Marine photography is categorized into two elements: underwater photography and marine wildlife photography.
Underwater photography is the process of taking photographs while under water of small fish, sharks, cetaceans, corals, jellyfish, crustacean, and active volcanos etc. It is usually done while scuba-diving, but can be done while diving on surface supply, snorkelling, swimming, from a submersible or remotely operated underwater vehicle, or from automated cameras lowered from the surface.
Marine wildlife photography is the process of taking photographs while above water, or on land of pinnipeds and sirenians, polar bears and sea otters, bears fishing for salmon, and marine birds such as the gannet, cormorant and albatross etc. Additionally, a marine wildlife photographer may also operate from a pier, floating rig, aircraft, drone or boat photographing the behaviour of cetaceans such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
Back in 2009, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimated that some 13 million million tourists took trips to see cetaceans in their natural habitat, as part of an industry that generated US$2.1 billion dollars (1.7 billion Euros) and employed 13,000 people in 119 countries.
Meanwhile, underwater tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry with dive tourism estimated to be worth between US$20 billion and US$30 billion while coral reef tourism generates US$35.4 billion in global tourism value every year. However, the industry faces significant challenges moving forward.
While dive tourism and marine photography generates significant sums of money that goes back into protecting marine wildlife and habitat, both classes of tourism are also threatening wildlife and habitat due to unethical practices at sea, and on land.
Media reports concerning harassment of cetaceans and cetacean watching vessels colliding with whales, dolphins and porpoises etc are on the increase alarming marine biologists and conservation organisations.
On the 12th January 2015, Men’s Journal reported that a humpback whale collided with a whale watching boat off Maui:
“Whale watchers aboard a small boat off Maui watched with widening eyes recently as a humpback whale suddenly turned toward them, began to slap her large pectoral fin on the surface, and struck their inflatable boat with its head.
The collision with the 25-foot vessel was more of a shove than a strike, but blunt enough to “toss our boat a good five feet when she hit,” said Jennifer Nap, who videotaped the unusual incident while on the trip with her husband, Ryan.
The Naps and their group were with Ultimate Whale Watch and had been following a mother and calf “from a safe distance,” Nap said, when the mother whale suddenly turned.
The crew shut the engines down as the whale “came straight for us, I think to warn us to move,” Nap said.”Source: Men’s Journal
On the 8th August 2017, CBC News reported that two people were injured after a whale watching boat hit a humpback whale:
“One person remains in hospital after a whale-watching boat hit a humpback whale near Victoria, B.C., on Monday.
It happened near Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, an outcropping to the south of Metchosin, around 2:45 p.m. PT. A zodiac vessel operated by Prince of Whales Whale Watching struck the humpback, after it unexpectedly surfaced right in front of the vessel.
“The animal had not been seen previous to the vessel strike,” said a company spokesperson, adding the boat’s captain had been focusing on a different group of animals prior to the collision.
A spokesperson with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria says an inshore rescue boat was sent out to assist the tour boat after it reported the run-in.
Two tour boat passengers were sent to hospital and one is still recovering from their injuries.”Source: CBC News
On the 4th March 2020, the Scotsman reported that selfie takers had been urged to stop taking photos too close to dolphins:
“The warning from police and conservation chiefs comes after “disturbing” encounters with dolphins and whales in Scottish waters was reported to the police.
Scotland is home to more than a dozen species of cetacean, including bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises, Orca or minke, humpback or fin whales. But tourists flocking to see the creatures have been warned not to get close to them, as it could disturb their feeding or breeding.
Previous incidents have included a photographer in Shetland who circled a pod of killer whales too closely in a boat, splitting the group and stressing them.
On the River Tay, there have been issues with jet skiers harassing dolphins, particularly near Broughty Ferry, near Dundee.”Source: The Scotsman
On the 5th April 2021, Royal Gazette reported how boaters and swimmers were getting too close to whales:
“Photographer Katie Roberts said that the boats were stationary and the whale was moving around.
