Ondine Sherman is a tireless and trailblazing animal advocate. In 2004, Ondine teamed up with her father Brian Sherman to co-found Voiceless, which has since grown to become one of the most prominent animal protection and animal law organizations in Australia. In addition to Voiceless, Ondine is a full-time mother of three and has published a memoir about her journey with her twins who have disabilities, as well as three young adult novels with prominent themes of animal activism.
Unbound filmmaker Kelly Guerin visited Ondine at her beautiful home in Israel, surrounded by adoring rescue dogs and former battery chickens. As Ondine is uniquely poised to share insight into balancing activism and motherhood, she shared with Unbound how she has been able to dissolve the seemingly rigid lines between the two, and continue to change the world for animals.
“The amazing thing about aquatic animals is that they are at once so different and yet so similar to us.“
Human activity is taking its toll on marine environments and threatening these fragile ecosystems. From pollution and overfishing to the impacts of our over-dependence on livestock farming, oceans and sea life are suffering.
But through sheer determination and dedication coupled with their wealth of experience, women all around the globe are offering hope for oceans and the animals who live in them. By exploring our relationship with marine environments and nurturing compassion within their communities, these female ocean warriors are tackling the issues head on, challenging our current attitudes and behaviours, and bringing us closer to this vital part of planet earth.
Meet seven women protecting the oceans and sea life:
Madison Stewart/aka ‘Shark Girl’
Australian filmmaker and conservationist, Madison Stewart, aka ‘Shark Girl,’ began scuba diving at the age of 11. By the time she was 14 years old, the sharks in the Great Barrier Reef that she knew and loved had been reduced to a mere few by government-approved gill net vessels. Stewart uses film as her medium to raise awareness and spark conversation about sharks and the issues affecting these highly misunderstood creatures.
“I always aim to either stop or change something happening to sharks but mainly to raise awareness in the hope that people join me in fighting for the change we so desperately need.”
Becca Franks/Visiting Assistant Professor with the Environmental Studies department of New York University
Becca Franks is an environmental research scientist with a mission to tell the world why fish matter! In 2012, Becca Franks joined the Animal Welfare Program at The University of British Columbia, where she began studying fish and aquatic animal protection. Throughout her career, Franks has been interested in fundamental patterns of well-being. She is especially fascinated by the evidence that regardless of species, well-being is linked to learning, exploration, and discovery.
“My goal is to generate scientific information about aquatic animals that helps society see their true value. By true value I mean giving them the chance to express their behavioral and psychological potential so that we can appreciate what we have in common and celebrate what makes them unique. I believe that science can contribute to achieving this goal, but only if we study animals living in environments in which they can thrive.”
Dr. Supraja Dharini, founder of Trust for Environment Education, Conservation and Community Development (TREE Foundation) in India, is bringing awareness and commitment to protecting nature through biodiversity and conservation work with sea turtles, environmental education, and community development.Since its inception, and with the drive of Dr. Dharini behind it, TREE Foundation has seen significant successes for the threatened sea turtle populations with which it works.
“I was originally inspired by Dr. Jane Goodall who made me see and understand that each and every one of us can make a difference through our actions. Having been greatly saddened by seeing a deceased Olive Ridley sea turtle on the beach near my home, I decided there and then to establish TREE Foundation to address this problem and reduce sea turtle deaths. My job is to ensure that TREE Foundation makes lasting positive change for humans and marine life alike.”
Mary Finelli is president and founder of Fish Feel, the first organization devoted to promoting the recognition of fishes as sentient beings deserving of respect and compassion. Fish Feel works to educate people about and advocate for fishes as sentient beings, but they also draw attention to the ways in which our own future is inextricably linked with that of fishes.
“Most people are so uninformed about fishes, many deny that they are sentient and some claim they are not even animals! I want to disabuse people of faulty notions about fishes, and help enlighten them as to how wondrous they are. I especially want them to realize that fishes suffer fear and pain, to be aware of the immense cruelties being inflicted on these many animals, and how it also harmfully impacts so many other species, including our own.”
Puja Mitra, founder and director of sustainable tour operator Terra Conscious, is a professional conservation practitioner revolutionizing the tourism industry in Goa.
