Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Advocacy through Art: ‘Shark’ Brings the Animal’s Plight to Life

A female blue shark with mating scars swims just below the surface in New England waters. ©Brian Skerry

The following post was originally featured by New England Ocean Odyssey

Happy Shark Week! In honor of this annual event, we sunk our teeth into a new book, Shark, by our friend and partner Brian Skerry. Skerry is an award-winning National Geographic photographer and photojournalist who won the 2017 Rolex-Explorer of the Year award. He recently spoke at the United Nations about the importance of ocean conservation and photographed former president Barack Obama swimming in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – the largest marine monument in the U.S. Pacific. Per his usual style, Skerry is currently off on a month-long expedition shooting for the magazine.

Flipping through the pages of Shark, a layered and complex view of sharks is presented. Beautiful photos show sharks as powerful, elegant, and sleek creatures. Rulers of the ecosystem, they glide across the pages. Some of the photos are so close up, you cannot imagine how Skerry got the shot. But there are also images that show how sharks are losing control of their domain – often at the hand of humans. There is a shark stuck in a fisherman’s net, its eye forlornly looking out through the page. There is a shark on a beach with its fin being cut off, a victim of still-too-common shark finning. Mixed within the images, Skerry writes about his work, the environment, and the role of sharks in the wild.

Sharks are the top of the food chain, making them apex predators. Like wolves in Yellowstone, sharks are vital to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. When sharks are present, it’s a sign the ecosystem is working as it should.

But sharks occupy fragile standing in the world right now. Globally, more than 100 million sharks are killed every year for their fins alone. Sharks not directly targeted are often victims of bycatch, trapped on hooks or in lines meant for other fish. Sharks that survive these dangers, though, are still living in a changing world. Ocean acidification is harming reefs which provide food and shelter for the sharks’ prey. Climate change, and the resulting warming ocean has the potential to decimate a population that has not had to adapt for thousands of years.

Why Sharks?

Skerry has spent countless hours photographing sharks underwater. Part of his desire to write a book about sharks comes from wanting to show the world that sharks more than they appear in Jaws or the typical Discovery shark attack show. In an interview with National Geographic, he says, “For the artist within me, sharks represent an endless well of inspiration, a blend of grace and power that lures me into the sea time and time again in hopes of producing a new rendering that truly captures their essence. As a journalist, I’m driven by a sense of responsibility and a sense of the urgent need to broadcast that sharks are in trouble and need our help.”

You could say that Skerry views himself as more than an underwater photographer; he is an ocean advocate, using images to convey his message. Skerry, a New England native, believes that we need to fully protect more of the marine environment, and he was supportive of the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.

When interviewed for Boston Magazine, he said, “Protecting the environment should not be, and historically in this country has not been, a partisan issue…If I could get our new president to see these things and care about them and realize how important they are for business and industry and commerce and weather and everything else that matters, then, boy, wouldn’t that be great?”

While it is unclear if the Trump Administration will be a willing audience, you can start to learn more about the issues yourself and become an advocate. You can find Shark online or at your local bookstore. Skerry’s photos are also on display as part of an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., until October 1.

You can also take action here to preserve the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, currently under attack by the Trump Administration. The monument is free from human threats and provides a space for sharks to find food and shelter. 


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