I was intrigued yesterday to come across this photoshoot project by Kristian Schmidt and Shawn Heinrichs showing fashion models swimming with whale sharks. I am actually a bit ambiguous about these images. So I thought that I would post it to see how readers feel.
So, first the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), it is the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate by a long shot. Living about seventy years these a slow-moving filter feeders can reach lengths of ~13 meters or 42 feet and can weigh as much as 66,000 pounds. As filter feeders they dine mostly on plankton, but also will suck in schools of small fish.
The images in the photo-essay were shot off the village of Oslob, a remote corner of the Philippines. Fishermen there have developed a touching interspecies relationship with these giants by feeding them handfuls of shrimp.
Unfortunately, the whale shark is targeted by commercial fishermen in several locations, where they seasonally aggregate. The species is considered to be vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, although their population size is unknown. In the Philippines, itself, harvesting whale sharks was banned in 1998.
Arguably, these images fall to the criticism that we have discussed before, in respect to Sports Illustrated’s use of indigenous peoples as props for a fashion shoot. Here the whale sharks become props, in as sense. What’s more significant to me is that it just doesn’t quite work! The whale sharks are just so awesome and beautiful that they utterly eclipse the bathing beauties, sorry ladies. Who’s the prop here? Or as the sharks would probably put it: who are these people and what are they doing here?
When we discussed dancers caught in midair, I commented how they seemed to be defying gravity and floating in midair. Well the sharks and the models do seem to be floating. But in fact they really are floating. The bottom line is that whale sharks are truly magnificent, but I don’t really need the models. These images just aren’t speaking to me.