Friday, August 31, 2007

Good News : Greater Whale Shark Protection in Taiwan

Taiwan bans whale shark consumption, trade by 2008

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/21/07

Taipei, Taiwan ‹ Taiwan will ban the harvest and sale of whale sharks beginning in 2008, a decision that could have repercussions at the Georgia Aquarium and other facilities where the world's largest fish are displayed.

"From the beginning of next year there will be a total ban on catching and selling whale sharks and whale shark meat," Lan Wei-tern, a spokesman for Taiwan's Fisheries Agency, said Monday.

The ban strikes whale shark from Taiwanese grocery shelves and menus, and at other Asian markets where whale shark meat from Taiwan is consumed.

The ban also would halt Taiwan's export of whale sharks to aquariums. The Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium, has three whale sharks from Taiwan, a major supplier of whale sharks. It is negotiating to get two more this summer from the Taiwanese government, before the ban takes effect.

The aquarium had four whale sharks until January, when a male, Ralph, died. A necropsy showed the fish died of peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen. He also had stomach perforations, possibly caused by force-feeding through a PVC pipe.

Taiwanese officials say they want to know more about Ralph's death before approving the export of two more.

Jeff Swanagan, president and executive director of the Georgia Aquarium, said Taiwan made the right decision to stop whale shark trade.

"Georgia Aquarium applauds Taiwan for its leadership in conservation in the region, moving from a fishing-based economy around whale sharks to an eco-tourism-based economy around whale sharks," Swanagan said in a statement.

An aquarium spokesman declined comment on how the ban would impact any future plans to acquire whale sharks.

According to Taiwanese fisheries oficials, the aquarium is planning to export next month two male whale sharks already in captivity in an offshore pen.

The ban recognizes "world opinion" as well as domestic concerns about the world's largest fish, said Chu Yung-cheng, another fisheries department spokesman.

"Many Taiwanese have developed a sense of environmental protection," Chu said.

The species needs protecting, said Brad Norman, director of Ecocean, an Australian nonprofit group working worldwide to protect whale sharks. He called the ban "absolutely fantastic."
"The number of whale sharks has dropped dramatically over the past few years and the ban sends a message both to Taiwan and the rest of the world that officials there recognize how imperiled this animal is," Norman said.

Rhincodon typus, the whale shark, is a mysterious animal ‹no one knows how far whale sharks migrate, their life expectancy, or how many exist in the wild.

Numbers from the fisheries agency indicate that the species is under pressure in Taiwanese waters.

In 1995, according to records, Taiwan caught 270 whale sharks. In 2001, the catch dwindled to "about 100," said Zhuang Shouzheng, an associate professor at National Taiwan Ocean University.

The next year, 2002, Taiwan set an 80-fish quota of whale sharks. Also that year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora classified whale sharks as "vulnerable to extinction."

Taiwan's quota in 2006 was 60 whale sharks; this year, the government cut it to 30. Taiwanese fishermen so far this year have caught 39.

They've freed nine to comply with the 30-shark limit, according to the fisheries agency.

Numbers indicate that whale sharks aren't thriving.

Shark-watchers at the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park in Australia, for example, said they've seen "one of two" whale sharks daily this year; in previous years, they cataloged six or seven every day, said Norman.

"It's a really, really critical time right now," Norman said. "Their current number is such that we really can't sit on our hands."

The big fish are "iconic species," said Jason Holmberg, an Oregon researcher who has studied whale sharks in Australia and the Honduras.

"They are gentle giants, the 'safe' shark," said Holmberg, who cheered Taiwan's decision.

They're also pretty tasty.

Monday night, at the Really Good Seafood restaurant in downtown Taipei, a plate of whale shark stir-fried with garlic shoots sold for about $12.

Restaurant manager Kuo Yaoming said the meal‹ also called "tofu shark" for its soft, white flesh ‹ is not as popular as it once was.

"Now, more Taiwanese want to protect the environment," he said.

Other nations feel similarly protective. The Maldives, where locals used oil from whale sharks' livers to treat boat hulls, forbade whale shark fishing in 1995. In 1998, the Philippines put an end to the practice.

India followed in 2001.

Yet the ban is not worldwide; whale sharks can still be taken for food or display from some nations' waters, said Holmberg. The Belize government for example, might agree to export a whale shark, he said.

But the ban still helps, Holmber said. "A lot of conservationists," he said, "feel that now is the time for whale sharks."

