Blue Extinction

7-8 July 2022

Aquatic species are threatened with extinction at an unprecedented rate due to the combined effects of overfishing, pollution, climate change, acidification, and other human impacts. Yet blue ecosystems have remained an overlooked and neglected subject of enquiry in animal studies, where the focus has tended to be on terrestrial - or green - habitats.

The extinction of aquatic organisms poses particular perceptual, epistemological, and affective challenges: many of the species that are disappearing were never apparent, or known, to us in the first place. And those that we are aware of are often considered to be impossibly remote from, and alien to, human life, making it difficult to consider their lives grievable in a traditional sense.

Recent work in the blue humanities has seen a growing emphasis on nonhuman life and multispecies ecologies (Alaimo; DeLoughrey; Neimanis; Shewry). In the field of extinction studies, there has also been an increasing focus on untold, unloved, and invisible lives (Bastian; Bird Rose; Heise; Van Dooren). Building on these approaches, this two-day symposium will examine the subject of aquatic biodiversity loss from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

It will ask: what kinds of narratives and modes of storytelling are best suited to the subject of blue extinction? What impact does the actuality of extinction have on ideas of literary representation and interpretation? What role might literary methods such as close reading play in helping us to imagine and come to terms with extinctions which occur largely out of sight (Bastian)? Can an awareness of blue extinction foster new affective and ethical relations with forms of life that are often considered to be monstrous or alien (Helmreich)?

Might an attentiveness to past marine extinctions, and their cultural representations, be useful to us in our present age of biodiversity loss? And can collaborations between the humanities and the sciences yield new perspectives on blue extinction along with ways to combat it? 

Possible topics for papers include, but are not limited to:

Abstracts of up to 350 words should be sent to Rachel Murray and Vera Fibisan at by 4 February 2022. Participants will be notified by 28 February 2022. We particularly welcome abstracts from PGRs, ECRs and researchers from underrepresented backgrounds. 

The symposium will take place online and in-person at the University of Sheffield and participants can choose their mode of attendance. Registration fees will only apply to in-person delegates. The intended outcome of this symposium is an edited collection entitled ‘Blue Extinction’, which will be considered for publication in the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature series.