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The Great White Myth in the Mediterranean
Shark dives in the Mediterranean? Sounds impossible, but they are not! TAUCHEN author Daniel Brinckmann researched archives and the Internet for ten years. We present ten unknown places in the Mediterranean where divers have a good chance of encountering large sharks.
Too seldom for statisticsUnfortunately, when it comes to large sharks in the Mediterranean, there is always a lack of means to produce basic statistics. In the case of the great white shark, the facts are based on collections of anecdotal sightings. And in the case of almost all other great shark species on point surveys in two or three nurseries and on catches registered by fishery inspectors. Why it is like that? Because there are simply not enough animals left. The Mare Nostrum is the most dangerous inland sea for sharks. With the exception of the reproductive blue sharks and the six-gill sharks, which are still relatively common below 300 meters, the number of large sharks sighted and captured is too low to be able to make a statement about their degree of endangerment. This applies above all to the two sand tiger species, which are on the verge of biological extinction in the European domestic sea, and the gray sharks, which are represented with more species in the Mediterranean than most divers suspect. Formerly common species such as mako, thresher and smooth hammerhead sharks are either critically endangered or threatened with extinction in the Mediterranean. Studies have shown that populations have dropped to one to two percent of the population a hundred years ago. There is no reliable information on the number of living great white sharks - but their number is certainly in the hundreds, not the thousands. They were probably once as common in the northern Adriatic as they were off California, South Africa or South Australia.
The era of the bounty huntersAt the time of the Danube monarchy, the catch of each great white shark was rewarded with a head premium - the amount of the payment being based on the size of the animals. Between 1872 and 1882 alone, no fewer than 53 great white sharks were sent to the Natural History Museum in Trier to secure premiums. Probably the first shark catching campaign of modern times was extended into the 20th century. As contemporary postcards and articles from important gazettes like “Le Petit Parisien” show, the fear of great white sharks was not a product of the Hollywood blockbuster “The Great White Shark”.The American harpunetti Guy Gilpatrick gave the freshly baked high school graduate and later diving pioneer Hans Hass a tip that is nowadays rather archaic in 1939 before he targeted his first bluefin tuna on the Côte d'Azur: "You need a knife, There are also sharks here. ”At the latest with the end of the Second World War, probably earlier, the era of a biologically healthy Mediterranean Sea passed, in which encounters with dog and sandbar sharks on remote stretches of the coast were hardly less exotic than those with groupers. With industrial fishing, self-proclaimed shark hunters and targeted fishing activities in the storm and urge phase of tourism, the coastal sharks in the western basin of the European Mediterranean disappeared at record-breaking speed. And yet shark nets were not unusual in Istria, Opatija or Rijeka until the 1960s. Older semesters may still remember that back then hardly anyone swam after a ball that floated over the buoy boundary. Until the collapse of the tuna stocks, great white sharks usually attached themselves to the spawning courses of the schools that led from the western Mediterranean to the shallow, fjord-like bays of Croatia, where the predators were permanent seasonal guests. As the stomach contents of Mediterranean white sharks reveals, in the absence of high-fat seals they are greater food opportunists there than elsewhere and meet their energy needs with tuna and swordfish, dolphins, mackerel, other sharks and sea turtles. Or ship waste. Exactly that, and not the chance encounter with swimmers, snorkelers or divers, are the typical situations for encounters with great white sharks in the Mediterranean in modern times.
Great white sharks off MallorcaIronically, the statistics compiled by the renowned shark expert Alessandro De Maddalena in his new book reveal that close to the Mallorcan tourist stronghold of Alcudia, of all places, great white sharks were pulled out of the water every year until the mid-1970s, and of course there were never any accidents. Against the background of the hysteria surrounding Peter Benchley's Hollywood classic "The Jaws", such unpleasant incidents were of course swept under the table. Even today, in the case of viewing videos, residents and hoteliers are often on hand to assure inexperienced holidaymakers in the comments that that it is a harmless basking shark and that there are actually no sharks! And certainly not some of the largest great white sharks ever seen in the world.
Italy - hotspot for big sharksIn the past there were encounters with divers and unfortunately also tragic accidents with great white sharks, especially in western Italy. The first generation of Italian divers also remembers adult hammerheads and other large sharks that preyed over the deep wrecks in the Strait of Messina. Even up to the early 1990s there were schools of seasonally migratory hammerhead sharks in the region around Palermo, which appeared regularly in the archipelagos off Sicily, Messina and also off Malta and Gozo. Traditionally coastal or semi-pelagic species such as smooth hammerhead sharks and gray sharks have shifted their habitat more and more to remote regions or into the open sea over the decades, where halfway stable populations were able to be maintained up to the 1980s, but which did so up to a decade later have collapsed with a few exceptions.
Retreat from North AfricaThe great unknown represents the sparsely populated North African coast, to which a relatively large number of great white sharks seem to have retreated. Nowhere else in Mare Nostrum are the animals seen and unfortunately caught so regularly as off the coast of Morocco, Libya and above all Tunisia as well as in the sea area between the north-eastern cape of Tunisia and the region around Sicily, where the top predators attack the shrinking swordfish. Share stocks with fishermen. Thanks to video platforms such as You Tube and organizations devoted to taking stock of sharks in the Mediterranean and sharing photos and videos of sightings on Facebook, spectacular recordings are coming to light. Whether it's newborn blue sharks in the Port-Cros National Park, a great white shark barely 300 meters from St. Tropez, snorkelers encounters with sandbar sharks in the Aegean Sea. Or a pregnant great white shark female who followed her instinct to a tuna farm off the Tunisian coast and is pumped full of lead for half an hour there.
