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Recent university graduate spends summer swimming with sharks

Martin Totland, recent University graduate, spent the past summer interning at Fiona Ayerst underwater photography, one of the most reputable undersea wild life companies located in South Africa. With advanced open water certification under Totland’s belt and a desire to study film in graduate school the internship seemed like a good and exciting thing to during his final summer at the University.

Totland is an international student originally hailing from Norway who “started at Pace in the fall of 2008. I went because I knew that Pace had a really good master[s] program for writing and film. I originally wanted to do that, but sophomore year I decided I would do that in grad school somewhere else and majored in communications.”

While at the Pleasantville campus Martin was the Opinion Editor for the Pace Chronicle. Martins want to travel and interest in film and photography really drew him into the internship when it was presented to him.

Fiona Ayerst started as a lawyer who decided that she wanted more out of life and sold her law firm and bought scuba and photography gear and has gone on to be the leading photography company in South Africa And runs and continues to offer internships to the adventurous and interested.

Andrew Revkin, head of the “Dot Earth” blog on the New York Times website and world renowned environmental reporter who was the first to broadcast and report live from the North Pole, teaches at Pace University at the Pleasantville campus contacted Martin during his internship and asked him to learn about the serious topic of shark chumming.

For those unaware of shark chumming it is a tactic used by tourist cage diving companies and certain scientists to lure sharks toward boats by feeding them with chum. The problem with chumming is that the sharks are lured with small bits of chum and when around people are still looking for food and have in the past attacked scientist and tourists alike who have feed them to much or not enough.

Another problem lays in the nearness to shore that certain experiments requiring sharks occur, causing an increased danger to tourists, locals and surfers enjoying the beach and the ocean. Chumming has become a very serious issue in the wake of David Lilenfeld, 20 a South African body-boarding champion who was killed by a great white shark that had drifted close to shore. South Africa has blamed researchers for attracting the great whites and wants no more casualties.

There are many sides to this story and Revkin asked Martin to write about it and post about it on the Dot Earth page. I asked Martin during our Skype interview his opinions on shark chumming. “I think it is not necessarily harmful, unless the cage diving industry lets sharks eat the chum. The danger comes from feeding the sharks. Conditioning them to not receive chum is the best way to keep from attracting the sharks.”

From Martins Dot Earth post he also tackled the issue and wrote on the topic of reverse conditioning. “In fact, according to Johnson’s research, negative conditioning can occur if operators adhere to the feeding and chumming regulations. In short, if you’re good enough at pulling away the bait line so that the shark doesn’t get to eat, they could eventually learn to associate the presence of boats with no food rewards.” Martin currently is home in Norway and is looking toward grad school and future internships. His time in South Africa was a good learning experience and will use what he has learned in his two months in Mossel Bay, South Africa.