From the first Costeau film I saw and the fish I started keeping at the age of five, the first octopus and cuttlefish that squirted ink at me….I knew I couldn’t, wouldn’t stop exploring the sea — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
On photo of the dolphin on the front cover of his photo book Diving Into Wildlife:
This image is burned into my memory cells. Ingrained and encrusted in the corners of my mind and depths of my soul — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
[Update April 10, 2022: This post was originally published to celebrate the auspicious occasion of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s 47th birthday which fell on April 10th, 2021. A year on, for his 48th birthday, we invite our new readers to read the post as well as watch his special movie shot along Egypt’s Red Sea Coast. Prince Hussain created Focused on Nature, an organization whose mission is to assist in the conservation and protection of threatened and endangered species, as well as habitat conservation efforts when and where possible. We request our readers to learn more about his activities through this initiative by clicking HERE.
In his December 13, 2021 Salgirah Talika to the Ismaili Jamats around the world, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, shared the news that with the ongoing increase in his workload, his beloved family members, upon his request, had assumed additional responsibilities in order to assist him in a number of important areas of his work. Updates on Prince Hussain’s activities in this regard may be read by clicking on Latest News on Mawlana Hazar Imam and Members of His Family. On this happy day of Prince Hussain’s 48th birthday, our thoughts are with him, Princess Fareen and all the members of Prince Hussain’s family – Ed.]
Of the birth of all four children of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, I recollect the announcement about the birth of Prince Hussain more vividly than of any of his other siblings – Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Aly Muhmmad. This is because I was present at Alexandra Palace in North London when Mawlana Hazar Imam revealed to the Jamat, in the presence of Begum Salimah, that she was expecting their 3rd child. We were overjoyed and heartily clapped on hearing the news. The auspicious birth of Prince Hussain took place a few months later on April 10, 1974 when Princess Zahra (b. September 18, 1970) and Prince Rahim (b. October 12, 1971) were three and two years old respectively.
Another vivid recollection that I have of Prince Hussain is from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee in the UK. I had travelled to London, England, from Canada to be with my parents to celebrate the last Silver Jubilee visit in July 1983. For the Darbar Mulaqat, Mawlana Hazar Imam was accompanied by Begum Salimah and Princess Zahra (12 years old), Prince Rahim (11) and Prince Hussain (9). Shortly after they took their seats on the stage, Prince Hussain noticed that a section of the stage carpet was buckled. He then got up from his chair and walked to the wrinkled section and straightened it, and also pushed his feet in the area to make sure the carpet would remain straight. It was a heart warming sight for me when I saw him doing that. The Jamats will also recall that during the Darbar, Mawlana Hazar Imam blessed Count Sir Eboo Pirbhai with the title of Diwan. It was an unforgettable visit.
A couple of years later we learnt about the incident of Prince Hussain’s gold fish that died in a fish tank when President Reagan and the First Lady stayed at Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Geneva home in November 1985. This was during the summit meeting with Russian President Gorbachev. President Reagan was saddened by the incident and left behind the following note for the family:
“Dear Friends, On Tuesday I found one of your fish dead in the bottom of the tank. I don’t know what could have happened but I added two new ones, same kind, I hope this was alright. Thanks for letting us live in your lovely home. Ronald Reagan.”
Prince Hussain was then 11 years old, and had already developed enthusiasm for wildlife. This early interest in his childhood has taken him to where he stands today creating an organization called Focused on Nature (FON) that aims to help projects related to species conservation and slow habitat loss.
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Of course, Prince Hussain, while heading the work of FON as its founder, continues to be engaged with the work of the Imamat through his involvement with numerous agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network where he is the Board Chair of the Aga Khan Agency of Habitat and a Board Member of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. At FON, his older brother Prince Rahim acts as one of the advisers. Mention must also be made of Nazir Sunderji, who along with his late wife Munira, contributed to the work of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and has continued supporting Prince Hussain at FON as a founding member as well as its Secretary-General.
Our special presentation for Prince Hussain’s 47th birthday is just a small segment of the enormously vast and rich material that can be found on his website. We strongly encourage you to spend time to learn more of FON’S activities and publications, as well as the exciting adventures of Prince Hussain in the oceans and seas of the world. Children will particularly love flicking through his 191 digitized brochures that contain hundreds of mesmerizing photos of his undersea adventures and meeting with sea animals including sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles that are briefly covered below.
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Prince Hussain is an advocate and an activist who is also concerned about climate change, the neglect to the environment and nature in all its aspects and has particularly expressed his concern about the use and spread of plastic. He said, “Before, you didn’t see plastic in the sea. Now it is everywhere. I see plastic each and every time I go on an expedition. In Egypt, in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in the Bahamas, in Sardinia…Wherever I go I always find plastic.” Both the Prince and his wife Princess Fareen have stopped using plastic in their homes.
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As Prince Hussain celebrates his 47th birthday on April 10, 2021 we wish him a very happy birthday and congratulate his wife Princess Fareen and all the members of his family.
By PRINCE HUSSAIN AGA KHAN
1. Small Turtle in Bahamas
I stayed with her for an hour; she let me closer and closer in. By the end of the dive she was eating 60 centimeters from my leg — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
You would not believe how lovely, beautiful and trusting this small turtle was.
I was about to call – quit – a very boring dive with unremarkable coral and precious few fish when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this small turtle rise to the surface for a breath. I approached and rose with it, not sure how close it would allow me.
Next thing you knew I was with this sweet thing for the whole dive – at least 45 minutes – and until I ran out of air.
[The turtle] was against a coral head for a few minutes and it seemed like she was actually playing with me – as if it were a game, with me watching her and her watching me, and she was staying just far away enough, an obstacle between us just big enough, to make shooting her harder!
