Feb 5
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From the West End to Wildlife – Part Two

We hope you enjoyed our last From the West End to Wildlife blog featuring Gina Beck and Tori Johns’ favourite species! Today, we’re back with another instalment, quizzing the best of the West End to find out what their favourite species are, and hear about some fascinating wildlife experiences!

Oliver Tompsett

Oliver is currently playing bad-boy wannabe Drew in Rock of Ages, and has chosen a fellow primate as his favourite species, “I love the gorilla; such a powerful creature, yet always so gentle to its family.

Mountain gorilla silverback

Gorilla families are led by an adult male known as a silverback

Oliver is quite right; despite their King Kong reputation, gorillas are actually not particularly aggressive animals, and live in strongly bonded family groups led by a male known as a silverback. There are two species of this impressive primate, the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla, classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered, respectively, on the IUCN Red List. The main threats to these majestic creatures are the loss and fragmentation of habitat, and poaching.

Infant mountain gorilla image

Young gorillas are not fully weaned until they are 3.5 years old

Did you know?

  • Gorillas are the largest of the living apes; adult male gorillas can stand at a height of 1.7 metres.
  • At about 14 years of age, the hair on the saddle of a male’s back turns whitish, hence the name ‘silverback’.
  • Despite their massive size, gorillas are herbivorous, feeding mainly on leaves.
  • Gorillas build nests to sleep in at night, usually on the ground.

Oliver moves from land to sea for the location of his favourite wildlife experience to date, “Snorkelling in Egypt! It was truly like being super-imposed into Finding Nemo! The colours were incredible!

One of the stars of Finding Nemo was Crush the green turtle, and Oliver may well have seen one of Crush’s relatives, gliding gracefully over the reef, during his snorkelling adventures in Egypt.

Green turtle image

Green turtles are graceful gentle giants

There are hundreds more intriguing species to be found off the coast of Egypt, and as an avid rocker, I’m sure that Oliver’s character Drew would have loved to have seen the super-cool giant guitarfish!

Giant guitarfish image

The giant guitarfish is named for its strange guitar-like shape!

Our favourite rocker’s trip was ended rather abruptly thanks to the appearance of another rather large fish species…

The guide saw a dangerous shark and told us all to get back on the boat. Luckily I didn’t see it or I would have cried. I am obsessed with and petrified of sharks!

Oliver may well be terrified of sharks, but we have found one West End wonder who loves them…


Sarah Earnshaw

When asked about her favourite species, Sarah replied without hesitation, “For me it has to be the great white shark. I’m absolutely fascinated by them. They have such power, yet are incredibly graceful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I came face to face with one I’d be terrified but there’s something so intriguing about their mystery and danger!

Great white shark image

Great white sharks are highly skilled marine predators

The great white shark is often thought of as a fearsome man-eater, but this is not the case; it feeds predominantly on fish, but will also eat turtles, molluscs and small marine mammals.  Like other sharks and rays, the great white shark has a skeleton made of cartilage, rather than bone. This mighty species uses its keen senses of smell, sound location and electroreception to detect weak and injured prey from great distances.

Sarah sticks to the marine realm for her favourite wildlife experience, “I had the most fantastic experience when I was in New Zealand. I went whale and dolphin watching. We saw three beautiful humpback whales, and dolphins literally for as far as the eye could see! There was something so special about seeing the whales diving and their tails rising above the surface. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Humpback whale image

Humpback whale calves are born in warm waters

Did you know?

  • The humpback whale gets its name from the way it arches its back when it dives deeply or ‘sounds’.
  • The pattern on the underside of the flukes is unique to each whale, and can be used to photo-identify individuals.
  • Humpback whales are known to herd their prey into a cluster by blowing a net of bubbles around shoals of potential food, making it easier to catch a big mouthful at once.
  • Male humpback whales sing a complex song to attract mates.

Sarah is a firm believer in wildlife conservation, “Conservation is extremely important. Without it, not only would we lose some of the most interesting, beautiful and diverse creatures in the world, we also risk a real disruption to the balance of nature as we know it.

Join us again soon for our next blog, when Kerry Ellis and Aoife Mulholland share their wildlife favourites with us!

Get involved

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your chosen awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

Jan 18
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In the News: Shark fin soup off the menu

A Chinese hotel group is aiding efforts to conserve dwindling shark stocks with its announcement that it will no longer serve shark fin soup in its establishments.

Smooth hammerhead shark image

Smooth hammerhead sharks are targeted by the shark fin soup industry

Shark Shangri-La

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in China, fetching anywhere between £48 and £100 per bowl depending on the species in question. This traditional dish comes at a high cost to the world’s oceans, however, with an estimated 26 million to 73 million sharks killed each year for the shark fin soup industry. Almost a third of these are consumed at banquets during the Chinese new year period.

