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Marine Protection

Saving Whales in the Nexus of Art and Conservation

A Mother Listens - a humpback whale tail print (Bryant Austin)

In 2004, photographer Bryant Austin floated on the surface of the South Pacific observing a humpback whale and her calf. The five-week old, two-ton calf left his mother and glided within five feet of Austin, close enough that he put down his camera. The calf gracefully swam around him, giving the photographer his first close encounter with a whale. 

From his book Beautiful Whale, Austin says, “For the first time, I could see the true colors, fine details, and subtle tones of the humpback whale; all of the elements that make them real. I never would have dared to swim this close to a whale. I wouldn’t even have imagined the prospect of photographing a whale that approached me within five feet on his own terms.” 

Thus, this young whale and his mother inspired a seven-year journey to capture life-size images of whales and encourage people to protect them from human threats before they become extinct.

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Galapagos Park Rangers Train with Peruvian Coastguard

Galapagos park rangers at CLS Peru

This week, WildAid and CLS coordinated a peer exchange between Galapagos park rangers and members of the Peruvian Coast Guard to share their experiences in using electronic technology for surveillance of marine areas.

In this peer exchange the Peruvian Coastguard will demonstrate how their control center combines data using those same two systems (AIS and VMS) to monitor suspicious activity within their waters. This collaboration may also aid environmental officials from both countries in better protecting shared migratory species, such as giant mantas, sharks, humpback whales, and sea turtles.

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Galapagos Islands Have the Largest Shark Biomass in the World

A group of hammerhead sharks swims over the sandy seafloor populated with garden eels at Darwin Island. These sharks are known for their ability to make sudden and sharp turns as the unique wide-set placement of their eyes allows them a vertical 360-degree view, which is ideal for stalking their prey. (Enric Sala/ National Geographic for National Geographic Pristine Seas)

In a study published this week, scientists from the National Geographic Society and Charles Darwin Research Station found that Darwin and Wolf in the Galapagos Islands is home to the world's largest shark biomass (the total mass of sharks in a given area) in the world.

This is especially welcome news as sharks continue to be hunted for the shark fin trade — with an estimated 73 million sharks killed annually. According to lead author Pelayo Salinas de Leon, "[T]he islands of Darwin and Wolf are jewels in the crown of the Galapagos,” due to the abundance of these top predators indicating a healthy marine ecosystem. 

However, the two-year study funded by Helmsley Charitable Trust also found that reef fish in the area have been severely reduced due to overfishing. To protect its marine life, the Ecuadorian government created a marine sanctuary at Darwin and Wolf in March.

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Rescuing the Vaquita from Extinction

The elusive vaquita marina (Francisco Valverde)

Sea Shepherd and their aging former U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Farley Mowat, have just completed a four-month mission called Operation Milagro (Miracle) to save the vaquita. They fought a 24/7 battle against gill nets, longlines and the fishermen who deploy them. With a nearly all-volunteer crew of 16, they patrol a vaquita refuge set up by the Mexican government in 2005. Using dragging tools fashioned from the anchors of the illegal nets, they scour the sea day and night pulling up anything they can find, including large gill nets and longlines. WildAid was invited on-board the Farley Mowat to experience and document what Sea Shepherd is doing in the fight to save this unique species.

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Can Reefs Survive Coral Bleaching?

Parrotfish in the Gardens of the Queen (Noel Lopez Fernandez)

Scientists in Australia recently announced that more than 90% of coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef have experienced bleaching this year due to increased oceanic temperatures from climate change. This is the third mass bleaching event on record and possibly the worst yet — affecting one-third of the world’s corals. Other affected areas include Micronesia, as well as the Caribbean and Hawaii, both of which suffered major bleaching throughout their waters last summer.

Coral reefs provide food and shelter for numerous marine species and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people around the world. According to The New York Times, they provide jobs for “an estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women [who] depend on reefs for their livelihoods.”

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