16th Aug 2017 - Environment
Diving with Sharks: An Artistic Observation
Healthy oceans are the result of a number of different factors, not just an absence of pollution. A healthy marine ecosystem that supports a variety of species, from tiny zooplankton all the way up to large cetaceans and apex predators, is essential for maintaining balance and sharks are an important part of that. We humans often fear what we don’t understand though, and our lack of understanding of sharks has led to them being stigmatised and often persecuted and hunted in every ocean. Sharks are slow growing (they live for a very long time), take many years to reach sexual maturity and have few offspring, all of which make their populations incredibly vulnerable to the various pressures that humans place on them. Just this week news broke of a Chinese fishing boat carrying 300 tonnes of fish, most of which were sharks (including protected species such as Hammerheads and juvenile sharks), being detained by Ecuadorian authorities within the Galapagos Archipelago Marine Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site protected for its rich biodiversity), highlighting the fact that our shared oceans and the life that they support, are a shared responsibility.
In the deep, rich, waters off the Hawaiian islands swim many species of sharks. Some are very rare and listed as Endangered, whilst others such as the Galapagos Shark have healthier populations and are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Californian artist John Baran, who specialises in painting wildlife and sealife, has travelled to Hawaii a number of times to swim with sharks, observing their behaviour in their natural habitat and photographing them as inspiration and research for his paintings. A staunch environmentalist with a love of the oceans, on his last trip to Hawaii John wore a pair of our Japanese Gul print Blighty shorts. When we saw these incredible underwater images of John diving with his muses, and wanted to find out more.
"I believe the locals in Hawaii and the Hawaiian natives have always believed in the importance of healthy shark populations. They don't fear, but rather respect sharks for what they are: apex predators that don't consider humans part of their food chain. Many dive operations like the one I have been on several times, One Ocean Diving, are trying to educate people by getting them in the water with the sharks (sans cage). They are also actively involved in shark conservation programs.
As far as I know, shark populations around the Hawaiian islands are in as much peril as any other population around the world. Galapagos and sandbar sharks are the most common during these open water dives, so they chose me, I didn't choose them. Officially, I believe that Galapagos shark populations are not on any threatened list. Some literature says they are close, though. I am always hoping for a glimpse of a hammerhead or tiger shark while I am out there. It hasn't happened yet, but I will continue to go until it does!
Throughout my art career of painting wildlife, and I have always found it important (and exciting), to take my own photographs to use for reference. This includes diving with sharks, sea turtles, rays, giant manta rays and manatees, as well as a six day African safari last year.
I am planning a big event this fall on my e-commerce website in which a portion of sales will be donated to shark conservation efforts in Hawaii."
John joined the Pelagic Shark Programme run by One Ocean Diving, who specialise in shark conservation, research and education in the Hawaiian islands. You can find out more about the work that they do here, and check out the opportunities that they offer for enthusiasts to swim and dive with sharks without cages.