Yet as China prepares to welcome in the Year of the Dragon, hotel group Shangri-La has announced that it will remove shark fin soup from its restaurants. This decision will affect all 72 of the group’s hotels, marking a big step towards the conservation of the ocean’s top predators.

Oceanic whitetip shark image

The oceanic whitetip shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Saying No

Hong Kong is at the centre of the shark fin trade, and an important turning point for shark conservation was reached in November 2011 when the Peninsula hotel became the first traditional hotel in the region to stop serving shark fin soup. Conservation efforts have been further boosted by basketball star and WildAid international ambassador Yao Ming speaking out against the delicacy.

Following the Peninsula hotel’s decision, 112 companies signed up to a ‘Say No’ initiative, vowing to remove shark fin soup from corporate banquets.

Stanley Shea, of Hong Kong-based NGO Bloom Association, is pleased with the progress, but highlights that further steps are needed in order to preserve the marine environment, “We are seeing announcements one by one, but it is not enough just to stop serving shark fin. Hotels also need to put in place public policies on sustainable seafood sourcing.”

Shark dorsal fin removal image

Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year for the shark fin trade

A responsibility to sustainability

The Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts chain is taking its contribution to marine conservation one step further, and has recently unveiled a ‘sustainable seafood policy’, which commits the company to ensuring that it phases out the use of other threatened marine species such as bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass.

Conservationists are welcoming this move as a positive sign that some major corporations are beginning to embrace the idea of sustainability.

This is very significant,” says Bertha Lo of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation. “Two leading hotel groups have now sent a very strong message to the food and beverage industry and the wedding industry. I don’t see why others don’t follow suit.”

Great hammerhead shark image

The great hammerhead shark is also targeted by the shark fin soup industry

Next steps

Despite these positive moves, much remains to be done for marine conservation. A recent survey of 64 of Hong Kong’s leading hotels found that at least one threatened marine species was found on 98% of the menus. Almost all of these hotels served shark fin soup, and only a minimal number had adopted a policy on the sustainable sourcing of seafood.

The Bloom Association has conducted surveys which suggest that 88% of consumers want the authorities to take action to prevent the sale of products which involve killing threatened species. Conservationists are now calling for an increase in social responsibility programmes within the corporate sector.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Shangri-La hotels take shark fin soup off the menu.

View photos and videos of shark species on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 28
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In the News: World’s largest marine protected area planned

Plans have been put forward to establish the world’s largest marine protected area, in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia.

Green turtle image

Green turtle swimming over reef

The Coral Sea

Located on the northeast coast of Australia, the Coral Sea stretches from the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the Pacific Islands. It is home to a diverse range of corals, fish, seabirds, reptiles and marine mammals, including threatened species such as the loggerhead turtle, blue whale and great white shark.

If the proposal for the protected area is approved, it would result in the protection of 972,000 square kilometres of the Coral Sea, an area roughly the size of France and Germany combined.

The environment minister, Tony Burke, explains, “The environmental significance of the Coral Sea lies in its diverse array of coral reefs, sandy cays, deep sea plains and canyons. It contains more than 20 outstanding examples of isolated tropical reefs, sandy cays and islands.” 

Red-tailed tropicbird image

The red-tailed tropicbird breeds on islands in the Coral Sea

Variable protection

The level of protection will vary across the planned marine reserve, with around half of the total area being designated as a ‘no take’ zone, where fishing will be prohibited. Other areas of the Coral Sea will allow varying levels of recreational and commercial fishing, depending on their designation. While this is welcomed by some, it falls short of conservationists’ hopes for a completely protected marine area.

A statement by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said, “The draft plan proposes to set aside only the eastern Coral Sea as a safe haven for marine life. Many of the jewels in the crown of the Coral Sea therefore remain unprotected. Only two of about 25 unprotected reefs are given a high level of protection.

Sei whale image

The sei whale, an inhabitant of the Coral Sea

As well as protecting the flora and fauna of the Coral Sea, the planned park will also help to preserve historical sites, including the wrecks of ships sunk in 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The plans for the Coral Sea marine reserve will be finalised in 90 days, when the government will decide on the limits to be imposed on the protected area.

Read more on the story in the Guardian – Australia announces plans for world’s biggest marine park.

Find out more about the planned reserve in The Sydney Morning Herald – Coral Sea could be world’s largest marine park.

Read the story in The Age – Coral Sea marine reserve on the way.

Find out more about the Coral Sea – Protect Our Coral Sea.

Explore other unique species found in Australia.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 22
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Meet the Survival characters – Scalloped hammerhead

Survival logo

Name: Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini)

Hammerhead shark Survival characterStats:

Status – Endangered (EN)

Length - up to 430 cm

Weight - up to 152 kg

Interesting fact:

This shark’s oddly shaped head is thought to be a mechanism to spread out its highly specialised sense organs, which amongst other things help it to detect electrical currents created by its prey. A useful skill to have when you have an entire ocean to scan for food!

