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Santa Cruz Sentinel
January 15, 2006

Disputes swirl around researchers

Sean Van Sommeran's battles with those he describes as "establishment cronies" in the scientific community escalated in 2002 during a contentious legal fight over rights to scientific data.

The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation had not been credited in a short paper in the journal Nature about satellite tagging of white sharks — research aided by Van Sommeran's help with the tagging and using satellite tags funded by donations given to PSRF.

Van Sommeran filed a suit against Scott Davis, a graduate student at UCSC and lead author of the paper, who had also been a PSRF member. The paper detailed research conducted by Bernie LeBoeuf at UCSC and Barbara Block of Stanford University, along with four other marine scientists, but with no acknowledgment of PSRF's role.

The matter was resolved in mediation in 2004 after Davis sent Van Sommeran a letter of apology.

"I think it's worth it," said Van Sommeran, who gets fiercely defensive whenever the case is mentioned. "These days, it's a war."

However, there is evidence some old wounds are healing.

Stanford's Block, chief scientist of the Tagging of the Pacific Pelagics program, said members of her team partnered with PSRF in 2005 to tag white sharks. She hopes researchers "can put our differences aside" and work toward a common goal.

"We all are in the Bay Area and Central Coast working together on behalf of white shark conservation," Block said.

Van Sommeran found himself on the losing end of a decision in 2003 when the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration fined PSRF $21,000 for violating conditions of its permit to lure white sharks.

Van Sommeran denied any wrongdoing and continues to contest the finding.

-- Elise Kleeman

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