I love the way she’s resting her flipper on the coral here – and how close it seems compared to her body. She had a fairly dark shell.
She very clearly trusted my buddy and me, was visibly relaxed, and even started eating just next to us. It seems very rare for animals, even the more familiar and trusting ones, to snack next to you! She got in all sorts of dining positions: upside down over her food; diagonal; on the bottom with her head held high… More Turtle Stories and Photos
2. Humpback Whale in Tonga
Swimming with whales is unbelievably rewarding. As corny as it sounds… the whales do “change your life”. They’re simply too majestic, too enormous, too touching and too intelligent not to. Just as with humans there’s virtually no way to assess or predict an animal’s character, mood or behaviour ahead of time — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
The Town of Neiffu in Vava’u, Tonga, and Photographing Whales
Neiafu is a reverie. On a less than 1-kilometer strip you have 3 Chinese-run supermarkets; the laundromat called Bubbles (!!); the stunning blue and white church with its melodic singing and full Sunday crowd (Tongans are very religious, and no one works on Sundays); two banks with much-needed ATMs that provide local money; Bellavista — the delicious Italian place; the waterfront Mango Café, which has more of a comfort food menu; a quiet and picturesque main street and pavements with the pitter patter of dozens of stray, some beautiful and some gruff, dogs. For some reason everybody in Neiafu always seems happy, everybody mingles, you never witness discord, and people learn each other’s names very fast. Everyone is interconnected, entwined, enchanted.
If you are a repeat visitor in this lovely small town (as I am), drunk on the excitement of whale swims and sightings, surrounded by whale-related shop offerings and familiar faces, it literally feels like you have a small, if extended, family and home away from home.
Photographing – and even seeing – the whales is a real challenge when they’re deep. In deep, dark water (the waters around Vava’u are generally very deep) it’s hard to identify dark bodies. Much of the time, the only way to notice the whales deep is when the white patches on their sides or their bellies are showing. Blowing bubbles is a sign of aggression/threat in humpbacks. Heat runs are when multiple males are pursuing a female to mate with her – up to 18 males or more chasing after one female!
I assume this [photo above] was a male whale trying to intimidate some of its competition. Or voicing its frustration! It’s a shame about the tail being cut off in this image; but it’s the best bubble image I have!…..More Whale Stories and Photos
3. Spinner Dolphin in Egypt
The dolphins are unpredictable (never aggressive with us) and all have their own independent characters and behavior. Some are bold, some shy, some inquisitive and playful. Some calves are cheeky and some mothers stern. Sometimes you can observe them for a long time. Sometimes the dolphins immediately swim off when you get in… or the encounters are very short — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
This image is burned into my memory cells. Ingrained and encrusted in the corners of my mind and depths of my soul. For this image I had gone down below the surface – photographs look so much better when taken from below – and had the joy of a spinner (dolphin) rising directly towards my legs, eventually spiralling around them. My camera refused to shoot, and then refused again and again. And again. The zoom must have been in the wrong position or light too low. Even as the dolphin rose higher, to my chest, and continued to spiral, I could not get an image of it! A shot would not go off.
And then, as I was seconds away from desperately needing air, the dolphin rose just above me — into the light. And I got this shot off. I was CONVINCED the photograph would be a terrible failure, swimming back to the boat cursing my lungs, my camera and the light. (but not the dolphin!).
For sure I thought I might have half a fin, a head split in 2 or a throat without a face! But then, reviewing the images back on the boat, it was amazing to find what became my first book cover [Diving Into Wildlife]…. More Dolphin Stories and Photos
I’ve always loved, been fascinated by, sharks. From the earliest age and at the first view of them on tv I wanted to know more about them, see them in real life and understand what they did. — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
I’m convinced that the younger you are to experience something considered dangerous, the more likely you are to be ok with it and brave. I was never really afraid of snakes because my siblings and I first handled one with an adult in Sardinia when I was about 9. With sharks… it seems lucky to me that the first one, a little reef shark, swam by me when I was 14 or 15. The whole idea that sharks will most likely attack you if they see you in the water is as much of a fallacy as the idea that if you jump into the water with a pod of wild dolphins they will want to play with you.
Humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die — Prince Hussain Aga Khan
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If one includes species that have only been seen dead or found a small number of times (Megamouth etc.), over 350 different species of shark have been identified. And of those a huge number are sharks you would never see swimming, that live at night, very deep, under ledges or on the ocean floor. Many species of sharks, which are related to rays — also cartilaginous fishes, look nothing like what you imagine a shark looks like. Some are flattened, some guitar-shaped, some look like carpets… Some just look like normal fish with big eyes, strange heads or tails. Shark size ranges from 20 centimeters for the dwarf lantern shark to 18.8 meters for the whale shark – the biggest fish in the sea. The vast majority of shark species have never been known to attack anybody. And humans are decimating sharks at an unprecedented and horrifying rate. We kill 100 to 273 million sharks a year, including those taken for their fins, which are cut off when they’re alive (the sharks are then thrown back into the water, unable to swim and left to die), those entangled in nets and taken by mistake as by-catch. And yet sharks kill only 6 to 8 people a year around the world. So sharks are killing us at perhaps 0.000000029304029 to 0.00000006 the rate we kill them. It is said that overall shark numbers have declined by ninety percent over the past few decades…..More Sharks Stories and Photos
Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Fantastic 191 Digital Publications, Photo Book “Diving Into Wildlife” and Beautiful Scarves
Please visit the following pages:
Date posted: April 8, 2021.
Last updated: April 10, 2022.
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This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat.