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Apr 23, 2003

Photo exhibit features whale sharks

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Tuesday may have been Earth Day, but with the majority of the planet’s surface covered by water, Earth Day could just as easily be called “Ocean Day”. Tonight an exhibition opens at the Mexican Cultural Institute that takes a close look at one very special corner of the Belizean sea and the incredible creatures that inhabit it. News 5′s Jacqueline Woods reports.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Not everything is known about the habits of these whale sharks, but each year a number of these gigantic creatures gather twenty miles due east of Placencia in an area called the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve. The reserve is one of the few places in the world where this fish can be dependably studied. Traditionally, the leviathan, called Sapodilla Tom, was feared by local fishermen because it’s much longer than most boats. But it was eventually discovered that the thirty foot long specie is not a man-eater, but only a gentle vegetarian.

Robin Robinson, Photographer

“Whale sharks get up to sixty feet long and they live a long, long time. The ones that you see at Gladden Spit are about thirty feet long. They don’t eat anything bigger than about this, because they filter feed off of eggs or really small fish, so they are not dangerous to people. And they are really, really awesome.”

One person who has been monitoring the whale shark’s activity below the waters of the Gladden Spit Reserve is World Wildlife Fund member and photographer, Robin Robinson. Between 2001 and 2002, Robinson, armed with a camera, dove the Reserve at full moon in April to capture on film the whale shark in action. The pictures she took are included in a two-week exhibition titled: Glories of Gladden.

Robin Robinson

“They are very gentle, they are not going to harm you, unless you grab on and don’t let go, then you go down underneath with them. But they are sharks and they are the biggest sharks there is, but they are not harmful.”

Because most Belizeans have not actually seen the whale shark, the show offers a good picture of the largest fish in the world.

Melanie McField, Marine Biologist

“The purpose of this exhibition is to foster awareness and appreciation of Belizeans for this spectacle that occurs every year at Gladden Spit. It’s a phenomenon of nature with all these whale sharks coming in, aggregating and feeding on the spawn of these snappers. So it’s becoming quite a popular treat for tourists who have learnt about it. And also, the conservation community is very keen on helping us keep these whale sharks coming to the sight year after year so they can be an economic and biodiversity resource for Belize. So we wanted to kind of bring appreciation of this fact, because most people haven’t been there to actually see them. It’s kind of a crazy dive, you’re hanging out in deep water in the blue open ocean and waiting for these giant whale sharks to come swimming by.”

Robinson says she has been encouraged by the fact that Belize is doing what it can to conserve the whale shark.

Robin Robinson

“I have seen, before the marine park, there were no rules about what divers can be doing with the whale sharks. And so I have seen people chasing them and trying to ride on them, which you’re no longer allowed to do. And I think people need to get used to that idea. It make take a few years for the divers to really know that that’s the rule.”

Besides the photographic displays, there are also paintings of the whale shark by local artist.

Melanie McField

“I just hope a lot of school kids will come by, and the general public will come by and see how fantastic these creatures are. Not just the whale sharks, but marine life in general. I think it’s inspiring. A lot of the artists in Belize, and I think we can all appreciate nature, not just for it’s economic value.”

Proceeds from the exhibit’s sales will go to Friends of Nature, a Placencia based organization that manages the Gladden Spit Reserve. Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

Glories of Gladden will run for two weeks at the Mexican Institute at the Newtown Barracks.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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