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Archive for November, 2008

Stabbed and butchered: Japan’s secret dolphin slaughter

Less than 300m from where this spectacular photograph of three leaping dolphins was taken, a group of Japanese fishermen continue to slaughter thousands of the highly-intelligent ocean mammals every year.

Welcome to Taiji – the Japanese sister town to the iconic WA holiday destination Broome.

For the next four months, Taiji’s 26 dolphin hunters will run an increasingly secretive operation to fill its government-sanctioned quota of 2300 dolphins.

Any pods — which can include newborns and pregnant mothers — that pass by the Pacific Ocean town south of Tokyo can be herded, captured, killed and butchered.

The fishermen’s co-operative will earn about $600 per animal before meat packs are sold in supermarkets to the dwindling number of Japanese consumers still keen to eat dolphin.

Unlike Japan’s international whaling shame, what takes place in Taiji happens largely without debate.

But pressure is mounting on Broome to demand an end to the slaughter in Taiji or sever its strong bond with the town in protest over the annual killing spree.

The West Australian travelled to Japan to investigate and capture images of the Taiji dolphin kill.

In conjunction with the fishermen, the Taiji Town Council has erected barricades and posted signs to ward off anyone trying to photograph or film the almost daily event.

Large stretches of the national park skirting the coves used by the fishermen to capture and kill the dolphins are closed to the public by order of Taiji’s mayor.

For the first time, this newspaper witnessed a new technique being used by the fishermen desperate to hide the amount of blood that flows from the dolphins into the sea after they are stabbed and sliced to death in early morning killings. White foam was pumped over the blood as it spread across the cove, normally part of Taiji’s main swimming beach.

No one in the town would discuss the dolphin slaughter and a request through Taiji’s main tourist attraction, the whale museum, to interview the mayor was rejected. The museum features dolphins doing tricks in daily shows and until recently, sold dolphin meat in its shop.

Broome conservationist Malcolm Douglas told The West Australian that few people in the Kimberley community knew what went on in their Japanese sister town.

“At the very least, Broome ratepayers have a right to know about what happens in their sister city and decide if they want this relationship to continue,” he said.

“In this day and age you can’t condone it in any way. By doing nothing it looks as though Broome is condoning it. Imagine if this was happening in Roebuck Bay?”

Mr Douglas called on the Shire of Broome’s council to debate the town’s relationship with Taiji immediately and consider cutting all ties until the slaughter was stopped.

Stabbed and butchered: Japan’s secret dolphin slaughter
Dolphin killers in Taiji, Japan.

“We are bonding with a place which allows this to happen,” he said. “I have been choking up just thinking about it.”

Broome shire president Graeme Campbell said: “I don’t condone what’s going on in terms of Taiji’s cultural practice. It’s not a pleasant practice and it’s not supported by us.”

But Mr Campbell would not support moves to end the relationship, which includes visits to and from Taiji by council officials of the two towns and a student exchange program.

“In Australia we still slaughter turtles and dugongs — a practice claimed under the notion of cultural rights,” he said. “We can’t preach what we don’t practice.”

The Broome-Taiji connection dates back more than 100 years when men from the Japanese town came to the West Kimberley coast to help pioneer the pearling industry.

“I think it’s a terrible practice, who wouldn’t think that?” Broome councillor Chris Maher said.

“We don’t have a position on this and my personal belief is that we should have a position. It should be debated.”

The world’s leading campaigner against the slaughter, American Richard O’Barry, said Broome was in a powerful position and could send a strong message to government officials in Taiji and Tokyo.

“These incredible animals are swimming freely out at sea with their families until they run into fishermen who reduce them to lumps of meat on a cold concrete floor,” he said.

“Broome can help stop this and if it doesn’t, then it condones it.”

The Japanese consulate said it would not respond to The West Australian’s questions until next week.

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Heroes star Hayden’s surfboard protest fails to stop dolphin bloodbath


Rain, Flood, Bad Vizz – Holiday Time

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.  ~Patrick Young

Since we have had now another flood on Koh Tao damaging almost every dive school in one way or another its time to run from the island for a bit of a holiday leaving the locals to clear up the mess.  Despite yet another warning about protests in Bangkok the tech crew need some sun, shopping and dry ground and NO RAIN!

With that we’ll be suspending diving operations from now until December 1st when the weather is going supposed to clear up.

This time of year Koh Tao turns into that scene from “Forest Gump” with Tom Hanks when it starts to rain and doesn’t stop for a while, that time is now.

According to satellite images of Thailand it seems to be just the south which is usually the nicest part of Thailand.

So we’re going to let the tech room dry out, put all the gear in dry boxes, close the door and head out. We’ll be back on Koh Tao with more stories and news very soon. On our return we’ll be conducting Cave Diving and Rebreather Training on the west coast where it’s actually not bad at all.

in the meantime we though you might find these pictures funny, we’re laughing, what else can we do.


