Dazzling Shark Images Highlight Need to Protect Species

Award-winning environmental journalist Steve De Neef shares his Instagram photos

“I saw these golden trevally swimming with this whale shark in Mafia Island, Tanzania,” photographer Steve De Neef says of this image. These waters are the only known place where individual whale sharks stay year-round. That, says De Neef, makes Mafia Island “an amazing research site for the biggest fish in the world.”

© Steve De Neef

Photo and video journalist Steve De Neef may be based in Maine, but a desire to show sharks for what they are—majestic animals and critical players in the ocean food web—has taken him to the most remote reaches of the world.

Over the past eight years, De Neef has worked with scientists and nongovernmental organizations in hopes of promoting the critical need for research on sharks and other marine species, and in turn driving policies to better protect our ocean.

De Neef posts images from under the water and around the world on his Instagram feed, and shared his photos for a “takeover” of @pewenvironment’s Instagram account during Shark Week. Here are some of his favorite images and experiences from his pursuit of the perfect shark photo. 

I saw this pelagic thresher shark swim at Monad Shoal, a seamount near Malapascua Island, Philippines,” says De Neef. The shoal is the only known place where divers can see this magnificent shark every day. ”They come here to rid themselves of parasites at the numerous cleaning stations [and] contribute greatly to the local economy” through dive tourism, he notes.

© Steve De Neef

I photographed this blue shark in the green waters off of Rhode Island,” De Neef says, adding that as many as 20 million blue sharks are taken every year in both targeted and bycatch fisheries. “The removal of such large numbers of this likely keystone predator from the oceanic ecosystem should be of great concern,” he says, “as none of these fisheries are subject to regulation.

© Steve De Neef

This healthy coral reef—in the protected waters of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines—is as stunning in person as it is in photos,” says De Neef. The UNESCO heritage site has some of the highest biodiversity of marine life on the planet. “Sanctuaries like Tubbataha contribute greatly to the local economy, not only due to tourism but also to fisheries. While fishing isn’t allowed in the park itself, it acts like a giant fish farm that fishermen from all over the country can benefit from. Sharks don’t mind the ample supply of fish either.

© Steve De Neef

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is as impressive from above as it is under the water,” De Neef says. “Here a tiger shark roams in its shallow waters. Top predators like these thrive in healthy ecosystems and contribute by keeping them in balance.

© Steve De Neef

This whale shark is feeding in the nutrient-rich waters of Mafia Island, Tanzania. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in our oceans and feed primarily on plankton such as krill, fish eggs, shrimps, and small fish,” De Neef notes. Last year the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the species as endangered, “mainly due to human threats such as ship strikes, entanglements in fishing nets, and targeted fisheries.”

© Steve De Neef

Some of the species that De Neef photographs are in the spotlight: The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals is considering new safeguards for blue sharks and heightened protections for whale sharks. If adopted, these measures would help the target species and improve ocean health. Meanwhile, with much more to be done on behalf of vulnerable shark populations around the world, environmental journalists such as De Neef continue to document the incredible value of these mighty animals and make the case for why they are worth protecting.

Luke Warwick directs the global shark conservation campaign for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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