[Coral-List] Comments on encounter RE: Goliath Grouper encounters

Julie Hawkins julie.hawkins at york.ac.uk
Tue Nov 6 05:28:49 EST 2012

Dear Sarah

Having a video on u-tube of scientists unnecessarily touching wild
animals is in a nutshell "against the grain". Hence I really hope that
you will please remove because your arguments below do not make this
action right.

Best wishes


On 5 November 2012 17:39, Sarah Frias-Torres <sfrias_torres at hotmail.com> wrote:
> Dear Martin and Stacy,Thank your for your comments.
> I have been working with endangered marine wildlife since 1992. As such, I'm aware of the perils of people interacting with wild animals, and cases where ecotourism can go terribly wrong. In the case of goliath groupers, we have a conundrum on whether we can accept a minor disturbance as an alternative to death. Since death is rather terminal, it seems the only logical action is to minimize negative effects from ecotourism.
> Perhaps the best way to resolve your concerns will be to take you scuba diving with the goliath groupers. Goliaths are extremely curious and unafraid of divers. This inquisitive behavior has been documented by many scientists.. In fact, it's been a major factor in increasing their vulnerability to extinction, as the goliaths become easy targets for spearfishers.
> Injury by a goliath grouper might occur when a diver attempts to feed them. This was not the case here. None of the scuba divers portrayed in the video fed the groupers. The divers did not chase after the groupers. The goliaths approached us on their own.
> We did not interrupt spawning activity on this night. There were no gravid females, and there was a lack of courtship and courtship coloration indicating pre-spawning behavior. And no aggression resulted from our activities... You can see in the video, goliaths waiting right by the divers, and staying there, with no signs of stress.
> The video was produced by an independent filmmaker, who has the freedom to post his videos in you tube.
> Your concerns are important, but that's no reason to portray me as an irresponsible scientist. In youtube, you can also find many videos of fishers who capture goliath groupers and land them on the deck of the boat, for their own pleasure and to take pictures. All the time the goliaths are fighting in the line and the time spent out of the water, the fish are suffering tremendous stress and being slowly asphyxiated. Not to mention that these fishers are violating the "possession" terms of the current federal and state moratorium on goliath grouper harvest. Perhaps you can also share your concerns with the authors of every single youtube video where such violation is portrayed.
> Now, let's consider what is more stressful for the goliath groupers: to have a group of experienced divers not chasing you, but waiting for you to approach them, or to be hooked, fight for your life, get landed on the deck of a boat and slowly asphyxiate until someone remembers to release you back in to the ocean.
> Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. Independent ScientistTwitter: @GrouperDocBlog: http://grouperluna.wordpress.comhttp://independent.academia.edu/SarahFriasTorres
>> Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2012 14:16:39 +0000
>> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Goliath Grouper encounters
>> From: martinrstelfox at gmail.com
>> To: sjk012 at knights.ucf.edu
>> CC: sfrias_torres at hotmail.com; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
>> Dear Dr. Frias-Torres.
>> As you well know, Goliath groupers are classed as critically
>> endangered and are under immense pressure due to anthropogenic stress.
>> I think that the work and research you are doing is extremely valuable
>> for the future of the species, however, I do agree with Stacy on how
>> the species interaction is portrayed in the YouTube video.
>> I have worked on numerous conservation projects around the world and I
>> have worked with and educated many non scientific minded individuals
>> on current issues within marine biology. I think the most important
>> tool we have as educators is to take people on an experience that
>> completely removes them from what they are used to, bringing  in an
>> emotional experience that could change the way they perceive an
>> environment or trigger an interest which may be passed on.
>> To address the problem to SCUBA divers with footage of Goliath
>> groupers being touched by scientists I think sends out completely the
>> wrong message. For the average SCUBA diver, touching organisms is
>> something they do not consider to be a problem in the ecosystem - when
>> in fact it is. Unnecessarily   disrupting natural behaviour, not to
>> mention the potential hazard to individual divers by touching
>> something they shouldn’t. I agree that the video should be
>> reconsidered, as the target audience must understand that interfering
>> with an organism’s behaviour and physiology is both understudied and
>> harmful to the organisms and the individual.
>> Regards,
>> Martin Stelfox,
>> On Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 4:34 PM, sjk012 <sjk012 at knights.ucf.edu> wrote:
>> > Dear Dr. Frias-Torres and Coral-listers,
>> >
>> > Is this really the message we are wanting to share with the public?? To approach and touch wild animals, more shockingly a Critically Threatened animal! I am incredibly disappointed that academics and avid divers would take part in this action, let alone film such an inappropriate act. And to top it off, post it in on a globally accessible site such a youtube.
>> >
>> > As conservationist we should be spreading the "look don't touch" and "keep wildlife wild" messages. Portraying these animals as gentle giants further threatens their population. This video clearly demonstrates that touching and approaching wildlife is OK, and it is NOT. While I agree this was an amazing opportunity to see these creatures in the wild, the continuous act of rubbing, touching, and "petting" these fish is unacceptable.
>> >
>> > Goliath groupers are ambush predators that use powerful suction to draw in their pray. This suction is strong enough to pull in a human's arm and their sharp rows of teeth can shred that person's hand and arm trying to remove it. These divers are very luckly they did not get injured and promoting this action with a video threatens other divers and threatens reef fish. Fish become stressed when they are touched and the mucus layer, which is the first line of defense against disease, is disrupted. It is quite possible that this invasive encounter by humans during their spawning period was enough to disrupt their activity that night, but the physical touching clearly detracted the animals risking the reproductive act and likely caused aggression.
>> >
>> > I highly encourage that this video is removed from youtube and that  Dr.. Frias-torres et al. rethink the messages the video portrays...I don't think touching critically endangered animals during spawning, or touching any wild animal for that matter, will ever be a good conservation message to share with the public.
>> >
>> > Stacy
>> > Aquatic and Conservation Biologist
>> >
>> > ________________________________________
>> > From: Sarah Frias-Torres [sfrias_torres at hotmail.com]
>> > Sent: Friday, November 02, 2012 12:42 PM
>> > To: coral list
>> > Subject: [Coral-List] Goliath Grouper encounters
>> >
>> > Dear coral-listers
>> > Just wanted to share some extraordinary encounters with a charismatic coral reef fish we almost lost to extinction: the goliath grouper.
>> > We dove a wreck at night, in southeast Florida during this year's spawning aggregation season. We were fortunate to have a couple of filmmakers on board who produced this video, including the text provided in You Tube..
>> > The 6.5 minute video is not addressed to scientists but to the SCUBA diving community. An example of reaching out beyond academic research.
>> > I'm the diver with a yellow bandana around minute 5.
>> > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4Ho87oiUo4
>> >
>> > You can learn more about goliath groupers in my recent paper
>> > http://grouperluna.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/guilt-free-goliath-groupers/
>> >
>> > Enjoy
>> >
>> > Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. Independent ScientistTwitter: @GrouperDocBlog: http://grouperluna.wordpress.comhttp://independent.academia.edu/SarahFriasTorres
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> >
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Dr Julie Hawkins
Lecturer in Marine Environmental Management
Environment Department
University of York
York YO10 5DD
United Kingdom
Tel +44 (0)1904 324 073

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