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June 8 is World Oceans Day, an annual United Nations (UN) event dedicated to celebrating the ocean and the vital systems that it supports. The 2022 theme is ‘Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean’. This World Oceans Day we’re telling the stories of aquatic life. These hidden animals are all too often neglected in our conversations about and consideration for animal sentience and marine conservation.

“The ocean connects, sustains, and supports us all. Yet its health is at a tipping point and so is the well-being of all that depends on it. As the past years have shown us, we need to work together to create a new balance with the ocean that no longer depletes its bounty but instead restores its vibrancy and brings it new life.” ― UN

Our appetite places an enormous burden on fish and other sea life, which in turn puts great strain on marine ecosystems. Marine animals are killed in much higher numbers than land animals; global estimates range from 1-3 trillion each year. Most species are only measured by weight, not by number of animals, so exact numbers are impossible to know.

“We see fish in schools and not as individuals. These images show both industry and the individuals caught in our systems. We have been taught not to anthropomorphize, but this has prevented us from even acknowledging that their expressions and struggles, their dying and dead bodies, may actually be conveying something that we can understand: suffering.” ― Jo-Anne McArthur

High-quality visuals are key to engaging people in conversations about these issues. We’ve curated a gallery of our Top 50 Aquatic Life images to help you tell these important stories. Below is a selection of 10 of these photographs.

A gasping, writhing pile of fish and by-catch removed from their ocean home and piled together on a vessel’s deck. France, 2018. Selene Magnolia / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

A gasping, writhing pile of fish and bycatch removed from their ocean home and piled together on a vessel’s deck. France, 2018. Selene Magnolia / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

After suffocating on the deck during the sorting process, a worker onboard the fishing boat Fasilis, shovels by-catch back into the sea. Greece, 2020. Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media

A worker onboard the fishing vessel Fasilis shovels fish (bycatch) back into the sea after they suffocated on the deck during the sorting process. Onboard this trawler fishing vessel, nets are emptied on the deck where the fish are left to slowly suffocate. The trawling method is highly unspecific so the amount of bycatch is high—several tonnes of undesirable dead fish are dropped back into the sea. In 2020, We Animals Media and the Italian non-profit Essere Animali teamed up to document the suffering of fish raised for food consumption in the Mediterranean fishing industry. See and read more from this investigation. Greece, 2020. Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media

Barramundi in a fish tank at a fish farm. Australia, 2017. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media

Barramundi in a fish tank at a fish farm. Australia, 2017. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media

Sorting freshly landed shark fins. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year for the global fin trade. Taiwan, 2011. Paul Hilton / Earth Tree Images / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

Sorting freshly landed shark fins. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year for the global fin trade. Taiwan, 2011. Paul Hilton / Earth Tree Images / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

A small fish dying from asphyxiation. Italy, 2020. Stefano Belacchi / We Animals Media

A small fish dying from asphyxiation. In 2020 We Animals Media contributor Stefano Belacchi joined Sea Shepherd’s Operation SISO, a campaign to tackle illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the Aeolian Archipelago. See and read more from this investigation. Italy, 2020. Stefano Belacchi / We Animals Media

A pile of dead red hybrid tilapia is cast aside in a plastic drum after being removed from floating pens by workers at a fish farm. Thailand, 2021. Mako Kurokawa / Sinergia Animal / We Animals Media

A pile of dead red hybrid tilapia is cast aside in a plastic drum after being removed from floating pens by workers at a fish farm. In collaboration with Sinergia Animal, during a week-long investigation, We Animals Media documented the supply chain and welfare of widely farmed fish species in Thailand’s aquaculture industry, specifically focusing on tilapia, of which Thailand is a significant world producer. See and read more from this investigation. Thailand, 2021. Mako Kurokawa / Sinergia Animal / We Animals Media

A close-up underwater view of a crowded group of tilapia on an Indonesian fish farm, about to be harvested from the floating cage they live in. Indonesia, 2021. Lilly Agustina / Act For Farmed Animals / We Animals Media

A close-up underwater view of a crowded group of tilapia on an Indonesian fish farm, about to be harvested from the floating cage they live in. Surrounding the fish is a net used to confine the fish in a small area so that they can be transferred to another enclosure. An investigation conducted by Act For Farmed Animals and We Animals Media has revealed for the first time how tilapia, catfish and milkfish are farmed, killed and sold in Indonesia. See and read more from this investigation. Indonesia, 2021. Lilly Agustina / Act For Farmed Animals / We Animals Media

Bluefin tuna are caught in the Mediterranean Sea for the sushi market. Once hooked on board, they are stabbed and left to suffocate and bleed out. Italy, 2012. Jonás Amadeo Lucas / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

Bluefin tuna are caught in the Mediterranean Sea for the sushi market. Once hooked on board, they are stabbed and left to suffocate and bleed out. Italy, 2012. Jonás Amadeo Lucas / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

Fishermen empty the trawler nets into a hold on ship. France, 2018. Selene Magnolia / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

Fishers empty the trawler nets into a hold on ship. France, 2018. Selene Magnolia / HIDDEN / We Animals Media

"Bycatch" are caught in the fishing net and are left there to suffocate as carp are harvested at a fish farm. Poland, 2018. Andrew Skowron / We Animals Media

Bycatch are caught in the fishing net and are left there to suffocate as carp are harvested at a fish farm. Carp is a traditional Christmas fish in Poland and during the holiday period approximately 21 000 tonnes of carp are caught and killed. Poland, 2018. Andrew Skowron / We Animals Media

Though we may find it difficult to relate to aquatic animals, studies show they experience pain and stress. Whether farmed or wild-caught, the trillions are made up of individuals who suffer slow and painful deaths.

“One way to understand the suffering of fish is to compare it with our sense of drowning – except that fish asphyxiate in the air. When nets drag them too quickly to the surface, they, like us, suffer from “the bends”. This can make their blood vessels burst and their eyes pop.” ― Jo-Anne McArthur

These photographs are just a selection from our Aquatic Life gallery, which features over 2,500 compelling images and video clips captured by our team of international photojournalists. As always, our visuals are available for free to anyone working to inspire compassion, conversation and change.

This World Oceans Day, help tell the stories of aquatic life sentience and suffering. View and download these images (and more) or search specific keywords to get the visuals you need.

Donate today and help us continue to produce compelling global investigations into these cruel industries.

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