Guy Harvey and the Gulf’s missing shark

A long time ago in the far, far reaches of the Gulf of Mexico...

The contrasting bars of the pilot fish create a striking image in the cobalt blue waters just beyond the continental shelf. Swimming in unison they dart, twist and turn in natural aquatic harmony.

Suddenly, from amongst the motion a strong form emerges.

Swimming with focus and purpose, the white bars on its fins reveal the ocean’s wanderer: the ocean whitetip shark.

Oceanic_Whitetip_Shark
Photo by Johan Lantz/Wiki Commons

It continues its trajectory at a slow but determined pace. Cruising just beneath the surface, it is set to prey on anything it might encounter.

Pickings can be slim in this desolate environment.

Once considered the world’s most common large animal (over 100 pounds) they are now  deemed critically endangered. This is especially true for the Gulf of Mexico.

In a 2004 study, researchers Baum and Myers noted a 99 percent decline of oceanic whitetips in the Gulf since the 1950s.

“Scientists there once considered this species a nuisance because of the prevalence around vessels. Nowadays it is rarely seen,” they noted.

In hundreds of trips in the Gulf out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi this writer has never seen one. And neither have dozens of veteran Gulf anglers I have interviewed.

And that concerns ocean art icon and conservationist Guy Harvey.

“The oceanic whitetip is a truly remarkable shark and due to the high demand of fins from large shark species they have declined dramatically,” Harvey said.

maxresdefault-3

Currently the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and its partners are engaged in a study to track and analyze whitetip populations. They are studying the stock structure of oceanic whitetip sharks on a global scale by using genetic techniques, and migration patterns of this species in the western Atlantic with the aid of satellite tracking technologies.

Information gained on the whitetip’s movements can help create better management strategies to save the species.

When Harvey called the species “remarkable” that is not a generalized statement. He has firsthand knowledge having spent time in the water with the species and producing a documentary about their plight.

“They are bold and have no problems approaching a diver which makes for great interaction and observation,” Harvey said.

Harvey’s works with whitetips has allowed him to create stunning works of art showing the declining species in all of its glory.

Art captures the mood and feel of a natural scene better that photography and Harvey’s instantly recognizable style has resonated with an ocean-loving public in a way that connects them to wildlife.

“Things happen so fast down there and you have limited time. Painting allows to create a way to raise awareness to species that otherwise might not get much attention,” Harvey said.

The oceanic whitetip is one such creature.

If they disappeared tomorrow few anglers would notice.

Beachcombers never see these open water dwellers anyway so that only leaves wildlife journalists like myself, researchers like Harvey and his crew and a handful of shark fanatics who would even notice their demise.

But to the ocean it does matter.

An intricately woven food chain has already been disrupted and if they were to vanish forever, the balance would be upset.

And the world would lose a beautiful, cunning predator.

We should do our best to support research like GHOF are doing and all efforts to ensure shark populations not only survive but perhaps one day thrive like they did so long ago in the Gulf and beyond.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

Pink Albino Dolphin (Video)

Among the most incredible animals I have encountered in my life in the wild is a super rare pink albino bottlenose dolphin appropriately dubbed “Pinky”.

I first encountered it while filming a television program on Louisiana’s Lake Calcasieu in 2010 and returned with a group of children to capture it on video in 2013.

We are planning another expedition to photograph “Pinky” and the other dolphins of the area. We will post our results here.

Until then enjoy this clip.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

Rhinos in Texas

It is the most valuable wildlife commodity in the world.

Fetching up to $60,000 a pound on the black market, the rhinoceros horn is coveted greatly by millionaires in Asia who use it as a status symbol or grind into traditional elixirs as a aphrodisiac or folk cures for various ailments.

By comparison ivory from poached elephant tusks are going for about $1,500 a pound. That’s chump change compared to rhino horn.

Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a dramatic 96 decline from 70,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,410 in 1995 according to Save the Rhino, a strictly rhinoceros-based conservation organization.

rhino may 1

“Thanks to the persistent efforts of conservation programs across Africa, black rhino numbers have risen since then to a current population of between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals.”

“The overwhelming rhino conservation success story is that of the Southern white rhino. With numbers as low as 50-100 left in the wild in the early 1900s, this sub-species of rhino has now increased to between 19,666 and 21,085.”

But poaching has increased dramatically.