Reckless boaters and swimmers have been trying to get close to whales putting themselves and the animals in danger, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Now the public is being urged to follow simple whale-watching guidelines to ensure their own and the whales safety.
“It is strongly recommended that members of the public do not swim with any whales, no matter how docile they may appear,” said a spokeswoman.
“With a casual slap of their tail, or even a fin, the whale could unintentionally strike a swimmer causing injury or even worse. Those tails and fins are big and heavy.
“Boaters and swimmers may not intend to be intrusive, but getting too close to the whales can actually disrupt feeding, nursing and migrating behaviours, and boats, in particular, can cause unintended injuries to the whale.”Source: Royal Gazette
On the 21st October 2021, CBC News reported that a whale watching guide had been fined $10,000 for getting too close to a killer whale:
“A professional whale-watching guide in Campbell River has been fined $10,000 for illegally approaching a killer whale within 35 metres while touring a whale-watching group.
Nicklaus Templeman, the owner and operator of Campbell River Whale and Bear Excursions, was found to be in violations under the Species At Risk and Federal Fisheries Acts in Campbell River Provincial Court in September 2021.
According to a statement from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on May 27, 2019, Templeman was observed approaching the killer whale, which was travelling with a pod, by two other whale watching guides near Willow Point, south of Campbell River.
Fishery officer Geoff Thorburn said the whale breached suddenly, prompting the other vessels to shut down immediately.
“That’s the appropriate move to do when something like that happens,” said Thorburn, adding that Templeman disclosed over the radio that he had seen the whale pod.
“He went up and around ahead of the whales and parked himself so that he would have an advantageous position for his clients, so that the whale would pass right in front of him. But in doing so, he got between the whales and the shore and that is their hunting grounds.”Source: CBC News
The majority of incidents at sea regarding cetacean harassment and boat collisions concerns unregulated and unlicensed tour operators. However, avoiding them is easier said than done as Vanessa Williams-Grey of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Organisation (WDC) explained to me in an email on the 26th July 2021.
I asked the WDC how many cetacean watching businesses are currently in operation around the world, and whether operators have to be licensed or not? Vanessa Williams-Grey said:
“I don’t think anyone has quantified this, but certainly there are several thousand operators around the world and some countries do not offer a licensing system; whilst others are not particularly diligent in ensuring that ALL operators are registered/licensed etc.
Sorry if that sounds a bit vague but many of those taking people out to watch whales and dolphins do so opportunistically and therefore their businesses pass “under the radar”.
However, there’s far more effort these days to ensure that operators are trained, licensed and monitored to ensure basic standards and responsible boat handling – although, again, standards vary sharply from region to region.”Source: Vanessa Williams-Grey (WDC)
I also asked Vanessa Williams-Grey if there were any concerns regarding the growing number of cetacean watching businesses, and whether there is a responsible cetacean watching guide for photo-tourists?
“There are concerns around too many operators in one small area (over crowding inevitably causes unnecessary stress upon the whale or dolphin populations targeted).
Cetaceans may respond to boat traffic by changing their daily routine (changing their normal foraging, resting or socialising behaviour for example); or by moving from the area completely to avoid high levels of boat disturbance.
Again, this applies to boat traffic generally, not just whale watch vessels.”
I would suggest using the basic principles listed in our guide to responsible whale watching, attached which provides generic advice applicable to all situations, as well as information about whale watching in specific regions.”Source: Vanessa Williams-Grey (WDC)
No one is calling for an all-out ban on whale watching or diving however, tourists need to choose trips carefully, says Dr Lusseau of the WDC.
Organised whale watching – typically going out in boats to see them swim – started in the US in the 1950s and is now done in 120 countries worldwide. The industry is still growing, with countries in Asia and Latin America getting more involved.
But the size of the industry has increased concern about its impact on whales. A series of measures to control badly managed whale watching was discussed (2011) by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at a meeting in Jersey. So does it harm the mammals?
The BBC reported that whale watching can have an impact on their natural behaviour, including their ability to feed, rest and rear their young. This can cause problems in the short and long term, say those working in the field of marine biology. Boats can also collide with the whales, putting everyone at risk.