Craig Simons reported from Taipei. Mark Davis from Atlanta.

Taiwan hesitant to supply Whale sharks

Copyright Stefan (Creative Commons License)

The Taiwanese government has reportedly been hesitant in supplying a pair of Whale sharks requested by the Georgia Aquarium, three months after the mysterious death of a previous specimen.

According to a report from Atlanta Journal Constitution, officials from the Taiwan Fisheries Agency have raised concerns about the death of the Georgia Aquarium's previous Whale shark, Ralph, after it requested two more of the fish for its displays.

Hung Kuoyao of the Taiwan Fisheries Agency told the AJC that they did not want to see another Whale shark die. He said that the Georgia Aquarium may need to send representatives to Taiwan to argue their case before the government allows further sharks to be exported.

The previous shark, which died in January 2007, was 6.7m/22' long. It had been a resident at the Aquarium along with another male named Norton since June 2005, several months before the facility officially opened.

The sharks were joined in last year by two female Whale sharks.


An external parasite found in the Aquarium, described as a "leech", led to a series of treatments being administered to the tank housing Ralph and Norton.

After several of the treatments, the appetites of the two male Whale sharks declined. The two female Whale sharks, which were not exposed to as many doses of the chemical, have not shown the same behaviour.

According to the Georgia Aquarium, Ralph's health declined further and he began to lose his appetite and was swimming abnormally, and had to be force-fed to keep him alive. AJC claims that the remaining male Whale shark, Norton, is also being force-fed because he too is no longer
feeding normally.

Regular medical examinations were made in the following weeks to allow staff to monitor the fish's health.

The Aquarium said: "As precautionary measures, supportive therapy (food, fluids, medications, etc.) for Ralph and Norton was administered; thorough diagnostic testing was begun; water quality and other environmental parameters were reviewed, and exhaustive around-the-clock
behavioral monitoring was initiated. Additionally, the method of treating the leeches was changed."

A necropsy was undertaken by staff from the University of Georgia College of Medicine last month, which revealed that the shark had a stomach abnormality not seen in the surviving Whale shark, Norton.

"Findings show that Ralph's stomach appeared abnormal, because it was thin-walled and perforated. This likely caused peritonitis, which led to Ralph's death. There is no evidence that anything in the Ocean Voyager¹s environment led to Ralph¹s death," said Jeff Swanagan, the Georgia Aquarium's executive director.

Captive whale sharks

The sharks came from Hualien in Taiwan, where the sharks are a food species with an annual harvest quota. The Georgia Aquarium is one of only four aquaria in the world housing Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, the world's largest fish species.

The Georgia Aquarium worked with the Taiwanese government to obtain the fish, which are the only captive specimens outside Asia, and the world's largest collection of the species in an aquarium.

The two female Whale sharks, named Alice and Trixie, were added to the Aquarium in June 2006, after being exported from Taiwan in a specially modified UPS Boeing 747.
Unnamed chemical

Hung Kuoyao told AJC that representatives from the Aquarium travelled to Taiwan after the death of Ralph: "They reported [to] us on how they exhibited and fed the shark and also their research on the death of it.

"So our experts will check very carefully on the conditions of transportation and how they will feed the two whale sharks. Our experts will decide on whether we need people from Georgia to come again and report to us on this."

AJC claims that the Aquarium has not named the chemical that may have been responsible for the sharks' loss of appetite, but it has confirmed that the chemical will not be used again.
AJC says that external experts believe the medication administered may have been dylox. Its sources claim that dylox can cause loss of appetite in sharks and rays when used improperly.

ACAP Whaleshark Video (with footage of whaleshark I took in Anambas)

Below is the web link of a documentary recently produced by Rebecca Chen of ACAP to raise awareness about whale sharks in Taiwan.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Basking Shark mistaken for Blue Shark?

Victor sent me to this piece of rather sad news posted on the People's Daily Online.

Wonder how the journalist could have mistaken a basking shark for a blue shark? Ok, maybe not everyone is an expert on sharks, but in this day and age where you can even do a quick search on the net for fish identification charts made widely available, it's disheartening to know that misinformation like this goes unnoticed.

So what's the big deal in wrongly identifying the species,? For one, a basking shark is as harmless as a whaleshark and faces the risk of extinction. The Blue Shark is known to attack humans (though doubt it is by choice) and is probably soon to becoming overfished? Did the reporter not bother to find out what species of shark that was before he wrote this report? It would give those who read the article a blind lead to identify the species (if they should ever encounter one again) as a "blue shark" and perhaps a licence to fish yet another poor victim of extinction outta the sea!

