Shark Shepherd: Combining Art with Conservation

A new campaign that combines underwater photography and conservation activism is creating a wave of interest. Shark Shepherd is a series of underwater photography by artist Benjamin Wong aka Von Wong. The project is a collaboration with Shark Stewards, a San-Francisco-based nonprofit working for shark conservation in California and all over the world, to promote a petition to help establish a Southeast Asian shark sanctuary and no-kill policy for the animals.

“Ben approached me through a mutual friend Erena Shimoda who also shoots underwater to help heal patients. He wanted to apply his art towards conservation action,” said David McGuire, the Director of Shark Stewards. “I was blown away by his climate change series. When I saw the shark images, I said – we will be your action partners.”

In the images,Von Wong takes model Amber Bourke underwater in Fiji, a hot spot for ecotourism specializing in shark ecotourism. In the staged images, the tethered Bourke appears to float ghost-like in a white gown inside a coral cave, holding a shepherd’s crook among whitetip reef sharks. During the shoot, the model received air from support divers, who then hid as the photographer captured the images of Bourke breath holding among the sharks.

Von Wong quit his day job in 2012 to pursue his passion of artfully staged photography. His creativity has generated a huge following on Instagram. This series is the photographer’s first action oriented environmental series.

White-tipped reef sharks, a common species in Southeast Asian waters, are known for their gentle disposition and are a favorite among divers. Yet even these gentle, small sharks are falling prey to the shark fin trade. “We are losing sharks faster than we can save them. We hope that applying alternative conservation methods like Ben’s art and supporting local ecotourism services that sharks can be saved from overfishing and the shark fin trade,” adds McGuire.

In a short film accompanying Shark Shepherds, Von Wong summarizes: “Just like sharks are the shepherds of the sea, we are the shepherds of our generation.”

The photographer and McGuire will be screening Shark Shepherd with other ocean films and discussing conservation through art at the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival March 12th.