“In the short term a boat interacting with whales can disrupt their activities, like stopping them foraging for food or resting,” says Dr David Lusseau, from the Institute of Biological and Environmental Science (BES) at the University of Aberdeen.
“This can be no big deal once or twice, but problems start if this is repeated again and again over time. Whale watching is a big industry – in some places boats can go out 10 times a day.
“In the long term this can have an impact of the whales’ vital rates. Females can even stop producing enough milk for their calves, which can decrease the survival rate of their young. Ultimately the viability of a pod can be threatened.”
Research has also shown that boat-related sound can drown out or “mask” cetacean vocalisations. This could result in animals either being unable to communicate (which could include prevention of biologically important communication related to mating or danger) or the animals having to increase the volume of their vocalizations, which may entail an additional energetic cost.
The effect of noise from whale-watching traffic and its population-level impacts are issues that require more quantification and attention.
Disturbance has also been linked to cetaceans temporarily or permanently abandoning areas. In addition to the energetic costs of moving to a new location and potentially establishing a new territory, animals may be displaced to less than optimal habitats—perhaps areas with higher predation, lower quality, or more difficulty in accessing prey species. (Lori Marino 2012)
Another type of tourism involving marine mammals is “provisioning” or feeding wild cetaceans—which most famously occurs in Monkey Mia in Australia seen in the image above and below. There are many concerns about the impact of this activity on the target species, as well as the risk to humans. (Lori Marino 2012)
On the 28th October 2019, Dr Valeria Senigaglia of the Aquatic Megafauna Research Unit (AMRU), Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems, at the Murdoch University wrote in her report:
“Food-provisioning of wildlife can facilitate reliable up-close encounters desirable by tourists and, consequently, tour operators.
Food-provisioning can alter the natural behaviour of an animal, encouraging adverse behaviour (e.g. begging for food handouts), and affect the reproductive success and the viability of a population.
Studies linking food-provisioning to reproductive success are limited due to the lack of long-term datasets available, especially for long-lived species such as marine mammals.
In Bunbury, Western Australia, a state-licensed food-provisioning program offers fish handouts to a limited number of free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus).
Coupled with long-term historical data, this small (<200 individuals), resident dolphin population has been extensively studied for over ten years, offering an opportunity to examine the effect of food-provisioning on the reproductive success of females (ntotal = 63; nprovisioned females = 8).
Female reproductive success was estimated as the number of weaned calves produced per reproductive years and calf survival at year one and three years old was investigated.
The mean reproductive success of provisioned and non-provisioned females was compared using Bayes factor. We also used generalized linear models (GLMs) to examine female reproductive success in relation to the occurrence of food-provisioning, begging behaviour and location (within the study area).
Furthermore, we examined the influence of these variables and birth order and climatic fluctuations (e.g. El Niño Southern Oscillation) on calf survival.
Bayes factor analyses (Bayes factor = 6.12) and results from the best fitting GLMs showed that female reproductive success and calf survival were negatively influenced by food-provisioning.
The negative effects of food-provisioning, although only affecting a small proportion of the adult females’ population (13.2%), are of concern, especially given previous work showing that this population is declining.”Source: Dr Valeria Senigaglia
Whilst there’s various concerns surrounding the watching of cetaceans above water, there are equally just as many concerns regarding underwater photography practices too, all of which are rarely spoken about in camera clubs, and in online photography forums.
“DO NO HARM & DON’T TOUCH”
Most underwater photographers are concerned to protect the environment in which they take their pictures and to avoid stressing marine creatures when they are taking their images. This is good for the marine environment and leads to better photographs.
To prevent inadvertent damage to the underwater world, photographers need to not only develop superior diving skills, but also the ability to research, observe and understand how marine life behaves. This has the added advantage of allowing a subjects behaviour to be predicted accurately, allowing the photographer to be in the “right” place at the right time.
