Shark huggers

Sharks are cool. Even three year olds know that. They’re charismatic, beautiful, and images of these creatures in their natural element generate a certain frisson of excitement in even the most jaded shark watcher. Sharks are also in mortal danger, worldwide. Populations of all kinds of sharks are in decline, and – being slow growing, late-reproducing creatures – they are in no position to recover without some assistance.

3.5 metre female great white shark
3.5 metre female great white shark

Enter the “shark activist”, “shark conservationist”, “shark advocate” or “shark [dramatic, Chuck Norris type noun]”. They may work alone, or be part of a “worldwide network”. The ones you’ve heard of probably have a website full of photos and videos of themselves with sharks, often accompanied by embarrassingly self-congratulatory text proclaiming how “highly successful” they are, how they have achieved “major success”, and, of course, their “efforts are recognised worldwide”. They are strident, and constantly inserting themselves into situations that might bring them (not necessarily sharks) publicity.

The “shark activist” probably has a naff nickname – like (I made this one up, for Julius Malema) “Shark Comrade” – which may be branded onto the side of their expensive and trendy recent-model motor vehicle. (Their website will of course also mention how hard it is to be a “shark activist” and how many sacrifices have to be made… Such as choosing the manual model over the automatic? Foregoing metallic paint?) The “shark activist” also has enemies, and there may be a strange subtext to much of their self-promotional material alleging political manoeuvrings and other mysterious unseen forces working against their selfless efforts to improve the lives of sharks.

This is all good and well – I have no objection to anyone else’s rich fantasy life, or to anyone’s efforts to deal with self-esteem issues by frantically blowing their own trumpet to all who will listen. I can always choose not to pay attention.

What I do object to is the exploitation of sharks in all of this. Yes, there is “exploitation” in a general and harmless sense – these “activists” adopt sharks as an icon, design cute logos featuring sharks in profile, and brand themselves and their gear until there’s no free space left… This is innocuous and offends no one. No one owns the shark as a trademark, and no one is harmed here.

But there is also exploitation in one very specific and, to my mind, harmful sense. Sharks are wild animals, and we are guests in their realm. Holding onto them, hitching a ride on their dorsal fins, or any other physical contact not initiated by the shark (i.e. not a bite!) is exploiting the creature in order to feed one’s own ego. I don’t care if it’s “safe” or “safe only to very experienced shark activists”. I don’t care if you feel such passion for the creatures that you simply cannot keep your hands off them, and every time you go in for a grope a photographer “happens” to be there pointing his Ikelite housing in your direction. I don’t care if you need a new image for the front page of your website or a new facebook profile picture. It is exploitation and abuse. It draws attention away from sharks. At worst, it chases sharks away from places that they would otherwise frequent, and robs respectful ocean users of the opportunity to enjoy them too. It modifies sharks’ behaviour towards humans. At best it encourages other foolish, less experienced and less cautious divers to attempt the same kind of exploits. When one of those sheep gets bitten, the party is over for everyone.

There are even disingenuous claims that being photographed (of course!) holding onto a shark’s fin (possibly scantily clad – this apparently emphasises the message even more) is necessary to change perceptions of the creature. I have bad news. It doesn’t change any perceptions of the shark – it changes perceptions of the passenger. What I suspect these “shark activists” (and “shark hugging bimbettes and intrepid freedivers abusing the sharks as underwater scooters” – a description I wish I’d come up with myself, but it’s from a curious and ironic source!) hope is that people will think one of the following about them:

  • He’s so brave and strong! What a manly man! (Swoon!)
  • Phwoaaaar! She’s so hot! What a sexy lady!

And, most of the time, that is probably what people do think. Having a large number of male fans (if you’re a lady shark hugger) or female fans (if you’re a male shark hugger) doesn’t mean – at all – that you’re doing a good job for sharks. It means you’re doing a good job of self-promotion, and probably nothing at all for sharks.

