A criminal organization kidnapped 2 whale sharks. This international team freed them.

The Indonesian government just busted a high-level criminal ring in a story that reads like some sort of awesome Hollywood spy thriller.

It began with a tip-off that something was amiss back in late 2014; the cast was an international coalition of crime-busters; the plot follows an 18-month investigation; and it ended with an epic conclusion: a bust and the recovery of stolen goods.

What stolen goods were being recovered, exactly? It wasn't famous paintings, diamonds, sunken treasure, or even a certain golden falcon statue.


The prize was two 14-foot whale sharks.

The two whale sharks were being kept in a pen when the Indonesian agencies found them. All photos by Paul Hilton/Wildlife Conservation Society.

On May 27, 2016, Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, with support from the Wildlife Conservation Society's Wildlife Crimes Unit, busted up an operation that had captured the two marine leviathans.

The captured sharks had been destined for the illegal wildlife trade.

One of the whale sharks in a darkened holding pen.

A company known as PT. Air Biru Maluku captured the sharks off the coast of Indonesia. It had previously received government permission to collect and breed ornamental fish.

But whale sharks are not ornamental fish. They are 40-foot-long megafauna. And PT. Air Biru Maluku had no permission to do anything with those.

The company's plans to sell the gigantic fish was nothing short of illegal.

The illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar industry that turns wild plants and animals into souvenirs, status symbols, pets, and medicine.

The whale shark holding pen.

Rhinos, elephants, and tigers are some of the most famous victims of the illegal wildlife trade, killed for their horns, ivory, and pelts. But thousands of different wildlife species are threatened by the illegal trade, including whale sharks.

Whale sharks can be kept in large aquariums successfully and responsibly; there are places in the United States accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that whale sharks call home. But given the criminal nature of this particular operation, these sharks were probably not destined for anywhere quite so nice.

Criminals often target endangered species specifically because their rarity makes them more valuable.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, listed as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and a protected species in Indonesia.

One of the captured whale sharks swims in its pen while authorities confront the suspects.

These aquatic behemoths can weigh more than 20 tons. Imagine a giant fish the size and weight of a yellow school bus swimming through the ocean and you'll get a good idea of what getting up close and personal with one would be like.

In fact, swimmers can often approach the giant fish. Though whale sharks are big and have "shark" in their name, their temperament is more like the "whale" part — they're pretty docile. Like their mammalian rivals for the heavyweight title, baleen whales, whale sharks only eat the tiny floating plants and animals known as plankton.

The good news: Thanks to the heroics of the rescue crew, the two captive whale sharks have been returned to the wild.

Divers escorted the giant fish back into the ocean unharmed. We still don't know a lot about the whale shark's life cycle, but it's thought that they might live more than a century, meaning these two may have a long lives ahead of them back in the ocean.

A diver escorting the sharks back into the ocean.

As for the criminals, as of May 27, nobody had been arrested ... yet. But anyone found guilty could face up to six years in prison and over $100,000 in fines.

Thanks to agencies like the Wildlife Conservation Society and governments like Indonesia's, we can help give these magnificent animals a good home and keep them out of criminal hands.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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