Cousteau vs Cousteau: Going for the Green

By Kimberly Cutter


FEUDING COUSINS: Fabien, left, who was groomed to take on the Cousteau mantle and young pretender Philippe, who has emerged as a new rival on TV…

When diver Jacques Cousteau died, he left behind a legacy of ocean exploration. But as his grandsons Fabien and Philippe look to seize his nautical throne, another tragic, troubled legacy has resurfaced. Is there enough ocean for all the Cousteaus to share, asks Kimberly Cutter

Not long ago, it must have seemed to Fabien Cousteau that the end of his troubles was in sight. After decades of struggling in the shadow of his ocean-exploring father, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and his iconic grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, Fabien was coming into his own.

He had completed his first self-produced film, a controversial shark documentary, Mind of a Demon; he had a starring role in his father’s hit series, Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Adventures; he had a deal with a cable network to create his own series. Most important, the legal battles that had plagued the Cousteaus for the past decade seemed to be coming to an end.

True, his grandfather’s fabled ship, Calypso, continued to rot in France as a result of legal wrangling, but Fabien was done lamenting the past. He was ready to bring his grandfather’s spirit of wonder and ethos of conservation to a new generation. He was ready to be the next great Cousteau. Unfortunately for Fabien, he wasn’t the only one. In autumn 2006, his charismatic younger cousin Philippe emerged to challenge his claim to the Cousteau nautical throne. Like Fabien, Philippe is Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, but while Fabien was raised in the heart of the Cousteau kingdom, Philippe grew up exiled from it, and his life has been shaped by tragedy.

First, his father Philippe Cousteau Sr (who was groomed to take over the Cousteau franchise in the Seventies) died in a plane crash in 1979. Then, in September 2006, 26-year-old Philippe Jr was working with Steve Irwin on Ocean’s Deadliest, when Irwin was stabbed by a stingray in Australia. The beloved crocodile hunter died in Philippe’s arms. The show’s producers asked him to step in to finish Ocean’s Deadliest; when taping was over one thing was clear to everyone at Animal Planet, Philippe Cousteau was a star.

Philippe is now co-hosting the BBC’s upcoming Oceans series, and, with his 32-year-old sister Alexandra, is fast creating a multimedia undersea empire with an action-oriented environmental agenda that prompts people to do something to protect marine life. His style challenges Fabien’s education-focused efforts; as Philippe says, “Awareness is no longer enough. We must provide ways for people to change their behaviour.”

Both Fabien and Philippe are adept at pulling on and peeling off wetsuits on camera, chasing octopuses, and making impassioned pleas about the preservation of the Everglades. Both want to carry the Cousteau torch into the 21st century. Indeed, while television producers and environmentalists like to speculate about who will emerge as the leading Cousteau, what Fabien and Philippe’s rivalry reveals is a family saga that reads like a cautionary tale, a dark side of the Cousteau legacy where everyone blames everyone but Jacques himself for the mess he left in his wake.

It’s a bright day in mid-November, and we’re out in a fishing boat, anchored half a mile off Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Fabien, 40, is here training for the week with Israeli free-diving legend Aharon Solomons. Fabien has been free-diving for only a week, but he can already descend to 90 feet and hold his breath underwater for four-and-a-half minutes.

In nearly every respect Fabien and his sister Celine (another budding Cousteau explorer, she stars on Ocean Adventures and is co-hosting the upcoming Discovery Channel’s Expedition Shark) had the dream Cousteau childhood. They grew up vacationing on Calypso expeditions, swimming with dolphins in the Amazon with their grandfather.

Captain Cousteau rose to prominence in 1943 for co-inventing the Aqua-Lung, the equipment that allowed a diver to swim underwater while breathing compressed air. The invention gave birth to scuba diving. Cousteau’s ground-breaking movie The Silent World won him and director Louis Malle an Academy Award in 1956. But it was his television specials of the Seventies, such as The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau that made him a global celebrity. Parents and kids crowded around their TVs to watch as Cousteau and his team of French divers plunged into the glorious, terrifying, never-before-seen blue depths, calmly swimming amid hammerheads, diving off the coast of Greece in search of Atlantis.

Narrating in his gravelly Gallic accent, Cousteau took us up “ze Nile” and beneath “ze icebergs” into the Arctic Ocean. Orcas were stroked like cats, Eskimo walrus hunts were followed. Part scientist, part conservationist, part awe-filled observer, Cousteau showed us the mysteries of the “water planet”.

A consummate showman, Cousteau grew into a kind of Barnum of the sea, in whose chest beat the heart of a passionate environmentalist. While he seduced us with stories about giant squids, Cousteau also warned us with shamanic fervour about the pollution he saw destroying his beloved oceans (“The sea,” he warned, “is the universal sewer.”). He sounded the alarm about the earth’s impending environmental crisis 30 years before anyone wanted to hear it. “If we go on the way we have,” he said, “the fault is our greed, and if we are not willing to change, we will disappear from the face of the globe, to be replaced by the insect.”

But Cousteau also worked hard to provide solutions, such as “ecotech”, a marriage of ecology and economics (that sought to unite diverging interests such as those of the oil industry and wildlife groups.

“It is when the balance between people and industries is not achieved,” he said, “that the destruction of the environment occurs.”