This kind of exploitative behaviour is by no means limited to “shark activists”, or even to sharks. It also seems obligatory for free divers and free divers slash models and those who are old and wise enough to know better to be pictured getting to grips – literally – with the ocean’s top predator. Whales and dolphins are also sometimes subject to this abuse. Sometimes the person involved is clearly ignorant or thoughtless. But some of the pictures of divers holding onto sharks are taken by well-respected and incredibly talented photographers, which makes me very sad. Others are taken of people I honestly thought – from their other work – would have strong convictions about this sort of thing.

Cape Town divers – those who respect the ocean and love its creatures – know not to try to touch the sevengill cowsharks when they dive with them, because it will modify their behaviour towards humans (as, indeed, it already has – those who have been diving with the cowsharks for many years can attest that they are far more confident, curious, and even aggressive towards divers at times than they were ten or fifteen years ago). Why should standards be different because the shark is at Aliwal Shoal, in the Bahamas, or anywhere else?

Photographers such as Tony Wu and (I think) Thomas Peschak are able to photograph marine animals in their natural habitat without touching them or allowing their human photographic subjects – if any – to mount the creatures like quad bikes. I enjoyed this photo gallery of free divers with sharks – not touching them. But I’m almost scared to dig into the body of work of some of the underwater photographers whose skill I admire, in case I find images like the ones I am describing here. (Researching this article got me so riled up and then so disappointed that Tony had to talk me down from a parlous mental state.) Has anyone taken a stand against riding sharks for publicity (or any other purpose)? Please, please let me know if they have!

I suspect that the real “shark activists” are the ones I’ve never heard of, never seen a photo of, and (thank goodness) never had the misfortune to see in a swimsuit. They are the ones who actually DO things, make a difference, speak to government and industry bodies, help draft proposals and bills, write letters, and get their hands dirty behind the scenes. They are far too busy helping sharks to be photographed. Prove me wrong.

Article: Wired on the journey to the bottom of the sea

Wired magazine, source of many things interesting, published an article breaking down the depths of the sea according to who – or what – can get there. Check it out here.

Unfortunately it’s in imperial units (feet). A useful converter can be found here. Otherwise Google will do it for you: search for “3937 feet in metres” (that’s the maximum diving depth of the leatherback sea turtle – 1.2 kilometres!).

Bookshelf: Wild Seas Secret Shores of Africa

Wild Seas Secret Shores of Africa – Thomas P. Peschak

Wild Seas, Secret Shores
Wild Seas, Secret Shores

Thomas P. Peschak is the official photographer for the Save Our Seas Foundation. He’s also a marine biologist, and has a deep knowledge of his subjects (as well as an artist’s eye). Tony and I really enjoyed South Africa’s Great White Sharks, which he co-authored with a research partner.

This is mostly a collection of photographs – there’s very little text, but what there is is very informative and packed with nuggets of information despite its brevity.

South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, and Tanzania are represented well. His photographs of the skeleton coast of Namibia, which I first read about in Lawrence G. Green’s books, are magnificent and desolate. The Cape is well-represented, and Peschak finds and appreciates the rich, bright colours of our rocky reefs and kelp forest inhabitants.

Tony disapproved of several photographs showing free divers touching and holding on to tiger sharks at Aliwal Shoal. These sharks are quite “tame” (as far as that’s possible), but it’s not that much different from holding onto a turtle’s shell (except that the shark doesn’t have to surface to breathe), something of which I strongly disapprove. It would only take one unfortunate incident involving a freediver and some sharp teeth to shut down the shark diving industry (outside cages) in South Africa. Why take a chance?

At the end of the book, Peschak explains how he took each photo, what equipment he uses (he’s a Nikon man!) and other context material. This section is wonderful, especially for the aspiring underwater photographer. Unfortunately I will never be as good as him – he picks the shot he wants, and is prepared to wait ages for it… I take more of a scatter-gun approach and photograph any- and everything I find interesting. While I am prolific, he’s brilliant!

Peschak loves split shots, and he explains that he finds this a very effective method to relate land and ocean. His comments on composition – especially for this type of photograph – are very useful. He also loves his fisheye lens… I don’t blame him! About half the photos were taken on scuba, and half free diving.

You can purchase the book here if you’re in South Africa (hard to find), and here if you’re not.

