It was a warm summer day, and we had been on the boat for about an hour; a group of conservationists and some local experts, all intent on getting a glimpse of the largest fish in the ocean. When all you can see is horizon and ocean, it’s difficult to imagine that there is a specific destination in mind, but our local guides clearly knew the way.
The boat stopped and just like that, I was plunging into the Atlantic ocean, no sandy bottom in sight, and swimming quickly toward a large dark shadow easily three times my size. When the whale shark appeared, it was breathtaking. I was mesmerized and so grateful that such gentle giants exist on our planet. That experience was a meaningful reminder that, more than ever, we need to work together to reverse the decline of the more than 1,000 species of sharks and rays and protect their ocean homes.
The Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) is working with the Wildlife Conservation Society and other collaborating organizations on a global initiative to reverse the decline of sharks and rays by supporting the scientific management of fisheries, reducing the demand for shark and ray products and advancing research to secure protected status for threatened species.
In addition, since 1995, the DCF has provided more than 40 grants to projects in 10 countries (and growing!) to aid sharks and their ocean habitats. Here are just a few of the ways organizations we supported last year are helping.
The Manta Trust & The Gulf of California Marine Program are building local research and conservation capacity in Pacific Mexico to improve the understanding and management of artisanal fisheries to better protect shark and ray species.
University of Miami is studying shark behavior and physiology along the South Florida coastline to provide insights on how species react to coastal urbanization and inspire the next generation of ocean conservationists.
The Zoological Society of London, in partnership with the University of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and the “Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig,” is protecting habitat for the critically endangered angel shark in the Canary Islands, engaging citizen scientists to help monitor the animals, sharing best practices with communities related to tourism that affects angel sharks and identifying possible breeding areas in the region.
You can learn more about sharks, rays and other animals at the Walt Disney World Resort by visiting DisneyAnimals.com. And when you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom, be sure to take part in “Connect to Protect,” a mobile adventure that invites guests to participate in conservation “missions” with a digital scientist while exploring Pandora and helping protect the habits of at-risk wildlife, even sharks and rays, right here on Earth.