The silent reminder of extinction

From Noel Ashton's Studio in Capetown, South Africa

Over the past few days I have been completing the final of the eight relief panels for around the base of the Sacred Ocean sculpture, of two Yangtze River dolphins swimming slowly together, and this has really brought home to me the importance of bringing into focus the plight of the world’s whales and dolphins. Last year the Yangtze River dolphin was officially declared extinct, a blight on the record for marine conservation as this species could have been saved if co-ordinated planning and practical conservation measures had been put in place in time.

During discussions with Mark Carwardine** recently, he put this into perspective when he described the loss of this dolphin as happening “whilst we were on watch”, a definitive statement that points the finger squarely at modern-day conservation. We live in an age of extraordinary technology, of satellites in the sky and communication at the speed of light, international conferences and signed conventions, but we still were not able to pull together and harness the energy required to save this important species. This is a warning that must not be silent, for it shows flaws in the system.

In less than two weeks Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will be officially unveiling the sculpture in the foyer of the Two Oceans Aquarium, and it will draw to close a period of intense sculpting that has included battles with proportion and symmetry, catalysts and conversion ratios, as well as moments of relief as I find the balance I am seeking and capture the weightlessness of the two humpbacks. But in no way is this the end.

In reality it signals the beginning, as we start to tell the story of the terrible brutality of whaling and its impact on the human psyche, and ask people around the world to look carefully at how they see the world around them. Many of the environmental injustices of the modern era are caused by ignorance or an out-of-date way of seeing the world; some are caused by turning a blind eye, and some by a feeling of being overwhelmed, as the problems seem so large that one voice is but a silent shout into the increasing winds of devastation.

I am hoping that the Sacred Ocean initiative will stand firm in this wind, and its presence and symbolism will become the beacon that many now need. I ask you to consider the possibility of the launch of Sacred Ocean as a starting point for a worldwide movement that can, with your help, bring together a unified voice against the cruelty of whaling. The Yangtze River dolphin is lost forever, but may its memory shake us out of complacency and rather bring about change, not only because we must, but because we can.

**Mark Carwardine is an internationally-respected independent cetacean specialist who has authored over 40 books on whales, dolphins and sharks. He presents a wildlife programme on BBC Radio and is at present filming a series with Stephen Fry based on Douglas Adams's book 'Last Chance to See'.

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