Series: Deadliest Catch – Tuna Wranglers

Tuna Wranglers
Tuna Wranglers

While waiting for Season 2 of Deadliest Catch to arrive, Tony and I watched this. It’s just two 45 minute episodes, and it concerns the tuna fishermen off South Australia. It’s another Discovery Channel offering.

Complete aquaculture of tuna (rearing them from larval stages to adult) has proved difficult for several reasons. Tuna are extremely active – they have incredibly fast metabolisms, eat prodigiously, and swim long distances (their bodies are maginficently put together for swimming). Simulating their natural environment in a pen is almost impossible (much like rock lobster). They require high-energy food, and lots of it, making farming them an expensive proposition. They are also notoriously reluctant to spawn in captivity, which defeats the purpose of farming them! The fish are delicate and manhandling them to extract eggs manually or check their state of sexual maturity decreases their value on the open market. Finally, there are concerns that fish that escape from captivity may act differently to wild fish, and carry parasites and viruses that could decimate wild populations should they become exposed to them.

Southern bluefin tuna are thus caught on the continental shelf south of Australia when they weight 15-20 kilograms (at an age of about 2 years). They are transferred from the giant purse seine nets into holding pens while out at sea, and the pens are then towed back to Port Lincoln in South Australia – very slowly. There the tuna are transferred to farm pens (ranches!), and fattened up for a couple of years until they weigh 30-40 kilograms. The fish are then caught – by hand, by divers, to avoid damaging them – in the pens, flash frozen, and shipped to Japan. This is big money – a large, perfect tuna (unbruised and unmarked) fetches thousands and thousands of dollars in Japan.

The fishing process is fascinating – the ships can be out for weeks at a time. One ship looks for the tuna and baits them (throws sardines overboard to move the school in the direction desired), another deploys the purse seine nets around the school of tuna, and a third boat transfers the tuna from the nets to holding pens, and tows the pens full of live tuna back to port. A spotter plane also looks for tuna sunbathing near the surface – they need the sun to warm them in order to allow them to digest their food as fast as possible. We loved the CGI animations showing the fishing process.

The pens are essentially giant nets, closed at the bottom, with floats around the rim. Divers have to check the nets for breakages, monitor the conditions of the fish, and (occasionally) deal with sharks who bite their way in, understandably attracted to a giant floating lunchbox of tuna goodness. They either shoot them (last resort) or wrestle them out of the pen by hand. Bronze whalers are the most common invaders. The underwater footage of the pens and of the divers working in them is magnificent – crystal clear water, thousands of incredible, sleek fish, and a sense of space yet security. The divers are tethered to the surface so that they can maintain radio contact with the boat (they wear full face masks) and for air supply, or free dive. There are many ways to get tangled on things, so if they’re on scuba they wear their cylinders (for emergencies) upside down with the pillar valve pointing downwards to minimise that risk. As some of the divers said, they can’t believe they get paid to dive, because they enjoy it so much.

This is a fascinating look at the tuna fishing process, and eye-opening as far as the amounts of money that are spent to find, catch and rear these incredible fish. In comparison to the crab fishermen of Alaska, the fishing process is child’s play in terms of safety and working conditions. The deck hands on the bait boat don’t seem to do anything more physically strenuous than toss handfuls of sardines overboard once the tuna have been located. Boredom seems to be the biggest challenge.

Tuna can only be spotted when the sea is flat, and while the ocean south of Australia is cold and temperamental, in general the Bering Sea where the crab fishermen make a living makes it look like my bathtub – before I climb in! The most dangerous part of the whole trip is entering Lincoln Bay with the incoming tide, site of Dangerous Reef where Peter Gimbel and company found great white sharks during the filming of Blue Water, White Death.

The question of the scarcity of bluefin tuna, and the impact that the current fishing practices are having on these incredible fish is not dealt with in this series at all. I imagine it’d put a SERIOUS damper on all that Australian enthusiasm…

You can get the DVD here.

Bookshelf: The Last Attempt / The Dive

In a first for this blog, I’m going to review two books in a single post. They concern (more or less) the same series of events, were written by two men who were close friends for at least part of their lives, and come to wildly different conclusions about what actually transpired and why.