Cousteau was a prescient demigod, eco-warrior and a philanderer. Now imagine being this guy’s grandson. As a child, Fabien had a front-row seat to Cousteau’s genius. He recalls the day the Calypso team discovered a giant river otter in a swimming pool on an abandoned estate in the Amazon jungle and brought it aboard the Calypso. “While other kids were at Disneyland, I was learning how to steer the Calypso.”

Fabien has pale, good looks and a conversational style that is part grinning car salesman, part wistful, dreamy tyke. Explaining why he decided to build the shark submarine for Mind of a Demon, he says, “Ever since I was a kid reading Tintin, I’d had this fantasy to actually be a shark.”

This shark sub, put him in hock, and he would later sell his New York apartment to recoup the losses. Asked about his cousin Philippe, Fabien denies any competition. “It’s not like that,” he says. “It’s fantastic that my cousin and I are in the same field. Don’t you think that we need as many people as possible trying to help the planet?” I do. But I also know that Fabien and his cousin do not speak to each other, and haven’t willingly since they’ve been adults. I know their fathers had a sibling rivalry that make Cain and Abel look civil.

“I can only imagine what my cousins have been able to do with their small company,” Fabien says of EarthEcho International, Philippe and [his sister] Alexandra’s non-profit organisation, which is Smurf-size in comparison to Fabien’s father’s enormous non-profit Ocean Futures Society. “And I feel bad for them because they never got the kind of knowledge that I did growing up on expeditions. They had a much more normal life,” he says.

To properly understand the rivalry between Fabien and Philippe, it’s necessary to go back a generation to their fathers, Philippe Sr and Jean-Michel. The only two legitimate sons of Jacques (who was referred to as JYC, pronounced Jeek), Philippe and Jean-Michel were raised together in France but, according to Philippe’s widow, Jan, were “never close”. The less confident of the two boys, Jean-Michel hovered in the background as his charming younger brother Philippe rose to share in their father’s fame.

As Jan says, “Philippe and JYC had commonality in their thinking. They could talk about poetry, dreams, literature. Philippe was always the preferred of the two boys.” Tall and handsome, Philippe worked as his famous father’s co-star throughout the Sixties and Seventies, making films such as the Undersea World series.

Meanwhile, Jean-Michel trained as a marine architect and settled with his family in Norfolk, Virginia, where he remained on the sidelines of the Cousteau Society, ordering supplies, while his brother shared the filmmaking spotlight with JYC. That is, until tragedy struck. In 1979, while landing the Cousteau amphibian Flying Calypso, Philippe crashed in the Tagus River, Portugal, and was killed.

Upon receiving news of the crash, the Cousteau clan — including Philippe’s American wife Jan, their four-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and an unborn son, Philippe Jr — flew to Portugal, where they held an at-sea burial for Philippe. Jacques, too devastated to even speak of Philippe’s death, plunged into his work, asking Jean-Michel to step in and take his brother’s place.

“When my brother passed away, my father said, ‘If you don’t come to help me, I quit’,” says Jean-Michel. “I said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be right there’.” For 12 years, Jean-Michel served as executive vice-president of the Cousteau Society. He and his father made the expedition down the Amazon together, and filmed the series Cousteau’s Rediscovery of the World. The outcast Cousteau became heir to the throne while the family of the prince was banished. “Suddenly there was no place for me. It was awful,” says Jan, Philippe’s widow.

She has never remarried and still weeps when she speaks about her husband’s death. “I wanted to make sure Philippe never became a stranger, a sad ghost who slowly disappeared,” she says.

Although “Little Philippe” was never invited on a Cousteau expedition, he grew up watching the films that his father made with JYC. “My dad was the main influence in our lives, even though he wasn’t there,” says Philippe. “It’s my mission to make sure my father isn’t forgotten.” At times, even Jan believes that her split from the Cousteaus was for the best. “In a way, it was good,” she says. “That way I could keep Papa Philippe as our shining star and keep the children away from the mess that was going on with the rest of the family.” By “mess” Jan means Francine Triplet, Jacques Cousteau’s mistress (and eventual second wife) who entered the saga in 1990, and who has added to the heartache.

Francine claims that no one should aspire to be the nouveau Cousteau. “It’s a big mistake to think that anybody in the family has the right to Jacques’ vision,” said Francine, who at 61 is still president of the Cousteau Society, whose membership has reportedly fallen from 300,000 before Cousteau’s death to roughly 50,000.

It was a few days before last Thanksgiving and Francine was flush with triumph after raising the decaying Calypso from its watery retirement, moving it to a shipyard in Brittany for repairs. (She and Jean-Michel spent a decade in court fighting over control of the boat). “It’s an intellectual world, and when you have an intellectual property you transmit it to a non-profit,” she says. “It’s not a family business at all.” Francine insists there is no replacing the master. “Cousteau made a lot of little Cousteaus all around the world,” she says, “but there is only one Cousteau. There is no replacement.” Such statements make family members irate.

