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“Giants of the night” puts the whale shark on the conservation agenda

Rafael Fernández has won the award Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 with a nocturnal picture showing a group of the largest living fishes in the world. Fernández’s photograph captures five whale sharks feeding together at night in the waters off the Maldives. It triumphed over 4200 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 71 countries. The photo captures a unique ocean event, taken in demanding photographic conditions. With the name“Giants Of The Night” , the image features five whale sharks feeding together on nocturnal plankton that have been concentrated in the lights of a boat. The image will help to put this endangered species in the agenda of international conservation action.

The author from Spain has described it in this way:

“It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat. But more and more kept arriving. I was diving with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe it as their numbers grew. He counted 11 sharks that night — a once in a lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.”

and competition judge Peter Rowlands added:

“This image took my breath away from the first viewing and I never tired coming back to it. Scale, light and the sheer numbers of big subjects, this was, by some distance, our winning image.”

The population of these animals has fallen by half

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest living fish in the world. It is an endangered species, with less than 50% of its original population still surviving. The number of whale sharks that exist is declining due to targeted fishing campaigns and “accidental” captures that are significant in areas where there are high densities of whale sharks.

While many of the commercial fishing companies for this species were shut down by law during the 1990s and 2000s, whale shark products remain valuable. In fact, this animal is still commonly caught in some countries. Serious injury and inferred mortality from boat strikes also pose a serious threat.

Many of the areas where these animals live are exposed to a fairly massive tourism of humans who come from all over the world. Their spectacular size and beauty, and the relative absence of danger they represent, exposes them even more. In the absence of conservation action, the decline is likely to continue into the future. Luckily, there are organizations and volunteers who are fighting for this precious animal to continue sailing the ocean.

And you can also help save this magnificent species! Wherever you are, whatever you have, and right now. This is My Earth is protecting habitats with high concentrations of endangered species, both on land and in the sea.

For example, one of the areas you helped us to save is this marine reserve in Turneffe Atoll, Belize, with a spectacular marine biodiversity.

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