.


dolphin slaugher in japan

Dolphin slaughter in Japan. Photo: AFP/ Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


The movie finally opened in Japan on July 3rd 2010 and sold out in several small theaters. Small protests were held in many places, but luckily protesters were barred from watching it by police.

Last month the movie was supposed to open in Japan, but plans were canceled after protesters threatened extreme reactions. Luckily efforts to show the film continued, resulting in this success. 


Many protests in Japan about "The Cove"

Japanese protesters appear to think that the movie is simply bashing Japan, but other Japanese citizens want the information to be known so the Japanese people can have an informed debate about it.

A "fringe" nationalist group, the Society for the Restoration of Sovereignty, has led the voice against international criticism of the Japanese traditions of whaling and dolphin hunting. "The Cove" seems to be the focus of their efforts recently. They use bullying tactics in their protests, and according to the Cove facebook page they even bullied the mother of a Yokohoma theater owner.

Information on "The Cove"

"The Cove" won the 2009 Oscar for best documentary. Many, many thanks to everyone who helped make this film possible, including Jim Clark who helped finance the movie, director Louie Psihoyos, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for originally documenting the slaughter back in 2003. Thanks to Takeshi Kato, the CEO of theJapanese distributor of the Cove for speaking up in his home country, and putting up with protesters outside his home. 

I also want to thank Charles Hambleton, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, and Kirk Krack for the important "special ops" work they did in Taiji to make the film possible, and everyone else who helped out with the film.

Watch the Trailer



How you can Help the Dolphins

Visit and visit

Step 1: Watch The Cove
Step 2: Done money to or at

Further Reading:

Bluefin tuna in big trouble: The story of the Bluefin Tuna


Huge School of Fish Loved by Photographers Almost Captured by Fishermen

Scott Gietler

Huge School of Fish Loved by Photographers Almost Captured by Fishermen near Kona

Underwater photographers witness coral damaged, fish almost captured

By Scott Gietler


This past May, local people and underwater photographers of Keauhou Village in Kona, West Hawaii witnessed how fishermen damaged the Kona coral reef, while trying to capture a beloved school of Akule, a local species also known as big-eyed scad. The locals took underwater photographs that show how part of the stony reef had been pulled out, during the process of setting the nets, in a practice depicted as "destructive". The images show pieces of coral lying on the bottom of the sea, the nets deployed and entangled in the reef, and some fish trapped in them.



Nets at the coral reef


A clear shot of a net deployed to catch and kill these fish. The school has been a favorite of underwater photographers for many years, and has grown large lately so it's attracted more photographers, and others. Photos by Bo Pardau.


Pieces of reef torn out


Important damage to the local ecosystem caused by destructive fishing, photo by Bo Pardau.


Photographer Cynthia Hankins was able to capture some photographic evidence while the fishermen were still there. Right after the fishermen left, Bo Pardau, another Kona underwater photographer and diver, took some photos of the broken coral reef and the nets that had been left behind. The local residents submitted a formal complaint to the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement, with the intention that those responsible of this aggressive fishing practices should be penalized for the irreparable damage inflicted in the coral. It is worth noticing that the reef is protected by Hawaiian laws, and it is prohibited to cause any damages to the stony reef or mushroom coral. Hawaii's Fishing Regulations stipulate that fines can go up to $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail, plus up to $1,000 per specimen taken illegally. In 2008, a Maul tour boat company was fined with over half a million dollars for damaging the coral reef.


divers set the nets to capture fish in the protected reef


To try to ensure a capture of the massive school of fish, divers set the nets. Luckily they were caught red-handed. Photo by Cynthia Hankins.


reef damaged


The reef and its flora and fauna are protected by local laws. Here is some live coral caught in the net. Photo by Bo Pardau.


Akule is a fish highly appreciated by the local residents and divers. Akule schools can concentrate over a thousand fish, and have become one of underwater photographers’ favorite subjects. Bo Pardau has managed to get some spectacular shots of Akule schools, like the one we reproduce today. Akule fish pack up in a tight formation as a defensive strategy against the many natural predators that endanger the species. Sadly, we have to count human beings as part of this group.


Akule School in kona, hawaii


A magnificent and beautiful shot of an Akule school, photo by Bo Pardau.


akule school underwater photography by bo pardau


Amazing underwater photo of the huge school, almost looking like a single being with its compact shape. Luckily the school is still alive and well for the moment. Photo by Bo Pardau.


Update on the Hawaiian Akule, June 26th

So far the Akule school is still intact and no one has attempted to recapture them yet. There is an ongoing investigation into the coral reef damage, and let's hope that it progress is a fair and just manner. The Kona Underwater Photographic Society has been trying to keep an eye on the school and do what they can legally to protect them and the coral, although it is legal to capture this beautiful school with a proper permit.


Further Reading

How to photograph Schooling Fish

Diving Kona for Underwater Photography

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