“She’s destroying everything my father built!” fumes Jean-Michel when asked about Francine’s plans to turn the Calypso into a floating environmental monument.

Until 1990, few in the Cousteau family knew who she was. Shortly after the death of Jacques’ first wife (and Jean-Michel’s mother) Simone, JYC invited Jean-Michel to lunch and confessed that for more than a decade he had been having an affair with Triplet, a flight attendant nearly 40 years his junior. Cousteau also confessed that they’d had two children, Diane and Pierre-Yves. They planned to marry and Francine would come to work at the Cousteau Society. Jean-Michel was flabbergasted and left the Cousteau Society to start his own ocean-exploring and eco-resort-development business in 1992. But the battles were just starting. In 1995, JYC filed a lawsuit against Jean-Michel in which he insisted Jean-Michel make clear that his resort, initially named Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, was in no way affiliated with the non-profit Cousteau Society. Jean-Michel settled, agreeing to put his first name in front of the Cousteau in the title, but the suit — which Jean-Michel insists was supported by Francine — created a rift between father and son.

In 1997, Jacques Cousteau died at 87, leaving his fortune and control of the Cousteau Society to his widow. Jean-Michel then began another set of legal battles with Francine, this time over the Calypso. Fabien, meanwhile, wanted none of it. He wanted to be his own man. During his 20s and 30s, Fabien steered clear of the family business — and of oceans. Seeing Fabien and his father together, however, makes it clear that it wasn’t just adolescent curiosity that kept Fabien away from the family business. The first time I met Fabien and Jean-Michel in New York, Jean-Michel dominated the conversation. But when the subject turned to sharks — Fabien’s speciality — he became sullen.

“Have you heard enough?” Jean-Michel said after listening to his son discuss the public’s misconceptions about sharks. “Because this is getting old.” If working for his dad was difficult at times, turning down a Cousteau expedition is hard. In 2000, Fabien went on a documentary shoot in South Africa with his dad. Two years later, he hosted a National Geographic special on the shark attacks in New Jersey that inspired Jaws. Ocean lovers started to get excited about the idea of a fresh Cousteau. People named Fabien the “Sexiest Explorer”.

He spent much of 2005 with his father filming Ocean Adventures. And though Fabien was willing to work with his father, he also yearned for a project that would give him credibility as an explorer in his own right. In 2005, it seemed that Fabien’s dreams of independence had come true.

CBS funded his first self-produced project, with himself as the star. An expert crew would construct a submarine that looked like a great white, with room for Fabien inside. Once submerged, Fabien could move among the sharks off Isla Guadalupe — making good on his grandad’s maxim that “the best way to observe a fish is to become a fish”.

But almost from the start the project was plagued by problems. Fabien hired inventor Eddie Paul to build the 14.5-foot great white sub and had shark expert Mark Marks as a consultant, but the shark contraption didn’t work. The greatest drama in the film came when the shark sub sinks to the ocean floor with Fabien trapped inside. “The machine was the biggest demon,” says Fabien, who put a chunk of his own money into the doomed shark sub.

The failed shark sub, however, was the least of Fabien’s problems. His cousin Philippe was about to explode on to the scene, threatening to upstage Fabien’s television career. Shortly after Fabien’s Mind of a Demon aired on CBS, in September 2006, 26-year-old Philippe was fighting in vain to save Steve Irwin’s life, in Queensland, Australia.”We got a Mayday on the boat saying, ‘Steve’s been hit! Steve’s been hit,'” recalls Philippe, who had been hired as an apprentice co-host on Ocean’s Deadliest. Philippe sat with Irwin in his arms, giving him CPR but to no avail; Irwin had died almost immediately. “In a way, Steve’s death was like deja vu,” says Philippe, referring to the loss of his own father 29 years ago. “It still hits me at weird times.”

Months after Irwin perished, Animal Planet enhanced Philippe’s role as its chief ocean correspondent, and the BBC snapped him up to host its Oceans series. “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do in a short time,” he says. Philippe heads three companies with which he hopes to change the focus of the environmental movement from “awareness to action.” “We’re about providing people with tools that will enable them to make better choices,” says Philippe, whose projects range from the small (a Seafood Watch program that people can download to find out what fish they should and shouldn’t eat) to the large (creating a business plan for “this whole eco-experience” that offers resorts ways to expand without destroying the local community and create eco-friendly hotels that promote the “green lifestyle ethic”).

When I ask him how his vision differs from cousin Fabien’s, he says, “My uncle’s company, Ocean Futures, is about education; we are interested in education, too, but our message is action. We want people to do something.” Fabien takes exception to this. “Of course we want people to do something,” he says, explaining that his and his father’s television documentary Voyage to Kure impressed President George W Bush so profoundly that he designated the northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument. “If that’s not awareness inspiring action, I don’t know what is.” It is when I ask Philippe what his dream show would be that he becomes alive. He says, “I’d go up to Siberia and spend a month following the reindeer migration.”

