Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Results!!!!

Ok, so I was a bit wound up this morning when I wrote my post about the shark feeding incident at the Grotto, and as a wise friend of mine pointed out, no blog should ever be written at 5:12 am. I admit that I was frustrated over the way the situation was handled on the previous shark feeding incident. At this point, I don't want to say too much as I don't want to jeopardize any pending case. But I would like to give credit to a couple different people who were very responsive and jumped right on this.

The first was Mike Nisperos at the Attorney General's Office. I notified Mike very early this morning. He's about the only person I know that gets almost as early a start as I do. Mike promised to follow up on it, and he was true to his word. I talked to him before I did the talkshow, so that didn't spur him on at all, he was already determined to do something about this. I couple hours later I got a call from one of his investigators asking me to come in for an interview about the incident this afternoon. They were very professional and responsive to my concerns. Where it goes from here is entirely up to them, but after having talked with them I am comfortable that they will do whatever they can. I know the Attorney General's Office has some very big issues on their plate at the moment, but their response to this situation shows that they realize the potential impact something like this could have on tourism. Hats off to Matt Gregory and Mike Nisperos for their blazing speed and response to this.

Then I also talked with Marianne Teregeyo at Fish & Wildlife about the situation this morning as well. Marianne just recently returned to the island after obtaining her college degree and is now in charge of the enforcement section. She has only been on the job for a few days, but is determined that her department will be responsive and will take any complaint seriously. I knew Marianne years ago when she was the Public Information Officer for the same department. I liked her and worked well with her then, and it seems like she's picking up right where she left off. She called me several times this morning following up on various aspects of it, and then also scheduled me for an interview with the enforcement officer she had assigned to this case.

These two people are quickly restoring my confidence that the system can work, and that we do have some people who genuinely care about their jobs and responsibilities. Yes, I jumped to some conclusions about the way things were handled the last time. Could something have been done differently after the first shark feeding incident, possibly - but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt seeing the way they responded this time around. There was also an incident over the weekend where someone saw some spearfishermen in the Managaha sanctuary. They took pictures of them and called it in to Fish & Wildlife. It is my understanding that Fish & Wildlife were also very responsive and actually caught the spearfishermen in the act. Maybe things are finally starting to change around here, and enforcement is being taken seriously.

So I probably jumped to some wrong conclusions this morning and was still caught up in the heat of the moment and outraged at what had happened. As of right now I have to say the response of our local government has knocked my socks off. Obviously I'll keep watching the case and keep you updated. The Grotto is our #1 dive attraction and deserves to be protected as such.

Shark Feeding Japanese Dive Guide Is At It Again!

Several months ago I caught a Japanese dive guide putting on a shark feeding show in the Grotto, our top dive spot on Saipan. I actually managed to get some video of him feeding the sharks, so I'll let you take a look at what he was doing before I update the story.






When this happened the last time, I notified the Department of Fish & Wildlife, Coastal Resources Management and the Attorney General's Office, since he is recklessly endangering not only other divers who don't know what is going on, but also all the unsuspecting swimmers above him in the Grotto. I'm sorry to report that to the best of my knowledge, none of them did a single thing about this. I understand that Fish & Wildlife did interview him about the incident, but they took no action against him, they just made him promise not to feed sharks in the Grotto again. It was also my understanding that the Japanese dive guide who goes by the name of Mariano and works out of Aquasmith dive shop promised he would not feed sharks in the Grotto again, since it is a sanctuary, and any harassment of the marine life is against the law.

Yesterday afternoon I had 3 navy sailors down in the Grotto and I was taking them out for a dive one at a time. I noticed the sharks over in the cave in their usual spot during the first dive, so I took Stephen down there to let him see a shark up close and personal. But on the second dive, they were gone. We went outside hole #1 and came back in through #2. I took Jacob over to the rubble patch just in front of #3, thinking the sharks might be there.

That's when I saw the idiot feeding sharks inside the Grotto once again. He had one Japanese tourist with him, and he was also using a spotter this time evidently, a free diver who was swimming above. As soon as he saw me, he tried hiding his chum bag and he got his tourist and headed for the safety stop on the rope. The tourist was obviously confused as to why the dive and the shark feeding was being cut short. I followed them up to the rope and got a few pictures. Here you can see his chum bag that contains the pieces of bloody meat hanging in front of him, and he is also still wearing his steel mesh gloves that he wears for protection. He was trying to hurry up and get them off before I got a picture of him. As soon as he got out of the water, he took his bag over to the backside of the rock and dumped the rest of the contents into the water, I'm assuming to dispose of the evidence. The one thing that I haven't mentioned so far is that there were several very small children swimming in the Grotto while all this was going on.Above you can see the Russian mother with her young daughter swimming near the rope. There was also a local guide who had a family of Japanese out swimming in the Grotto as well, they had 2 young daughters that appeared to be less than 7 years old.

When he is down there feeding the sharks, it whips them into a feeding frenzy and their behavior is drastically altered. The last time I witnessed this the sharks were quickly darting around, going right up to other divers seeing if they had any raw meat, and were even coming right up to the rope checking out the divers who were doing their safety stops there. Now let's suppose one of those little kids who were swimming happened to scratch or cut her leg getting into the water. If it was bleeding, would a shark in the middle of a feeding frenzy be able to distinguish between the bleeding cut on her leg and the bloody meat that the Japanese shark feeder was using? Personally, I think that's way too high a risk.

I gave our government the chance to do something about this problem the last time it surfaced, and they passed. Now I feel that I have no choice but to post a public warning about what is being allowed to happen in the Grotto. As long as this Japanese dive guide is allowed to continue with this risky, although very lucrative for himself, behavior, I don't believe the Grotto is a safe spot for swimmers. I can only hope that by being embarassed, it might spur our government into taking the safety of it's residents and tourists a little more seriously. This is an outrage that it ever happened in the first place, but it is abhorent that it is continuing and our government so far has decided to look the other way. This is a picture of the Japanese dive guide who is the shark feeder, he is currently sporting a beard. He drives a blue pickup truck with Cressi sub written on the back side of it, and the license plate # is ABM 016. If you see that truck in the Grotto parking lot, you should definitely think twice before going swimming. If you're as outraged that this is happening as I am, I encourage you to call the Attorney General's Office as soon as possible and express your feelings on the matter. But why stop there, I plan on letting the Governor know what I think of his variuos departments response to this situation, I suggest you do the same!

So what will happen from this point forward? Will Mariano continue feeding sharks in the Grotto because nothing will be done about it once again? Or will he be slapped so hard this time that he doesn't dare try such a thing ever again? You know I'll be watching this one closely to see what happens.

*The title and last line of this were modified after consulting with a wiser friend of mine.

Also by suggestion, here are some of the various phone numbers:
- Attorney General's Office - 670-664-2341

- Fish & Wildlife - 670-664-6000

- Coastal Resources Management Office - 670-664-8300

- Governor's Office - 670-664-2280

- Lt. Governor's Office - 670-664-2300