Returning to those dive skills for a moment, if the photographer cannot capture the image without damaging the environment, then the image should not be taken, and no harm should be undertaken to obtain that image. No photo is ever “worth” damaging fragile reefs, wildlife, or precarious ecosystems.
The job of an underwater photographer is to use one’s photographic skills to record and interpret what he/she sees underwater. Certainly, we should use our artistic skills to create beautiful or striking pictures of the undersea world, but capturing images that do not represent what is naturally occurring is fundamentally dishonest and is hence unethical.
Photographers who persist in questionable practices will often try to justify their actions with that of other photographers, filmmakers or even fisherman. They will say that their actions are “less” bad than those of others. Fundamentally, this belief is flawed and we should be judged by our own actions, not justify them by pointing out that others do “worse” things.
“IF A BEHAVIOUR SEEMS UNBELIEVABLE, IT PROBABLY IS”
It is good to know that the harassment of creatures is rightly considered unacceptable by the majority of underwater photographers.
Physically moving or repositioning animals in order to obtain a better image, showing them doing things they would not naturally do and changing the marine environment to create a more pleasing image are not only ethically wrong but are also fundamentally dishonest.
To misrepresent any image and the circumstances of its capture is morally questionable, in the case of manipulated subjects, those that do so are rarely willing to admit that they have done so.
As examples, octopuses rarely venture up into the water column (see image above), preferring to stay close to the reef. On the rare occasions that they do so, they are actively swimming, so if the image depicts “waving” tentacles, it is highly likely that the animal has been picked up and dropped in order to obtain it. Octopuses do not naturally “ride” on turtles either (see image below).
Boxer crabs live and hide in reef rubble, so an image of one out in the open is likely to have been captured by physically placing it there which is considered cruel (see image below).
Underwater photography has reached a new era. Gone are the days of vintage photography equipment—physical flashbulbs and rolls of film—that limit the number of photos you can take during a dive. They have been replaced by a never-ending, always-improving line of digital camera equipment, which now includes waterproof compact cameras that can photograph even the smallest of subjects.
Add to that the rise of social media, and now you can find magazine-quality photographs everywhere on Facebook and Instagram, many of them shot by amateurs who are just shooting for fun.
This seems great when it comes to inspiring new photographers, showing new or non-divers what other animals are out there, and also helping “critter hunters” with up-to-date locations of rare animals. However, there is also a downside to the emergence of digital equipment and social media—some divers and photographers are putting the image above respect for the environment.
With the abundance of great photographs on social media, it seems like there is a competition mentality—who can get the most likes or shares? There are photographers with compact cameras attempting to reproduce photos taken by a semi-professional with a setup worth thousands of dollars, and also photographers trying to force a shot or behavior in order to one-up a previously well-received photograph of the same subject.
As a consequence, the must-have tool for macro photography, the muck stick, which was mainly designed as a buoyancy aid when there’s current, is now sometimes used to herd creatures into unnatural positions for a photograph.
“CORAL REEFS ARE HOME TO THOUSANDS OF SPECIES OF FISH”
Coral reefs are living museums that are home to thousands of species of fish, lobsters, crabs, clams, seahorses, sea turtles, sponges, and reef sharks etc. The image above depicts dive tourists sat on a live coral reef waiting for a thresher shark at Malapascua in the Philippines.
Sitting, standing or using any heavy equipment on coral reefs can cause irreparable damage to the reef bed resulting in marine creatures being displaced and/or dying due to habitat destruction and predation.
In a 2001 experimental study of the impacts of underwater photographers on coral reef dive sites, Anthony B Rouphael and Graeme J Inglis wrote:
“Thirty-two out of 214 divers (15%) damaged or broke corals, mostly by fin kicks (95%). Impacts were most likely to be caused by male divers, in the first 10 min of the dive, at sites with a large abundance of branching corals.
Specialist underwater photographers caused more damage on average (1.6 breaks per 10 min) than divers without cameras (0.3 breaks per 10 min). To explore the effects of gender and use of a camera further, we issued single-use underwater cameras to 31 randomly chosen divers and compared their behaviour to a control group.