The local populations have patterned their way of life around the reindeer movements. The past few years, however, those patterns have been radically altered by climate change. “Little is known about this, so we would explore how it affects them and use that as a metaphor for how climate change is affecting the world. It’s living with people and feeling what’s going on with them — that’s what you need to capture.” A Cousteau show, for sure, but more of an expose. “I’ll never be able to fill my father’s or grandfather’s shoes, but hopefully I can stand on their shoulders and reach farther.”


Return of the Oskar and Fishy

Our favorite Technical Diving Students Malin (“fishy”) and Oskar have returned from the tundra of Sweden to become Padi Open Water Instructors.

Oskar

Oskar had actually returned a few days ago giving us time to get him back out into technical gear for a bit of a refresher.

Fishy

Malin only arrived today so she’s straight on to the IDC.

The IDC course is about 2 weeks, as soon as their done we all know they’ll be itching for some real diving. Great to have them both back on the island!

As for Oskars refresher, the weather and diving conditions were horrible, as you can see from the pictures below.


Squabble over underwater treasure trove

A priceless lost treasure is due to be lifted from the bottom of the sea. Having spent over two centuries underwater off the shores of Finland, the ship “Frau Maria” along with its priceless cargo is due to be lifted from its resting place on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

The Russian imperial riches are said to be the most important underwater discovery ever, presenting unprecedented historical and monetary value. Now the question stands of who will reap the benefits. Russia, Finland and The Netherlands all claim that the bounty should be theirs.

Its history is like an adventure novel. In 1771, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great ordered an extensive collection of art for her newly-founded Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. The Empress was fastidious in her choices and paid for them generously, yet she never saw the result of her efforts. Leaving Amsterdam, the ship encountered a storm, ran aground and sank near what is now Finland. The crew was saved, unlike the masterpieces, which were left in the vessel’s storage. Only in 1999 did Finnish divers come across the ship.

According to records, 27 paintings were onboard the ship, including previously unseen works by Rembrandt, van Goyen and other Dutch painters of the period. Experts say that the paintings were not severely harmed after spending all those years underwater. Before shipment, the canvases were put into lead containers with wax poured over the openings. In addition to the paintings, Frau Maria dragged away dozens of bronze sculptures, hundreds of porcelain objects as well as countless gold and silver coins. Art lovers around the world consider the collection to be priceless, while antiquarians give it the tag of 500 million to 1 billion euros.

The question now stands as to which country has the strongest claim for the treasures. The Finnish government asserts that the law is on its side. Indeed, according to a Finnish law, anything which spends more than 100 years on the bottom of its sea officially becomes its property. Nevertheless, matters are further complicated by the fact that the Russian Empire signed a deed buying all of the ship’s contents. Furthermore, at the time that the deeds were signed, Finland, including the location where the sunken ship now lies, was part of the Russian Empire. The Netherlands, from their part, suggest that the riches should be reaped by them, since “Frau Maria” is a Dutch ship.

However, the countries shouldn’t count their chickens before they hatch – the ship still needs to be hauled from the seabed first. Artyom Tarasov from the Russian charity organization “The Rescue of national cultural and historic valuables” says that exploring the ship’s bottom and the surrounding area will take up the whole of 2009. Then, a decision will have to be made on how to lift “Frau Maria” up from the seabed.

“We predict two possible scenarios. The first one is that the boat will be lifted up as a whole using special soft ropes made from artificial fibres so that the boardsides are not harmed. The second option is for divers to remove the valuables out from Frau Maria’s hold,” said Tarasov.

According to experts, unlike Jaques Yves Cousteau’s nautical missions which involved the swift lifting of objects from the bottom of the sea, the operation with “Frau Maria” needs more scientific planning. Russian representatives have said that the project should not be individualized, but rather considered pan-European and humanitarian and intended to benefit not only all the parties involved, but also, above everything else, world culture.

Russian engineers have pointed out that the Frau Maria could have been lifted as far back as nine years ago. However, intense negotiations are needed for the project to be conducted adequately. The Finnish government has even said that the Frau Maria may not see the light of day until 2018.

Sunken treasures around the world

The Caribbean is considered to be a true haven of lost treasure. Having once been the piracy capital of the world, the area is rich in sunken ships. And, whilst undoubtedly looting, the pirates still left most of the valuables onboard the sinking vessels.

It is therefore unsurprising that the most important underwater discovery of the 20th century was made in these waters.

Nuestra Señora de Atocha

A Spanish galley recovered from the ocean near Key West, Florida. The ship sank during a hurricane on September 6, 1622, bringing down with it over 40 tonnes of silver and gold: over 100,000 Spanish silver coins known as “Pieces of Eight”, gold coins, Columbian emeralds, silver and gold artifacts and over 1000 silver bars. The total value of the treasure is estimated at US$ 400 million, but it is suspected that a significant part of it still remains underwater.

Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion

This cargo galley was recovered by Bert Webber and Jim Huskins near the shores of Haiti. 32 tonnes of silver were lifted from the sea bed. They came in the shape of bars, coins, jewels and dishes.