The event in question was the death of French-born freediver Audrey Mestre on 12 October 2002, at the age of 28 (here is a New York Times article on the incident). She was attempting to break freediving a record set by her husband and coach, Francisco “Pipín” Ferreras, in the controversial No Limits discipline of the sport, which entails the diver riding a weighted sled down a line to the required depth, and then inflating a lift bag which rockets them back to the surface.

The freediving disciplines recognised by AIDA, the most well-respected body regulating the sport, mainly involve breath-holding while swimming – down a line with or without fins, or in a swimming pool – or remaining stationary underwater. The challenges are the obvious breath holding, but also (in the depth disciplines) equalising the air spaces in the body.

No Limits is more dangerous than the other disciplines because the use of the sled enables the diver to reach incredible depths at great speed. To return to the surface (even faster than the descent in many cases) he or she must rely on an error-prone sequence of actions. The diver may not be able to successfully release herself from the sled and inflate the lift bag, or a mechanical failure could lead to prolonged time at depth or a slower ascent than planned, and ultimately drowning. Furthermore, it becomes more and more difficult to obtain support divers (on scuba, trimix or other mixed gases) qualified and capable of operating at the depths these dives can reach.

This article on Herbert Nitsch’s world record plan to dive to 305 metres in the No Limits discipline shows the complexity of the equipment involved. He currently holds the men’s record of 214 metres.

The lack of physical effort on the part of the freediver involved in getting to and from the desired depth has led some critics to comment that the only way these divers will discover the physical limit beyond which a human being cannot descend will be by dying (when their bodies can no longer withstand the crushing pressure exerted by the ocean). Many of the participants in this sport have suffered strokes, partial paralysis, decompression sickness, blackouts, convulsions and even suspected brain damage as a result both of the rapid pressure changes they experience, and of depriving their bodies of oxygen for so long.

The Last Attempt – Carlos Serra

The Last Attempt
The Last Attempt

Carlos Serra was part of the team of safety divers, organisers and support providers who worked with Ferreras on several of his and his wife’s world record attempts. He and Ferreras also ran the short-lived freediving body IAFD (International Association of Freedivers), a competitor to AIDA, which was dealt its death-blow by the drowning of Mestre.

Serra paints a disturbing picture of Ferreras, as an egomaniacal sociopath who completely controlled his wife and pushed her far beyond what she was comfortable doing. He suggests that Ferreras had put in place a bizarre and elaborate plan for his wife’s record attempt to fail, and for himself to rescue her (to wide acclaim, of course). The damage caused to his ego by her then breaking his record a few days later would be softened by the fact that he would first be hailed by the world’s press as her brave rescuer. He would also have punished her for requesting a divorce a few days earlier, and for her perceived insubordination in planning to leave him.

The allegations are compelling – there are a number of pieces of evidence that indicate that, if Ferreras was not criminally negligent (for example, he did not fill the pony bottle of compressed air that was to inflate Mestre’s lift bag and bring her back to the surface), he deliberately sabotaged her attempt to break his record. The rescue did not go as planned, and by the time he brought her to the surface she had been submerged for nearly nine minutes and her lungs were full of water.

Serra wrote this book himself, and it shows. He’s a native Spanish speaker, and his English is at best broken, and at worst appalling. His spelling is novel and inconsistent. I was charmed, however, by some obvious transliterations of Spanish idioms. The resulting effort rings with honesty, and his deep friendship with and care for Audrey Mestre lends credibility to this account.

The book is available here.

The Dive – Pipin Ferreras

The Dive
The Dive

Ferreras published his version of events in 2004, two years before Serra’s book came out. It was heavily ghost-written – for example, I find it hard to believe that a Spanish-speaking Cuban who didn’t finish school knows who John James Adubon was – and at times reads like a cheesy romance. It’s very beautifully produced, and perhaps half the book comprises both colour and black and white photographs of Ferreras and Mestre underwater, posing uncomfortably on the beach in various small and tight outfits (this seems to be a very important part of being a professional freediver) and lollygagging on the surface before and after dives.