Use of a camera had no influence on the rate or amount of damage caused by these naïve photographers, but male divers were more likely to break corals and caused significantly more damage, on average, (1.4 breaks per 15 min) than female divers (0.3 breaks per 15 min).
Variability in the amount of damage caused by divers in our sample reflected the very different underwater behaviours exhibited by specialist and non-specialist photographers, and male and female divers.”Source: Science Direct
Marine Biologists estimate that by 2050 ninety percent of the planets coral reefs will die, with a loss of some 6000-8000 species of fish that live within the planets coral reef ecosystems. While diving is not one of the top five main causes of coral reef destruction, its certainly adding extra pressure to the reef and its eco-system.
Furthermore, dive operators and whale watching guides continue to throw anchors overboard damaging fragile eco-systems and protected coral reef. Given the fact that anchor damage to coral reef has been recognized for decades (e.g. Davis, 1977) it is surprising that, still today, many tour guides choose to throw anchors on a regular basis instead of using mooring balls.
French humanist photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson once said:
“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”Source: Henri Cartier-Bresson
The vast majority of professional and non-professional photographers will understand Henri Cartier-Bresson’s message, in that, things do continually vanish therefore its paramount that we, as photographers, do not contribute and accelerate that process with regards to wildlife and nature.
The shocking image below is an example of things that are continually vanishing, and I’m not speaking about the inhumane tourists and photographers either. Heartless tourists flocked to the Costa Rican Ostional Wildlife Refuge to capture images of the olive ridley and kemps sea turtles.
On the 9th September 2015, the Union of Workers of the Ministry of Environment and Energy said:
“Crowds swarmed the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, in north-western Guanacaste, and disrupted the nesting ritual for a number of olive ridley sea turtles, which are listed as a vulnerable or critically endangered species.
As they gathered in the hundreds, the visitors stood in the turtles’ way as they swam ashore and even placed children on top of them to snap keepsake photos, causing many of the creatures to return to the sea without laying their eggs.
Although the turtles arrive in large numbers almost every month, September and October are peak times, and tour operators have tried to cash in by offering additional tours to watch the turtles lay their eggs.
Other tourists touched the turtles, stood on top of their nests and snapped photos with flash cameras.
Refuge administrator Carlos Hernandez said he had never seen that many people at the beach, and that some visitors had entered through unauthorised access points.
The report suggested park rangers were overwhelmed by the number of tourists and unable to control the massive crowd on the four-mile stretch of beach, with only two guards on duty as they received help from three national police officers.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Ostional Wildlife Refuge is one of the two most important areas in the world for olive ridley sea turtle nesting.
Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles generally arrive once a month and remain for three to five days at the beach, the WWF said.”Source: Tico Times & Daily Mail
Since the 2015 incident stricter measures have been enforced by the Asociación de Guias, a Costa Rican charitable organisation founded by volunteers in 2009 to keep tourists under control during the arribadas.
“GOOD CHARACTER GOING BAD IS LIKE A BEAST ESCAPING ITS CAGE; IT WILL BE HARD TO CAPTURE IT AGAIN”
Conservation photographers shoot photography that empowers or enables conservation. According to the photographer, Joel Sartore, “the typical nature photograph shows a butterfly on a pretty flower. The conservation photograph shows the same thing, but with a bulldozer coming at it in the background.”
The image above was shot by underwater conservation photographer Juan Oliphant who claims to be passionate about shark and ocean conservation.
Juan’s goal is to get people to care about sharks and inspire change in the way people view sharks and our ocean, which is all very good and well until you see images like the one above, or the one below of which Juan’s partner, Ocean Ramsey is seen swimming and touching dangerous aquatic mega-fauna.
The message in these two images is as clear as day: “It’s okay to touch and swim with wild sharks.”
Apart from being reckless, this specific type of photography sets a poor example to others. When the good character of any photographer turns bad it creates a type of trickle down effect whereby others may copy the behaviour of Juan and his partner Ocean Ramsey.
