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Bottlenose dolphins of Jeju Island encounter a Haenyeo diver

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This pod of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) lives in the waters around the volcanic islands of Jeju, South Korea all year round. Although they are social creatures amongst themselves, seeing humans in their midst would normally be seen as an intrusion or a danger… but they’re used to seeing Haenyeo, a culture of ‘sea women’ who have been freediving in search of shellfish such as abalone or sea urchins for centuries. From The New York Times in 2014:

For as long as Koreans can remember, sea women have been as emblematic of Jeju as snow-capped Mount Halla at its center. They duck under water more than 100 times a day, grabbing sea creatures barehanded or sometimes with a spear. Resurfacing a minute later, making a plaintive whistle as they exhale, they deposit their catch into a net sack tied to a float.

“Haenyeo were Korea’s first working moms,” said Koh Mi, an editor at the Jeju newspaper Jemin Ilbo and a participant in a nine-year research project on the sea women. “They were a symbol of female independence and strength in Korea.”

See a photo slideshow of their difficult and dangerous work, and watch the video above, a brief introduction from the BBC program South Korea: Earth’s Hidden Wilderness.

Next: When Your Job Is Saving The Ocean, Searching for Life in Iceland’s Frigid Fissures, and How Smart are Dolphins?

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