Ferreras constantly protests his love for Mestre, and while repeatedly acknowledging his vicious temper and out of control ego, denies that he ever pushed her in her freediving efforts. He claims that the impetus to go deeper came from her, and unsurprisingly does not give any hint that he controlled her, regulated her movements, or (as Serra alleges) cheated on her and occasionally beat her up. A goodly portion of the book is devoted to his life story, growing up in Cuba and the defecting to the USA. We are also frequently reminded (even on the cover and spine of the book) of his own freediving achievements and other admirable qualities.

You can purchase the book here.

It’s not hard to figure out what actually happened. The entire dive – before, during and after – was captured on video from several angles, and it’s clear that the cylinder of air intended to lift Mestre from depth was not filled. The cable on which the sled descended and the lift bag ascended a short distance (after one of the support divers had partially filled it from his breathing mix)  was twisted, which slowed her down at a critical point on the delayed ascent. There were not enough support divers to provide midwater assistance – not nearly enough – and the nearest thing to a doctor on hand was a local dentist watching from a nearby boat. Her husband opened her airway while he was bringing her to the surface, further flooding her lungs (as an aside, Serra prevented Ferreras from acting as the deep support diver – his scuba skills are sub par to say the least, and he has been bent more times than most of us have had breakfast). There was also no back-up or bail-out plan should Mestre get into trouble on the way down or up.

What is hard to figure out  is exactly who was to blame. However, whether the narcissist Ferreras himself is solely culpable here, and went so far as to deliberately endanger his wife beyond what she was already risking, or whether the entire team caused Mestre’s death is almost a moot point. If Ferreras was as out of control, slapdash and filled with machismo as Serra alleges, the members of his support team – some of whom had been with him for 15 years and had witnessed the deaths of at least two of his safety divers on other record attempts – were morally obligated to refuse to participate instead of being swayed by Ferreras’ awesome temper and magnetic personality. He was not risking his own life in this attempt – it was the life of his wife that was on the line. Without a team of safety divers and organisers – hard to assemble at the best of times given the extreme nature of the sport – Ferreras would have been unable to operate and Audrey Mestre may still have been alive today.

This article from Outside Magazine suggests that Serra’s description of Ferreras’ character aren’t entirely baseless (and it was written about five years before the death of Mestre). It also suggests that Ferreras has an on-off relationship with the truth and enjoys embellishing his own life history and prowess, something that should be borne in mind when reading his book. Do not read only one of these books – I would strongly recommend that you read both, one after the other. I’m not sure if it’ll help you figure out the truth, but at least you’ll have heard both sides of this tragic story.

If you want to see how beautiful freediving can be – and it can be very beautiful and transcendent – watch this video of current world record holder William Trubridge diving to 101 metres without fins, and then swimming back up. The discipline he’s participating in here is called Constant Weight Without Fins.

Bookshelf: Seven Tenths

Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds – James Hamilton-Paterson

Seven Tenths
Seven Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds

My parents gave me this book when I was fifteen (it was published in 1993) at the end of a school year, and I reread it recently because it’s essentially been on my mind for the last eighteen years (there, you know how old I am).

This is the book about the sea I’d lend to people who don’t necessarily feel as connected to it as I do. I’d also lend it to people who love literature, poetry, and philosophical musings. I’d lend it to my sister, perhaps (if she enjoyed non-fiction), because she loves words, and James Hamilton-Paterson clearly does, too.

This is a collection of essays about the ocean, loosely tied together with a lyrical description – chapter by chapter – of a swimmer on a coral reef who is lost at sea, alone.  Paterson writes beautifully, and the value of the book is more in his manner of writing and the reflections he provokes than in the facts and figures presented.

There’s an account of a trip he did on a survey ship that was mapping part of the USA’s ocean floor territory, a chapter about a tiny island in the Phillipines – on which he once spent some time, alone – being converted into a resort for Japanese businessmen, and a chapter on shipwrecks. He characterises wrecks as either time capsules, time bombs, gold mines or tombs. I liked that set of categories. Of course a wreck may inhabit more than one of those labels.

