@sharkfreechips
@sharkfreechips

Alarming: Great White Sharks disappear from South Africa’s False Bay; Scientists wonder if they’re hiding in Australian fish and chips!

Strange days.

Though did you ever see the film Strange Days starring a younger Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Vince D’Onofrio etc? It wasn’t the best movie ever made, of course, but a semi-fun dystopian look at the near future. Similar to Back to the Future II.

Escape from L.A.

Videodrome.

And, my goodness, our apocalyptic future looked so grim but exciting back then. Everything a grey + neon swirl with mini-CDs as currency. We are living in it now, of course, and it is neither grey nor neon just the same colors as always, with the mini-CD technology vanishing too quickly and… Oh, I don’t know. If I’m being honest very disappointing.

Sure, there the petrodollar’s collapse is imminent and that will lead to a global economic crash, a Chinese-crafted disease is ripping through immuno-compromised populations and the Great White shark has vacated once-fertile False Bay in South Africa but where did they go?

According to Australia’s ABC news:

Only a few years ago, scientists estimated there were between 300 and 500 great white sharks in South Africa’s False Bay. Now, they have completely disappeared.

While local surfers might have relaxed, the absence of the apex predators is alarming to scientists, and the lucrative industries that rely on their presence.

“I’ve spent my entire life in the field watching these animals on a daily basis,” local cage dive operator and wildlife photographer Chris Fallows says.

“When the waters go quiet, both above and below the surface, and these predators are not there, it sounds huge alarm bells.”

Etc.

Etc.

Theory.

Theory until we get to…

“Flake” has long been a staple in Australian diets, but overfishing of gummy and school shark populations led to protection of the two species in our waters in the early 1990s.

In order to meet demand, Australia began importing “flake”, mostly from New Zealand and, more recently, from South Africa.

Australia’s seafood labelling laws require that any fresh or frozen fish sold must be labelled with the country of origin, but once the seafood is cooked, these laws no longer apply.

In many cases, it is impossible to know where or how the fish you’re eating at your local cafe, restaurant or fish and chips shop was caught.

“Australians commonly refer to shark meat as ‘flake’, but it can be sold as ‘pearl fillet’, it can be sold as ‘boneless fillet’ and it can be sold as ‘monkfish’. There’s no legal obligation to actually call it what it is,” Dr Guida says.

With 70 per cent of the seafood we consume in Australia coming from overseas, this poses significant challenges to traceability and accountability, disempowers consumers and impacts Australia’s reputation as a leader in sustainability.

I suppose that’s a sort of dystopian vision I can really get behind. Disturbing, certainly. Very grim but also exciting?

Oh, I don’t know.

These are strange days.


Wild scenes in Huntington Beach as surfers, Trump fans and conspiracy loons turn on beach closure laws: “Newsom is probably thinking, ‘How many of you fuckers would be dead if I hadn’t been the first to shut it all down?'”

Gov Newsom shutters OC beaches; surfers say nein!

It felt strange to be stuck in traffic again. I hadn’t seen brake lights in front of me in so long it was disorienting.

Then I saw and the red hats, the American flags, a huge sign in the bed of a raised truck, “Trump 2020, no more bullshit.”

All of them going the same place I was, Main Street, Huntington Beach, USA, USA, USA!

A month ago, or was it, two, or twenty, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, closed the beaches.

So I became one of the bad people, escaping the lockdown three, four, sometimes five times a week by driving through the quiet streets of Inglewood and onto the 405 south. The journey, which normally took an an hour or two was suddenly managed in a breezy thirty minutes.

And the pillowy bosom of good old HB welcomed me with fun three-to-four-foot surf nearly every time.

Why HB?

Because, until Monday, the stretch from Surfside to Newport was literally the only stretch of sand anyone could legally touch in the two hundred miles from Oxnard to Imperial Beach.

All because of a pesky virus that’s killed 240,000 people across the globe.

When California’s governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order on March 19 I was honestly scared. Apocalyptic scenes of sickness and death from Italy, Spain and then New York played out on television and social media every day.

It was only a matter of time before the same thing started happening in America’s most populous state, right? Overflowing hospitals, ventilator shortages, mass graves.

It would all be here soon.

What was I thinking going surfing, especially driving to another county to go surfing? The selfishness, horror, the shame.

I’d park my car a few blocks away from Main Street, keep my head low as I ran across PCH and hope that Kim Prather a UCSD scientist endlessly quoted by the press when she hypothesized that the virus could be easily spread by sea spray, was wrong.

When Trestles was shuttered in early April, all star crew often headlined by Kolohe Andino, Yadin Nicol and the brothers Colapinto were seen shredding next to the HB pier alongside Brett Simpson and Kanoa Igarashi. Springtime HB, never to be confused with world class waves, was suddenly Surf City once more – the new North Shore.

After I surfed, I was usually hungry, so would head to the safest place I could think of to eat, Little Saigon.

Why there? Vietnam shares a border with China, but COVID-19 was no match for the iron will and organizational might of the Vietnamese people.

To date: 270 infections, 0 deaths. Charlie crushed the virus like a bug.

You go north to get to Little Saigon from HB. You pass by the Huntington Valley Healthcare Center, a nursing home where over a hundred poor souls are currently battling the virus.

The toll in this one facility accounts for almost half the infections in all of Huntington Beach, a city of 200,000.

My lunch spot is tucked inside the Mall of Fortune in Garden Grove.

I hear the boom, boom, boom baseline of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made for Walking in my head every time I pull inside the parking lot. The virus isn’t getting anywhere near this joint. The cooks are suited up head to toe in PPE,  gloves, masks, hats, the works. A glass wall separates me from the cashier. A two-gallon jug of hand sanitizer sits at the ready next to the credit card reader. I self-pay, the cashier places my order on a table and never comes within fifteen feet of me. I eat in my car and go home.

It was a nice little program.

I stayed healthy and quietly enjoyed it until I started see alarming messages on my instagram on Wednesday night. “Newsom to close all beaches in California tomorrow,” they said.

Thursday I woke up thinking that it was my last day to surf so of course that’s what I did.

Then the cracks in the wall started showing. The San Diego City Council had just instituted a sensible policy allowing for surfing and active recreation on beaches but no sitting allowed. They’d left their full beach ban behind and weren’t going back.

But HB and Newport?

They’d committed the cardinal sin of embarrassing Newsom by drawing summer type crowds on over the weekend.

Does it matter that not a single case of COVID-19 infection can be traced to the ocean or a beach?

No.

Newsom was mad dad and needed to punish his wayward children.

Starting Friday he decreed, all OC beaches will be closed indefinitely.

I soon saw a “Defend your rights, storm HB Pier Saturday May 2” insty story.

Shit, this could get interesting.

A pack of surfers running past police to claim public stretch of ocean?

Like D-Day in reverse.

HB wasn’t having it.

The City Council voted to block Newsom’s order in an emergency late-night session Thursday.

Mayor Lyn Semeta said, “Our experience here locally has been that most people are being responsible and complying with social distancing, and given that Orange County has among the lowest per capita COVID-19 death rates in California, the state’s action today seems to prioritize politics over data.”

OC Sheriff Don Barnes went even further. He flatly refused to enforce Newsom’s shutdown order.

So that was the stage for today’s rally against the Gov today in Surf City. A motley crew had assembled on Main Street, Trump supporters, anti vaxxers, 5G truthers, Q Anon followers and the rest of us who just want to be free to go the beach.

I wore a mask, looked at the ground and tried not to breathe as I crossed PCH today amidst a sea of unprotected humanity standing shoulder to shoulder fighting for their right to party.

I couldn’t see the virus, but I know it was there.

A phalanx of police on horseback and on foot stood guard in front of the pier. A friendly cop explained the situation to anyone who asked.

“Yes, the beach is closed, but we’re only asking for voluntary compliance. No, we’re not going to arrest you if you go on the beach.”

It was a protest with no speakers and no formal agenda other than giving Newsom the finger.