‘THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITTEN CONTEXT IN CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHY’
After reviewing Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant’s photography portfolios I was left horrified at the lack of, if any, written context concerning the swimming and touching of dangerous mega-fauna.
What many photographers don’t often consider when taking a picture is the issue of written context. If the viewer doesn’t know the context, what is happening, why its happening, and whether this is safe or not. The viewer is left in a state of limbo.
Whilst the majority of photographers can convey what is happening in their images without having to explain themselves to the viewer, images such as the one above need written context.
Written context can alter the meaning of a photograph. A photograph, especially with kids or nudity, depending on how those images are represented, can have very powerful and disturbing meanings.
When we’re talking about politics and journalism, context is even more important because of how an image is presented. Who presents the image? Where was it taken? You have to always remain critical. We cannot consume images aesthetically on their own anymore because we know that we can be manipulated.
However, written context isn’t always needed with every image we shoot, for example the image below conveys its own story without context. The image shows Laith Majid who was photographed crying and clutching his children after they almost drowned on the voyage to Kos.
With that said, images such as the one below need written context — unethical or ethical, we’re viewing a woman with a camera swimming with a dangerous apex predator which raises various questions — Is this okay? Can I do this? What’s happening? I thought sharks were dangerous? Without written context images such as Juan Oliphant’s communicates the message that its okay to swim with sharks.
On the 10th May 2020, Marine Biologist, Dr Alex Rose had this to say about Ocean Ramsey in a webinar she hosted concerning the Ethics of Underwater Photography:
“You’ve got images like this, where she is actively touching the shark. Now this is where I sort of personally felt differently about this image compared to the first one.
I don’t think its wrong that she necessarily interacted with the animal in this way, but you have to keep in mind this is someone that spends lots of time in the water with these sharks.
She knows the sharks individually, she’s spent tonnes of time in the water with sharks, she’s a marine biologist, she’s studied their behaviour, she knows its safe for her to do this at this point in time.
The problem being when you release images like this it makes everyone think they can do this, everyone thinks this is an okay way to interact with a shark, and I will tell you now, not everyone should be doing this.
The vast majority of people in the world should not be interacting with a great white shark in this manner because they do not have the expertise and experience that she does being in the water with them.
This image turned in to a bit of mess all over Facebook because people were posting comments such as: “this is horrible, I can’t believe anyone could do this” and other people were saying: “this is wonderful I’m so glad these images are out there.”
So like I said, its a mixed spectrum, much of a grey area, much of which depends on what you feel is right, and depending on what your motivation was for taking the photo or what you’re planning on doing with it, determines or not whether this qualifies as ethical conservation photography.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you whether I think this is good or not ethically. However, I probably would have stopped at the last photo.”Source: Alex Rose, Marine Biologist – Ethics of Underwater Photography.
Whilst I agree with some of the concerns raised by Dr Rose, she didn’t outright condemn Ocean Ramsey’s behaviour! Dr Rose focused primarily on one image alone while hosting a webinar about the “ethics of underwater photography”.
Dr Rose never focused on the photographer either but more the model in front of the camera. Dr Rose then went on to state “I don’t think its wrong that she necessarily interacted with the animal in this way.” When in actual fact, its very wrong, condemned by the vast majority of expert marine biologists.
Dr Michael Domeier and Dr David Shiffman hit out at Ocean Ramsey’s antics for appearing in the viral shark interaction video, and in numerous online images depicting Ramsey handling sharks on Facebook and Twitter.
On the 18th January 2019, Dr Michael Domeier, the founding director of the non-profit Marine Conservation Science Institute (MCSI) had this to say about Ocean Ramsey’s antics:
“The number 1 rule of legitimate shark diving operators is DON’T TOUCH THE SHARKS! This is not shark advocacy, it is selfish, self-promotion.”Source: Michael Domeier
Dr David Shiffman, a marine conservation biologist who studies sharks, told The Washington Post:
“I can’t believe that ‘please don’t grab the 18-foot long wild predator’ is something that needs to be explicitly said out loud, but here we are.