Mitra’s vision for the future of Goa’s rural communities and environment is inspiring local businesses to take collaborative action towards more sustainable and responsible tourism. By empowering rural communities through awareness and capacity-building programmes, Mitra and her team are helping those whose livelihoods depend on a thriving marine tourism industry to tackle conservation challenges.
“There is definitely more awareness about oceans and coasts now due to many initiatives and programmes established by a growing community of researchers and organisations across the country. But there is still lots more to do. Nurturing a more sensitive relationship with our oceans and coasts is key to enabling any lasting change in policy, the type of activities offered, and better representation for coastal communities.”
Neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence, Dr. Lori Marino is the founder and president of The Whale Sanctuary Project. Dr. Marino has published over 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and magazine articles on brain evolution, intelligence and self-awareness in other animals, human-nonhuman animal relationships, and captivity issues. Her mission with The Whale Sanctuary Project is to create the first permanent seaside sanctuary in North America for captive orcas and beluga whales.
“We want to create a permanent sanctuary for captive orcas and beluga whales who are living in concrete tanks. There are permanent sanctuaries for all kinds of wild land animals and none yet for dolphins and whales (cetaceans)… on a broader level, the sanctuary will be a model for change in our relationship with cetaceans from one of exploitation to one of restitution. I hope that in addition to providing a better life for a few whales we will represent and catalyze a cultural shift that will lead to the end of keeping these animals captive for our entertainment and a move towards a more humble and respectful relationship with them in the future.”
Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, founder of the Sylvia Earle Alliance (S.E.A.)/Mission Blue and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (D.O.E.R.) is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer. Her contributions to the fields of scientific research and conservation have had an huge impact on our understanding of complex ocean processes and marine ecosystems. Through her work, Dr. Earle is inspiring global awareness and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – known as ‘Hope Spots.’
“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed so much loss of biodiversity and a human population that has grown from around 2.5 billion to almost 8 billion. From the surface, the ocean seems to be in pretty good shape but once we get below the surface, we readily see the impacts of warming waters, abandoned fishing gear, discarded plastics, ship noise, and more. We also know that nature is resilient, if we stop actively damaging it.”
“Animal welfare science has provided us with enough evidence to justify behavioural change.”
Anne Quain. All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.
Anne Quain is a veterinarian, a lecturer in veterinary ethics and professional practice, the author of a book on veterinary ethics, and a columnist on issues relating to companion and other animals. To put it simply: her life revolves around animals.
Despite her obvious passion for animals and their care, Quain didn’t initially think of becoming a vet; she first studied philosophy and ethics. But when it came time to graduate, she found that there weren’t many paid jobs available for an ethicist. Rethinking her future, she asked herself that question repeated by careers counsellors everywhere: “What do I really love?” Her answer was spending time with animals, and she decided to maximise that. She went on to study veterinary science and began working in small animal practice.
I was one of those kids who would always proclaim ‘I love animals!’ yet my behaviour wasn’t aligned with this.
For Quain, working with animals inspired a shift in how she sees them. “I was one of those kids who would always proclaim ‘I love animals!’ yet my behaviour wasn’t aligned with this. For example, I would sweep up and vigorously embrace our family cat, even though she clearly hated this and always struggled out of my arms,” she remembers. “I loved going to the zoo, but for many years failed to reflect on the fact that while the captive state of the animal allowed me to have an up-close, photogenic experience, that animal continued to live in that enclosure 24/7, 365 days per year, sometimes for decades.”
While many of us consider ourselves to be animal lovers, she believes the challenge is to align our behaviours with those values, and to give thought to how even our most well-intentioned actions impact on others. For Quain, truly caring for animals requires observing and understanding their behaviours and acting with consideration for their wants and needs.This is a lesson that speaks to the core of her work, one that informs her teaching and advocacy, and one that is fundamental to her worldview. “I expected animals to fit into my world without realising just how little choice or control they have.” The focus, she believes, should not be what we think and feel, but what we do for animals.
Quain uses her position as a companion animal vet to advocate for more conscientious care for animals. In consultations, her human clients often reveal the same disconnect that she experienced between positive intentions and negative outcomes for animals. Cats and dogs come into the clinic with obesity-related illnesses from overfeeding, or behavioural problems due to poor socialisation – the effects of loving an animal without understanding its needs.
One of the reasons we don’t change our behaviour in the light of evidence is the overwhelming force of habit. It’s a constant, daily battle.
She also advocates for continual learning and reviewing of established practices within veterinary science and animal science more broadly. One of the major achievements of animal science in recent years is the boom in evidence to support animal sentience (the ability of non-human animals to feel pain and pleasure, and to experience emotions in the same way that we do). As she became aware of this body of evidence, Quain decided to stop consuming animal products. “I felt that continuing to eat animal products was a conflict of interest,” she explains. “Surely the type of use we put animals to influences the type of life we will give them.”
Quain feels it is the responsibility of a good scientist to respond to scientific evidence by changing their behaviour and practice. She says, “Animal welfare science has provided us with enough evidence to justify behavioural change. One of the reasons we don’t change our behaviour in the light of evidence is the overwhelming force of habit. It’s a constant, daily battle.”
But Quain is seeing positive change. She sees veterinarians paying closer attention to their patients’ welfare, focusing on alleviating fear, pain, and discomfort, and investing in study to refine their practice to improve patient well-being.
Through her blog, Small Animal Talk, Quain shares information about animal welfare, encouraging colleagues and those with companion animals to reflect on their relationships with them. She also promotes veterinary continuing education and reflective practice, speaking to veterinary students and colleagues about how they can put animal welfare first. She advocates for animals by communicating scientific developments, such as the evidence around sentience, to the mainstream media, and influences policy relating to animal welfare by sitting on various committees. It’s a job that takes commitment and perseverance.
I felt that continuing to eat animal products was a conflict of interest.
“Sometimes I feel like my to-do list is a bit of a dog’s breakfast,” she says. “But if there’s a common thread, it’s about applying knowledge, learning, educating myself and others and making conscious, thoughtful choices about the way we impact these other creatures we share the planet with. And trying to translate my own “love” for animals into behaviour that genuinely benefits them.”
“It’s simply a cruel, shameful chapter of our country that belongs in the dark ages.”
All images of Lynn Simpson were taken by Jo-Anne McArthur at the University of Sydney’s veterinary school.
D r. Lynn Simpson is tough. For ten years she worked in a challenging, almost lawless, male-dominated industry, as a senior veterinarian aboard Australian live export ships.
Each ship carries up to 20,000 cows or 100,000 sheep for weeks at a time over vast seas, only to be slaughtered once they reach their destinations.
It is an industry that has frequently been in the media spotlight for shocking animal cruelty – in recent weeks to the point of public cries for the entire industry to be ended for good. Simpson is one of very few women to have seen the harsh realities of this trade first hand.
Simpson decided to become a veterinarian at the age of six, when she first discovered that being an animal doctor was a profession. In her third year of vet school she got a job on the wharf in Fremantle loading livestock onto ships. Simpson remembers seeing dead and injured animals being dragged off the trucks that had come from the farms. It was here that she first realised something was wrong, that these animals were suffering.
It was clear to all that what we were involved with was wrong, however, at least we were bearing witness and taking complaints back to shore to push for reform.
Within three weeks of graduating, she took her first live export voyage on a ship bound for Saudi Arabia. Over the next ten years she would work on 57 voyages. It was an exciting career full of adventure, which saw her sailing through environmental disasters, war zones, and pirated waters.
Because of the sheer number of animals she looked after, and the severity of their suffering, her work seemed larger than life. It was also chaotic, filthy, and brutal. On board, the overcrowded animals suffered heat stress, suffocation, starvation, and thirst, so tightly packed they were often unable to easily reach water as they were shipped into the heart of Middle Eastern summer. Lying down meant they were likely to be trampled by the other desperate animals beside them. Mother cows and sheep suffered miscarriages or stillbirths; still more had their babies crushed to death under the sea of hooves. Simpson describes the animals on one voyage as actually having melted, “cooking from the inside.” She spent her days seeing to their injuries, doing what she could to relieve their suffering, and euthanizing those she could not help.
What kept her going on those harsh journeys? “Black humour,” she says, “and wine.” Knowing she was providing a meaningful service to the animals by trying to reduce their suffering also gave her a sense of purpose. “It was clear to all that what we were involved with was wrong, however, at least we were bearing witness and taking complaints back to shore to push for reform.”
Over the years Simpson made countless reports to the Government detailing the bloody reality of life aboard the ships, but her concerns for the welfare of the animals went ignored. Only the number of deaths was recorded.