Where am I found?

The wide-ranging scalloped hammerhead occurs right the way around the world, in warm temperate and tropical waters. It can be found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, and also possibly the Mediterranean Sea. It swims at depths of 0 and 275 metres and regularly enters bays and estuaries.

What do I eat?

Adult scalloped hammerheads feed on a range of ocean critters including fish, squid, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, rays and even other sharks! The teeth of the scalloped hammerhead are best suited to seizing prey that can be swallowed whole, rather than ripping into larger prey.

Scalloped hammerhead photo

How do I live?

A strange-looking creature, the strange hammer-shaped head is thought to be a mechanism to maximise the area of the sensory organs that detect electric currents, chemicals in the water, and temperature changes. Female scalloped hammerheads gather in impressively large schools around underwater mountains known as seamounts, where they perform a wide range of poorly-understood behaviours. These aggregations are thought to be a result of many sharks, particularly younger females, seeking refuge in a safe place near a rich food supply.

During the 9 to 10 month gestation, the eggs of the scalloped hammerhead hatch inside the body of the female. They are then nourished by a yolk sac until the female gives birth to between 15 and 31 live young in shallow waters during the summer.

Scalloped hammerhead photo

Why am I threatened?

The scallopd hammerhead is currently threatened by fishing, both as a commercial catch for its liver and fins, and as by-catch.

Scalloped hammerhead photo

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Oct 20
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In the News: Shark slaughter in Colombia

Environmental authorities in Colombia have reported an unprecedented massacre of sharks in the country’s Pacific waters.

Galapagos shark image

Galapagos shark

The mass slaughter of more than 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks took place in the Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary, more than 500 kilometres west of Buenaventura, Colombia, and was discovered by a team of divers who were studying sharks in the region. It is thought that the sharks were killed for their valuable fins.

Divers in the study site noticed a total of ten fishing trawlers illegally entering the area, and noted that they were all flying the Costa Rican flag. Sandra Bessudo, top adviser on environmental issues to the Colombian president, was shocked by the report: “When the divers dove, they started finding a large number of animals without their fins. They didn’t see any alive.”

Scalloped hammerhead shark image

A scalloped hammerhead shark is cleaned of parasites by a butterflyfish

Trouble in paradise

The Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, covers 8,570 square kilometres of marine environment, and acts as a refuge for many threatened species including sharks. Reports from divers in the area indicate that the sanctuary houses impressive schools of more than 200 hammerhead sharks and as many as 1,000 silky sharks. The protected waters of Malpelo are also extremely important to the short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, as the sanctuary is one of the few areas in the world where sightings of this rare species have been confirmed.

Sadly, the presence of such high numbers of sharks, combined with the remoteness of the sanctuary, makes Malpelo a key target for illegal fishing boats from nearby stations. The fishermen trap the sharks and remove their fins before throwing them back into the ocean. One of the divers managed to catch the gruesome aftermath on film, providing footage of the finless bodies of dead sharks on the ocean floor.

Silky shark finning image

Silky shark being finned on a beach in Yemen

Shark fin soup

The fins, brutally removed from the sharks, are generally destined for one purpose: shark fin soup. Considered to be a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, just one bowl of this soup can fetch £63 in a Hong Kong restaurant.

Yet the consumers of shark fin soup are not the only ones paying a high price. It is thought that each of the ten illegal fishing boats seen in Malpelo caught an average of 200 sharks, decimating shark populations and upsetting the delicate natural balance of the ocean ecosystem in which they live.

School of silky sharks image

School of silky sharks with a bait ball

Taking action

The waters of Malpelo are sporadically patrolled by the Colombian navy, which has a small outpost on Malpelo Island. Unfortunately, no navy ships were nearby at the time of the reported shark slaughter.

However, once the news of the finnings was made public, the Colombian navy dispatched a ship to the area and successfully seized an Ecuadorian fishing boat containing 300 kilograms of illegally caught fish, including sharks.

Colombia’s foreign ministry have contacted the Costa Rican government with respect to the shark slaughter, and the latter has condemned the finning and has vowed to co-operate in order to help stop future illegal activities by Costa Rican registered ships. The Costa Rican foreign ministry are threatening to prosecute any Costa Rican flagged ships involved in the massacre.

It is hoped that this inter-country co-operation will be a step towards safeguarding the future of Malpelo’s fascinating marine diversity.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Shark massacre reported in Colombian waters.

View photos and videos of sharks on ARKive.

Find out more about sharks and their relatives on the IUCN SSC’s Shark Specialist Group website.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author


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