It glides through the underwater world, a powerful and silent predator, one of the greats of the sea. Its indomitable force fascinates us and at the same time horrifies as its very presence puts the human species second on the food chain. Yet it is humanity that has the final say on its survival. This is a story of the Baja Great White Shark project. One impassioned researcher has dedicated his life to the study of the Great White, and his work is supported by Terra Peninsular of Ensenada.
César Guerrero Avila, Coordinator for Marine Conservation, and I met over a delicious cup of cappuccino to record this story. "Isle Guadalupe is one of the best places in the world to study the Great White Shark in its natural habitat as the Pacific current runs cleanest and clearest there." César and other researchers collect important data two hundred miles off the coast of Santa Rosalillita north of Guerro Negro.
Terra Peninsular is a major resource and destination for anyone traveling south of the border who is interested in the "Real Baja." This is where I discovered the young researcher César and begged him for his story. He professes his "passion" for studying and changing the way people think of the Great White. While the movie "Jaws" created a horrifying image of the shark, Cesar believes that to have accurate information is extremely important in changing our perceptions.
The Great White is on the endangered species list. We might question why this great predator is important to us. When all species function to keep a natural balance, humanity and the planet are healthy. It is an undeniable fact going into the 21st century that it is the human species that is the source of the imbalance worldwide. César has undertaken a complex set of goals, the most important stated in his thesis as "First steps to understanding the effects of ecotourism on the behavior, distribution and social interaction of White Shark." Stopping the mortality rate in the young whites is first on the list of priorities.
César works with many people serious about restoring healthy numbers and the Mexican government works to protect this species through legislation. Important also is to define the areas of priority for survival needing to be addressed. He smiles kindly, "I take a few beers and go to the fish camps to present this idea. The young fishermen understand that catch and release of the young is necessary for all concerned." If allowed, Great White babies will grow to maturity, breed and hold the balance for the future of the species. There are a number of shark species that are not protected: Blue, Mako and Thresher which can be found at local fish markets. Baby Whites under a year can sometimes be confused when swimming with other smaller shark. Even though the Mexican Government protects the Great White in all its stages of growth, the young are still most vulnerable because of this and other reasons.
The Whites breed in the bays of Isle Guadalupe, but travel to the Baja coast near Guerrero Negro to have their babies. The adults return to Isla Guadalupe, but the young stay in the coastal waters. César's passion can be felt when he speaks of the need to protect the young until maturity. One of his concerns is that tour boats can interfere with the breeding adults. The Mexican government has restricted the number of boats that come to the island for the adventure of diving with the Great White. While the divers are contained inside metal cages, hand baiting is permissible by impaling bait on a pole bringing the shark close for photo opportunities; this disrupts normal breeding patterns. Anything that reduces the birthrate is a deterrent to bringing the population back to balanced levels, and signals the end of the magnificent Great White.
Finishing up the last of my cappuccino, I deeply appreciated César and wondered how I would ever condense his wisdom into a story with heart. His passion for the Great White's future, serves us in ways we will never know.
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Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com