In 2007 there were 13 rhinos poached in South Africa. That number skyrocketed to 83 the next year and by 2015 there were 1,175 rhinos poached. That means one out of every five rhinos was killed drive by the aforementioned Asian market.

There is no end in site to the killing. Despite the use of surveillance drones, shoot to kill policies on poachers in some area and increase awareness, poachers are hitting rhinos and they are hitting them hard.

Some believe the solution to saving the species involves bringing them to Texas.

Hundreds of orphaned baby rhinos could be moved into Texas where they could be kept far away from poachers on highly managed private ranches. The thought process is the gene pool could be preserved while conservationists figure out what to do with the problems in Africa.

I will have a full feature article on this project in the May edition of Texas Fish & Game. I am very excited about the project and the article. In fact, I was so excited I had to tease it a little bit here.

This rhino project has many challenges and we will be covering it in-depth fashion not only in that article but also here.

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

 

 

Forgotten Texas Wolf

Canis lupus monstrabilis

Ever heard of it?

Chances are you have not. Oh, wolf fans will be familiar with the Canis lupus part but “monstrabilis”?

It is the name of the now extinct “Texas Wolf” a species recognized in 1937 and considered extinct by 1942.

Very little is known about this animal other than it inhabited the Texas Hill Country into Oklahoma and was believed to have followed the historical bison herds. When they were wiped out cattle became chief prey.

That put a target on the species as big as the state itself.

Government trapping, poisoning and bounties put all varieties of gray wolf out of business for good in Texas.

Montana_wolf_100_lbs_1928_Young_&_Goldman_USFWS
Life was hard for wolves in the 20th Century.

Only the Mexican gray wolf  still exists and it is relegated to the progeny of released specimens from a captive breeding program all residing outside of Texas borders.

Taxonomists have reshuffled virtually everything in recent decades and this species is now sometimes lumped in with the Mexican Gray Wolf but there is no way to go back and definitely argue the case.

For now I ponder what it would be like to step out on a limestone cliff and look below to see the Texas Wolf chasing a whitetail or perhaps helping thin out some of the Edwards Plateau’s increasing exotic axis deer herd.

Now only brief mentions in wildlife journals  are left to remind us once the most scenic parts of Texas were a little wilder.

What it must have been like to sleep beneath the stars and amongst the chaotic frenzy of coyote calls hear the wolf’s deep, mournful song.

At some point the last howl of the last Texas wolf sounded off.

Did someone hear it?

Did that very call alert the wrong people of its presence and lead to its demise?

To think about that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Well, maybe not almost…

Chester Moore, Jr.

The Texas Javelina Massacre

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s decision to list a warfarin-based hog lure as a state-limited-use pesticide has sent shockwaves through the wildlife community.

The pesticide, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” is the first toxicant to be listed specifically for use in controlling the feral hog population. Opinions are varied from landowner support to hunter and wildlife enthusiast outrage.

Commissioner Miller said the introduction of the first hog lure may usher in the “Hog Apocalypse”.

It could also set off the “Texas Javelina Massacre”.

Peccary_javelina_wild_boar_or_skunk_pig_tayassu_tajacu

The collared peccary, more commonly known as javelina is a denizen of the arid regions of Texas. At one time they roamed from the Rio Grande to the Red River but that range has been cut down to less than half that size.

There are now according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) roughly 100,000 of these animals inhabiting 62 million acres of rangeland.

One of the most feral hog dense regions is the javelina’s South Texas stronghold and while they are not pigs, they eat many things pigs eat. They readily devour corn put out for deer, soured grain set out to bait hogs and will without any doubt devour this toxic feral hog lure.

Unlike feral hogs, javelina are a native species that can easily coexist and compete little with free-ranging whitetail deer, the state’s most popular game animal.

They key word here is “free ranging”.

TPWD’s “Javelina in Texas” publication notes that “Recent downturns in javelina population trends in South Texas appear to follow drought cycles, habitat management treatments, and more recent emphasis on white-tailed deer man­agement, including high fencing and predator control.”

They go on to say that although habitat improvement for white-tailed deer, such as food plots, supplemental feeding, and water development improved habitat for javelina, in many cases it also exacerbated problems between deer enthusiasts and javelina.

