By Bunmi Adigun @Bunmi_Adigun
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Videographer / Director: Paul Hilton
Producer: Bunmi Adigun, Ellie Winstanley
Editor: Ian Phillips
Images capture the moment armed security forces stormed the marine ‘prison’ - as well as the eventual release of the protected animals.
The dramatic night time operation took place on a small island in the Maluku Sea, Indonesia, on May 26.
The rescue was the result of an an 18 month investigation headed up by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), with the help of the Indonesian government, with the two young whale sharks released a day later.
Conservation photojournalist, Paul Hilton, documented the release of the whale sharks - which as a species are the world’s biggest fish.
The organisation’s investigation into the whale sharks started after they were tipped off about manta rays being exported in the region in late 2014.
Paul said: “In 2014 I heard that live manta rays were being exported overseas and I really didn’t agree with it.”
A long time collaborator with the WCS, Paul was determined to shine a light into the illegal capture of marine life in the area.
“I have been supporting WCS to document and publicise the successful actions the Indonesian government has been taking on combatting wildlife trade since 2014,” he added.
Although the whale sharks had been in captivity for three months, according to Paul they showed no physical sign of abuse.
He said: “The sharks looked okay overall. Once I entered the water I quickly realised how hungry they were.”
According to documents uncovered during the investigation both whale sharks were to be sent to a water resort.
Many conservationists believe that institutions such as water parks and aquariums have helped to fuel the illegal capture of these beautiful sea creatures as they are often destined to go to these tourist hotspots.
Paul said: “Aquariums and conservation parks play a critical role helping to connect people - particularly urban people - to nature, and this role will increase within an increasingly urbanised society.
"At the same time these institutions need to respect international and national laws, including those that protect threatened species or restrict their international trade.”