The history of ocean mapping and exploration – including William Beebe and Robert Ballard – is touched on, and there’s a wonderful chapter on coral which is more concerned with Paterson’s (and our) experiences of reefs than with being a scientific treatise on marine life. At one point Paterson describes taking a cassette player wrapped in plastic bags down several metres onto the reef, and playing classical music to the fish. The only ones who reacted were apparently the fiercely territorial damsel fish, who nipped at the plastic coverings.

There is a chapter on fishing, too, which is vivid. Paterson describes the process and results of dragging huge nets through the ocean, both on a detailed personal level – what he saw in the nets, how it sounded and smelled, and so on – and on a more macroscopic plane, explaining the consequences of wasteful bycatch and overfishing, and outlining the limits of our knowledge on the subject.

Paterson doesn’t like scuba – he feels constricted, and that the noise in his ears of his breathing is too loud. It prevents him from hearing, feeling and seeing what he wishes to in the ocean. I think he’d make a good free diver, since all is quiet when you’re doing that.

The book is available here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

Bookshelf: The Art of Diving

The Art of Diving – Nick Hanna & Alexander Mustard

The Art of Diving
The Art of Diving

Tony gave me this book out of his collection when I was lying in bed with a cold, needing entertainment. It’s hard to pinpoint the genre. The best part of the book is the magnificent photography by Alexander Mustard – not all of his pictures are to my taste (I don’t much like motion blur) but in general his contribution is magnificent.

The text deals with the history of scuba diving, as well as tips for improving your skills. These can be distilled into relax, slow down your breathing, and swim slower! Hanna meditates on different sea creatures that have been demonised in literature and film – sharks, rays, octopus, moray eels – and shows how these perceptions are wrong. Michael Rutzen, South Africa’s own shark man who free dives with great whites (when a very precise set of conditions are met – he’s extremely careful) also gets a mention.

Hanna also discusses the merits of touching sea creatures, and acknowledges that a complete prohibition may be the best thing given that not all divers have the knowledge and experience to determine when it’s a good idea to reach out or not. He does mention that many creatures, such as morays and groupers (e.g. potato bass) appear to actively enjoy the interaction.

Later sections of the book talk about the intersection of yoga with diving, the practice of yoga before and during dives, and an alleged PADI specialty called Mind, Body and Spirit (MBS) diving which advocates a more meditative approach (only available in the Carribbean – like they need it there!). I am prepared to acknowledge that (perhaps of necesstity – one tank full of air goes further than a lungful) our freediving friends get this right more often than us scuba junkies. Hanna talks about being more mindful underwater, cultivating an attitude of playfulness, and gives suggestions for changing one’s perspective when diving gets too much like a chore. I really liked this section of the book!

The section on free diving is beautifully written and illustrated, and even though the sport doesn’t appeal to me at all, I can see the magic of being so free to move, having to listen so closely to one’s body, and being able to interact silently with creatures who’d be scared away by scuba.

The authors’ official website for the book is here. You can order the book here or here.

Bookshelf: The Reefs of Taprobane

The Reefs of Taprobane – Arthur C. Clarke

The Reefs of Taprobane is the follow-up to renowned science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s account of the time he spent diving the Great Barrier Reef, The Coast of Coral. It’s the second book in his Blue Planet trilogy – I fear I will not be able to review the third book, Treasures of the Great Reef, since it seems to be long out of print. Perhaps a lucky find at a second-hand bookshop will change that situation!

The Reefs of Taprobane
The Reefs of Taprobane

It recounts the time that Clarke and Mike Wilson, his diving partner, spent in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), diving the reefs that surround the island. Like The Coast of Coral, it’s written with great humour. I almost choked when Clarke recounted how Wilson punctuated their trip down the Suez canal with nostalgic references to his time in the British army, pointing out landmarks with comments such as “That’s where we blew up the police station,” and “You should have seen the gun battle we had in that café!” Clarke states that this helped him to understand why the British army is so well-beloved throughout the Middle East.

The book was published in the late 1950s, and the diving technology and philosophy is appropriately dated. There’s a LOT of spearfishing. The approach by the divers was to spear some fish (including a parrot fish over 1 metre long!?) and then wait for sharks to show up so that they could photograph them. I suppose I should not be surprised by their tactics, because their guide in Ceylon was one of the foremost spear fishermen on the island.