“Incidental and illegal harvest of javelina due to their perceived nuisance of predation, agricultural damage and competition with deer has added to this decline.” (TPWD)

Big protein-fed, selectively bred whitetail bucks bring in big bucks to ranchers and javelina are not a priority. In fact, as the TPWD document notes illegal harvest is rampant.

I have personally spoken with ranchers who admit to killing every javelina they see and influencing hunters to do the same.

Their reason?

They eat some of the high protein supplemental food put out for their monster bucks.

If warfarin ends up killing those bucks their will be an outcry as big as the state itself. If it kills javelina, you can bet more will be put out. Many will look at taking out hogs and javelina as a two for one special.

Javelina should be given their due respect just like any other Texas native but they are not an easy icon to get behind. Hunters don’t care too much for them and they are not well known enough for the “green” movement to support.

At the time of this writing it looked like the warfarin-based toxin might have some legal hurdles to overcome before hitting the field.

As for the javelina, they will benefit from any ban or delay.

Because you see the “Texas Javelina Massacre” actually began years ago. It was about the time high fences started popping up south of San Antonio and the javelina became an enemy instead of a respected species.

And no one from any side of the conservation aisle seems to care.

Chester Moore, Jr. (The Wildlife Journalist)

Toxic Pork

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller  has announced a rule change in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) that classifies a warfarin-based hog lure as a state-limited-use pesticide.

The pesticide, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” is the first toxicant to be listed specifically for use in controlling the feral hog population and represents a new weapon in the long-standing war on the destructive feral hog population according an agency press release.

“This solution is long overdue. Wild hogs have caused extensive damage to Texas lands and loss of income for many, many years,” Commissioner Miller said.

“With the introduction of this first hog lure, the ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”

hogblog2
State officials are saying traditional hunting and trapping is not getting the job done with Texas hog population. Hunters are crying foul.

“It won’t just be hogs eating the poison. It will be deer and squirrels and rabbits and raccoons. Everything you see come up to game camera at feeders will be impacted,” said Brian Johnson, a local duck dog trainer and hog hunter.

“You can’t just introduce mass poison to the environment and expect only one species to be impacted.”

Frank Moore a Texas-based hunter who works to help landowners eradicate hogs also had strong opinions on the issue.

“If I were to go out and put a bunch of random poison on my lease to kill deer I would get in big trouble. How do they know this is not going to impact other animals as much as it does hog?,” he asked.

Moore at the same time is skeptical that it will work long-term.

Hogs are smart. There is a chance they will figure out something is wrong with the bait if it is supposed to take a number of times eating it to kill it like most rat poisons. There are just a whole lot of factors in this issue that should be looked at,” Moore said.

From this writer’s vantage point, this is a bad idea on many levels but one is glaring, yet no one seems to be addressed. it.

This will greatly impact javelina (collared peccary) in South and West Texas where the swine-like native animals are present.

Javelina will eat virtually anything a hog will eat and will no question be victims of the poison. Javelina are a game animal in Texas with a bag limit of two per season.

Unfortunately some ranches allow wholesale killing of javelina but they are recognized by state law as a game animal as they should be. They are not exotic introductions like hogs and are as much a part of Texas as whitetail deer or Rio Grande turkey.

Who will be counting the impact on javelina?

The same goes for everything else in the ecosystem.

We will have more on this issue which is likely to get heated as an animal that has definitely caused problems (feral hogs) is now weighed against other wildlife in value.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Moore wins “Outdoor Legacy Award”

Chester Moore, author of “The Wildlife Journalist” blog has received the prestigious Mossy Oak Outdoor Legacy Award.

Presented last Saturday at the annual conference of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association, the award recognizes Moore for his work with children and wildlife.

moore award
Moore receiving award from David Sikes of the Texas Outdoor Writer’s Association.

“It’s such an honor to receive this award. Whether I am blogging at ‘The Wildlife Journalist’, broadcasting live on the radio or out granting a child’s exotic animal encounter through our ‘Wild Wishes’ program, I am always looking at things through the filter of how we can inspire young people and take better care of our natural resources,” Moore said.

“This award inspires me to push harder and go further down this path.”

Moore has won more than 100 awards for writing, photography, radio and conservation.

He was named a “Hero of Conservation” by Field & Stream magazine and his nonprofit project “Kingdom Zoo” won nonprofit of the year in 2016 from the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce.