The Living Sea. By Hussain Aga Khan

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For Sir David Attenborough, who has inspired millions, if not billions, to care about wildlife and ecosystems— myself included.

They say a picture

is worth a thousand words. But we can do better, you and eye.

I wish I could tell you what it’s like to have a sea lion virtually smile at you!


and dart

and fly!

Dive under you,

nibble on your hair and tinker with your tank


shooting off

to playfully chase a fish it’s not trying to eat.

I wish I could make you feel the connection one does when a dolphin comes within metres or swims with you, looking right in your eye.

To feel that privilege.

I wish I could express how utterly amazing it is to see the interaction between a mother whale and her calf, the love and concern and relationship they share.

Or what it’s like when a young calf approaches your group and, completely unafraid and beyond curious, swims right up to you and bumps you before passing by.

That one time a mother humpback turned directly towards me, spreading her immense pectoral fins as she hovered vertical, her calf moving off behind her. yes,

And tell you how, at that precise moment, I was s u r e I was the happiest man and luckiest human on Earth.

Tell you how beautiful every hue of an angelfish is …

How amusing and silly an octopus can be. How bizarre their method of propulsion, astounding their colour and texture variations. How funny it is when they squirt ink at you.

Tell you what it’s like watching a turtle graze on sea grass or munch on coral next to you.

And how trusted and enamored you feel when a turtle sits just metres away, not moving off in fear.

How absolutely graceful a manta ray is

as it hovers


in the current, gorging on plankton,

or glides by you,

slowly raising and lowering its wingtips.

The strangeness of a frogfish, its lure dangling and flicking above its eyes,

hoping to ssurprise.

A ghost pipefish, its snout pointing down and tail up, blending perfectly with its surroundings,

waiting to suck up its tiny prey.

Tell you how lost and lonely and confused a remora seems when without a host.

Share with you the time a spinner dolphin stuck its tongue out at me!

Express how utterly viciously a clownfish couple guard their nest.

Let you know the meanest fish you might encounter are damselfish,

diminutive and defenseless, fiercely trying to keep you out of their territory—an individual coral head or cranny!

the experience of I would gift you

looking up at a sun blotched out

by a cloud of little fish.

Or swimming completely surrounded by jacks, as far as the eye can see, in Cabo Pulmo.

I’d love to show you a flatworm sliding across coral or undulating in the water column.

A nudibranch in a field of tunicates …

… a shark cruising confidently above the reef.

You would want to know why a thresher shark has a ridiculously long tail ail

and why razorfish swim upside down.

I might tell you how strange it is to have dolphins mate right in front of you—rudely (how rude!) and as if you weren’t there. Without a care in the world.

That watching a small group of them interact is delightful. To witness them bumping and pushing each other,

flipping upside down, joining together at the chest, holding onto each other’s mouths,

and even rubbing pectoral fins together as if greeting one another.

Probably I would mention the time Emma, a 14-foot tiger shark who was pregnant at the time, leaned into me with her whole body and


That it was non-threatening; just hard to ground my feet and push back against her. I would tell you Emma is a regular at Tiger Beach and has never shown aggression towards a diver. The feeders feel affection for her.

I would want you to know that out of two schools of hammerheads and hundreds of individual sharks I’ve seen I’ve only been frightened by three. That out of over 350 species of shark one could only consider a handful ‘dangerous’.

And that we kill a hundred to two hundred and seventy-three million sharks a year while they only kill six to eight of us.

I wish I could show you all of this and more.


But I would a also have to tell you of the horrible changes I’ve seen.

How plastic, which I never saw in the past, is everywhere now. As common on a beach in Agadir as a dock in Marsa Alam, in tide pools in Sardinia and wrapped around coral in the Bahamas.

How a friend and I spent forty-five minutes on a dinghy in Sataya last November, pulling out bottles and caps, bags, cardboard, an old T shirt, a bag of chips and a sandal ... And we hardly made a dent.

That I watched spotted dolphins swim through plastic and paper and trash last August in Florida, probably finding it hard to distinguish between the jellyfish they play with and the cigarette pack wrappers they shouldn’t.

That, to my absolute horror, I witnessed two oceanic whitetip sharks, among the rarest of the rare—whose numbers have dropped by over 95%, circle pieces of tinfoil at Elphinstone last year. How one ingested and spat out a piece four times before finally swallowing it on the fifth. How sad it was not to be able to take the tinfoil away before it was too late.

I would tell you—and show you— that about a third of all the sharks I see have a hook stuck in their mouths and some a line trailing behind them as well.

How I saw a bullet hole in one shark.

After seeing hundreds of manta rays in Yap, Micronesia, on trips in 1992 and 2000, I didn’t see a single one in 2015. Some of the reefs friends and I saw years ago that were kaleidoscopic, cornucopias of corals hard and soft, are now reduced to rubble, barren fields, bleached skeletons. Tragically sad remnants of what once was. I want to tell you that they say coral reefs will be entirely gone, disappeared, within perhaps 50 years, more likely 30. That we have pushed the extinction rate to probably a thousand times what it used to be, that we have lost sixty percent of our wildlife in the last 40 years. That our goal of keeping warming at less than 2 degrees by the end of the century looks unrealistic—with the end result probably 3 or 3.5 degrees if we don’t change.

That a third of all cetacean and shark species are already at risk. Ninety percent of the big fish are gone. And by 2050 there will be more plastic in our seas than fish. So it is with great sadness that I sometimes think that nearly everything you see in my images is under some form of threat. Be it from climate change—warming, acidification and sea level rise; habitat destruction; deep sea trawling, dynamite and overfishing; pollution and plastic; changes in the food chain and more. Ecosystems and wildlife are at risk. And so are our income sources and food security. There is no doubt that for decades we have been patched fools! We have used and abused the planet. Refused to manage resources wisely. Ignored warning signs. Believed Earth is so enormous, the sea so immense, natural systems so resilient, that we have inflicted monstrous damage. And now, amid all the information we’re bombarded with, media of all kinds, threats of cataclysms, cynicism, apathy, guilt and a sense of hopelessness, it’s sometimes hard to see the coral for the reef. To identify and work on problems one by one.


Having said that, might I please ask you a couple of favours? Might you try to stop using plastic completely? Buy glass instead. Insist on reusable straws and more. Might you please try to recycle everything you can? Plant more. Plant everywhere. Become an Olympian planter! Have a plant in your kitchen! Buy local as much as you can. There’s no point in importing Fiji. If you don’t urgently have to travel for work, you can choose to teleconference instead. You could sometimes take the train instead of a plane … as trains are comfortable, too. And there is no turbulence on a train!

You could consider using solar and even wind. Consider switching to an electric car if you can. Perhaps you could resist further financing the pet trade, which is considered one of the greatest threats to wildlife today. If you do buy a pet, try to make sure it’s captive-bred. Or pick one up from the pound instead. And if being a carnivore isn’t paramount to you, you could consider eating less meat. A long list of options indeed; some of them hard to follow. But we can, must, all start somewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all have a chance to see dolphins, turtles, sharks and whales in the wild for years to come? To breathe clean air. To keep growing our crops and feed ourselves. To drink clean water and not waste it. To be measured and thoughtful. To reduce our impact. To roam plastic-free beaches and witness clean deserts and plains. To trust that we’re breathing and eating fewer microplastics. To still have rainforests and reefs, the chance to follow the Great Migration in the Serengeti and the Sardine Run. To feel like we’re doing our level best. I don’t honestly know how much we will change or save over the coming decades, even if we try as hard as we can. But I believe it’s worth doing every single thing, making every effort we possibly can, to try. That we will feel and live better if we do, and that the generations behind us will be grateful for our successes as much as they will be disgusted by our failures.

Far and away the biggest threat to the ocean is ignorance. D r. J A N E G O O D A L L

The Ocean has its silent caves, Deep, quiet, and alone; Though there be fury on the waves, Beneath them there is none. The awful spirits of the deep Hold their communion there; And there are those for whom we weep, The young, the bright, the fair. Calmly the wearied seamen rest Beneath their own blue sea. The ocean solitudes are blest, For there is purity. The earth has guilt, the earth has care, Unquiet are its graves; But peaceful sleep is ever there, Beneath the dark blue waves. N AT H A N I E L H AW T H O R N E , Th e Oc e a n


Di v i n g St o r i e s


batfish at vabbinfaru in the maldives, march 2013

Sri Lanka Maldives


My gps batfish! A member of a species that usually schools, this loner was an independent thinker, Descartes or Kant perhaps, who practically greeted me on entry, accompanied us to a wreck, waited for us—getting cleaned by a wrasse—while we explored and then accompanied me back to the surface, listing the entire time. It might as well have been a replacement for the dive guide ...

Some calves, whether by nature or in response to their mother’s behaviour, just rise and descend away from swimmers and directly above their mother. Others are thrillingly curious, confident and trusting. They won’t hesitate to swim close to your group, even meander between people. And if you are truly fortunate indeed, they might bump you on their little tour! Despite significant size at such a young age, they are rarely awkward, they mean you no harm, and their skin just feels like hard rubber. The water also absorbs much of the shock. I’ve only ever heard one person complain about pain when bumped by a calf. To me it has always felt like an immense honour and a rush of joy between the start of a calf’s approach and when it ends up metres away after the bump.

Vava’u, Tonga



bumping into a delightfully curious humpback whale calf vava’u, tonga, august 2015 ——— Snorkeling with Trevor Frost, Alistair Coldrick and Valérie Maurice

This calf bumped my friend Trevor first, then made a slow pass by me. Its pectoral fin actually touched me just after this image was taken! It felt to me as if time had slowed down for this interaction.

humpback calf, pre-bump! vava’u, tonga, august 2017 ——— Snorkeling with Elizabeth Cooper, Tamiko Khalid-Khan, Olivier Clément and Alistair Coldrick

When whale calves do bump you, it doesn’t really hurt. I think sometimes they do it for fun.

That young they might also be a little clumsy. Inadvertent.

Humpbacks keep their eye on you, even as they roll. Sometimes you notice them staring at you at the most unlikely time … and when you think they’ve got over you, having long accepted you as a strange dolphin or fish.

Protective mothers in particular pay close attention to you, their eyes staring straight at you even when the eye is the body part the furthest away from you.

resident sea lions lounging at the red mangrove hotel, santa cruz, the galapagos. april 2016

Puerto Ayora, Galapagos


In April 2016, I was in the Galapagos with an incredible National Geographic photographer as well as a friend and assistant.

We stayed at the Red Mangrove, which has now changed hands and been renamed, and couldn’t help but marvel at the entirely habituated, funny, mischievous and occasionally moody sea lions that lived on the hotel grounds— lounging on the chaises longues, going in and out of the water via the hotel steps, and waddling around back and forth on the wooden planks of the deck.

Most of the sea lions looked entirely healthy, but one of them had open, gaping wounds … presumably from a shark attack or boating accident.

Whilst one doesn’t try to touch a wild—or even habituated—animal, the one time I came within less than 1.5 metres from one of the pinnipeds, it let out a very loud and intimidating bark or two.

They were amazing—and amazingly comfortable. On the back wall of the open cabana, some of them napped in, the hotel had posted a sign that read they had given the real estate back to its original residents!

what my friend tamiko calls ‘attack whale’! vava’u, tonga, august 2017 ——— Snorkeling with Elizabeth Cooper, Tamiko Khalid-Khan, Olivier Clément and Alistair Coldrick

Vava’u, Tonga



Sometimes whales chase you or rush you! That’s what our first real whale of the 2017 season did to us. The three whales in a group on our first day were highly preoccupied, possibly with mating on their minds (the beginning of a ‘heat run’), and swam off fast each time we got in the water with them.

But this whale rushed my guide and friend Alistair and me the very second it saw us.

It turned its head in our direction and just bolted at us! Alistair pushed me out of the way protectively (it wasn’t that scary: baleen whales, like humpbacks, don’t have teeth) but the large adult whale dove down only a few metres away from us.

On our next jump, it did the same, but that time rushed my friends more than us. Amazing whale. crazy whale!

famous resident male dugong at marsa mubarak in egypt, december 2017 ——— Diving with Simone Piccoli and Jim Kerr



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A voracious goliath with a herbaceous appetite. A creature with features so ridiculous that you might laugh. With valves for nostrils, pinhole ears, beady eyes and a flat face with moustache and beard, this 3-metre long animal, basically 300 kilos of fat, was moving at a snail’s pace. And yet, he had us hyperventilating as he led us all around his gigantic bay in a crazy current.

We were lucky to have him to ourselves on two separate occasions; he is usually surrounded by tourists.

He spends the entire time grazing on seagrass when he isn’t travelling to and from the surface— or breathing there.

When you look at the face and body of a sea cow, it’s hard to believe they inspired mermaid lore.

Vava’u, Tonga

meet crazy george, a whale that frequents vava’u. tonga, august 2018 ——— Snorkeling with Simone Piccoli, Kristina Hess and Alistair Coldrick



Crazy George has been known to lift people out of the water on his nose! He was practically pushing me, his eye two metres from mine and nose against my flipper, on a swim in August 2018. I tried to swim away from him as fast as I could three times, but each time he was still right on me.

At one point I saw him dip his head and thought to myself, ‘this must be the lifting whale’. Hours after the encounter, people didn’t believe my story … until a local guide told Alistair he recognized Crazy George from his flukes in one of my photographs that evening—confirming I had had a run-in with the craziest of whales.

Even though I knew George was just another mammal trying to have some harmless fun, it was somewhat terrifying to have a 12–15-metre animal basically chase me—and from less than 4 metres away!

What I like best about underwater photography is giving a visual voice to the invisible. What I like least is the prospect of drowning. D AV I D D O U B I L E T

With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea. D r. S Y LV I A E A R L E

monkey and jammin’—two atlantic spotted dolphins well-known to the wild dolphin project crew— bimini, august 2018 ——— Snorkeling with Elizabeth Cooper, Tamiko Khalid-Khan, Brad Ruda, Brittini Arlene, Cassie Volker, Theresa Carlsen and Tyler Hazelwood

Bimini, Bahamas GULF OF MEXICO AT L A N T I C O C E A N


Some expeditions are a little disappointing, especially when you’ve had amazing ones. That was the case on this wdp trip that summer. Few dolphins and precious few swims.

But as we were raising the anchor in Bimini to return to Palm Beach the last hour of the last day, Monkey and Jammin’ appeared. My encounter with them lasted two hours and fifty-five minutes for about a 3-mile swim, during which the researchers and crew of the boat took turns in the water.

You wouldn’t believe the experience!

These young dolphins were tireless, magnificent, wonderfully playful, and ridiculously curious for the entire swim. They played together, they played with us, they played among masses of jellyfish … and they played with one of their favourite toys—sargassum.

They trailed sargassum from their tails, from their dorsal and pectoral fins, and from their rostra. At one point, a dolphin practically even offered me a clump.

This was by far one of the most magical and unexpected, might one say needed, encounters of my life.

Vava’u, Tonga

four crazy whales vava’u, tonga, 2019 ——— Snorkeling with Henning Hegland, José M. Santiago, Svet Stoeva and Alistair Coldrick



My friends Henning, José, Svet and I got caught in a delightful game between four boisterous, excited and athletic humpbacks in Tonga in 2019. With the animals diving, rising, swirling, curling, blowing bubbles and rushing all around us, totally neglectful of the size differential and their strength, it felt as if we were witnessing a mad and wild show.

Whilst our guide Alistair worried that the whales might hurt us inadvertently, the spectacle was so thrilling, whales so enthralling and our adrenaline pumping so hard, we wouldn’t have noticed.

I’m not sure whether we determined that it might have been three males competing for a female’s attention, but Alistair did mention that, over the course of fourteen seasons as a guide in Tonga, he had never had such an incredible experience with four whales before.

One certainty is that my friends and I will never forget the encounter with those crazy cetaceans.

pilot whales swimming through rays of light, mo’orea, summer 2019

Moorea Australia


I travelled to Mo’orea for the first time in the summer of 2019, hoping for some nice humpback whale action. The humpbacks were good. My guides and I never saw rough-toothed dolphins, another species in the area, but we did see a number of pilot whales on two afternoons.

We must have had twelve drops each afternoon, the whales diving under us or turning in the opposite direction every time they got close.

At the end of the second afternoon an incredible opportunity arose: the whales, which had been travelling the entire time and impossible to stay with, were just resting, immobile, at the surface. But my lens was too wide to get close enough. There was a large male next to me on one side, and several mothers and calves on the other. Slightly apprehensive, and with the wrong equipment, I couldn’t capitalize on the unbelievable instant.

But on our other two best drops, the pilot whales stayed fairly close below us as they swam through wonderful shards of light. They look to me like bullets in these images and, despite not capturing an incredible event with my camera, the best images from two very long and difficult afternoons are actually quite nice.

a large hawksbill turtle with an emperor angelfish and a klunzinger wrasse. elphinstone, egypt, november 2019


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——— Diving with Simone Piccoli, Jim Kerr, Chris Reksten, George Duffield, Henning Hegland, José M. Santiago, Nick Reksten, Noah Harlan, Paola Ruvoli and Svet Stoeva



At the very end of a dive at Elphinstone with my Sataya group, and while I was low on air and others were surfacing, a turtle appeared out of nowhere below. And it was followed by both an emperor angelfish and a Klunzinger wrasse, two of my favourite fish! I went down to take pictures when a cornetfish appeared as well.

As the turtle fed on soft corals, balls and strands of a gelatinous substance formed. Some of the longer strands trailed off into the water behind it as it ate.

After finishing its meal, the angelfish and wrasse at its side the whole time, the turtle swam off into clouds of anthias over the reef.

pandemic groupie! near lavezzi, corsica, summer 2020

Italy Corsica


In Sardinia during the height of the pandemic, one creature that was not following any social distancing norms was this grouper near Lavezzi! My guide and I stumbled upon a small cave in which this beautiful fish was dwelling about three minutes into our morning dive.

A little to my surprise, the animal followed me into the light—presumably to ward me away from its territory. I swam off. The grouper was right behind me when I looked again. I swam another 20 metres, 40 metres, 60 metres … he was still there. He stayed with me for about forty-eight minutes out of a fifty-three-minute dive!

The guide and I took the boat to a beach for lunch, then anchored at a spot nearby for our second dive. The grouper was waiting for us under the boat at this different site! And he spent the entire dive by my side and behind me, departing only once we’d reached the anchor line.

The guide kept signing to me that the fish was crazy … and he even seemed a little worried at times. In the end, the worry may have been a tiny bit warranted since, although completely harmless, the fish went up his jacket at one point and bit the tag off it.

I can only assume that this fish followed me in the hope that I might feed it, that the tag was the same colour as fish flesh … that perhaps they feed the groupers in Corsica as they do in other places like Cod Hole in Australia. At any rate, having an animal allow you close for a long time is a privilege in itself. Having one follow you for a whole dive is another thing entirely.

glass fish, lost and found in egypt, 2020 ——— Diving with Jim Kerr



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On our Pandemic Sataya trip, the possibility of seeing glass fish was beyond exciting as they congregate in high numbers, are highly coordinated, lovely to see and usually pick beautiful habitats—coral-heavy spots on the reef.

Simone had us skip the first dive, during which we were sure to see them, because there was too much current for the wreck at Jaza’ir Jiftun. Very disappointing …

We found some a few days later on a dive at El Arouk Maksour, which was wonderful. But my new strobes weren’t working well, and to really get close enough, one would have needed to break coral. Bittersweet …

Then Simo promised us masses of glass fish at the large and beautiful wreck Abu Galawa Kebir. We didn’t see a single one! Heart wrenching …

But finally, and on the very last day of our trip, we stumbled onto a myriad glass fish around and on top of a magnificent coral head at Marsa Mubarak. They were right under the boat! We all marveled at them and took photographs the first half of our first dive. Jim and I then spent the entire second dive with the tiny fish!

We basically lost Svet, Paola, Nick and Henning for a while as I shot furiously. But we all reunited before finishing the dive.

hawksbill turtle eating soft coral in sataya, egypt. november/december 2020 ——— Diving with Jim Kerr



Saudi Arabia RE D SE A

Right on the heels of the encounter at Elphinstone the year before, I had two encounters with hawksbill turtles eating soft coral, with strands and bundles of the milky substance forming while they ate, in 2020.

My friend Jim and I spent the entire first dive by a hawksbill’s side while our group moved onward.

I forgot to turn my flashes on initially but the light was good enough to photograph.

A few days later, I had an incredible experience just under the boat with the most wonderful, calm and curious turtle. It ate so much that it must have been ravenous!

We wandered from coral head to coral head, sand patches between them, as she devoured the corals.

solitary, extremely endearing sperm whale calf, dominica, july 2021 ——— Snorkeling with Trevor Frost




One of the loveliest animals I’ve ever had the privilege of spending time with … Charismatic, mesmerizing and charitable. Soft and yet so powerful. Balanced.

On the first day of three in its presence he/she swam right at me and bumped into me—literally bulldozed me, but not violently or maliciously. The second day, she (I always like to think of marine mammals and turtles as shes!) swam off quite fast on nearly every encounter. On one of my drops, she practically launched up onto the swim platform next to me.

But for one encounter on the third day, she actually waited for me, hanging immobile and gentle at the surface, allowing me very close for several brief minutes—making the photography easy—before letting herself slowly sink vertically, watching me the entire time. (She may have been getting ready to sleep—head skywards as sperm whales do)

It is incredibly rare, touching and more than memorable, to share such an experience with another creature. And, while it sounds cliché, you actually feel like it changes you.

Cetaceans are highly intelligent and social—and sperm whales have the biggest brain in the whole animal kingdom. So you can be a hundred percent sure that the animal in front of you is thinking, feeling … or both.

This youngster was alone every time we saw her. It’s extremely unusual, improbable and somewhat dangerous for a young cetacean not to have its mother around. (Whale mothers stay with their calves for a year). Perhaps the calf or its mother was deaf, unable to hear the other’s clicks or calls. Regardless, whilst my friend Trevor, our guide and I were already worried about the calf being on its own, we also saw pseudorcas (false killer whales) in the area on the second and third day. Pseudorcas are powerful, renowned predators capable of killing other whale species’ calves. In fact, sperm whales usually leave the area when there are false killer whales around.

Needless to say, I became very attached to this young whale. So imagining its potential demise was very sad. We were all hoping for a happy ending to this story and will keep our eyes out for the calf next season. Cetaceans have been known to occasionally adopt calves that aren’t their own—and even calves from different species—so it is possible that this incredible animal will survive after all.

oceanic mantas at isla de la plata, close to puerto lopez, ecuador, august 2021 ——— Diving with Lucas Bustamante and Frank Pichardo



The largest aggregation of oceanic manta rays is off the coast of Ecuador, with many individuals frequenting Isla de la Plata and Bajo Cope. We were told there is an estimated population of ten thousand animals in the area at one time, while two thousand individuals are recognized as returning visitors.

Much like every zebra has a different stripe pattern and every human distinctive fingerprints, every manta ray has a different spot and colour pattern. Thus, manta rays can be catalogued and recognized.

We spent three wonderful days diving at Isla de la Plata at the end of the summer—with most dives 18 metres deep at ‘the wall’.

There are five species of fish that clean the manta rays, ridding them of parasites. Most often, it was the barber fish, a yellow species of butterflyfish, that we watched tend to the mantas at the cleaning stations. Colourful and delicate, the barbers often worked in large groups, falling away and dispersing like golden nuggets as the mantas rose or sped up.

The other species we observed cleaning the rays were the much larger and darker king angelfish.

Most of the rays had remoras on them. Some had remoras sitting on either side of their heads.

Every dive was unbelievable, but the last dive of the last day was utterly spectacular, as I had two mantas for the entire dive, one of which was just below the surface and played with me repeatedly.

With a remora dangling from both sides of its tail, the ray allowed me to stay behind it and hover over its back as I took photographs.

It also turned towards me, showing off its belly, time and time again, locking its eyes with mine. The intervals between each turn grew shorter and shorter as its face came closer and closer to mine.

At the end of our playtime and for one last trick, the ray swam below me, barely under the surface and belly skywards, mirroring my speed and staring straight at me with its enormous eyes as we moved together for a few short minutes.

If the trip had been magnificent, this manta experience was a dream. Confirmation that this gigantic species of fish is highly intelligent.

Oceans, in their beauty and mystery, unite human beings whatever their situation, nationality, or faith. ALBERT II, PRINCE OF MONAC O

The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat. J A C Q U E S -Y V E S C O U S T E AU

Th e Li v i n g Se a A N E X H I B I T ION

Shoals and Reefs

‘Getting lost in the crowd’. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

A multitude of listing batfish, among which we swam.

An overexposed grey angelfish up close. THE AQUARIUM SITE, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2014

Grey angelfish, like so many others, including emperor and queen angelfish, have the fascinating characteristic of three distinct colour phases during their lifecycle: juvenile, intermediary or subadult, and adult. Every phase is attractive, and one can actually see the changes take place over time.

There are no ugly angelfish in my book, and I cared for many species and individuals in my aquarium-laden youth. I would advise anyone to look up emperor, queen, six-bar, yellowmasked, blue-girdled, Koran, map, regal, and French angelfish during their free time!

Queen triggerfish: My second favourite queen! The two nicest looking fish in the Caribbean are the queen triggerfish and queen angelfish. THE BAHAMAS

April 2014

Shoals and Reefs

Triggerfish are fascinating for several reasons, one of which is the presence of a distinct trigger that can be raised and lowered at will on their backs. Purportedly, triggerfish use this feature to block themselves inside coral or rock to avoid predators. Otherwise you’ll notice the trigger move during certain moods or behaviours—such as aggression or excitement.

It sometimes seems like, no matter how far away from a titan you swim, it will keep chasing after you. A friend told me recently that they heard the titan triggerfish’s territory is funnelshaped, wider at the surface than among the corals below, which would explain the repeated aggression while you swim away high up above the nest.

Triggerfish also have a powerful bite! They tend to feed on creatures with protective shells and spines, such as crustaceans and sea urchins. One, and only one, species can be aggressive towards humans: the titan triggerfish. Titans grow to 75 centimetres, are indisputably dominant on the reef and attack divers who venture too close to their nests or fry. Completely fearless, a friend of mine was attacked by one on a trip we took together to Malaysia ... repeatedly chasing her and biting her flippers. And apparently a tourist who was there two weeks before us had to have 9 stitches in his head!

There are approximately 40 species of triggerfish around the world, most of them dwelling in tropical waters. They are quite common in the aquarium hobby and many— such as the clown, Picasso, gilded and queen above—are exquisite creatures. One nice thing about keeping triggerfish— though I will never own a saltwater tank again and advise against them—is that they are very sturdy.

The famous porkfish of Cabo Pulmo. MEXICO

March 2014

Cabo Pulmo is an amazing no-catch MPA— marine protected area—which recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its creation. It has proven the case that MPAs, particularly no-catch ones, work since Pulmo has experienced a 400% increase in biomass since it was established.

Beyond this success story, and the limit placed on diver numbers at its now-famous sites, Cabo Pulmo is remarkable for its gorgeous and numerous schools of fish. Everything from the porkfish above to amarillo and other snappers to the gigantic, ever-moving and bustling group of bigeye jacks, which you can see in another frame in the Living Sea exhibition, and which Octavio Aburto famously captured in his image David and Goliath.

Probably a raggy scorpionfish confident in his disguise, ideally set up to be framed. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

Shoals and Reefs

Many people, certainly in Europe, would call this a ‘stonefish’ and not a scorpionfish. But anywhere from Lembeh to Bunaken, Raja Ampat or the Philippines, they’re referred to as scorpionfish. There are literally dozens of species of scorpionfish in the Coral Triangle.

Supremely disguised and often ideally positioned like this one, you often swim past one, totally unaware of its presence until your guide points it out. Scorpionfish all have venomous spines that can give nasty stings and cause massive swelling and pain. Luckily, most divers will never suffer this pain. Scorpions stay hidden, nestled in the reef, and only hurt you as a defence mechanism.

A blue-girdled angelfish diagonal among soft corals. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

Blue-girdled angelfish and their cousins, yellowmasked angels and six-bar angels, are among the most beautiful fish on the reef and some of my favourites. It’s worth celebrating every time you see one of them! I got to know these fish well when I had saltwater tanks in my late teens; they were common in the aquarium industry, and I owned many. Now I wouldn’t dream of keeping a saltwater aquarium, given the mortality rates and cruelty involved all the way up the chain from fisherman to exporter to shopkeeper to buyer—and the damage done to populations in the wild. But I do love seeing representatives of my favourite past pets swimming freely and interacting in their natural habitat. Capturing them with my camera has become a special treat.

(It’s worth noting that, damselfish and a few clownfish species aside, no reef fish breed in captivity. So with the aquarium industry you’re effectively buying fish that were taken right out of the ocean, probably as colourful adults rather than less attractive juveniles. And frequently these fish are caught in terribly cruel ways, like with cyanide and dynamite that kill 90% of the creatures they come into contact with, and they often don’t adapt to captivity or feed themselves in it. In fact, something like 75–90% of the saltwater fish caught for the tropical fish trade die by the time the 10% end up in personal aquaria.)

‘The eye’. A huge cuttlefish. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

There were a couple, probably a mating pair, in fairly shallow water in a sort of flat clearing/ depression at the top of the reef, at the very end of a dive—when I was probably low on air. My friends Zeph, Trevor and Maria also enjoyed the sight of these amazing, very large creatures for over five minutes.

I shot them like crazy! Dozens of frames from multiple angles. Back, side, top, front, face, eye, arms.

I didn’t want to leave these animals at all! I would have been happy to finish my air with them.

You often see incredible, and some awardwinning, photographs of giant cuttlefish courtship and mating there.

They weren’t in the least bit shy—and let me come within 1.5 metres of them, maybe even closer.

Whilst we weren’t in Australia, most species of undersea life have a range of at least a few countries.

I don’t know exactly which species this was. Australia is known for ‘giant cuttlefish’ and a famous spot where they mate.

I doubt there are multiple species of cuttlefish that get this big, so they might be giants!

Shoals and Reefs

See Nemo in the comfort of his home! Amphiprion ocellaris RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

One of my favourite species—along with Amphiprion perideraion and Amphiprion akallopisos— Amphiprion ocellaris is probably the most frequently shown in the media and bought for aquaria. Clownfish are extremely protective of their babies and families! In spite of their small size, they will often swim right out of their host anemone—a metre or more—and try to bite you. At least scare you away. ‘You shall not pass!’

Clownfish are closely related to damselfish, which are also very common in the aquarium trade and frequently share anemones with them. The nicest thing to see with these is the babies. Both clownfish and damselfish babies are adorable as they swim around in the anemone, interacting with their loving parents and each other. Clownfish don’t grow big anyway—no more than 11 centimetres—but seeing tiny ones in their safe havens never fails to leave an impression.

The famous sweetlips among hundreds of glass fish, at a small overhang. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

The sweetlips are beautiful and in a tightknit group; the mass of glass fish fascinating and numerous—an ever-shifting shape. The guides in Raja Ampat all know this place and take divers there all the time. There couldn’t possibly be two places like it, and you couldn’t possibly forget it. We were taken there by our guide Lius in one quick and easy journey to this specific part of the reef. Guides know all the popular resident animals and where they live in places like Raja Ampat or Lembeh. Just as you would know where your favourite flower is in your garden or where your resident squirrel lives in a tree, they know where to take you for a sweetlips overhang, pygmy seahorses, a clown frogfish or soft coral crabs. Sometimes, a dive site is named after its residents. For example, a nudibranch stronghold in Lembeh is known as Nudi Retreat.

Shoals and Reefs

I shall never forget this place or these fish and hope to visit them again someday. There are thirty-one species of sweetlips and every one I know is intriguing and colourful. Wikipedia tells us, ‘These fish have big, fleshy lips and tend to live on coral reefs in the IndoPacific in small groups or pairs. They will often associate with other fishes of similar species; several species of sweetlips sometimes swim together. They are usually seen in clusters in nooks and crannies or under overhangs. At nightfall, they venture from their shelters to seek out their bottom-dwelling invertebrate prey, such as bristleworms, shrimps and small crabs.’

The glass fish at the overhang. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

Glass fish are fascinating, always in large numbers and much more common in some places than others. As a diver, you hear about them all the time. I’d never seen them before, so this was a real thrill. We ended up seeing a lot of them in Raja.

The sweetlips were always in a compact shape but were not hesitant to change positions, altering the shape of the group. The glass fish, however, were incredibly coordinated and precise. They formed a vertical wall at times, where not a single fish was a centimetre farther out front than the others. It was amazing to witness. An experience to remember for a very long time ...

A small group of razorfish, whose existence is upside down, hover over tall and willowy soft coral. THE PHILIPPINES

May 2017

You only ever really see razorfish in groups. The fewest I’ve seen together is four, but you see large schools more frequently. Sometimes, they’re split into multiple smaller groups. They’re fun to watch as they practice synchronized swimming and move as one. Their capacity to move laterally and inverted seems absolutely illogical. Their unexpected ability to pick up speed is noteworthy, as well. Colour varies significantly. ‘In a seagrass environment the background colour of the body can be greenish-yellow with light brown stripes. In open areas like sand patches or rubble close to the reef the body colouration is light silver with a black to brown stripe.’—Wikipedia

Shoals and Reefs

Razorfish have adapted to hide among sea urchin spines from which they occasionally shoot out to catch their prey—small shrimp and invertebrates. But I’ve seen them in or close to sea urchins very few times. This particular group was deeper than I’d ever seen them before and very light in colour. We stayed with them for a number of minutes, moving around them and trying to shoot from different angles. It was a beautiful sight, the fish impressive with their camouflage tactics. They’re always hard to photograph because the camera tends to focus on the background instead of the fish—or on a few individuals, but never the entire group.

‘For a long time, this dive was not spectacular’ or ‘one stands out with flash’. Huge shoal of jacks. ISLA DEL COCO, COSTA RICA

June 2017

This is the second biggest shoal I’ve ever witnessed. On an expedition to Isla del Coco in Costa Rica—which is an incredible stronghold of scalloped hammerhead sharks (as are the Galapagos) and also features whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks and tiger sharks as well as large pelagics and shoals of fish—no dive was really uninteresting, but many were fairly deep. The dive in this image was quite deep and dark and uneventful. It was one of those dives when, even though your tank is quite full, you’re already looking forward to surfacing. Just as boredom was setting in and the idea of seeing something phenomenal was well out of mind, my eye was drawn to this gigantic, twirling and shape-shifting school of jacks a few dozen metres away. There were thousands of huge, lazy-looking but sociable and socialized fish! In such instances, you feel minute.

I spent a good ten minutes swimming around this mass of fish and trying to get good images. A few of the shots, including this one, are very nice. Many frames, on the other hand, feature the disgusting part of a shoal: excrement. It is mathematically and physically impossible for such an enormous number of creatures not to leave things behind as they go. For that reason, the jacks looked much better from afar than they did up close. It was not always a pretty sight from less than 20 metres away. Not always possible to get as clear a view as in this image. Regardless, what felt like a wasted dive transformed into something magnificent, practically unimaginable, that also yielded wonderful material.

‘The light shines through’. The myriad bigeye jacks of Cabo Pulmo that caused me to burn through my tank in twenty minutes. CABO PULMO, MEXICO

August 2018

Thank God, I was wearing my free-diving fins, which are longer and more powerful. We were dropped off behind the shoal, which wasn’t the plan, and my buddy, wearing regular fins, couldn’t catch up. The bigeye jacks of Pulmo are legendary. Immortalized, as I repeat, in Octavio Aburto’s amazing David and Goliath image, there are thousands upon thousands of jacks in a shoal that I think must be 100 metres long and is both wide and deep. When you’re somewhere in the middle of the shoal (hard to assess), there are fish for at least 40 metres in front of you and at least 40 metres behind. In parts of the shoal, the fish reach from the surface all the way down to the sand 15–25 metres below. The jacks aren’t that fast, but they’re not really slow either, and they’re moving all the time. You can’t slow down, or they’ll be gone.

Shoals and Reefs

The shoal generally stays in the same area for days—and the guides of Pulmo tell each other where it was last spotted. On my fourth or fifth jack dive spread over 2 different trips, and after nothing as spectacular, it was possible and thrilling to stay with this huge mass of life, zigzagging left and right, moving up and down among these innumerable magnificent creatures. For a long time, I was hovering over them, moving side to side. Now and again, I’d stop to turn around and shoot them from in front—as in this image. It’s amazing, beyond description, to see thousands of fish coming at you—and for the experience to last more than a few seconds. On either side, one could see 15 metres or more of fish! The only thing about this dive was that, whereas a tank would usually last forty to fifty minutes at that depth, we were basically out of air in twenty minutes—swimming hard. But you know what? The jack dive immediately after this one was just as spectacular—and my tank lasted two or three minutes more!

A multitude of hard and soft corals on a reef outcrop, replete with anthias and a visiting cheek-lined wrasse. EGYPT

November 2018

The Red Sea and the Maldives live and breathe anthias fish! Swarms of them are everywhere. They crowd, carpet and cloud the reef.

Some of maybe the most common reef fish, anthias, or ‘basslets’, populate all tropical oceans and seas. If you include other genera, such as Pseudanthias and Odontanthias, there are at least 70 different species of them.

Tiny damselfish in and over coral. THE SATAYA REEF, EGYPT

November 2018

Shoals and Reefs

Every shape was better and each fish prettier than the one before! There must have been three pieces of coral in which dozens of little damselfish were living close to each other. In each case, the fish rose and descended as one in a united cloud. It was so beautiful—and variable.

I stayed for minutes because the situation was stunning from every angle, each fish adding to a gorgeous puzzle, every movement and cloud formation different from the one before it. It seemed like the fish were synchronized, no matter where you looked ...

Instant joy and ideal shot. Lionfish hovering among and above anthias. EGYPT

December 2019

Sometimes you just know—without a doubt— when something will turn out great. It seems like most of the time one sees the spectacular when low on air, when the group is ending the dive and you have to follow— or both. That was the case here. I didn’t have tonnes of air left, and I was trailing the group, who were swimming back to the boat. But the lionfish was in this wonderful pose, high enough above the coral to see clear separation, and surrounded by anthias, coral and colour.

It was so exciting that I approached a little too fast, causing the lionfish to descend towards the coral—sad because it looked so good higher up. Since one doesn’t want to slow one’s friends and guides down—make them wait at the end of the dive—and my air was running out, there was time enough only to take a few photographs. This one was the best of them.

A small group of margate fish that are always in the same spot—around two to three coral heads. THE AQUARIUM SITE, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2019

Shoals and Reefs

It’s nice that some things never change and some animals, even wild ones, are predictable. The Aquarium site is only five minutes from home, and my friends, relatives and I go there all the time. We all know the regulars: 1) ‘my’ three beloved green turtles (I call them Matilda, Monique and Melissa!) who swim the same soft coral channel every day and love the same two adjacent coral heads, one big and one small. I usually find one or two of them sitting there at least half the time; 2) the fairly large school of grunts around three coral heads and often under a small arch on the left side of the site and 3) these margate fish on the right side of the site, in shallow water, over pale sand and between coral heads that are more spaced out.

Sometimes you’ll get a transient nurse shark or spotted eagle ray at The Aquarium. Occasionally, you see a moray eel. Frequently, you get a large stingray. It’s extremely rare to see any turtle other than ‘my’ 3 greens and a medium hawksbill. But the grunts and margate fish are always there. The margates aren’t spectacular or colourful, but they are elegant. They’re immobile most of the time and move slowly when you approach— up to a point! They’re surprisingly photogenic—and familiar.

A typical view of the reef, alive with countless basslets, illuminated by the sun. EGYPT

December 2019

The sun in this image makes all the difference.


Probably the best frame of an oceanic whitetip shark I’ve ever taken. We had maybe four oceanics that day at Elphinstone. EGYPT

December 2017

Oceanic whitetips are very photogenic and curious anyway, but this day was exceptional. One of the sharks (the one in this image) went from one group of divers to the next, moved in and out of the groups and came extremely close to the divers. It came straight at me (but not aggressively) several times. This whole series of photographs is interesting because the pilot fish accompanying the shark kept changing position, creating different shapes in the images.

Close-up of a lemon shark at Tiger Beach. GRAND BAHAMA, THE BAHAMAS

April 2014

Lemon sharks are much more common than tiger sharks at Tiger Beach. The ratio has been something like 9 to 1 on every dive I’ve ever done there. The lemons are greedier than the tigers and, although their teeth seem formidable, they are totally inoffensive. Their faces are often quite funny. They tend to be covered with remoras at this dive site.


Oceanic whitetip shadowed by pilot fish.



Carcharhinus longimanus


April 2015

From my first ever dive with oceanics: nine sharks showed up before we even started chumming the water. They were drawn to the noise of the boat engine.

My favourite sharks by far, oceanic whitetips are unafraid open ocean sharks. Once one of the most common large animals on Earth with a circumglobal distribution in tropical to warmtemperate waters, owts are a prime example of how we have decimated shark populations over the past decades. Hit terribly hard by overfishing and the shark fin trade, oceanic whitetip numbers are down by as much as 97–99% in parts of their range. And whilst owts are one of the saddest cases, oceanic sharks overall have declined by 71% over the past 50 years. Of 536 shark species 167 are presently threatened with extinction. About seven percent of species are critically endangered. It’s hard to believe that approximately a hundred million sharks are killed by humans yearly. A low estimate I read a few years ago was 80 million; the high one 273 million. Cat Island in the Bahamas remains an oceanic whitetip stronghold. Thankfully, shark fishing is prohibited in Bahamian waters.

This one is a tasselled wobbegong—a member of the very aptly named group of carpet sharks. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015


Tasseled wobbegongs inhabit coral reefs and can reach a length of 1.8 metres.

A great white shark off the North Neptune Islands. AUSTRALIA


My camera disobeyed me the whole trip, and I only have about three decent shots from maybe twelve cage dives.

A scalloped hammerhead rises up the slope at the famed Manuelita site. ISLA DEL COCO, COSTA RICA

June 2017

We all had to hold our breaths for much of the Manuelita dives—so as not to scare the shy hammerheads away with our bubbles. It was hard to get them close and also take good pictures. Isla del Coco is, according to Sylvia Earle, ‘one of the sharkiest places on Earth’! It is stunning there. I was privileged to join an expedition with Sylvia and her Mission Blue team a few years ago. Isla del Coco is a protected Costa Rican island full of rainforests, with waterfalls pouring down rock faces into the ocean, its waters a very rich ecosystem with schools of large and pelagic fish like tuna swimming through and hundreds and hundreds of scalloped hammerheads. Galapagos sharks and whitetip reef sharks also abound. Since the water started getting warmer a few years ago, tiger sharks have also started showing up. Plenty of other dive sites exist (Punta Maria, where the image of the scarred Galapagos shark was taken, and Halcyon, which is very deep and where the currents can be treacherous, come to mind), but by far the best site for hammerheads is a fairly shallow reef (20 metres), with rows of rocky ledges you can sit or crouch on, known as Manuelita. The hammerheads are cleaned there by barber fish, and they swim around and climb up and down the reef vertically, as well. Hammerheads are notoriously skittish and stay far away from divers. So, to get good photos—not to deter the sharks from coming close—divers must breathe as little as possible. All of us on these dives at Manuelita were doing our very best not to breathe out at the wrong time, causing an eruption of bubbles that would scare the sharks away.


A silky shark, hooked. THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2016


Unfortunately, about a third of the sharks we see in the Bahamas have a hook in their mouths— or a scar from a past fishing accident.

A pelagic thresher shark about 30 metres down sometime after 5 a.m. (sunrise). MALAPASCUA, PHILIPPINES

May 2017

There are three different species of thresher shark. Threshers live deep down and stun their prey with their enormous tails, which themselves can be as long as a shark’s entire body. The sharks are only at the site at dawn—and for a very brief time. We weren’t allowed to use flashes, and the light that deep is terrible, making photography difficult. Malapascua is probably the most reliable place in the world to see thresher sharks.

Whitetip reef sharks on the seafloor—quite shallow here. ISLA DEL COCO, COSTA RICA

June 2017

Whitetip reef sharks remain fairly small and are generally quite inactive. You usually see them just lying on the floor, appearing to breathe heavily. They’re often found in caves as well. They are more active at night, which probably explains their low energy during daytime dives. At Isla del Coco, divers can watch them feed frantically on night dives. The sharks gather under the light of the dive torches and hunt fish relentlessly, giving divers a real spectacle.


A large Galapagos shark at the Punta Maria site. ISLA DEL COCO, COSTA RICA

June 2017

I assume this scar is the result of a fishing accident. The first dive we did at Punta María, we saw nearly no sharks—and scared the ones we saw away by moving too much or swimming too fast. On the second dive, we were much stealthier and saw this Galapagos shark.

A large Galapagos shark accompanied by blue-spotted jacks— about 25 metres down at the Punta Maria site. ISLA DEL COCO, COSTA RICA

June 2017


The range of the Galapagos shark is not limited to the Galapagos. They can also be found in places as far away as Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Cape Verde, Madagascar, the Marshall Islands and Hawaii!

A silky shark less than ten minutes away from home. AT THE SITE WE CALL ‘SILKY’ IN THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

December 2017

Silky sharks are my favourite sharks, along with oceanic whitetips. Although silkies can grow to 2.5 metres long, the ones close to home are small. In fact, I’ve never seen one bigger than 1.3 metres in the Bahamas. They are beautiful and sleek, and they look wonderful with flash! The silkies I photograph are very fast—so much so that, if they were bigger, they might scare you. They often come right up to the camera and even get tangled in the strobe cables sometimes.


December 2017

‘Silky’ is a deep dive site, but the sharks are nearly always close to the surface. The light on this specific day was absolutely beautiful, and nearly every photograph came out well. Silky sharks are migratory. We never see them in July, when the water is warmer, but we see them on every dive at this site in April and December. Silkies are one of the most abundant shark species in the world. That may not be the case for long, though, because the finning industry is putting immense pressure on them.


Side view of a great hammerhead’s face, teeth and all. A remora on top and a small one under the hammer, the more scientific name of which is ‘cephalofoil’. BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

December 2014

Much as this is a good picture, my eye is inevitably and invariably drawn to the blotches. That site has very fine sand, which divers tend to kick up, and which the sharks also disturb when they come to eat. In this image, one can see grains of sand floating around.

One reason this photograph is interesting perhaps is that hammerhead teeth are rarely seen from this angle ... and this specific hammerhead was badly in need of an orthodontist! One thing I find fascinating about hammerheads—and also manta rays—is that it can be hard to distinguish where the eye starts and how it’s separate from the body. Their eyes sometimes look completely blended with the rest of them.

Motion blur photograph of the famous, and famously docile, nurse sharks at Compass Cay. THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

June 2018


All nurse sharks are docile. There are about twelve the locals have named that live—and live to be fed—at Compass! People get in and swim among them nearly all hours of the day, but particularly for feedings.

A silky shark surrounded by large rainbow runners at the famous buoy in Andros. THE BAHAMAS

April 2019

When my buddy and I dove the buoy at Andros, there were about nine sharks swimming around. One of them was much bigger than the others (though still less than 2 metres long). Two of them had rainbow runners for company, and they were by far the most interesting to photograph. I don’t know exactly how rainbow runners might benefit from sharks or vice versa.

When you get in the water with a wild animal, you’re essentially giving yourself to that animal because, as humans, we’re quite helpless and vulnerable in the water. You’re at the leopard seal’s mercy. You’re at the predator’s mercy. PAU L N I C K L E N

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.



A clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris in this case) rests on its anemone home. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

There are actually thirty different species of clownfish, also known as ‘anemone fish’, but one only ever sees a small number in popular culture and media. The species in this image is perhaps the one we are shown most frequently, and is the star of Finding Nemo.

It has also been suggested that the clownfish’s bright colouring might lure small fish to the anemone, which then catches them.

Clownfish live in symbiosis with their anemone hosts.

They are photographed so frequently, and images of clownfish are so common, that it’s hard to get an original-looking photograph of them. It’s nice that this one is so funny.

The sea anemone protects the anemone fish from predators, provides food through the scraps left from the anemone’s meals, and occasional dead anemone tentacles, and functions as a safe nest site. In turn, the clownfish’s fecal matter provides nutrients to the anemone.

Clownfish are impervious to the poison produced by anemones.

Reef manta ray in Hanifaru Bay performs a somersault. BAA ATOLL, MALDIVES 2015

Occasionally, a manta will do an underwater somersault, sometimes referred to as a ‘barrel roll’. Frequently, mantas perform an entire series of these, particularly when there is a concentration of plankton they can trap in this way to feed on. Manta bellies, their eyes and cephalic lobes are my favourites! The cephalic lobes, protrusions on either side of the head which can be unfurled, are specific to manta and mobula rays, and are said to help funnel plankton into their mouths.

I know of nothing more graceful than a manta ray doing a somersault.

Ghost-like reef manta. HANIFARU, MALDIVES

July 2015

Reportedly up to 300 mantas have been known to gather in the plankton-rich waters of Hanifaru Bay, which isn’t much bigger than a football field, at one time. They are most numerous around high tide. Whilst they feed in a number of different ways, perhaps the most interesting behaviour is known as ‘cyclone feeding’, where a line of chain feeding mantas begin to loop around until the lead of the feeding chain joins the trailing mantas to form a large circle of feeding animals. There are two recognized species of manta ray: the reef manta, which grows to a wingspan of around 4.5 metres and is generally found nearer the reef, and the oceanic manta, which lives in more open water and can reach a wingspan of 7 metres! Scientists are now changing their classification and lumping them into the larger group of mobula rays. Mantas and mobulas are sometimes called ‘devil rays’ or devil fish because their cephalic lobes look a little like horns. Mantas, like whale sharks and basking sharks, eat only plankton despite their enormous size.


