Whale sharks are the largest species of fish and are threatened (though not currently endangered) by over-fishing for shark fins. Late last year, photographers Shawn Heinrichs and Kristian Schmidt combined their expertise in fashion and marine photography to create an unusual fashion shoot – fashion models swimming with whale sharks.
The aim of the shoot is to raise awareness about these magnificent animals and the damage being done by overfishing. Fortunately, things are already improving significantly. As Heinrichs says in a blog describing the project, “Just a two years ago in these very waters, divers discovered a live juvenile whale shark that had all its fins cut off . Though legally protected in the Philippines, poaching of whale sharks had continued because the shark fin traders enticed poor local fishermen to earn money from exploiting these vulnerable animals. Less than a decade prior, the local populations of whale sharks had been all but wiped out to satisfy demand for shark fins in China. Now finally, local communities have found a way to earn a living from whale shark tourism, and rather than targeting and killing them, they now are passionate about protecting them.”
Some scientists are still uneasy about whale shark tourism but, as Heinrichs says in a recent article in WIRED, “it’s not a perfect world and tourism is one of the greatest drivers for species preservation today.”