There is absolutely no reason for this person to grab and attempt to ride a free-swimming animal. It doesn’t show that sharks aren’t dangerous, it shows that some humans make bad choices.”Source: David Shiffman
Meanwhile, members of the underwater photography community were quick to express their concerns too:
“I’d appreciate your work far more if you didn’t keep touching them, it’s such a bad example to set.” – Alison Smith
“You seem to be more about seeking glory, bringing attention to yourself and your business than to shark conservation. You are not a scientist, you are a poor example and you lead others to do the same.” – Chris Neal
“Guess it’s cool to ride wild creatures now…. anything for a couple “likes” for the Instagram generation.” – Curtis Snaper
“Another example of a false narrative that you can go out and pet a shark in the middle of the ocean.” – Fred Siddall
“This is really shameful, especially for someone that claims to be a marine biologist working toward shark conservation. Showing such carelessness is fine if you want to take on the personal risk and know the animal’s behaviour. However, publicly showing the dive and touching (i.e., harassing) the shark with the message that they are just gentle giants that are unlikely to hurt you is irresponsible. The received message, intended or not, is that the public can take similar risks and not cause stress for the animal nor instigate injury to the diver. Worse, the location is publicized. It is not professional or responsible.” – Laura Todd
“She has done this numerous times and she financially benefits from the coverage. Mexico has deemed that it is ILLEGAL to swim outside the cage at Guadalupe Island. She broke the law, end of argument. All this stunt did was give some idiots an idea to try some stunt next summer. You know, those pictures and videos that make we shark advocates pissed. I have done plenty of shark diving and at times I did have to establish my space by redirecting a tiger or lemon. It happens. She knowingly went out of her way to swim with and touch the GW. Everyone knows the rules and she broke them.” – Brian ArnoneSource: Ocean Ramsey, Facebook
On the 17th January 2019, Ocean Ramsey issued a statement to the public via her Facebook page regarding the controversial video where she is filmed and photographed handling and swimming with a great white shark:
Ocean Ramsey said
“I try not to touch them unless they are extremely close or if there is a purpose.
Its incredible and I feel honoured and it fuels my constant desire to help save them.
Thanks to all those helping change perspectives, and gaining support for marine conservation.”Source: Ocean Ramsey.
Baiting sharks for photography/videography has long term effects too. Some operators bait sharks by throwing fresh fish and fish scraps into the water, a controversial practice known as ‘chumming’ or baiting. Chumming attracts more than sharks though which underwater photographers love.
On the 24th January 2020, Torben Lonne, chief editor of DIVEIN said:
“Shark baiting is dangerous because it allows sharks to begin associating humans with food and makes them more aggressive to humans.
If sharks are being routinely fed in a particular area, it’s not surprising when they turn up in low waters and attack people.
They can smell humans and blood from approximately a mile away, and if they come close hoping to get fed and there’s no food, they can become quite angry and can attack surfers, divers and other innocent bystanders.”Source: Torben Lonne
Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research (FPSR), Dr George Burgess, connected the scarcity of sharks with the practice of baiting:
“Dive tourism, which aims to please (meaning they want to make money) puts food in the water, which results in increased visitations from the sharks in that area. In some species, this leads to higher population numbers in the area
Burgess argued that baiting can negatively impact the shark population by teaching them learned behaviour.
Feeding of sharks has the effect that it can get rid of that natural concern between the shark and human, or, in some cases, teach them to equate the human with free food.
In a broader sense, altering the behaviour of the sharks can have impacts throughout the ecosystem.
There can be a negative effect as well: entrainment of animals, alteration of natural behaviour, and alteration of the ecology of the area. It’s going to alter the feeding dynamics of the whole food web, and it’s a change of natural behaviour.
There are examples of sharks in shallower water learning to respond to the sound of the boat’s motor, according to Burgess.
The animal will appear in the area before the food hits the water, when it even hears the motor of the boat, in the classic Pavlovian scenario where you ring a bell and the animal starts salivating.”Source: Florida Program for Shark Research (FPSR)
The ocean is the foundation of all life, an extraordinary and largely unexplored place, teeming with fascinatingly diverse plants and animals which, together with currents and natural systems, shape our planet. The ocean provides us with food and facilitates pleasure, as well as livelihoods for millions, if not billions of people.