And I wonder what the businessman was going to do with the shark after he purchased it for over SGD20k?

Place yourself in the shoes of this child. What will he think? That a Blue Shark was captured, and it was ok for me to stamp my feet all over this rare find? Perhaps, he witnessed how valuable it is in monetary terms to capture such a shark when the businessman dished out that 100k yuan in exchange for its carcass?

It does not abode well for those who could potentially be guardians of our sea in the future.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Adam Baki Writes About MTB Himachal 2006

It's been some time since the MTB Himachal 2006, but I still remember it as it if were just last week (errrr....well, sorta).

I have a window of 1 hr to clear some backlog, so will start with this article written (in Hungarian) by our fellow mountain biker, Adam Baki, who together with 2 other Hungarians, participated in this Indian race for the second time since its inception in 2005!

I haven't the faintest idea what it all means, but the photos sure bring back fond memories! Am sure he's got lots to say about the organisation of this event! Ahem!

\[Above : Ms MTB Singapore, Becks, probably the first Singaporean lady to appear in a Hungarian MTB bike magazine. O, and that's bitsa me in her shadow (heng ah!)]

Adam took some awesome photos of this trip (and his other MTB trips). Check out his journalistic style album!
It's been almost a year. Think I'd better finish my race report for this event!

Ace Adventure Challenge 2007 Official Results

The official results for Ace Adventure Challenge IV : Adventure Unlimited are out on the ACE website.

Team BechaKennyLingers placed :-
- 3rd (out of 18) for Mixed Category for Stage 1
- 7th overall (out of 44) for Stage 1
- 4th (out of 18) for Mixed Category for Stage 2
- 11th overall (out of 44) for Stage 2 (must be all the @$&)@@*$&*& running on this leg!)
And finally, 4th (out of 18) for the race!!! Woot!

Considering we got Becks in in the last minute (a break from her child-bearing programme) and only trained once together as a team (and what a slack training it was), I guess we did alright! :)

Race report hopefully up when photos of this race are available! Wonder when that will be? Hmmm....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Penang Eco-Challenge Official Results

The results are out!!! I guess CP3 is the part where most people blanked out when faced with 2 rubber tubes, 3 PVC pipes, 3 planks and a coupla raffia strings! Hahahahaa....

Phat Tyre Sunday @ Tampines

Another Sunday keepin' time for a DirTraction race and watching 'em bikers fight it out for positions in teletubbyland! We had the biggest turnout ever with over 260 riders! Woot!

Poster above designed by Angela...

Janice captured this moment : yours truly (on ze left) doing my timely duties, and Max (on ze right) wavin' the checkered flag....

Read post race write-up and photos of this event on DirTraction website!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ace Adventure Challenge 2007

Legs still ache-key from last weekend's fourth instalment of the Ace Adventure Challenge series organised by Ace Adventure. Come to think of it, every part of the body is screaming, "why u torture yourself again, you silly @(*%&@..... you never learn, do you?"...but we all suffer from short term memory....some, severe memory loss!!!

Quick news flash
Becks, Kenny and I (hence, our team name, BechaKennyLingers) started off being one of the last few teams to get on our bikes after the team biathlon blast off, but ended up 4th out of 18 teams in the mixed category. Not bad, considering we were kinda handicapped with 2 gals and a guy, and had to rely on our wheels to take us further than our legs could ever! Wonder how we did overall out of 44 teams? Hmmm.....let's wait for ze results!

Anywayz, race report hopefully out by end of this year, and once the photos are made available on the Ace website.

For reports of past year Ace races, cast ye eyes below :-
1. Ace Adventure Challenge II (2004) : Team Angels' Account
2. Ace Adventure Challenge III (2005) : MingLing Reports
3. Ace Adventure Challenge IV (2007) : Akan datang

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tribute to Ian, King of Adventure

Couple of years ago, Becks, Swee Haw and I ventured to Malaysia to partake in another-one-of-those-rough-it-out weekend as sufferers in the Nomad Adventure races. Swee Haw told us the good news : we have a sponsor!!!

"Now, who on earth would want to do that? What did we do to deserve this honour? Do we have to come in first?" *yikes*

Swee Haw just smiled and reassured us that "Ian" does not expect us to do anything other than to carry his sponsored Hydrapak bags during the race and to call ourselves "Team Hydrapak"! Hmmm..... sounds like a fair deal to me!

