THE BLOG
12/27/2013 10:03 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2014

Manta Ballet

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The dive industry is a small industry, the type where you know almost everyone or can quickly connect to just about anybody. I met Shawn Heinrich in person for the first time this year at a dive show in Singapore. I was able to catch him briefly as he was running off to judge a photo competition. He had just finished an inspiring presentation, which left me totally mesmerized. So it's an honor to introduce to the Huffington Post community, Shawn Heinrich's and underwater model Hannah Fraser's latest project, Manta Ballet.

"Words cannot describe the feeling one experiences when interacting with a giant manta ray. My goal with the manta ballet images is to capture the beauty and grace of these majestic creatures, inspiring global audiences and to fall in love with them and take immediate action to protect them" - Shawn Henrichs

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The duo teamed up over the past year to create stunning imagery of Hannah with endangered Whale Sharks, Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales and Dolphins. To highlight the impact of their work, just two weeks prior to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), they released 'Manta's Last Dance' (VIDEO BELOW) a groundbreaking short film that contributed to the Manta Rays securing protected status.

Mantas Last Dance from Blue Sphere Media on Vimeo.

Reason Behind the Shoot

They were in Mexico to capture these images of the Manta Ballet. These images are being used to raise global interest in manta rays and awareness about the urgent need to conserve them. They are working with WildAid, Manta Trust, Shark Savers and Conservation International to end the destruction of manta rays before it is too late.

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Concept behind the Shoot

The intelligence, curiosity and gentle nature of manta rays is captivating. Only divers and snorkelers are fortunate enough to experience an intimate encounter with a manta ray. The goal of this project was highlight the beauty and grace of manta rays, using art and dance to feature their charismatic and gentle nature in a way the world can relate with. Manta rays are under severe threat because of unsustainable fisheries for their gills, meat and skin. The future of manta rays rests in our hands.

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Manta Rays Featured in this Shoot

Manta rays are the largest rays in the world, growing to widths of over 20 feet (and perhaps 25 feet), and weighing over 1 ton. They are highly intelligent and social animals, often seeking out interactions with divers and snorkelers. They have no stinger and no teeth, if fact they are completely harmless plankton eaters. Manta rays produce only one baby ever 2-3 years, with life spans exceeding 50 years. Sadly a new trade in manta gills for use in China as a pseudo-medicenal health tonic, has ravaged global manta populations. Some regions have seen declines of over 80% in just a few years. Mantas were just listed for international protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix 2 in March of this year.

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Mexico Manta Population

Mexico is one of the premier destinations for manta rays. Along the Yucatan Peninsula, manta rays can be seen gathering and feeding in large groups. Isla Mujeres has become a famous destination for interacting with whale sharks. What most people don't know is that it is also an incredible location to swim with manta rays. Witnessing the two ocean giants together is a sight to behold!

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Links to check out:
Shawn's Website: BlueSphereMedia.com
WildAid.org - WildAid.org/Mantas