I was lucky to be on this expedition with the co-founders of the Manta Trust, Thomas Peschak of National Geographic and Dr. Guy Stevens, who is ceo of the Trust. Tom first shot the Hanifaru mantas in 2008 and 2009, when numbers were highest and when diving was still allowed there. The bay is now protected and patrolled by guards, and only snorkeling is allowed. Tom and Guy established the Trust in 2011 to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for manta rays, and co-published a beautiful book, Manta — Secret Life of Devil Rays, in 2016. Manta counts were down between 2009 and 2014, but we were lucky to have about 150 mantas in the bay for some swims in 2015. Manta rays, which are absolutely harmless, are now slaughtered in the thousands for their gill plates, which purportedly hold medicinal qualities, though, of course, this is unproven.

Close-up of a cheek-lined wrasse (Oxycheilinus digramma). RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

I took this shot with a macro lens while the fish was in motion and was surprised that the image turned out this well. The fish’s eye kept moving in different directions, which was fun to watch. Wrasses are beautiful and come in over 600 varieties. They range enormously in colouration and size, with the biggest—the Napoleon wrasse—measuring up to 2 metres and weighing up to 180 kilos. Cheek-lined wrasses are native to the Indian

Ocean and the western Pacific. They grow to approximately 40 centimetres.

A soft coral crab—also known as a candy crab—standing, nearly completely camouflaged, on its habitat. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA August 2015


There were actually two crabs on this little piece of coral; but I had a hard time fitting them both in the picture. It was fantastic seeing these crabs, having never seen them before. Their colours are absolutely stunning. Candy crab colour depends on that of the host coral. The crabs can be white, pink, yellow or red. The first pair of legs of this species has small claws.

One of my very favourite nudibranchs, Nembrotha cristata, in a field of tunicates. RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015

This was one of the most amazing sights—both the nudibranch and the tunicates it feeds on. I took a large number of shots, many of which look good, of this elegant creature sliding along its habitat, zigzagging between nutritious obstacles and nourishing itself.

There are many of these slugs in Indonesia and also in the Philippines, where a friend and I went on expedition in 2017. This species lives at depths between 3 and 20 metres. Its habitat consists of coral or rock reefs, and it has a lifespan of up to a year.

The inhalant siphon of a giant clam (Tridacna gigas). RAJA AMPAT, WEST PAPUA, INDONESIA

August 2015


One wouldn’t expect a clam to be incredibly beautiful. And yet, giant clams really are.

Giant clams have eyes! The mantle border is covered in several hundred eyespots.

They can live for over 100 years in the wild and weigh 200 kilograms.

Generally speaking, clams close at least somewhat as you get closer to them. For a photographer, that is very disappointing because they are at their most beautiful when wide open.

Adult Tridacna gigas are the only giant clams unable to close their shells completely. Even when closed, part of the mantle is visible.

A Hypselodoris apolegma Another one of the most beautiful nudibranchs I know. LEMBEH, INDONESIA

August 2016

The colour of this species is simply breath-taking. Until the Lembeh trip in 2016, I’d never seen one, and my excitement was tangible when we found several in a week. Until this specific individual, though, I was incapable, for some reason or other, of taking nice images. Much of the seabed in Lembeh is muck—mud and dirt and trash and some sand—and it is all too easy to kick up and ruin photos with. On one of the last days, we were told there was one of these nudibranchs at a specific site, and we went there. I suspect another photographer had kind of cheated and placed the nudibranch in an ideal,

easy-to-photograph setting, positioning the animal perfectly. Because we found it above the bottom, sitting on top of the nicest branch of coral that was itself surrounded by a circle of other tall corals! It was as if a studio had been set up, or at least, a model placed in the nicest, most convenient location possible. In that situation, it was fairly easy to take this nice picture of a Hypselodoris apolegma down quite deep in North Sulawesi.

A nudibranch, probably Chromodoris magnifica. PHILIPPINES

May 2017

We found it in the shallows and it was a great model! I would like to tell you that the protrusion on its side is an exhaust pipe, but it is actually a sex organ! Nudibranchs reproduce side to side and head to toe.


According to Wikipedia, nudibranchs are hermaphroditic, thus have a set of reproductive organs for both sexes, but they cannot fertilise themselves. Mating usually takes a few minutes and involves a dance-like courtship. Nudibranchs typically deposit their eggs within a gelatinous spiral, which is often described as looking like a ribbon. The number of eggs varies; it can be as few as just one or two eggs or as many as an estimated 25 million.

A pigmy seahorse on its coral home 28–30 metres down. PHILIPPINES May 2017

They are difficult to photograph since the camera has a hard time focusing on the coral and fish rather than the background, and the wily seahorses turn away or bend downwards most of the time.[1] The seahorse in this frame was bigger than its companions and looked like it might have been pregnant. This pink species is but one of many. Pigmy seahorses also come in black, yellow and bright red as well as in different shapes. They measure only 1.4 to 2.7 centimetres.

I. Sometimes, they bend down and look away! The best photos of them, I’m told, are taken by a photographer who places his camera on a tripod about 70 centimetres from these geniuses of camouflage.

A Pseudoceros bimarginatus flatworm sliding over coral. APO ISLAND, DAUIN, PHILIPPINES May 2017


Flatworms are invariably appealing visually— they always please.

I was treading water while taking this frame and so worried it wouldn’t turn out well.

They seem rarer than nudibranchs, but can be just as colourful.

At one point, the flatworm fell off the plate of coral. I kept shooting and, funnily enough, the pictures of the fall are just as nice as the rest.

This particular flatworm was wonderfully positioned on equally beautiful coral.

Nembrotha kubaryana, also known as the ‘variable neon slug’ or the ‘dusky nembrotha’. PHILIPPINES

May 2017

The same basic black and green colour as its cousin, Nembrotha cristata (another favourite) Nembrotha kubaryana has bright orange on its face! My only way to remember the complicated scientific name is to think of kumbaya! Kubaryana, like so many (perhaps all?) other nudibranchs, is poisonous to eat. Its bright warning colours, like those of poison arrow frogs and monarch butterflies, advertise this fact.

Wikipedia tells us that N. kubaryana uses the toxins in its usual prey, ascidians, to defend itself against predators. It stores the ascidian’s toxins in its tissues and then releases them in a slimy defensive mucus when alarmed. Many years ago I saw one of my pet fish, a Comet or ‘marine betta’, try to eat a sea slug in an aquarium. The fish spat it out three times, cementing in me the knowledge that nudibranchs are indeed toxic to fish.

Flabellina exoptata nudibranch (literally translatable as ‘much desired flabellina’). GATO ISLAND, A FEW MILES FROM MALAPASCUA, PHILIPPINES

May 2017


This was one of the most intricate and interesting nudibranchs I’ve ever seen. Beautiful. It was balanced on some kind of algal stalk in fairly shallow water and, given its looks and the novelty factor, it was harder for me to abandon than most things after a shoot. The nudibranch was indeed ‘much desired’!

While photographing it, I was very unsure how much detail would be captured and what the depth of field would be.

A Spanish dancer nudibranch, which is nocturnal, undulating. NEAR MALAPASCUA, PHILIPPINES

May 2017

Spanish dancers are quite large for nudibranchs, growing to a maximum of 60 centimetres long; most nudibranchs don’t exceed 12–14.They are extremely widespread in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific, and found as easily off Egypt as the coasts of Hawaii, Indonesia and Japan. The way they swim and move like a flamenco dancer is truly magnificent—a sight to behold.

This Spanish dancer was the first and, thus far, last I ever saw. Our expert guide found it very easily during a day dive, whereas, one would usually come across them at night.

A dugong eats voraciously in the sea grass. MARSA MUBARAK, EGYPT

December 2017

Watching this dugong eat was like witnessing the most powerful hoover suck dirt off a carpet! It just ate and ate and ate and ate. It ate endlessly during our forty-five-minute dive with it. Dugongs feed primarily on seagrass and marine algae, complementing their diet with shellfish and sea squirts, found in seagrass, as well as various invertebrates, including worms. I couldn’t believe this animal’s appearance! Its nostrils looked like valves, it had beady eyes surrounded by wrinkles, tiny holes for ears and a long, expansive beard. It would be easy to mistake dugongs for manatees. Both are essentially aquatic cows.


But there are primary differences: Manatees have horizontal, paddle-shaped tails with only one lobe to move up and down when the animal swims; it’s similar in appearance to that of a beaver tail. Dugongs have a fluked tail, meaning it is made up of two separate lobes joined together in the middle. The snout of a dugong is broad, short, and trunk-like. It faces downward with a slit for a mouth, useful for feeding off the ocean floor. Manatees have a divided upper lip and a shorter snout, which means they are able to both gather food to eat and feed on plants growing at or near the surface of the water. As this dugong ate for what seemed like hours, innumerable sand clouds of varying sizes emanated from its lunch plate. Watching it feed was like watching a whirlwind—or a series of adjacent tornadoes.

The Marsa Mubarak dugong descends with all his remora acolytes after taking a breath at the surface. MARSA MUBARAK, EGYPT

December 2017

Despite the dugong moving extremely slowly most of the time and allowing me to come within 2 to 4 metres of him, I ran through my tank much faster than usual and was hyperventilating, my breathing out control, for the better part of the dive. There was a surprisingly strong current. My friends and I kept having to adjust our buoyancy for the animal’s ascents and descents, and this creature, at the time the object of my affection, took us for an unexpected and extended tour around much of the gigantic bay he lives in!

It was a surprisingly difficult shoot for an experience with an animal you could outswim ninety percent of the time, but at least many of the frames are beautiful.


The famous young male dugong at Marsa Mubarak goes upright after a long seagrass snack! It seemed for a few seconds like he was trying to shake off his remoras as well. MARSA MUBARAK, EGYPT

December 2017

This is one of the frames in my portfolio that appeals to people the most—and the first fonassociation Instagram post to garner more than 400 likes, accumulating over 550 of them. We were very lucky, Simo, Jim and I, to get two dives completely alone with this character, after a first dive during which he was surrounded or, rather, crowded out by about eight snorkelers, four other divers and us. This animal was one of the most interesting I have ever encountered. So fat, so bizarre... original, hungry and slow. Unfortunately, this marine mammal may be a victim of his own success—drawing in more tourists than might otherwise be desirable and, in so doing, rendering his lifestyle both less appealing and less natural/wild than it might otherwise be. It’s hard to believe that the mermaid legend was born from sea cows—either manatees or dugongs. History books specify that the Spanish sailors who found the New World had not seen any women for many months and so, by the time they came across a manatee, they might have imagined it a pretty girl with a fish tail!


Magical moment or ‘positions’. Spinner dolphins of Sataya synchronized. EGYPT

December 2016

It was as if the dolphins moved into position on cue! A split second earlier and a split second later, these guys were just ‘normal’ dolphins in simple poses at the surface.

I was shooting so much that I hardly noticed what was happening in front of me. When you look through a screen all the time, reality can seem detached. It was nearly impossible to know this image would appear in my files. There are two nearly identical versions of this photo, and it’s always interesting to see which frame people prefer.

Trio of young Atlantic spotted dolphins. BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

August 2013

Twenty-three—the number of dolphins that came in at one time. My first encounter with more than eight dolphins. These were the loudest dolphins I’ve ever been in the water with—clicking and whistling and communicating the whole time. The animals in this picture are probably an alliance of young males. Larger groups nearly always divide into smaller factions—tighter sets of friends.

After at least eight 9-day trips with the Wild Dolphin Project, led by researcher Dr. Denise Herzing, since 2013, this is still one of my best images—and taken on my very first dolphin expedition. Having taken thousands and thousands of photographs every trip, it’s interesting to see which ones stand the test of time.

Spinner dolphin portrait taken as I was running out of breath. SATAYA, EGYPT

December 2014

This image is burned into my memory cells. Ingrained and encrusted in the corners of my mind and the depths of my soul. My lungs are incompetent! A friend of mine managed to hold his breath for three whole minutes, his free diving instructor simply holding his back down at the surface, after only two classes! Tom Peschak and other admirable photographers can go to great depths and take magnificent photographs on one breath alone. For me the limit is perhaps 12 metres or forty seconds! 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 slowly rising directly towards my legs, eventually spiralling around them. The camera refused to shoot. It refused 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! The camera would not shoot. And then, as I was seconds away from desperately needing air, the dolphin rose just above me into the light. Finally the camera shot. I was convinced the photograph would be a terrible failure, swimming back to the boat cursing my lungs, the camera and the light (but not the dolphin!). For sure I thought I might have half a fin, part of a head 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.


‘Dolphin dance’, members of the Sataya pod. SATAYA, EGYPT

December 2014

One of my favourite photographs of all time. From the first season in Sataya, invited on the boat by Cousteau’s brilliant former video man, Didier Noirot. Somehow, everything fell into place as I clicked away. Wonderful positions and angles, beautiful light, all in focus. This photo has since been printed for multiple friends, for a silent auction at a charity dinner in New York and for home.


