SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 17, October 2016 - Page 61

the desperate sardines became individually more and more vulnerable. Occasionally one would break out from the ball and try to take sanctuary in our wetsuits or use us as a shield. An alert sailfish would soon swerve in perilously close to catch the errant sardine and, as thin as a knife would flex its body and shy away at the last instant in a supreme show of athleticism, the long, pointed bill missing my face by a foot or less. It was then I remembered Pete Atkinson’s comments and knew that if a sailfish had the will it could pierce my body with it’s sword, like a hot knife through butter. Malice was absent however and I felt guilty on behalf of those of my species whose only thought was to wrangle a hooked one.

‘Tag and release’ is the cry from all the would-be conservationists amongst the anglers. Yes, of course, it is better than bringing ashore a dead sailfish just to have it weighed and I applaud the goodwill and common sense of the initiative. We even spotted a tagged animal swimming happily with the crowd and joining in the hunt. I also witnessed however, underwater, from a few feet, the effort, stress and damage (as the taut monofilament continually raked the animals flank) of a sailfish with a hook in its mouth at the end of a line while the oblivious topside crew waited for it to provide the “thrilling leap”. It was not an easy thing to watch.

The fastest fish in the sea, not to mention one of the most beautiful, sailfish are a supreme blend of wolf, cheetah and chameleon. The time has come that they deserve our respect and understanding. Time too that we ban all indiscriminate long-line fishing and gill netting giving the sailfish, indeed all billfish, a chance to recover.

I give them “honorary mammal” status.

Pete Oxford, a British Biologist and his South African wife, Reneé Bish, have lived in Ecuador, South America since 1985 and 1992 respectively. They work as a professional wildlife and cultural

photographic team and have travelled repeatedly to all continents in search of their images. Their principle drive is conservation and almost everything they do has a strong conservation component. Erring more and more towards marine conservation, Pete, who is a trained marine biologist, feels that ocean ecosystem restoration is one of the most pressing issues in the world today.

Pete’s images have been featured 10 times in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. He is published in many international magazines including National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, International Wildlife, GEO, Smithsonian, Nature’s Best, Airone, The Geographical, Terre Sauvage and Ranger Rick.

Pete was a Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (www.ilcp.com), he was awarded Ranger Rick Photographer of the Year and Ecuador’s Photo Journalist of the Year in 2015, in the same year he was a category winner in the Terre Sauvage /IUCN international photographic competition (as well as in 2014) and was recognized by Outdoor Photographer Magazine as among the 40 most influential wildlife photographers in the world. He was a principal speaker at WildSpeak in Washington DC in 2015.

SEVENSEAS - 61

www.peteoxford.com