Owing to various circumstances (an infected foot among them), Clarke doesn’t actually spend that much time diving. The book is thus a bit unfocused – my favourite section was the account of their dives on the Admiralty floating dock at Trincomalee Harbour. I didn’t enjoy The Reefs of Tabrobane as much as I enjoyed The Coast of Coral but it’s still an interesting account of exploratory diving done in the very early days of scuba.

Buy the book here.

Magazine: African Diver

African Diver is a freely available South African diving magazine, that appears only in electronic format. You can subscribe to their newsletter which alerts you to new editions, which come out six times a year. The magazine has been running for about two and a half years.

African Diver issue 14
African Diver issue 14

The magazine covers a wide range of diving and ocean-related topics, from dive sites and dive travel, to conservation, safety (they have a close association with DAN), wrecks, photography and free diving. The focus is on diving in Africa. The photos are gorgeous and plentiful. Because it’s digital format, large photo spreads don’t cost the publishers anything extra, which makes for a fantastic full-screen experience.

That said, I don’t find the format of the magazine particularly user-friendly – you have to download a pdf file which can be up to 15MB in size, so it involves commitment – and I do struggle to commit to reading anything on a computer screen for a significant length of time (rich coming from a blogger who hopes you WILL commit to reading THIS on a computer screen!).

But the format enables the magazine to be free and it does mean you can change the font size to super ginormous if that’s what your eyes need. Also, you can zoom into those stunning photos to your heart’s content. There is also an option that enables you to read the magazine online, without downloading the whole thing.

There is an interesting blog on the African Diver site, that is updated more frequently than the magazine.

Latest issue (Issue 14)

Georgina Jones of SURG writes an article about local dive site Star Walls (in the Atlantic). There’s a final installment from a couple who drove cross-country from Betty’s Bay in the Western Cape to Japan, in order to highlight what humans are doing to our oceans. There’s an article on shark finning in Mozambique (by the same author who wrote an article on the identical topic for the latest issue of The Dive Site).

There’s a very interesting article about deep diving, and the independent attitude that is required by divers when they reach the Advanced qualification stage. The author, Debbie Smith, lists the aspects that an Advanced diver should be able to manage: their own kit, their buoyancy, tucking in their gear, getting down, safety stops, helping themselves on the boat, and so on. It’s a very salutary reminder that even though you can theoretically be qualified as an Advanced diver after doing only nine dives ever, there’s a lot more to it than that.

There’s a very inspiring article about disabled scuba divers, and a safety review from DAN of 2010.

Movie: Into the Blue 2 – The Reef

Into the Blue 2
Into the Blue 2

Clearly the makers of Into the Blue, a perfectly benign diving and treasure hunting movie, or some other third force, decided that the first effort did not contain sufficient nudity, and was too heavy on plot. Enter Into the Blue 2 – The Reef. It’s the same plot – down to fairly minute details such as the female protagonist breathing from an inflated lift bag on the bottom of the ocean – as Into the Blue, but features unknown actors whose main abilities involve wearing a wet t-shirt with aplomb and accidentally exposing their breasts while asleep in bed.

There really is a fair amount of (female) nudity and gratuitous focus on the female form (extended montages of beach volleyball, lapdancing in a club, and other activities requiring only small pieces of clothing and marginal acting ability) which shocked me each time it appeared because on all other levels the movie seemed to be something a child would enjoy. It distracts from the plot repeatedly (on second thoughts, this may have been a deliberate ploy).

The diving sequences are decent – the action takes place off Hawaii, and the water is beautiful. There’s not that much sea life on show, however, apart from beautiful turtles. And there’s lots of free diving… Surprise! Tony and I loved the scooters – I think that’s what they were. Looked like jet skis without the handles on top, and worked above and below the surface. The driver lay on top of the device and held on with both hands.

I mostly enjoyed this – it’s fluff – but got tired of being flashed with such regularity, and at the most unexpected times. I fully understand that many others will feel differently about this, and that this review may in fact have persuaded you that this is a MUST SEE. Each to his own, I guess!

If you really must, the DVD is available from Kalahari.net or Amazon.com.