Like many ‘whistle-blowers’ I was simply doing my job, reporting to authorities and working to improve welfare.
Then, Simpson was offered the opportunity to make a lasting difference to the welfare of animals in the live export industry. In 2012 she was offered a job as a technical advisor with the Department of Agriculture, the live-export industry regulator, while it carried out a review of the Australian Standards for Exporting Livestock.
The report she submitted exposed the cruelty and suffering at the heart of the live export trade. Her evidence, including graphic photographs, was an unprecedented body of work documenting the horrors routinely occurring on board. Simpson felt she was making a powerful case for reform of the industry – she was finally being heard.
When the evidence was accidentally leaked to the public in 2013, it was explosive, blowing apart claims by the industry that animal welfare was a top priority. It also ended Simpson’s career. She was gradually dismissed from her position under pressure from live exporters, revealing undue influence of industry within government. She was ostracized by her colleagues and blacklisted by the industry. “It was a very lonely and frustrating time,” she says. “Like many ‘whistle-blowers’ I was simply doing my job, reporting to authorities and working to improve welfare.”
Since her dismissal, Simpson has been unable to work in the industry to which she gave ten years of her life. But there was a silver lining: “I could then strategize to speak up loudly and raise awareness, knowing I had nothing to lose.”
Simpson’s vast experience within the industry has given her advocacy a credibility that other whistle-blowers don’t have. Where many have been discredited as ill-informed, Simpson has years’ worth of hard evidence behind her. Her voice holds weight.
Simpson has left a powerful legacy in the fight to end live export, both from within the industry and from the outside. In the years since her explosive dismissal, her story has paved the way for more whistleblowers to come forward, keeping the issue in the public eye.
“It’s simply a cruel, shameful chapter of our country that belongs in the dark ages.” she says with absolute conviction.
To follow the story about live transport in Australia, visit Animals Australia. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Mackiewicz.
“I see my activism as a holistic attempt to educate young people.”
Avalon Llewellyn. All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur/Unbound Project.
“Just a reminder,” Avalon Llewellyn typed into her phone. “Hosting a VEGAN MEETUP ON SATURDAY!”
T he post on her Instagram account, @tiedyedtofu_, quickly amassed hundreds of likes. When the day came, two dozen people turned out, most of them in their mid- to late-teens, like Llewellyn. They were snacking on vegan doughnuts and sharing recipes and stories at a park in Llewellyn’s native Australia when her phone buzzed. It was one of her 12,000-plus followers, interested in joining the group but hesitant.
“She was 50 or 100 meters away and she didn’t know if she could come or not because she wasn’t vegan,” Llewellyn recalls. “She was so nervous. I think she was about 14. She said, ‘Do you think I can come along? Will everyone hate me?’”
Llewellyn assured her the meetup was judgement-free and open to all.
“She sat down and asked us so many questions,” Llewellyn says. “She went away with so much knowledge.”
Now 17, Llewellyn first tried giving up meat when she was 12, around the time she launched her Instagram account. At 13, she went vegan, and in the years since she has helped inspire countless others to do the same. Her target audience is young people, and her main tool is online activism, although her efforts extend well past social media. At 15, she published a 100-page ebook, “The Modern Guide to Going Vegan at a Young Age.” In addition to in-person meetups, she mentors peers over email.
In all of her outreach, she aims to be approachable and understanding, a tack that she says works.
“I always say, ‘My direct messages are open. I’ll be your big sister. Email me about anything,’” explains Llewellyn, who is warm, articulate and brimming with dreams and ideas for the future. “I used to eat meat myself, and I was quite oblivious, so I approach it with kindness.”
There are lots of things for people going vegan, but what I found was there was almost nothing for young people who are still living with parents, who can’t choose everything. So I kept that in mind.
About her Instagram account, where she makes most of her connections, she says, “I seek a balance between education on animal rights, education on veganism, highlighting the wonderful world of vegan food, and posts to remind people I am just your average young person.”
“Even though I am surrounded by incredibly supportive friends, I feel that veganism and living ethically is isolating. But then young people message me and I’m reminded that this sacrifice of the social norm and easy life is shared by thousands of young people out there.”
“Sometimes all you need to do is to look in their eyes to know somebody is home.” (Photo by another activist.)