Biggest treasure in history

In May 2007 an American company reported that it had discovered a treasure with an estimated value of over US$ 500 million. The riches lay onboard a medieval ship which found its final resting place on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. 500,000 gold and silver coins were transported to the shore, causing concern for the British government. They were based mostly on the fact that the company refused to provide details of the treasure’s exact location. Experts have since assumed that the origin of the riches was the vessel “Merchant Royal” which crashed during a storm in 1641.

…And in Russia

Most of Russia’s underwater riches are concentrated around the Gulf of Finland – there are over 6000 vessels resting in its depths. Being a key shipping route between the capital of the Russian Empire, St Petersburg, and other territories, it was inevitable that it would become a burial ground for cargo ships and their freights.

One of the most significant finds in the Gulf of Finland was made in 1999 by a group of amateur divers. They came across a cargo ship which had been carrying an artwork collection for Catherine the Great. Its main constituents were paintings by what are considered to be Rembrandt’s pupils as well as such important Dutch artists as Paulus Potter and Gerard Dou. Apart from artwork intended for the Hermitage museum, the cargo also contained items that the Russian aristocracy had ordered for private collections. Then, much like in the case with “Frau Maria”, there were severe negotiations between the Finnish and Russian governments over who should gain rights for the treasures. Then, the rights were passed on to the country, which made the discovery – Russia.

International worry

Multiple attempts to sign a global document, defining the status and ownership of treasures recovered from the sea depths, which have culminated with a document ratified by UNESCO in 2001. The paper is an amendment to the normal UNESCO portfolio dealing with the protection of cultural heritage. It places under protection all culturally and historically valuable items which have been underwater wholly or partially for 100 years at least. Furthermore, it forbids any commercial gain to be derived from the treasures.

There is, however, still no coordinated international agreement outlining which country should become the owner of particular underwater finds. It is tacitly accepted that whichever country’s waters are located within a 24 mile radius from the site claims ownership of the treasures. In some countries, the sunken vessel belongs to private people for the first 100 years since the disaster happened.


Body of abalone hunter is recovered off Sonoma County coast

Jonathan Su, 29, of Sunnyvale apparently drowned while diving for the mollusks Nov. 9. He is the eighth abalone hunter to die off California’s North Coast this year.

A submerged body recovered off the coast of Sonoma County was tentatively identified Tuesday as that of missing diver Jonathon Su of Sunnyvale, the eighth abalone hunter to die off the North Coast this year.

Su, 29, was hunting for abalone with a cousin near Fort Ross State Historic Park on Nov. 9 when he dove underwater and apparently drowned. The body, clad in a wetsuit identical to Su’s, was recovered Monday by a state Parks and Recreation Department search team on the ocean floor near the spot where Su was last seen.
At least 15 abalone hunters have died off Sonoma and Mendocino counties in the last 19 months, authorities say.

“Abalone diving is very hazardous,” said Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Glenn Lawrence. “My understanding is [Su] was an experienced diver, but there were 12-foot swells. Even an experienced diver can get in trouble.”

The body was found in about 20 feet of water with an abalone diver’s weight belt still attached. There was no indication that the diver was caught in thick kelp, which has led to the drowning of other divers this year.

“He went down and never resurfaced,” Lawrence said.

An autopsy will be conducted.

Abalone season draws about 40,000 free divers to the North Coast each year. The sport is riskier than it appears, and authorities say some divers do not appreciate the hazards. The use of scuba tanks is banned to protect the badly depleted species.

Abalone divers have been killed by being swept into rocks by unexpectedly strong waves, becoming entangled in thick kelp, or suffering heart attacks in the cold water. One was killed by a great white shark.

Abalone were once abundant off California, but with over-hunting, the giant mollusk has become scarce. Divers are now permitted to collect abalone only north of San Francisco and under strict limits: no more than three a day and 24 a year. The seven-month season runs from April 1 to Nov. 30, with a break in July.

Authorities say a lack of familiarity with local conditions contributes to fatalities. All 15 divers known to have died since last year came from outside the region. In Su’s case, the waves were rough the day he went driving, said Jeremy Stinson, supervising ranger at Fort Ross State Historic Park.

“People who want to come here to abalone dive need to be aware of their own limitations,” Stinson said. “They also need to be aware of the ocean conditions.”

See more here


Diver suffers pain from Navy sonar tests

By JAY R. MURRAY
Guest commentary

I am a Professional Association of Dive Instructors dive master. I worked in Monterey at Aquarius Dive Shops during the mid-1990s. I used to take people on dive tours of our area. I’m still a registered divemaster, but on Aug. 25, 1994, while on a dive off Point Lobos with friends, I was exposed to a new, very unusual sound.It sounded like a low frequency “boom box.” The sounds were short pulses about one second long, repeated every five to 10 seconds. I could actually feel my lungs vibrating from each pulse. I immediately surfaced to see if any vessels might be in the area. I saw none.

Navy Sonar

Within a few days, a friend and I made an underwater videotape that our Naval Postgraduate School analyzed. They said I had captured the sound but they didn’t know the source. They said they called Washington and were told officials there said they didn’t know what was going on.