Multiple generations of spinner dolphins cruising over sand and isolated corals. SATAYA, EGYPT

December 2014

People always say this image looks more like a painting than a photograph. Strange since the camera was on the same settings as the rest of the day. Perhaps the natural light was different at that moment—overcast. Or maybe I was deeper, not at the surface. One isn’t allowed to dive with dolphins or whales—only to snorkel with them.

Rising as one. Atlantic spotted dolphins. BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

September 2015

Some shapes and positions just look so much better than others. As animals start to come into view, and as they get closer, your excitement rises. And even when you’ve seen some things a hundred times before, as I have this, they continue to entice. One nice thing about this image is how white the rostra are and the contrast they provide.


The shape formed by the middle dolphins, which may have been mating, and the fact that all fins and tails are in different positions, add more layers.


September 2015

Atlantic spotted dolphins just as they were finishing mating. It is the male who goes upside down when dolphins mate. And dolphins mate a lot! I shot a whole series as the couple rose to the surface, attached to each other, from the bottom about 14 metres down, but this frame—one of the final images—turned out the best. I wish more of their bodies had appeared in the frame. Spotted dolphins acquire more spots as they age. Calves are born spotless. Spots begin to appear when the animals are about four or slightly younger. When the spots are quite numerous, the animals are described as being ‘mottled’, and when they are innumerable, the animals older, the dolphins are said to be ‘fused’. These two specific dolphins are from among the very large number Dr. Denise Herzing of the Wild Dolphin Project has been observing, swimming with and writing about in the Bahamas for over 30 years. She recognizes something like 100 different dolphins from memory and more from photographic files. We met in 2013 when Brian Skerry and I joined her on her boat for the spotted dolphin part of his dolphin cover story in National Geographic.

The dolphins Denise studies split into two groups around 2013, with one of the groups joining the more numerous Bimini animals, making it harder for her to find some individuals. In fact, the whereabouts of four of her favourites, including Brush and her son Brat, were unknown for a few seasons recently. Because the dolphin habitat around Bimini is quite large and the dolphins cover a lot of ground ... it’s rather difficult to predict exactly where a specific dolphin will be at any given time. As an example, despite looking for them repeatedly in all their usual spots, Denise couldn’t find four of her favourite dolphins, including Brush and her son Brat, for a couple of seasons. She only saw them again very recently. There are plenty of operators in and close to Bimini who take clients to swim with these dolphins, but none are as well-versed as Denise and her graduate students—nor as close to the animals, concerned about their wellbeing or, it would seem, loved by them. Every single moment spent with dolphins is a joy, a childhood dream come true, and a lesson in animal intelligence, socialization and family structures. When you see this image, don’t fool yourself into believing these animals are madly in love or mate for life. Dolphins are promiscuous and, along with apes, among the only animals who mate for pleasure.

Seconds before the magic—Spinner dolphins. SATAYA, EGYPT

December 2016


If you compare this image to the main one from the ‘Dolphins’ page of the Living Sea exhibition, it should become obvious that this frame was taken seconds or less before ‘Magical moment or “positions”’, one of the top five images in the dolphin portfolio.

Spinner dolphins coming from all directions with speed. SATAYA, EGYPT

December 2016

The spinner dolphins at Sataya, a tiny reef in the middle of nowhere that protects a bay in which the dolphins congregate, have become quite famous because they are habituated to human presence. They can be found easily in the small bay and are amazing to swim among. Sometimes, you see eighty dolphins in a tightknit group. Occasionally it’s 120 dolphins spread out all around the bay. Sometimes you get close to a small number, an offshoot, that’s socializing, playing… Sometimes the dolphins don’t want you there, stay 15 metres down and constantly swim away. Other times, you might be lucky enough to have dozens of spinners close to you and right at the surface. Regardless of numbers and interactions, every hour in the water seems nearly a miraculous, perfect dream or fantasy.

Sataya in Egypt, with its spinner dolphins, and Bimini in the Bahamas, with its Atlantic spotted dolphins, are two of my favourite places in the world, and the only locations I know of (though there may be others) where one can swim with large numbers of confident, curious, beautiful (all dolphins are beautiful) and habituated dolphins. The idea that if you go into the water when you see dolphins they will come and play with you is largely a fallacy, a myth, a children’s story. Wild dolphins want nothing to do with you! Nineteen times out of twenty, wild dolphins will swim as fast and as far away from you as they possibly can. And whilst this may seem like an enormous letdown—a shattered fairytale—it is precisely what makes Sataya and Bimini so special.

Bueno and Sycamore, young Atlantic spotted dolphins, playing in the waters of Bimini. BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

July 2018


The amount of time dolphins spend playing never ceases to amaze. Games and mischief and acrobatics are dolphin mainstays—musts. Bueno’s and Sycamore’s antics that morning were no exception. Dolphins take singular pleasure in fun and seem to nearly constantly express joy. They can be very serious as well, though. When they’re hunting or ‘traveling’—essentially just moving from point A to point B (and usually not slowly)—their focus is absolute. And there is no time for anything else.

Whatever behavior they exhibit while you’re in the water with them, you sometimes feel like pinching yourself while swimming with dolphins since it’s hard to believe that you’re witnessing for real something magnificent you’ve seen in books, magazines and on tv—experienced secondhand—your entire life.

Monkey and Jammin’, habituated Atlantic spotted dolphins, playing with sargassum. BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

August 2018

On the very last day of a trip with few encounters, the dolphins appeared as we were bringing the anchor up, and we got to swim with them for two hours and fifty-five minutes over 3.15 miles!

Young Atlantic spotted dolphin, Monkey or Jammin’, playing with sargassum—and posing for the camera! BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

August 2018


After a difficult trip with few swims, the two dolphins that rewarded us with the incredible encounter more than two hours long were inspired. They played with sargassum and jellyfish and interacted with us a tonne, swimming around and among our group.

I had Jammin’ by my side, eye to eye, staying right next to me for ages while Monkey swam between everyone else a little further behind. It was worth the wait, and these two animals were more playful and interactive than one would have imagined possible. Full of joy ...

Mother and calf— Atlantic spotted dolphins. BIMINI, THE BAHAMAS

July 2019

I absolutely love the shape of both dolphins in this image—how closely they seem to mirror each other. Sometimes you know exactly when, technology allowing, what you see will make a very nice picture. This was one such instance. The duo stayed in that formation for several moments. As is so often the case, being there at that time was simply lucky.

Under the surface— split-away in the shallows. Spinner dolphins. SATAYA, EGYPT

November 2019

My friends Denise, Tamiko, Jim and I followed a smaller group into shallow water, and it was worth every second. The group had separated from the larger pod, making for more interesting viewing and better photographs. The spinner dolphins of Sataya can be incredibly playful. They are fairly small, but exquisite, supremely agile and incredibly versatile. One could spend hours watching them, enthralled and mystified—and we always do!


Split-away groups are always more intimate, both in terms of the dolphins and for the people watching them. With smaller groups of animals it’s also easier to distinguish individual characters.

Independent thinkers/risers en petit comité split away from the rest of the spinner dolphin pod. SATAYA, EGYPT

December 2019

You can’t believe how synchronized dolphins are until you see it. They don’t miss a beat. They never miscalculate or make mistakes. Their grace is unequalled, power and speed unimaginable and social bonds supreme. We are very lucky when the animals let us close or rise just next to us. All too often, they are far off or relatively deep.

Sea Lions

Doe-eyed sea lion pup or ‘Isa lion’ who played with me for an hour. LOS ISLOTES, CLOSE TO LA PAZ, MEXICO

January 2014

She looked just like my dog, Isabella—‘Isa’! Los Islotes is home to a famous sea lion colony with hundreds of animals—including the most inquisitive, sweet and mischievous pups you will ever meet—visited daily by dozens of snorkelers and divers. This pup and I played together for over an hour. Every time it surfaced, I followed it. Every time I descended, it followed me. It was like an adoring puppy—an overenthusiastic playmate. It sat on my back and played with my tank. It pulled at my remaining strands of hair. It tugged on my mask, swam all around me, bending and twisting my gear. I was compelled to break the ‘no touching’ rule! It let me rub its back, then its side … and then its stomach. Eventually, I could even scratch its throat— except for the fact that it took my fingers in its mouth and gently nibbled on them every time. This was the sweetest animal you’ve ever seen! Playful, fun, excited, endearing, enthusiastic, curious. Trusting ... and generous with its time! It was such an amazing and lengthy encounter,

the bond so strong, it felt like falling in love! I was literally miserable, floored, feeling the physical pain of heartbreak, my chest sunken in, when it wasn’t there on the next dive. One interesting thing about this frame, which I immediately hung in my apartment after the trip, is that it was one of the very last photographs I saw while reviewing my images on the boat. It was the happiest surprise! Nearly everything I’d seen up until that point was fairly mediocre, failed to capture the excitement and emotion of the experience or to please the eye. Then all of a sudden, at the very end of my review (one of maybe the last six images), this picture appeared. And it couldn’t have been nicer. The sea lions at Los Islotes, which I’ve visited seven times now, are truly amusing and amazing. As with so many animals, humpback whales included, the young are usually the most fun. This encounter was undoubtedly one of my top five of all time. Absolutely unforgettable.

‘Docile descent!’ A sea lion pup investigates … LOS ISLOTES, CLOSE TO LA PAZ, MEXICO

April 2014

Can you imagine a nicer greeting or a sweeter visage? I can’t ... This sea lion pup came down to explore, not knowing perhaps that it would win my heart in an instant! Though this wasn’t the case here, animals occasionally become more animated—or stick around for longer—because they see their reflection in the dome port or lens, a phenomenon observed with apes as it is with pinnipeds. Male fighting fish even try to attack their reflection if you place a mirror in their aquarium.

Whilst I don’t much approve of digitally enhancing images at all (in fact I rather scorn it!), this photograph was masterfully altered in that we managed to at least slightly reduce the overexposure of the animal’s back.

Goofy and chinless sea lion or ‘Sometimes you cut off the chin’. LOS ISLOTES COLONY, NEAR LA PAZ, MEXICO

January 2014

Sea Lions

I don’t think this juvenile, too big to be a very young pup, could have posed better or been more amusing. It’s a shame its chin is cut off … but I blame the sea lion, not my shooting!

Sometimes events happen so fast that you don’t have time to frame things perfectly. And sometimes the lens you have on or amount you’ve zoomed prevents you from getting something ‘perfect’. I don’t think this pinniped would care that its portrait could have turned out better.

Playful sea lion, contorted. MEXICO

March 2016

I love this shot. Particularly, how everything just fits in the frame. And the chaotic but playful shape, the ever-conscious eye. I like the rock behind the lobo marino, too. This may be the best playing sea lion in my collection. The image is probably from an expedition with my friends Shari and Sylvia. We tried to go to Cabo Pulmo with Sylvia’s Mission Blue outfit three different times in two years! We had to abort two of the expeditions due to bad weather. A storm was slowly, but surely chasing our boat on one of the trips—many miles away but continually moving up the coast after us.

We were supposed to go and celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Cabo Pulmo as a ‘no-catch’ reserve that experienced a 400 percent biomass increase after becoming protected. Sylvia also wanted to give away some equipment to local children and teach them to snorkel. I believe we only made it for the 21st or 22nd anniversary of Pulmo! One thing people, myself included, tend not to know is that sea lions are quite different from seals: ‘Seals and sea lions are marine mammals called “pinnipeds” that differ in physical characteristics and adaptations. Sea lions are brown, bark loudly, “walk” on land using their large flippers and have visible ear flaps. Seals have small flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, and lack visible ear flaps.’ (noaa)

Adorable fur seal pup at Cape Douglas. THE GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR

May 2016

Look at that face! Truly a puppy of the sea on land... Major differences between fur seals and sea lions include that fur seals have less blubber but two layers of fur. The bottom layer serves as insulation whereas the top layer consists of guard hairs to protect the insulating fur. For that reason fur seals spend a significant amount of time grooming. Interestingly, the design of the fur seal’s fur is very similar to that of the sea otter—although the density of otter fur is far greater.

Sea Lions

Fur seal pup on the rocks at Cape Douglas—home to the largest marine iguana colony. THE GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR

May 2016

You can see parts of a marine iguana, which exist only in the Galapagos, in the upper left corner. I loved how shiny the fur seal pups were when wet. It made for very nice images.

We saw loads of fur seal pups and a few young sea lions on the rocks at Cape Douglas. Unfortunately we also saw a large number of dead iguanas due to the effects of El Niño that year. The most amazing, and rarest, sight at Cape Douglas may actually have been the sea turtles we saw warming themselves in the sun just above the water line on a beach. I’ve never heard of sea turtles sunbathing anywhere other than in the Galapagos.

Possibly the proudestlooking parent I’ve ever seen. This family of sea lions was in an ideal situation— perfect setting, spacing and interaction between individuals … and great attitudes. THE GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR

May 2016

Sea Lions

These pinnipeds were just outside what was a recently identified, rather large mangrove area that was full of life and had immediately become known for the turtles within. The visibility inside was terrible, and the few turtles we saw were very skittish—difficult to shoot. But this small sea lion group was just there— right where you enter and exit the mangrove— and delightful.

We had hurried into the mangroves (taken no time to observe the sea lion family on the way in), so it was nice to watch and photograph them calmly afterwards.

Bubbly adult male sea lion. You know it’s an adult male because of the big bumpy head. LA PAZ, MEXICO

August 2018

I was warned, on my first trip to Mexico, against closely approaching big males or, perhaps more importantly, the females and young they’re actively overseeing. The big males can be very protective. My friends and I were also told that sea lions give three warnings before they do anything to hurt you. Warning one: they blow bubbles at/for you (humpback whales do this to each other sometimes, frequently when males are competing for the same female). Warning two: they bare their teeth, popping their mouths open and snapping them shut—as if they’re pretending to bite. Warning three: they circle or rush you.

Let me put it to you this way: if you don’t notice the bubbles and you don’t understand the bite mimicking before the animal starts circling you, then you aren’t observant enough and probably deserve to be bitten! Since my first sea lion dives, I’ve taught myself to stay away from big pinniped foreheads.

‘Just swimming through’. LA PAZ, MEXICO

August 2018

Sea Lions

A sea lion in a standard position.

Moving mummy hug. LA PAZ, MEXICO

August 2018

One of the most touching moments, no pun intended.

These two sea lions were in a group of about eight, all moving at the same time but in different directions. Among the chaos, this duo seemed connected and even purposeful. The ride came out of nowhere—it was as sudden as it was spectacular. Despite trying to take about twelve shots, only this one turned out well. It happened too fast to do much better. It would just be nicer if there were more space at the top of the frame.

‘Scratchy scratchy!’ or ‘Large female sea lion scratching her back on the rocks’ at the small colony at Cabo Pulmo. MEXICO

August 2018

She alternated between scratching her back intently and playfully—nearly coyly—observing me. Our guide that summer told us that the colony is bigger at a different time of year. There were only about 8–12 sea lions there in August. I think this was a female.

Sea Lions

The water at the colony is very shallow, at most maybe 8 metres deep. The side of the rocks closest to shore, where we found this lady, was in the shadows, so most of my images were very dark and needed some lightening up. This marine mammal was really fun to watch and photograph. Every now and again, she’d stop scratching, move away a few metres, come back and start again.

Surface shenanigans! Sea lions in top shape. LA PAZ, MEXICO

August 2018

The lovely sea lion family I came upon after the wonderful swim with a manta ray that never left my side—both encounters described in another ‘Sea lions’ caption here.

This couldn’t have been a better morning! Moreover, I think it was the penultimate—or even last—day of our trip. Very few things compare to calm and composed, trusting subjects. Without the stress of an animal fleeing and the difficulty of some subjects, a photo session becomes extremely relaxing and personally rewarding.

‘Look at me’ or ‘Hey, check me out’. LA PAZ, MEXICO

August 2018

Bubble-maker! CABO PULMO, MEXICO

August 2018

Sea lion pup at the surface. Hard to know whether it was showing off, playing or just trying to get a good look.

Sea lion family at the surface. LA PAZ, MEXICO

August 2018

They let me move around them for minutes. My friends and I had been diving with sea lions for several days by then. But many of my images were a bit blurry—sea lions are fast and move unpredictably. You can’t guess where or in what position they’ll be a few seconds after you plan a shot. Despite wonderful opportunities, nearly no shots were great. but this particular morning, I had a tenminute or longer swim with a manta ray at the surface. I’d seen mantas dozens of times—but only been close to them by chance. I know they are intelligent fish—with the biggest proportional brain size of all and, reportedly, the ability to recognize individual divers. They are also known to demonstrate gratitude to people who have disentangled them from nets. An incredible swim with a big manta, which stayed no more than 3 or 4 metres away at any time, was more than enough to make up for mediocre photographs of blurry sea lions. One can tell with an animal like that, an animal that’s watching you the whole time, never straying and never fleeing at top speed, that it has intelligence. You just sense it. Every minute you’re thinking how lucky you are and how wonderful the animal is.

I stumbled upon the sea lions above as I was about to leave the manta ray, after photographing this amazing creature like mad (200 images? You can’t always help yourself when it’s that good—and when things aren’t rushed). The sea lions were visible from some distance away, and as I swam to them, the manta came into my frame a few times as well, making for very nice photographs. It was a family of pinnipeds just sitting at the surface, resting and joyful. Sea lions, like dolphins, nearly always look joyful. There were two or three adults and one smaller individual. Perhaps two parents and a child or two parents, a child, and an aunt or friend. I got very close to them indeed, but still hesitated a bit because adult males protect and defend their mates and offspring—sometimes vehemently. But these guys were very calm. No one seemed bothered at all. Napping and dreaming, floating about. I stayed about 4 metres away and photographed them for a number of minutes. finally, I got good shots of sea lions in La Paz—and not at Los Islotes, my usual spot—which made up for the hundreds of mediocre images from the days before.

The whiskers make all the difference. A sea lion comes out of the darkness. CABO PULMO, MEXICO

August 2018

Sea Lions

I wasn’t expecting to find a good photograph in that folder. Everything had come out very dark since we were in the shade of the huge rock above. But then I saw this image and became happy.

Large male sea lion, fat head and all, cruising around. CABO PULMO, MEXICO

August 2018

Adult male sea lions are fairly easy to identify by the intensity with which they patrol their territory and their apparent dominance over smaller animals. Other signs are the size of their foreheads, as well as how protrusive they are.

The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.


I know of no pleasure deeper than that which comes from contemplating the natural world and trying to understand it. S I R D AV I D AT T E N B O R O U G H


Synchronized mother and calf swooping in. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2015

The calf was only about 1.5 metres below my flippers when it passed under me! We were only with these guys for a short time. We rarely see the whales in shallow water, making this image a little special.

I was surprised that they didn’t choose an alternate route rather than swim directly under me! Some of the images of them right below me me are a bit more interesting, less typical, than this one. The calf ’s tail, which seemed enormous, was mottled, and looked a strange tinge of grey-yellow.

A humpback whale calf swims above its much larger mother, with the male ‘escort’ trailing behind. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2014

I love how the mother’s eye looks surprised. The escort is not necessarily the calf’s father, but usually an attentive (and protective) suitor to the mother.

‘Touching moment’, humpback calf and mother. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2014

These were the first whales I ever saw underwater! The calf was very small—very young—and I couldn’t believe the extent of the love I was witnessing between these animals. It was also nice to find out on the very first swim that, despite their incredible size, the whales are not intimidating, not scary to get close to.



Mother and calf ready to rise. In the deep waters off Vava’u. TONGA

August 2015

The curvature comes from a fisheye lens. The water must have been very clear that day, the visibility great. It was not good at all in 2018 and 2019. The rays of light shining into very deep water are beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I occasionally just shoot the rays themselves— or the dark blue spot they converge to below you. The calf in this image was fairly large, so it was not one of the youngest ones. Younger calves are very small (adults can reach 15 metres in length!). Usually, calves are significantly paler than their mothers for reasons I don’t know, which makes this particular calf stand out.

A humpback mother and her calf on their ascent, lit up by sun rays. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2015

Of my five summers in Tonga, the visibility in the water was inarguably best during the 2015 season. Visibility is sometimes very mediocre—or even really bad. Particles are extremely obvious in sunlight, and entire seasons can be bad for photography. In 2019, we had strands of green matter everywhere in the water and, for any image to look really good, the water must be significantly cleaned up digitally and colour contrasts probably enhanced—something my team and I practically never do.

It’s surprising how much organic matter there can be in Vava’u waters ... and it seems almost unbelievable that the whales don’t actively feed there. The calves suckle, but the adults live off their fat in Tonga—feeding elsewhere on their migratory path. This humpback duo was in ultra-clear water quite a distance away from port. We never know where we’ll find the whales (if any at all) on any given day. Sometimes we see them a kilometre from home (Neiafu) right after we leave at 7 or 7:30 a.m. Sometimes we have to look for a number of hours and travel great distances or wait to be told where another boat has found some. In this image, I love how detached the calf seems from its mother, almost as if it carried its own light with it.


Bumping into a delightfully curious humpback whale calf. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2015

This calf bumped my friend Trevor first, then made a slow pass by me. Its pectoral fin was actually touching me while this image was being taken! It felt to me as if time had slowed down for this interaction.


Mother and calf humpbacks. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2015

Every time I see this August 2015 photograph of a humpback mother and calf, it reminds me of the space shuttle riding on the back of a Boeing 747 in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I don’t even see whales anymore ... This photograph was taken with a fisheye lens, which makes objects appear much farther away than they actually are.

Humpback calf, pre-bump! VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2017

Calves often invert themselves, including when they approach you. The ventral grooves (or ‘throat pleats’) are fascinating features and always nice to see in detail—as one does here. This calf went right side up again just before bumping me.


Sometimes they go diagonal. This calf, from our August 2017 trip, was extremely curious and interactive. VAVA’U, TONGA

Humpbacks keep their eye on you even as they roll. Sometimes you notice them staring at you at the most unlikely time … and when you think they’ve got over you, having long accepted you as a strange dolphin or fish. Protective mothers in particular pay close attention to you, their eyes staring straight at you even when their eye is the body part the farthest away from yours. I love the dark patch centred on this guy’s (or girl’s) throat.


‘This was not the calf ’s first breath’. A humpback whale supports her calf at the surface. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2017

We must have spent a good thirty to forty minutes swimming with this mother and calf duo. They were magnificent and moving fairly slowly. I took so many photographs that, at one point, I had to ask my guide to get my second camera for the extra memory card! This was definitely not the calf ’s first breath; I’ve now witnessed this behaviour at least two other times. While I’m certain that this calf was days, if not weeks, old, I have no idea how to judge the age of a whale calf. The guides are much better at that … and often have an idea based on whether the calf has already been seen during the season and how long before your encounter. Just like humans and other animals, humpback calves are born at different sizes and grow at different rates—and the guides nearly always tell us when a calf is particularly small/young. The humpbacks are in Tonga from approximately June through late October or early November. Apparently, October is a good month to see mothers and their calves, as the calves are more confident and playful.

My friend Tamiko named this humpback, our first of the 2017 season, ‘attack whale’! VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2017

Perpendicular to us and about 30 metres away at first, this whale immediately turned to my guide Alistair and me when it saw us—and swam straight towards us at full speed! It only dove down when it was about 8 metres away. On our next swim, it immediately rushed Tamiko and her group too! I’m sure the whale was just having fun ... but it was still intimidating, and Alistair tried to move me out of harm’s way.


The mother humpback that turned directly towards me, spreading her immense pectoral fins as she hovered vertical. VAVA’U

September 2017

Her eye was wide open, and I could feel the connection, sense her thinking. At times, it’s easy to wonder whether whales and dolphins can peer into your soul.

Meet Crazy George! There is a whale that frequents Vava’u known as Crazy George because he occasionally lifts people out of the water on his nose! TONGA

August 2018


We had two adult whales one afternoon off the boat—both acting normally until one of them came right up to me, its eye 1.5 metres from mine, and wouldn’t leave me alone. I swam away as fast as I could three times in a row, but the whale just followed me and stayed on me every time. At one point, I saw it dip its head and thought to myself, ‘This must be the lifting whale’. People didn’t believe me about the experience until a local guide recognized the whale’s flukes in a photograph that evening— and confirmed that I’d had a run-in with Crazy George.

Even though I knew George was just another mammal trying to have some harmless fun, it was somewhat terrifying to have a 12–15-metre animal basically chase me—and from less than 4 metres away!

Possibly the most touching and my best photographed ‘mum and calf ’ from the August 2018 trip! VAVA’U, TONGA

The calves are nearly always paler than their mothers; but sometimes, as is the case here, they have a different pattern entirely as well. During the summer of 2019, we saw a calf that was completely white other than its head. One could instantly tell this was going to be a nice image because of the colour contrast, and since the two whales were perfectly lined up and completely immobile.

