Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Devon Wildlife: Basking Shark

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

On the 11th July 2009 I was out on a boat in Tor Bay, the waters of my hometown in lovely Devon, England. I was one of two environmental educators running the trip for the monthly kids’ club at the marine facility where I worked, and it was a gorgeous day to be out there. A pod of common dolphins had been spotted nearby, but we unfortunately missed them by minutes. We did see a pair of peregrine falcons, though, and lots of seabirds (especially gannets, my favourite!). But the thing that left this day firmly embedded in my memory? When we were slowly passing through a particularly beautiful area known as Elberry Cove, I finally – after years of wishing and hoping and wishing some more – caught sight of an unmistakable dark brown shape gliding alongside us, dorsal fin slicing through the surface. It was definitely, absolutely, awesomely, a basking shark!

Basking sharks are the second largest species of fish (after whale sharks) and one of the three plankton-eating species (along with whale sharks and megamouth sharks). They can be found in temperate seas around the world, but the southwest of England becomes a hotspot for them during the summer. 2014 was a particularly good year for sightings, and excellent news for this Vulnerable species. (I’d also like to add that their scientific name is one of my all-time favourites: Cetorhinus maximus. Just awesome.)

I was so excited to see this juvenile basking shark that when I turned to go to the other side of the boat to take photos I slammed into a metal step, stumbling badly and causing an impressive pain (and later a bruise) in my shin, but barely noticed – I was too busy hurdling over the row of seats for a better view. The reward for my stunt were these mostly blurry photos. It’s OK to be jealous.

Basking sharks have long been a subject I’ve wanted to paint, and when I set myself the task of doing a series of Devon wildlife paintings I knew I’d be doing one. I definitely want to paint one again, and hopefully I’ll get to see another in person sometime.

If YOU are ever lucky enough to see a basking shark anywhere in the world, please do report it! These sightings help to provide data that is critical in protecting them. If you spot one around the UK you can submit it to the Shark Trust; if you’re in the US, you can report it to NOAA or the New England Basking Shark Project.

 

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Devon Wildlife: Great Cormorant

My hometown in 2014.

My hometown in 2014.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Devon, England, where I was born and spent my whole life until I moved to the USA at the end of 2009. It’s an area rich with biodiversity and is the only county in the UK to boast two separate (and stunning) coastlines, north and south. I was lucky to grow up on the south Devon coast and to be so accustomed to its native wildlife, the marine-dwelling locals ranging from bottlenose dolphins and basking sharks to spiny seahorses and common cuttlefish. Though I currently live about 4000 miles away, south Devon will always be close to my heart.

I snapped these cormorants just outside Torquay harbour in 2009.

I snapped these cormorants just outside Torquay harbour in 2009.

When I returned home recently I was motivated to get to work on a personal project I’ve wanted to do for years: a series of paintings featuring my favourite Devon marine wildlife. It’s a way for me to celebrate the fantastic animals that live there and share them with the world.

More cormorants in Torbay. I love the wing-drying pose so much!

More cormorants in Torbay. I love the wing-drying pose so much!

Because I’ve been on quite a bird kick lately as I gear up for my participation in Art Gone Wild, I decided to start with a great cormorant. They’re extremely common around south Devon but I’m always excited to see them – there’s just something about birds that spend their time at sea. I’ve actually planned out a larger painting of an individual drying its wings – one of my favourite sights – but completed this little close-up study of one today on an 8 x 10 canvas. They’re such prehistoric-looking birds. When I worked at Living Coasts I had the pleasure of spending my time with two charismatic bank cormorant brothers, a different species that is endemic to South Africa, but also got to watch native cormorants go about their daily business right off our balcony. I would frequently spot them while out on boat trips across Torbay and loved to watch them dive down and pop back up again.

Great cormorant, acrylic on canvas (8 x 10)

Great cormorant, acrylic on canvas (8 x 10)

And a couple of in-progress shots…