NPS said the sound could be coming from either oil and gas exploration, Navy fleet operations beyond the horizon, or oceanographic research. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary officials also suggested they had no idea of the source.

Then, one person at the Washington office of the National Marine Fisheries Service said that what we had been exposed to was a “classified government test.” We laughed at that point. How could it be classified if scuba divers were exiting the water complaining of weird sounds that made our lungs vibrate?

Many divers reported the sounds. These events were broadcast
over all the local and major national TV newscasts. About a month into the experiment, I went on a dive trip with the owners of Aquarius and several friends to Fiji, 5,000 miles away. Sure enough, the same sounds, only fainter. I recorded them.When this data was presented to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, I was finally told what was going on. The name of the experiment was the Magellan 2 Sea Trials. It was being conducted northwest of the Farallon Islands about 150 to 300 miles to the north. It was called Magellan because it’s the “sound heard around the world.”

The surface vessel Cory Chouest lowers an array of 18 car-sized transducers into the depths and transmits sounds as loud as a Saturn 5 moon rocket all the way across ocean basins. When the Cory Chouest first tested the system, it went to the southern Indian Ocean and conducted the Heard Island Feasibility Test.

Here in Monterey Bay, scientists lowered listening devices to see if they could detect the 57 Hz sounds. Sure enough, they had traversed the Indian Ocean and then traveled across the entire Pacific Ocean to be received here. The same transmissions were received in Bermuda.

The technology has been developed to hunt for quiet diesel electric submarines that some rogue states like North Korea and Iran possess. Basically, the louder the blasts of sounds, the further their sonar system will detect threat vessels. And, like a boom box in a car, the lower the frequency/tone, the further the transmissions go.

Our Navy has conducted an environmental impact report on the sonar system. It’s called Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS). It steadfastly refuses to acknowledge it was responsible for the diver disruption issues in the Pacific Ocean during Magellan 2. They say the recordings I possess must be some problem with my breathing apparatus.

In the years between then and now, it has been found that “standard” Navy sonar, which has been used for decades on the bows of our warships, causes acoustic trauma in marine mammals, causing them to strand and die.

The impact of the sonar blasts on marine life ruptures ear cavities and other air spaces. It also has been postulated that the animals are being scared into surfacing too fast and they suffer a malady similar to the bends in divers. There have been many instances when Navy sonar operations are directly linked to these stranding events.

As it turns out, I and a boatload of paying customers went on a dive off Hawaii in 1997, where we were exposed to this type of midfrequency (3,000 Hz) sonar. All the divers heard it. That was my last recreational dive.

There are other military systems operations that use sound to send communications to submerged vessels.

The Supreme Court has now sanctioned the testing as critical for national security. While I am not opposed to a strong military, I am against use of technology that disregards the other inhabitants of earth. We have no right to expose all living things in our oceans to these signals, which are known to harm and kill.

Sonar Effect On Whales

I feel the court has made a serious mistake in allowing humans to degrade the oceanic environment. If the justices hopped in the water with the technology at full power, they would change their minds. If they survived.

Jay Murray lives in Carmel Valley. He may be reached at JayMurray2@aol.com


Xtreme Gap Technical Internship

The great people at Xtreme Gap have released a new promo video about what they do here on Koh Tao. They also offer technical diving internship which helps people who want a break to get into technical diving easier. This is their breakdown of their 12 week internship. They put it together in a great way so your parents will have to say yes 🙂

Here’s is what happens.

Become a Technical Diver! – Divemaster + Nitrox + TECH Deep Diver

12 WEEK PROGRAM

Technical diving or Tech Diving is any type of SCUBA that is considered higher risk than conventional recreational diving. This could be penetration diving (wrecks and caves etc) or decompression diving, solo diving, mixed gas diving or using specialist technical equipment such as re-breathers.

Technical divers can go deeper for longer using a different blend of gases and well planned dive profiles encompassing decompression stops on ascent. This is not an activity for amateurs or novice divers or wimps!

Xtreme Gap have partnered with one of Thailand’s leading Technical diving organizations to instruct you how to execute tech dives safely. Qualifications in Technical diving can lead to a very lucrative career in under water archeology, research and preservation.

If you are interested in doing this and currently have no diving experience, you will have to enroll in the Divemaster course first and then we will upgrade you after you have the necessary experience.

This program will first take you through the Divemaster Nitrox course and will include 20 Nitrox dives. Than the program will consist of a 10 day course followed by a 3 day “live aboard” on a specially equipped technical wreck diving vessel, during which time, you shall learn to blend gasses, learn about the equipment (including assembly).