I wonder how many of these angry people would want to live in a state like New York that waited too long to shut down and now has the highest numbers of COVID infection and death in the world.

Or would they prefer to be in Georgia where the head of state deemed tattoo and massage parlors to be essential businesses?

Newsom will probably watch this HB happening and think, “How many of you fuckers would be dead now if I hadn’t been the first to shut it all down?”

The whole thing started to feel ugly and weird.

I didn’t want to feel like I’m joining forces with this crowd just because I want to be able to surf. I positioned myself next to the entrance to Duke’s, thirty-feet upwind from the throng.

Was I safer there? When the virus gets carried in the breeze, does it only go in one direction?

Someone asked the friendly cop what would happen if the everyone rushed the beach at the same time.

“Then we’ll have a problem,” he said.

The mood was aimless, restless, twitchy. I started feeling some Dealey Plaza vibes on Main Street.

John Birch Society types coming out to play for the first time in many moons.

Is there a little guy with a rifle in the clock tower above Jack’s?

Who is that shadowy figure on the grassy knoll above the parking lot?

Are they the virus? Or are we?

I had to get out to there. I walked back to my car. Put on my wetsuit and slipped past the police cars stationed on the mostly empty beach without looking back. No one stopped me. The spring sun was warm and the waves looked sparkly and fun. Only one other guy was out on the south side of the pier.

Surfing was still allowed.

I padded out and a big OC County lifeguard boat pulled up next to us.

I thought the blonde guy at the wheel was going to tell us we had to go in.

“Sorry bros, Newsom’s orders.”

That kind of thing.

But he didn’t.

He smiled, waved us a shaka and sped away.

I got a whiff of that familiar gasoline smell from his boat as the onshore wind carried it my way.

Smelled like victory.


On the road.
On the road.

Horror: Quaint Australian hamlet known for wonderfully clear water revealed to be “Great White Shark Superhighway!”

Traffic jams etc.

You don’t think of me as Australian but I am, or at least am in our modern self-identity era. I self-identified as Australian when I was five-years-old living in Papua New Guinea with many Australian friends. They talked better than me.

Cooler.

Ate Vegemite on toast, a substance I assumed to be chocolate.

Thus, I was Australian too.

I lived in that Lucky Country some ten years ago and took a trip to a gorgeously quaint hamlet doubly named Forster-Tuncurry, once, with then notable professional surfer Craig Anderson.

Forster obviously pronounced Foster.

The water, he told me, was famously clear and boy was it.

So clear.

We surfed with a gangster who had gold teeth. A longer-than-necessary story and I wouldn’t bother with it you now except to say that Forster-Tuncurry is apparently a Great White Shark superhighway.

A brand-new research report assessing “white shark behaviour (sp) along coastal beaches for conversation-focused shark mitigation” used a drone and revealed something very disturbing/titillating.

And you guessed it.

Shark tracks.

Great White tracks.

The report, funded by NSW DPI and associated NSW Shark Management Strategy, Southern Cross University and the Paddy Pallin Foundation in partnership with the Royal Zoological Society of NSW, found 108 sharks tracked, just swimming there looking for snacks and revealed…

…Water clarity did not influence swim behavior according to track metrics in our study

Time of day influenced white shark behavior in terms of average swim speed, track straightness and net velocity. Notably, the slightly faster swim speeds and higher net velocities, as well as potentially slightly straighter tracks, in morning and afternoon periods.

White sharks found near the surf zone in this study were juvenile to sub-adult size classes

Whilst some of the behavior observed might support the exploratory bite hypothesis, there is likely an increased risk of a shark bite to bathers during situations where there are large shark-attracting food sources present.

But those red lines?

Can those, scientifically, be assumed to be trails of blood from panicked surfers attempting to reach shore after having feet chomped right off?

Likely?

More as the story develops.


ELo (left) and Pat (right) in the midst of it.
ELo (left) and Pat (right) in the midst of it.

Listen: “There is, right now, a massive power struggle atop Mount Positivity for the very soul of professional surfing!”