On that fateful day, we headed down to the skills test, signing ourselves up as "Team Hydrapak". A few moments later, the Swee Haw incident happened, and before we knew it, we were sitting at a table at Swee Haw's wake! Definitely not a pleasant experience or something I'd like to remember.

It was however at Swee Haw's wake that I first met Ian, our sponsor. I didn't expect him to be so young, nor 4-legged; he was in crutches, after having fallen some distance due to a rock-climbing accident...and amazingly survived, and cheerfully lived to tell us the tale! Eh, dun look like he's in much pain le? Maybe his pain threshold's pretty high?

Anyway, we later learnt that he had driven all the way up to Malaysia to assist Swee Haw's family members with funeral arrangements and to bring his body back. I thought to myself, "that is something you would not expect of one's sponsor, and probably goes beyond the call of duty. Either this fella knows Swee Haw very well or he's got a big heart."

From that day onwards, Ian was almost synonymous with the major local and Malaysian adventure racing scene : both as a sponsor and an ardent supporter of our local teams. He also embraced the SACA bike races and supported the national cycling team with his products. He had his finger in everything that breathed "adventure".

The Innov8 Flyroc adventure racing shoes which I purchased out of the voucher we won for our second Ace Adventure Challenge (generously sponsored yet again by Ian) has become my favourite all-time racing shoe. And I absolutely love the super lightweight thong of a harness the Camp USA XLH 95 Climbing Harness which Ian introduced to the Singapore market. He was always someone whom you could count on for the latest gadgets in all things outdoor! What resourcefulness! But then sometimes, he may succumb to "rubbertime" when organising transport for overseas racers!

Apart from his unprecedented entrepreneurial skills, he had a way with wriggling out of tight situations! Which reminds me of the hot soup Ian could have gotten himself into when he parked his van outside my apartment! Ian was kind enough to drive my teammates, Ken and Ming to my place, but upon reaching my apartment, his tire blew a flat. He left the van parked outside on the main road (within legal parking limits), but I forgot to sound the security guard out. Meanwhile, we'd hired a van to bring us to Senai Airport for a weekend of torture in this year's Sabah Adventure Challenge. Ian was supporting some of the SART adventure racing teams (as expected).

One weekend later, I returned to a frantic security guard who told me the police had come and raided his van. They pried it open, conducted a full search (you know, the terrorism scare and all) and found nothing (well, almost nothing - there was something which could have gotten him into a lot of trouble, but don't worry, it wasn't anything you should be concerned about, just stuff that a curious garang guni might find in an open "fire" trail)!

Ok, at least I know these security guards ain't spending their time spacing out in lalaland!

A couple of phonecalls later to find out if Ian had taking the first plane out of the country, Ian confessed that he got out of this one easily coz he knew the inspector in charge of this matter. He'd helped that mata recover a stolen bike at Action Asia. So he's not in jail after all! His lucky stars must be shining down on him real bright that day!

See, nothing ever dampens his enthusiasm, no matter how many bullets come flying in this direction!

We were just teasing Ian about the bigass cooler of freshfood that he was lugging all the way to Sabah, so that he could have his BBQ in the post-race evenings! But I will always remember Ian's generosity during that last Sabah race when Ming, Ken and I had just returned from a long and hard day's race.

We were all prepared to bear with the less than appetizing dinner, when Ian invited us to a BBQ party he's spent considerable time preparing for his teams. Damn paiseh, but heck, who could resist such kind hospitality...and the excellent gourmet style spread! Yums! Our hungry tummies nodded in agreement. Burp!

And that was the last offer that I'd accepted from Ian, amongst the many offers he's so tirelessly dished out one after another, including joining his races, trying to tie me up with some other xiong adventure racers when my other teammates were slacking away, and even asking us to pose for some magazine. You never know what you're gonna get with Ian Ng.

Looks like we have come full circle, having met Ian at Swee Haw's wake, and now bidding him farewell at his wake.

Above, a photo I took of Ian sleeping next to Kenny at the Senai Airport whilst waiting for the much-delayed flight to Sabah!

Ian, rest well, for even in your deepest slumber, I know you will be searching for one great adventure after another, whereever you may be.

Yours truly,
Mrs Major (yes, I still remember the nickname you gave to me)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Penang Eco Challenge 2007 (Other Links)

Check out reports, photos and videos on the Penang Eco Challenge 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007