Here’s whats included

· Travel advice prior to departure

· We will supply a letter to you to get an extended Visa for 3 months –

negating the need to do an expensive and irritating “Visa Run”

· Hotel in Bangkok on the night before leaving for paradise

· Transfer from Bangkok to Koh Tao

· In Country Representative to meet you off the boat

· Comfortable and clean: 12 weeks accommodation at the dive resort

· Welcome gift: Dry bag, T-shirt, Thai sim card for mobile phone and more…

· Island introduction and dinner party on arrival

· Organized monthly night out for Xtreme Gappers

· Dive master course with 20 nitrox dives

· Nitrox course

· Technical diving course

· Live aboard

· 2 months internship

· Wreck diving

· All PADI workbooks and manuals

· Dedicated instructor

· Divemaster kit pack (for you to keep) – Dive encyclopedia, Divemaster slates, RDP Wheel

· Use of dive equipment: Regulators, BCD, Weights, Tanks, Wet suit, Masks and Fins

· Specialist dive insurance

· Qualification certificates

· 12 weeks Food Allowance (optional)

· Substantial discounts of retail prices for all diving equipment. (enquire)

For more information check out Xtreme-Gap


Solo Diving – The S Word

Solo Diver

Solo diving – there I said it

If you mention the S word at a dive site more often than not folks get a little freaked out, give you a funny look and assume that you have a death wish. It is easy to see why, the first SCUBA course teaches us two things; never hold your breath and always dive with a buddy. Yet the idea that solo diving will automatically kill you is akin to the myth that doing it solo will make you go blind.

If you can’t imagine yourself in a cave alone, what are you doing inside a cave? If you wouldn’t swim a few hundred feet in by yourself what are you doing a few thousand feet in with a buddy?
More often than not buddy diving is a case of ‘together – alone’. It is not unusual to see a so called ‘buddy pair’ miles away from each other inside caves like Ginnie. When it all goes pear shaped what help exactly will they give to one another? If you can’t see your buddies light you have no hope of knowing when they are in trouble nor giving them any assistance, period, let alone assistance in a timely manner. Let’s face it, most people will be lucky to get the help they need from their buddy when it matters most.

So… is having a buddy giving YOU a false sense of security? If you can’t imagine being in a cave by yourself, if nothing else you are relying on your buddy for emotional support. You cave dive long enough and eventually it is all going to hit the fan – are you confident you can handle it alone? If you aren’t, are you really holding up your end of the bargain? If you can’t help yourself when you encounter a problem, how exactly are you planning on helping your buddy?

I would argue that solo diving makes you a better diver and in the end a stronger buddy… if you choose to enter such liaisons. When it comes to diving with other people you know what your limitations are, you know how far you can push yourself and you will not be swayed by peer pressure or a false sense of security to go further or deeper than you should.

You should be comfortable in a cave by yourself and you should know what kind of a diver you are. Are you aggressive or more conservative when you are alone? Does your trim suffer if no one is watching? Have you got the presence of mind to fix problems that arise? Can you plan a dive and execute it without someone watching over you? Have you got cave awareness or will you get lost as soon as your eye drifts away from the line?

The main argument to support the theory that buddy diving is superior to solo diving is that ‘two brains are better than one.’ No matter how much redundant equipment you have, the theory goes, at the end of the day you only have one brain so it is nice to have a backup. This theory suggests that somehow two people working together to solve a problem will mean that it is more likely to be resolved, for example two people lost in a cave are more likely to get out after communicating about their predicament.

I would argue that it is precisely this redundant brain that is likely to be the source of potential problems to begin with. You can control a lot about your diving; you can control yourself, your gear, your route and how far inside a cave you will venture. Yet you cannot control what goes on in your buddies brain. What another person is thinking or feeling at any one time is often a mystery. Are they pushing themselves to be there? Are they happy and focused on the dive or have they had a bad day at work and they’re feeling suicidal or homicidal for that matter? Humans in general aren’t exactly real good at communicating. Our two lost mates from the example above probably got themselves in the ‘crap! where’s the exit?!’ predicament because of a lack of communication in the first place… ‘I thought you were keeping track of where we are?’ ‘No, I thought you were – you where the one leading!’ Surely the double fatalities that occur would prove that a redundant brain can’t solve all problems.
There are times when solo diving in my opinion is clearly a good option, in tight silty passages for example, a buddy would hinder rather than help. Doing it solo is often more effective, but of course, just like with the real S word, it can be more fun with a buddy. If you can find a buddy who has a similar breathing rate, a similar pace, similar goals and interests inside the caves and they have as much interest in your satisfaction and pleasure as their own, then you are indeed more likely to have more fun and a good time. Yet anyone can tell you that finding a perfect match is no easy feat.

They say that happiness is only real when it is shared. If indeed you dive with a buddy in order to share the experience and have more fun, then I would suggest a little bit of buddy awareness probably wouldn’t go astray. If you want to dive with someone that’s exactly what you should do – dive together. Too often people get in the water at the same time, but aren’t really diving together. Why pretend? What’s the point? You want to solo dive then that’s what you should do.

Solo diving is not everyone’s cup of tea and you should be realistic so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Keep in mind however, that just because you are with a buddy this does not necessarily mean you are any safer than you would be if you were alone. Is solo diving taking on additional risk… perhaps. We all draw the line somewhere and decide what risks are acceptable during the pursuit of our passion and the exploration of the underwater world. Knowing yourself and understanding your limitations, reflecting on your own behavior as a buddy and scrutinizing the attitude of those you dive with is a good first step towards cave diving safety in my book.

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