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Marine advocate paints to protect dolphins

AG polishes the painting of volunteers.

By Eimor Santos, VERA Files

On a bright sunny day, a bespectacled man with long hair and a burly frame skillfully strokes his brush against a huge wall. Before the sun sets he is able to paint a fresco of frolicking dolphins.

This is the daily life of 36-year-old Amado Guerrero Saño, better known as AG, the World Wildlife Fund-Philippines (WWF) Hero for 2011. He has made a name for himself being a dolphin freedom crusader, who protests dolphin slaughters and captivities through his murals.

He has painted 35,000 or more dolphins on more than 200 walls nationwide; he does not bother to count anymore.

On  Friday, May 25, the marine life advocate is set to paint the 1.075-meter fence of the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center, with 700 other volunteers. Once completed, this can be the country's longest mural.

A resident of Quezon City, AG has traveled to around 500 cities in 30 different countries, doing volunteer work and photography. He has always cherished the feeling of "seeing the other side of the horizon."

AG is a graduate of Landscape Architecture from the University of the Philippines Diliman, but he realized he would love to focus on other things. In 2006, he worked as a well-paid photographer at Walt Disney Company but eventually left it for his "Save the Dolphins" advocacy.

Today, he does not accept a single cent for his paintings. This is to show that his advocacy can never be bought, he said.

It all started on the eve of March 30, 2010, when he watched the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," which revealed how a cove in Taiji, Japan was used for dolphins slaughters. AG has watched the film more than 45 times now but it never loses its grip on him.

Two year-old Candice De Jesus paints with AG."Sa ngayon nag-fufuel ng slaughter is yung pagbebenta nila ng dolphins na buhay at pagbenta sa dolphin shows. Kapag hindi natigil yung mga dolphin shows, hindi rin matitigil yung slaughters (As of now what fuels the slaughter is the industry of selling live dolphins to dolphin shows. Unless the dolphin shows are put to a stop, the slaughters will not also stop)," AG said, citing that worldwide, a live dolphin costs $150,000, while a dead one sells for $600.

Dolphins  that are found unfit for shows are killed.

It broke his heart when he watched a wounded dolphin escaping its net and swimming towards the shore towards two divers who want to save it. It did not reach its supposed heroes though; it took its last breath and disappeared from the bloody shallow water.

Upon waking up the next morning, AG grabbed some paint and brought back to life some dolphins on a church wall in Babuyan Islands. This marked the beginning of an endless advocacy-art.

He vowed to paint 23, 000 dolphins, the number reportedly killed in Japan.

At first, AG used to ask for leftover paint from the neighborhood and from construction sites for his murals. As his advocacy grew, there was little problem raising funds. He is thankful vor the of the support he got from many groups, especially  nongovernment environment organizations.

AG has mobilized 22,000 other people to action, which was how he painted his quota in no time. Just eight months after he declared his advocacy, dolphin number 23,000 was born during the UP Lantern Parade in December 2010.

Dolphins are especially close to AG's heart because he volunteered as a marine researcher in WWF-Philippines, an organization for the conservation of the environment.

Dolphins are supposedly protected by the law.  Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 185-1 of 1997 holds it "unlawful to take or catch dolphins, whales and porpoises in Philippine waters or to sell, purchase, possess, transport or export the same whether dead or alive, in any state or form whether raw or processed."

Yet, there are large and successful dolphin shows in the country, AG observed.

AG and the appreciative JCIDolphins are highly active mammals that are used to swimming miles and miles across the oceans thus enclosing them in relatively small areas of dolphinariums strain them. AG said a free dolphin can live up to 40 to 50 years, but a captive dolphin can hardly exist up to 15 years.

AG also paints walls of schools and conducts lectures to the youth. Through this, the kids who also paint with AG won't find it enjoyable watching dolphins in dolphinariums being forced to perform.

But the  biggest killer of dolphins  is not the slaughtering and dolphin shows, but the widespread pollution in the world's oceans, AG said. In December 2011, he made a vow in Panata Ko, a GMA News campaign, to never throw any trash in the seas.

Since then, AG  has expanded his advocacy to caring for the waters and the environment by simply not dumping wastes.

Today, AG continues to study whales and dolphins in the country as part of the nonprofit organization Balyena.org. Recently he led the group of humpback whale experts as they surveyed Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte on learning that certain whales have been sighted there.

Through identification of the whales and describing their current status, the group strives to provide sufficient scientific data for the adoption of conservation measures that will protect marine biodiversity in the country.

(The author is a journalism student of the University of the Philippines, who is writing for VERA Files as part of her internship. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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