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IFAW and Jeff Corwin unveil 'Pilgrim and Calf' sculpture by celebrated artist Geoffrey C. Smith in support of North Atlantic right whales
Art has the extraordinary power to transcend boundaries and ignite change through a lens of both reflection and inspiration. On Sunday, June 11th, this power was on full display in the pursuit of a noble cause to draw attention to the plight of the most critically endangered marine mammal in the world today, the North Atlantic right whale.
Overlooking the striking backdrop of Nantucket Sound, a bronze sculpture of 'Pilgrim and calf' by renowned artist Geoffrey C. Smith was unveiled before an audience of passionate onlookers which included IFAW, its Board of Directors and Trustees, esteemed guests, and celebrated biologist and tv personality Jeff Corwin. Purchased and gifted to IFAW by Board member and passionate wildlife conservationist Barbara Birdsey, the sculpture will begin a series of visits to institutions and museums up and down the east coast with the goal of raising awareness for a species which only a century ago numbered in the tens of thousands.
Depicting the ongoing struggle for survival of this mother and calf pair, the sculpture itself was inspired by an actual sighting of ten-year-old Pilgrim and her young offspring by the sculptor himself off the coast of Florida in 2022. The experience inspired the artist to begin a creative pursuit to draw attention to the incessant struggle for survival of a species that is estimated to hover around 340 individuals, driven to near-extinction by anthropogenic causes including vessel strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear. Well-known to both the scientific as well as broader communities, the mother-calf pair has often come to symbolize the struggle for survival of a species which researchers confirm is perilously close to extinction with fewer than 70 reproductively active females remaining.
Sunday’s event included the unveiling of the sculpture itself and speeches from Barbara Birdsey, Jeff Corwin, Aleta Smith (wife of sculptor Geoffrey Smith), and IFAW’s President and CEO, Azzedine Downes.
In a moving keynote address, Jeff Corwin highlighted the uniqueness of the North Atlantic right whale to both the history, culture, and biology of the Eastern coastal waters and the immediate need for industry, policymakers, and the general public to collaborate without hesitation to ensure its survival. Citing IFAW’s leadership in driving the pushing the issue of right whale conservation forward, Corwin declared that losing the majestic North Atlantic right whale to extinction would be equivalent to Africa losing its awe-inspiring elephants.
In video remarks provided by the sculptor himself, “Art is a bridge between people and conservation…unless we do something, very very quickly, we will be the last generation to ever see the right whale.”
Currently, IFAW is working collaboratively to remove the species from the road of extinction and place it onto a road of recovery. The three-pronged strategy includes encouraging both reductions in ship speeds and a shift in shipping lanes outside of the migration corridors of the species, advocating for long-term maritime legislation such as the Right Whale Coexistence Act, and potentially the most important of all, introducing innovative fishing/lobstering technologies that minimize the need for vertical rope in the water column. The resultant lobster caught using such technologies is described as “whale-safe”.
The evening, which also included the serving of such ‘whale-safe’ lobster to guests to show its viability, concluded with a donation of $10,000 from the proceeds of the sculpture to IFAW to continue its conservation and programmatic efforts related to the North Atlantic right whale.