But the ocean is not just a commodity. The ocean is restorative. It calms and connects us. The positive impact it can have on our wellbeing is immense.
Right from the word go, we rely to the ocean to just breath. 50-85% of life-giving oxygen comes from the ocean. Tiny plankton and the ocean’s plants absorb CO2 and through a process called photosynthesis and release O2 back into the atmosphere.
So every time we breathe, over fifty percent of the oxygen we inhale has come from the ocean – so we literally need it to survive.
Its widely accepted now that we’re living through the sixth massive extinction. The fifth one was 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs vanished. Today we’re losing biodiversity at a similar rate. And if one species disappears it affects the whole food chain and the whole food web. So extinction of one species might cause extinctions of 10 other species with time.
Cetaceans are one of the most well-known groups of marine animals. There are around 89 living species in this group including whales, porpoises, and dolphins. Cetaceans are marine mammals that are widely distributed, finned, and carnivorous in nature.
Unfortunately, many species of cetaceans are in great danger of extinction due to human activities and interference in their environment. Many have also been hunted to near extinction. The loss of these cetaceans means damage to the ecological balance of marine ecosystems. Since most of the cetacean species are apex predators in their habitat, removal of the species creates an ecological imbalance.
The sei whale, blue whale, fin whale, hectors dolphin, North Atlantic right whale, North Pacific right whale, South Asian river dolphin, vaquita, and the baiji are all nearing extinction. In addition, more than a third of shark and ray species are directly threatened by extinction too.
Non-visible effects are also very difficult to monitor, particularly in wild cetacean populations. However, they include increased levels of the stress hormones cortisol and aldosterone, which were measured in dolphins that were encircled by capture nets.
Prolonged or cumulative stress is known to be linked to disease and lower rates of survival in marine mammals, and as such should not be taken lightly.
The noise from boat engines also has the potential to mask communication between whales and dolphins, or to force them to vocalize more loudly and more frequently.
A study that modelled the effects of vessel noise on killer whales indicated that 30-50 minutes of exposure to vessel noise at a distance of up to 450m could cause a temporary shift in hearing threshold, and that prolonged exposure to the superimposed sounds of several boats that many whales endure was likely to cause permanent shifts in hearing.
This is potentially devastating for a species that relies heavily on sound and echolocation for both feeding and maintaining social bonds. The disruption of communication and hearing is likely to affect the most vulnerable members of groups, such as dependent calves and their mothers.
The most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of sharks and rays found that 37% of 1,200 species evaluated now fall into one of three categories: “vulnerable,” “endangered,” or “critically endangered.”
The IUCN blamed overfishing for the threat — roughly 800,000 tons of shark is caught each year — intentionally or opportunistically, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Other research suggests the true figure is up to four times greater.
Up to half of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost or severely damaged too. And the negative development continues. Scientists predict that all corals will be threatened by 2050 and that 75 percent will face high to critical threat levels. Should we lose 75% of the worlds coral, millions of sea creatures that live within the coral will be threatened too.
Photography is not considered a ‘global threat’ to Mother Nature, however, our behaviour shows the world the person we really are. Destroying coral, harassing turtles and cetaceans, baiting sharks, and harming marine creatures just for a photo is considered a threat which must be deplored by all good ethical wildlife photographers and tourists.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscape, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.
2 thoughts on “Marine Photography”
Hey there! Stumbled upon your post on the WordPress feed and couldn’t resist saying hello. I’m already hooked and eagerly looking forward to more captivating posts. Can’t seem to find the follow button, haha! Guess I’ll have to bookmark your blog instead. But rest assured, I’ll be keeping an eye out for your updates!
Thanks – TheDogGod
Hi Wayne, you should be able to subscribe. However, I may have removed that option during a rebuild. I’ll take a look later. New blog coming today. Thanks. 🙂