“There are so many stories I hear that need to be told. Especially in this world where the line between truth and lies have blurred. On racism, on animal rights, on politics, on life.”
Now in her last year of high school, Llewellyn has lived in Sydney her whole life and has loved animals and activism for about as long. She remembers carefully tracking and observing lizards in her backyard before she’d even started school. By age eight, she was scrawling messages onto homemade posters, including, Poachers should go to hell!
“They were these intense posters,” she laughs, adding that her parents helped her reconsider the hell part. “I had them all planned out – a poachers one, one about whales, a whole collection.”
Soon, Llewellyn was watching documentaries on palm oil and on animal agriculture’s impact on climate change. It was a video about the egg industry and its cruel destruction of male chicks that pushed her to give up meat. Her mother, creative director for a theater company, and her father, an English teacher, were supportive – an advantage that Llewellyn knows many young people don’t have.
About her ebook, she says, “There are lots of things for people going vegan, but what I found was there was almost nothing for young people who are still living with parents, who can’t choose everything. There’s peer pressure. There’s family pressure. There’s school pressure. So I kept that in mind.”
She credits her parents with giving her the courage to carve her own path.
“They always raised me to believe that I had a voice and I could fight for issues I believe in. They taught me to challenge things and always read every side of the story.”
As she’s gotten older and as her Instagram following has grown, Llewellyn says she’s learned a lot about effectively reaching people.
“At the beginning, I was unsure how to get a message across about an inherently violent industry, but still do that quite kindly,” she says. “I’m more able to articulate my ideas now. I can articulate why I’m vegan.”
I suddenly realized, wow, look at all of these people who are doing what they love and turning it into a career and activism. I was mind-blown.
Joining her school’s debate team helped, as did continuing to educate herself about factory farming and other industries that exploit animals.
“A lot of it was learning as much as I could, because the more I knew, the better I could talk about it.”
Her interest in animal rights soon led her to other social justice issues, from racism and women’s and LGBT rights to the environmental costs of overconsumption and rampant plastic use.
“What I noticed was there was so much more than veganism that I could use my platform for,” she says. “I see my activism as a holistic attempt to educate young people.”
Like Instagram, she believes art is an essential tool. Besides writing and photography, she loves embroidery – among her recent pieces is one called “Daddy, Where did the Bees Go?” – and filmmaking. She took two years of film courses in high school and now hopes to make it a significant part of her future.
Llewellyn’s camera and an embroidery piece in progress.
“I suddenly realized, wow, look at all of these people who are doing what they love and turning it into a career and activism,” she says. “I was mind-blown.”
I used to eat meat myself, and I was quite oblivious, so I approach it with kindness.
For her year 10 work experience, she interned at Animal Liberation’s Sydney headquarters. When her supervisors discovered she knew her way around iMovie, they asked her to help edit undercover footage of rabbit and egg farming.
She calls the video she worked on “heartbreaking and shocking,” but adds, “It was an honor to have the opportunity.”
Llewellyn now works at The Cruelty Free Shop, Australia’s first vegan supermarket chain, and runs their Instagram. She also plays the piano, studies French, and loves her many potted plants, which she names (Flo, Beatrice, Mrs. Dursely) and frequently features on her social media.
In the near future, she says, she hopes to release an updated ebook, launch workshops on veganism and activism, and work on an animal rights-related documentary.
“I sometimes wake up with images in my brain or opening scenes of films I hope to make one day.”
Graffiti in Newtown, a particularly vegan-friendly area of Sydney.
Is it all too much for a 17-year-old who is also balancing friends, exams, and planning for the rest of her life?
Sometimes it is, Llewellyn acknowledges.
“This stuff gets a little overwhelming, when I’ve got 10 people wanting answers and loads of emails.”
She has scaled back her activism in recent months as she has struggled with mental illness, something she is open about on Instagram.
“I’ve been chatting with so many of you recently about mental illness, plants, veganism etc.,” she posted recently. “It has just reminded me of how wonderful every single one of you are and how proud I am that all of you are alive and hanging in there.”
She says that’s what gets her through harder days: all of the young people she connects with, and the change she knows they are making.
“I have a lot of faith in my generation,” she says. “I have a lot of faith that we’re going to be able to fix all of this.”
Follow Llewellyn on Instagram @tiedyedtofu_ Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Text by Corinne Benedict.