Two men enter, one man leaves.

I had too much obvious fun when World Surf League CEO Erik Logan and World Surf League Vice President of Events, Tours and National Regeneration Pat O’Connell swung by Dirty Water last week. Derek Rielly’s pepperings, ELo’s evasions, Pat’s laughter all had me laughing too.

It was only when I read the comments, underneath the posted podcast, that I realized none of this is funny and I blew my second chance to demand accountability from Mr. Logan, master of doublespeak, expert in evasion.

Damn it.

Erik Logan 2

Chas Smith 0

Well, I’m already agitating for a third go ’round. Not to salvage respect, oh no that is long gone, but to try and be a better surf journalist.

David Lee Scales and I spoke about this on today’s Grit! About personal evolution and also about the massive power struggle happening, right now, atop Mount Positivity for the very soul of professional surfing.

Watching Mr. Logan and Pat, splitting the screen, Pat starting to mimic some of the doublespeak but catching himself and laughing at the ludicrousness of saying everything and nothing at once, Mr. Logan appealing to Pat’s core credentials etc. made me realize, for the first time, they are locked in deadly battle.

Both ultra-positive, yes, but both stand in front of professional surfing and see something… different. Mr. Logan needs it to be a consumed product leading to growth in the “content” department. Pat, I imagine, would be happy to simply stick the world’s 16 best surfers on the world’s 8 best waves and let ‘er rip “content” be damned.

He knows how bad Transformed et. al. is. He knows the WSL content is generally terrible with no hope of getting better. His eyes, those friendly, glorious eyes can’t hide it.

So, will Mr. Logan roll Pat? Will Pat smash Mr. Logan? Is your breath bated?

Listen here!


Teenage surfer “aggressively bumped” by shark, has foot punctured by stingray in unprecedented So. California tag team!

But wait...

They say that a shark cum surf journalist has much fortitude and knowledge except for in his own home and how true that appears to be, for an unprecedented tag team of shark and stingray took down a teenage surfer, or bodyboarder, minutes away from my own home when I was in the water and I missed it.

Missed it entirely.

Oh, certainly the rumors circulated to me within hours. “Shark attack at Moonlight Beach…” though was quickly downgraded to “Never mind… stingray.”

Stingray hits are a dime a dozen here.

Painful but cheap.

This morning, however, I read that first there was a shark attack, later downgraded to aggressive bump followed by a punctured foot due stingray, which caused me intense shame, and let’s go all the way to Boston to learn more.

A 16-year-old boy was punctured by a stingray and aggressively bumped by a shark Wednesday, days after beaches reopened along California’s coast.

The teen was on a bodyboard or surfboard around 5:30 p.m. off Moonlight Beach when he encountered the shark, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The victim first told lifeguards he was bitten by a shark; however, on the way to the hospital officials determined he was “aggressively bumped” by it, the Union-Tribune reported.

The boy’s mother told KSWB the shark tore his wetsuit and a sting ray punctured his ankle.

The beach was immediately closed and shark advisory signs were posted along the beach, KNSD reported.

Per Twitter:

Teenage surfer encounters a shark & stingray at #MoonlightBeach. Lifeguards say he kicked at a shark. A woman identifying as his mother says shark did not bite him but a stingray punctured him. The teen was rushed to the hospital w minor injuries. Stay w #FOX5SanDiego @ 10/11PM

And wait just a dang second. I AM a shark cum surf journalist and my shame is vanishing as my solid reputation re-grows. Absolutely no way this happened. The bite to bump is suspicious as is going to the hospital for a stingray jab, normally treated right there in the lifeguard tower by placing foot in bucket of warm water.

I shall postulate that the teenager was bumped by his bodyboard then stung then discombobulated as he has been locked out of the ocean water for months and forgot what it all feels like, the swirling and pulling and pushing and whatnot.

The heavy toll of Coronavirus closures.

But I promise to stay on the trail for you. To uncover other such truths and bring complete light to SharkStingray-Gate.

More as the story develops.