Shark tourism doesn't stand a chanceUnfortunately, little has changed in this regard since the time of the Danube Monarchy - although there has recently been only one non-fatal accident with a harpooning snorkeler off Istria. If a great white shark in the Mediterranean makes the mistake of stretching its dorsal fin too far out of the water within sight of boats and the coast, that is still often enough its death sentence today. The pressure from the rainbow press, hoteliers and tourism associations is too great. It would be inconceivable if a dive center were even seriously considering baiting sharks like anywhere else in the world. British conservationist, documentary filmmaker and long-time Shark Trust chairman Richard Peirce made several shark expeditions to some of the many about ten years ago promising regions of the Adriatic. And even if he and his team were able to lure adult and young blue sharks to the boat, he had not observed any of the other hoped-for large species. "Back home in Cornwall there are clearly more sharks than in the Mediterranean," he said at the time. For understandable reasons, the planned expedition to the possible nursery in Edremit, Turkey, did not take place in the end. The encounter with a great white shark remains pretty much the most extraordinary thing that can happen to a diver in the Mediterranean these days.
Unforgettable encounterAs Riccardo Andreoli, a former professional diver, experienced on a traditional tuna fish trap off the island of Favignana west of Sicily: “There were two sharks that swam into the net a week apart - first a female, a real beast six or even seven meters in length, and then a male. The boss said to Nitto and me that we had no time to lose, that there was a hole in the net that had to be closed before the tuna escaped. At first I saw nothing in the churned water, but in the third wall I finally saw the huge animal that was caught in the net and apparently dead. We set out to cut the lines around the body, but when Nitto got to the head, the shark suddenly came alive, opened its mouth and tried to free itself. I was on the other side and just thought to myself, 'If he can break free, that's it ‘. We came to the surface pale as chalk and even the boss was silent. Two days later we were back and the shark was still hanging on the rest of the ropes. We only trusted the roast when we saw fish nibble on its skin. The male came a week later, there were no more tuna to escape, but so the animal got away with life. ”And Riccardo Andreoli with four snapshots, which are perhaps the only published underwater photos of a living great white shark from the Mediterranean are.
These are the ten places in the Mediterranean where divers have a good chance of encountering large sharks:1Messina, Italy: Not far from Messina, six gill sharks rise from the bottom on new moon nights to the relatively flat 30-40 meter area. The base Oloturia Sub conducts these dives with rebreathers.2 Monte Vercelli, Italy: The seamount, 50 nautical miles east of Olbia (Sardinia) halfway to the Italian mainland, reaches 59 meters below the surface and is surrounded by deep sea all around. In recent years, experiments with bait have attracted blue, maco and thresher sharks, and very rarely even hammerhead and herring sharks.3Lampion, Italy: For a long time, the rocky island of Lampione, ten miles west of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, was considered a reliable address for encounters with sandbar sharks, but the populations have clearly been decimated in the past two years. In the summer and autumn months, encounters are still possible, but depending on the water temperature, depths of around 50 meters must be sought. 4Strait of Bonifacio,France / Italy: As soon as the water temperatures rise in spring and the plankton bloom begins, mostly young basking sharks appear in the Strait of Bonifacio. They follow their microscopic food towards the east coast and are the subject of ongoing investigations. The best chance of sightings is by taking part in a dolphin-watching tour.5Outer Kornati islands &Blitvenica, Croatia: The waters on the border between Dugi Otok and the Outer Kornati islands are considered to be the nursery of blue sharks, in which more than ten animals have been observed at the same time. Other exposed islands in the central Adriatic such as Blitvenica are among the most reliable sea areas for blue sharks in the Mediterranean.6Vis & Jabuka, Croatia:Swordfish, mobulas, tuna, bottlenose dolphins and isolated monk seals still live in the high-sea archipelago of Vis - haute cuisine for top predators! Especially on the uninhabited rocky island of Jabuka, deep-sea fishermen regularly encounter blue, maco and thresher sharks as well as even great white sharks. 7Boncuk Bay, Turkey:The sweeping bay in western Turkey is considered to be one of the two most important remaining nurseries for sandbar sharks in the Mediterranean. While diving is strictly forbidden, snorkelers are tolerated, although sensitive behavior towards animals threatened by overfishing should go without saying. 8Shark Point in front of Beirut,Lebanon:Just a few hundred meters before the Beirut port exit, small-toothed sand tiger sharks and supposedly the "normal" sand tiger sharks, which are believed to be almost extinct in the Mediterranean, still gather in the 40-meter-deep canyons at Shark Point in August and September. The catch: water pollution and plankton density affect visibility during the shark season.9Hadera, Ashdod & Ashkelon,Israel:In the winter months, gloomy and sandbar sharks gather in groups of dozens, sometimes up to over a hundred, just off the north coast of Israel. The “magnet” seem to be the turbines of the power plants, which feed warm cooling water back into the sea. The Israeli Coast Guard imposed bathing bans during these times, but local diving clubs organize excursions.10Filfa, Malta:Regular sightings and record catches made the small island five kilometers south of Malta the most famous white shark playground in the Mediterranean. In the meantime, diving centers receive special permits to drive into the restricted military area with guests. Of course there is no baiting. Even if great white sharks get lost there, they have not yet been observed by divers - in contrast to angel sharks, which have become just as rare in the European Mediterranean. There are also dubious reports of sand tiger shark sightings.
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