Hollywood’s January Jones Swam with Whale Shark in Belize Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 13 May 2010 00:00

January Jones and Audrey Matura-ShepherdMany species of sharks that dwell in Belize’s waters are in trouble. On Friday, May 6, Oceana held a press conference with actress January Jones to express their concern. January Jones is the spokesperson for Oceana. She was in Belize shooting a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the importance of sharks; especially whale sharks, to the ecosystem. Matt Littlejohn, Oceana’s VP for marketing, explained that he chose Belize as the next location for Oceana’s shark PSA because of its famous whale shark zone. 

Jones spent two days out at the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve with a film and photography crew to shoot the PSA. They were assisted by local tour operators from Avadon Divers in Placencia.  Neil Andrea who took the underwater video said he was impressed to see the rangers, tour operators and local fishermen working hand in hand to protect the Reserve. On the first attempt the crew was able to capture fantastic images of Jones swimming with a whale shark.

Jones said, “It was like a religious experience for me- incredible.” She said that she was in love with sharks ever since childhood. When she became popular from starring in movies like “American Wedding” and “We are Marshall”, she decided to use her fame to raise awareness on the importance of sharks. She wanted to start her own charity to do so but when she learned about the work of Oceana she decided to become a volunteer. Jones’ main message is that we should not be afraid of sharks but we should be afraid for sharks.

Audrey Matura Shepherd, Oceana’s VP in Belize said that if we can get people to learn more about the importance of the sharks, especially whale sharks, to our economy then more Belizeans would get involved in protecting them. Julianne Stockbridge, Marine Scientist for Belize, says that though there are international legislations that protect certain types of sharks, Belize needs to pass special legislation that will protect all species of sharks found in our waters. 
One of the main reasons for the decrease in shark population is because they are being hunted for their fins. The fins are used for soup and there is a large market for it in Asia. Matura-Shepherd says that serving shark fin soup to guests in Asia is showing that “you have made it to the top”.  

Presently, studies of sharks in Belize are being done by Dr. Rachel Graham who is hoping that by electronic tagging she will be able to learn more about the sharks migratory patterns. Oceana’s PSA is to be released late summer for both an international and local audience.