Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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re·sur·gent  (r-sûrjnt)


1. Experiencing or tending to bring about renewal or revival.
2. Sweeping or surging back again.
In progress.

In progress.

I had mentioned before that I wanted to paint an oceanic whitetip shark, and this month couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to do it. At the beginning of March, the 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species discussed proposals to add oceanic whitetips and several other overexploited elasmobranchs to CITES Appendix II. This would significantly change the game for these species by regulating their trade and helping to bring relief to devastated populations (oceanic whitetips in the Gulf of Mexico had seen a 99% decrease in population). This is what so many scientists, conservation organisations and individuals had been tirelessly working to achieve. The proposals for manta rays, porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetips and scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads all initially passed, with delegates highlighting these species’ low reproduction rates and importance to ecotourism despite much pressure from Japan and China, but it wasn’t until the conference was almost over that each of those proposals were upheld. It was a massive win for these animals, and worth all the sleep I lost watching a grainy, slow video feed from Bangkok.

Oceanic whitetips have caught my attention for a long time, not just because of their striking colouration but because their pelagic lifestyle leads to such stunning imagery: greys and bronzes and white tips flanked by black and white escorts, all surrounded by a seemingly endless deep blue. I used a 10 x 20 100% cotton duck canvas for this one, which created a slightly different texture than what I’ve become used to. It was very enjoyable to paint on! And despite any grumblings I may have uttered as I worked on them, I actually did like adding a lot of small detailing to the pilot fish.

Size comparison of my finger with one of the pilot fish: ow, my eyes.

Size comparison of my finger with one of the pilot fish: ow, my eyes.

My thanks and congrats go out again to everyone who worked so hard to afford this victory for our sharks, especially the dedicated folks at Shark Defenders, the CITES4sharks coalition, and PEW Environment Group. Sharks are far from being out of danger, but this was a big bright spot in a complicated struggle.


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Sharks, sharks, sharks

Oceanic whitetips (and pilot fish)

Oceanic whitetips (and pilot fish)

When asked what my favourite species of shark is, I struggle to answer. They’re all so interesting in their own ways (even you, goblin shark!), so I tend to go with whichever one I happen to be looking at at the time. Recently I’ve become particularly enamoured with oceanic whitetips. I’ve always found them visually striking – I like the rounded edges to their fins, their colouration, and their elegance. And I really love the imagery of their own personal pilot fish fan club that sometimes almost completely engulfs them. I plan to paint an oceanic whitetip soon so I figured I’d practice with some sketches.

Oceanic whitetip sharks are one of the species whose addition to CITES will be voted on in March (see my post about Shark Defenders’ awesome petition here!). The United States actually co-sponsored the proposal to list them, and this week said it would support all of the shark and ray proposals at the upcoming Conference of the Parties – fantastic news for these threatened animals. Oceanic whitetips are at particular risk due to fishing pressure: Their fins are especially valued but their meat is not (the case for many sharks, sadly), meaning that when they do fall victim to bycatch (or are targeted) their fins are removed but the body is dumped at sea, meaning exact numbers of catches are extremely difficult to obtain and regulate. Studies that have been done indicate a 99% decline of populations in the Gulf of Mexico – similar trends have been seen in the northwest Atlantic and the Pacific. More information on this species, as well as the others up for vote in a matter of weeks and the latest developments, can be found on PEW Environment Group’s utterly brilliant coverage of CITES CoP 16. And if you’d like to join Shark Defenders’ efforts to show support for listing them, one of Shark Stanley’s friends is the lovely Waqi Whitetip!

In other shark conservation news, a couple of weeks ago the Ocean Artists Society released its first video project, Artists United for Sharks: Saving Sharks. My whale shark painting “Entourage” is featured (I apologise for my rather dreadful narration), and it’s truly an honour to be alongside such an astounding collection of artists. Very much looking forward to our future endeavours!

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The Adventures of Shark Stanley

While this isn’t an update about any art I’m currently working on (although I do have new prints available!), I wanted to use this space to highlight a unique project I feel quite strongly about.

Here’s what you need to know. Only ten species of sharks, rays and skates (elasmobranchs), out of many hundreds, are internationally protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at this time: sawfish (7 species), whale sharks, basking sharks and great white sharks. It was recently proposed that ten more be considered for inclusion on Appendix II: scalloped, smooth, and great hammerheads, porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, both manta ray species, and three species of river stingray. (Right now scalloped hammerheads are only protected under CITES Appendix III in Costa Rica, and porbeagle sharks in the European Union.) Overexploitation of these species has had particularly devastating effects on their populations; sightings of reef mantas in Mozambique alone have declined by about 86% in less than a decade. CITES is set to convene in Bangkok in March 2013 to vote on these proposals.

Shark Stanley

This is where Shark Stanley comes in. In the spirit of Flat Stanley – a character I encountered and posed with quite frequently working in public aquaria education – this very cute little hammerhead is traveling the world to find supporters of shark and manta ray conservation. He’s the brainchild of Shark Defenders, and the idea is to compile a kind of photographic petition to send to the governments voting at CITES in order to get their support. The goal is to find 50 celebrities and organisations to partner with Shark Stanley and collect at least 5000 photos from all 176 CITES member countries. Not only was the adorable Showing our support!illustration (by the incredibly talented Daniel Yagmin Jr.) difficult to resist and the idea inventive, but elasmobranch conservation is near and dear to my heart, especially when it comes to manta rays. I had to get involved, and had a particularly large friend help me express my support. Fingers crossed!

If you’d like to take part in Shark Stanley’s adventures too, check out the Shark Defenders Facebook page. Print the little guy out, take your photo, and share it via social media (or by emailing using the hashtags #SharkStanley and that of your country of origin to spread the message!


Edit on 12/24/2012: I’m so very proud to be an official partner of Shark Stanley! Let’s get these precious elasmobranchs better international protection!