Just another lovely calf doing its rounds, watching us up close. TONGA

August 2018

! Megaptera novaeangliae

Found in oceans around the world, humpbacks migrate up to 16,000 kilometres a year. They feed in productive polar waters, then migrate to tropical or subtropical waters where they breed and give birth, fast and live off their fat reserves. Humpbacks were hunted practically to extinction, their numbers falling by up to 90% until a moratorium in 1986. A conservation success story, their population has rebounded and is now estimated at 80,000 animals. Only males sing. They sing for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, repeating the song for hours on end. All males in a group sing the same song. Reportedly, song travels from region to region in a west to east direction, so for example the song whales are singing on the west coast of Australia will be sung by Tongan whales a couple of years later. However, a different song is sung every season. Whilst it is generally thought that males sing to attract females, this theory is disputed by some. The humpback population is split between two groups: Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Northern whales tend to be much darker than their southern counterparts. Although the Equator is the dividing line, instances of whales crossing over it have been reported. Humpback whales breach! Sometimes they breach repeatedly. Watching calves breach can be hysterical as they sometimes look like they have no idea what they’re doing! Long ago you’d hear multiple and diverse theories: That they breach to attract mates, scare away competition, move food into place, remove parasites or to have fun. Increasingly we’re told that breaching is mainly an acoustic signal and that multiple animals sometimes synchronize, showing coordination. It would be hard to doubt that the animals breaching are having fun. Breaching is frequently preceded or followed by tail- or fin-slapping at the surface, other manifestations of joy/invitations to play. Threats to humpbacks include entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, noise pollution and climate change as it relates to food production.


Some of the most beautiful light I’ve ever seen and one of the most rewarding post-effort, post-disappointment moments. Pilot whales swimming in shards of light off the coast. MO’OREA

August 2019

My guides and I jumped in the water at least fourteen times over two afternoons in the hope of photographing these whales. Pilot whales are famous for swimming down—avoiding you—as soon as they see you at the surface. This was our sad experience again and again. But during two swims, the pilots travelled through beautiful sun rays below us, and it made for the nicest pictures! One special view from our endless swims with pilot whales. MO’OREA

August 2019

During one of our last swims with the pilot whales they’d started to slow down, making it much easier to photograph them (and catch our breaths!). I was even lucky enough to be able to swim neck and neck with them for a short time. This image was taken during that happy moment.

At the end of the second afternoon, we were even lucky enough to float about motionless with maybe twelve pilot whales that were just resting there, barely under the surface! And that was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had—particularly after so much repeated effort and disappointment.

A humpback whale’s watchful eye. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2019


We try to avoid getting too close to the whales lest we bother or scare them. Their eyes are so small compared to the rest of their bodies that it’s easy to forget them while photographing. When a whale looks at you, it seems like it can see through you … probably because it can.

This specific whale was very still when I photographed it, making the moment and connection extra special.

A male humpback blows bubbles during a heat run. VAVA’U, TONGA

August 2017

Blowing bubbles is a sign of aggression/threat in humpbacks. It’s a behaviour we witness quite frequently during heat runs. Heat runs are when multiple males pursue a female to mate with her. Sometimes up to eighteen males or more chase after one lady!

If not simply exhaling, this male was 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.

We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

D r. S Y LV I A E A R L E

There’s nothing as powerful as having another species really look you in the eye and interact with you in that way. You know it’s a real privilege to be able to be around dolphins who are behaving naturally.



Incredibly friendly and ‘chill’ hawksbill turtle, a bit on the small side. HIGHBOURNE CAY, THE BAHAMAS

April 2018

I stayed with her for an hour; she let me closer and closer in. By the end of the dive, she was eating 60 centimetres away from my leg.

I love the way she’s resting her flipper on the coral here—and how close it seems compared to her body.

You would not believe how lovely, beautiful and trusting this small turtle was.

She had a fairly dark shell.

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 we knew, my buddy Oli and I were with this sweet thing for the whole dive—at least forty-five minutes—and until I ran out of air. In this image, she (I always think of turtles as female and sharks as male!) 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. She was staying just far enough away with an obstacle between us just big enough to make shooting her harder!

She very clearly trusted Oli and me and was visibly relaxed—eating just next to us after our journey together. 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, too: upside down over her food, diagonal, sitting on the bottom with her head held high ... Another touching, lovely creature to remember for the ages—and small but useful portfolio to pick from.

A leatherback turtle briefly rests just after sunrise, having laid her eggs in the dark at Pongara Beach in Gabon—one of the most prolific leatherback nesting grounds the world over. PONGARA BEACH, GABON

November 2012

People consistently say only one hatchling out of a thousand survives to adulthood. Leatherbacks are rarely seen—certainly rarely photographed—in the water. Incredibly, it turns out that female leatherbacks dig not one nest, but two, when they’ve come up on a beach to lay their eggs. One of the nests, a decoy made to throw off or confuse predators, will remain empty.

We stayed up all night on two different nights to witness the nesting turtles, and we thought that one thing which would make for great photographs would be to find a turtle just before dawn so that we might photograph her in early light. We saw about eight turtles in the dark on the beach before finding our pre-dawn lady and witnessing her dig two nests, but lay only in one, just before the sun rose. The best part of the experience may actually have been seeing her waddle off (empty!) into the surf after ensuring the future of her species.

A green turtle with a remora. GILI TRAWANGAN, INDONESIA

August 2012


This was one of the first nice turtle images to come from my camera and one of the first times I realized turtles really are quite thrilling to see and fascinating to watch—having not felt that way or understood other people’s excitement about them for years. Some turtles, particularly green ones, seem to be proficient at getting fat. As for the remora, size is usually fairly proportional to that of the host animal— as is the case here—though you occasionally see a large remora on a small creature or a small remora on a large one.

Loggerhead love-bite— two loggerhead turtles, presumably a mating pair, uniting. For a brief, unforgettable moment after this, I was sandwiched between them. DANGER REEF, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2014

I had been following the larger turtle at the start of the dive, but it never stopped moving and never showed its face or profile. Tired of kicking to no avail, I gave up, and very specifically thought how nice it would be if it came back before the end of the dive so I could have a second chance to photograph. He/she did come back! I followed and photographed it again. Again, it wouldn’t show its face, whether from the front or the side. All I got was rear end. Again, I got tired and prepared to give up. But all of a sudden, as we were cruising over a large patch of sand, another turtle came out of nowhere, rising above the next section of the reef.

The two reptiles started to approach each other, eventually made contact and then circled each other. For an amazing, unforgettable instant, they allowed me among them. I was sandwiched as they revolved around me, the larger animal at my front, the smaller one at my back. An absolutely remarkable moment and true privilege. This image is the only good one I have of the encounter. Had I had a wide-angle lens on my camera, I would have been able to continue shooting them—and take wonderful shots— after they got much closer to me.

Hawksbill turtle flying at a site near Nassau. THE BAHAMAS

April 2015


My guests and I decided to venture afar that day and went diving closer to Nassau. Having found this turtle early on and swum with it over corals,

I followed it into the blue. The colour contrasts were fantastic, as this animal seemed to fly like a bird in front of me for a couple of minutes that felt like hours. At one point, it turned so close to me that I could easily have touched it.

Green turtle with a remora in the seagrass, the turtle’s favourite food. JEEP REEF, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2016

Seagrass comprises a significant portion of a green turtle’s diet. People who dive this site (famous for a sunken and coral-encrusted Jeep or two), myself included, are lucky to see green turtles there on a regular basis. And while some will swim away in a panic at the sight of a bubble even 30 metres away, others are very calm and have no qualms with you coming close to them. It all depends on the individual—pretty much with any animal and all encounters.

You feel like the luckiest person in the world when an animal (and particularly an endangered one) seems to trust you enough to allow you right next to it. And the joy and connections I have felt when swimming with some turtles, dolphins, whales, and two manta rays—sometimes for extended periods of time— are indescribable. The sense of intelligence, impression of trust and, one might say, the happiness one derives from these encounters can be nearly unimaginable.

A couple of green turtles DANGER REEF, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

January 2017

What was most interesting, it seemed to me, in this case was that these turtles were exactly the same size and colour. It’s quite rare to see two animals of the same colour and size. Absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, they quickly swam off, one after the other, once I got close enough for better images.


Medium-sized green turtle with a beautiful shell, which I affectionately call Matilda, in surface light. THE AQUARIUM SITE, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2017

I visit Matilda twenty to twenty-five times a year; we have a good working relationship! She is a phenomenal model! Not shy at all; on a lucky day, she’ll let you swim with her, very close, for half an hour or more. The Aquarium is a very shallow site, so your air lasts a long time— more than long enough for a lengthy swim with Matilda or one of her reptilian friends.

Green turtles, like most other turtle species, are endangered. They seem to be the most common species in all the places friends and I have visited together. Shell colour varies greatly among regions and animals. In the Galapagos, green turtle shells sometimes seem virtually black, whereas in a few Hawaiian bays there are turtles rumoured to have whitish shells. Barnacles and algae sometimes grow on shells, making some look darker and/or dirtier than others. The green turtles with the nicest shells I see in the Bahamas, such as the one in this photograph, tend to be small or medium in size—so presumably on the young side.

A curious green turtle comes in close during a feed at Little Farmer’s Cay. THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2017

Up to thirteen green turtles come into the small bay at a time to eat the conch that a couple of feeders prepare every day. A loggerhead turtle is said to occasionally show up as well; but no one I know has ever seen it. Some of the turtles at Farmer’s are gigantic. These turtles are seriously habituated to people ... even though they can be skittish and swim off the second they have food in their mouths. A number of stingrays, remoras and other fish—including a gigantic and adorable porcupinefish—are also in the fray, trying to steal the turtles’ food or get scraps.


We always go at high tide because it’s very shallow there and too easy to kick up sand and ruin photos. The only other notable things here are that the whole area under the pontoon is like a conch graveyard—shells stacked one on top of the other in a long, tall line. And unfortunately conch, which much of the Bahamian economy was built on and people love to see, have become endangered. Hence, I’ve started to feel guilty about feeding the turtles with them.

A stingray rides a green turtle during a feeding session at Little Farmer’s Cay. THE EXUMAS THE BAHAMAS

April 2017

I had never seen this interspecies behaviour before—and have not since. The other remarkable thing about the situation is that the stingray was missing its tail entirely. I wonder whether the ray was deriving some sort of nutrition from the algae on the turtle’s carapace, chasing away its competition for food or simply taking a joyride!

A thoroughly endearing, fragile-seeming turtle with the reddest head and face I’ve ever seen. PHILIPPINES

May 2017


We immediately saw this turtle at the beginning of a dive. It was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. But it was moving very slowly and a bit clumsily; I wondered whether it was sick. My buddies and I spent a fair amount of time with it. After a few minutes, it seemed stronger than we’d thought and eventually swam off.

A gigantic turtle. MARSA MUBARAK, EGYPT

December 2017.

Not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger or, presumably, older turtle. It just sat there, eating, imposing, unbothered by my buddies’ and my presence.

Loggerhead turtle I followed to the surface after trying to shoot him for what felt like an eternity down below. DANGER REEF, THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2018


I love this image, and swam far up and down to get it. The loggerheads I’ve come across have always been remarkably dismissive, neglecting divers entirely in a relentless pursuit of long-distance swimming! Even when you’re next to their faces, not following them from behind, they refuse to look your way. Because one generally gets no good portraits of them, images like this one are rare rewards.

Matilda or Monique, a green turtle, next to her favourite coral head at The Aquarium—a popular snorkelling and diving site. THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2018

Matilda and Monique, as I’ve affectionately named them after dozens of dives in their small territory and hours by their side, are nearly identical-looking—the same size and nearly the exact same colour carapace. I couldn’t necessarily tell them apart (whereas Melissa is much smaller, paler, and has some chinks in her armour), but I know that both are creatures of habit—swimming over the same coral heads, in the same currents and channel and above the same sand patches multiple times a day. They’re both highly tolerant of human company, and both have allowed me to photograph and swim with them, an immense and rare privilege, for extended periods of time. They may well be my most regular models and favourite wild (or ‘habituated’) animals in the world.

The wonderful little hawksbill turtle we found at Highbourne Cay. THE BAHAMAS

April 2018

On a very boring dive I saw her surface for air out of the corner of my eye, approached her and then spent over forty-five minutes with her. She was beautiful and confident and stayed close the whole dive. It sometimes seemed like she was posing! At one point, she placed a flipper in an ideal position and just gazed at me. At the end of our encounter, she got into all these crazy positions while nibbling on the bottom. It was very sad to leave her. One gets attached, sometimes very attached, to friendly, curious and beautiful animals.


Monique or Matilda—one of the very familiar and tolerant green turtles at The Aquarium site. THE EXUMAS, THE BAHAMAS

April 2018

Once these turtles let me get close, I know I will have an amazing time, revelling in how sweet they appear and how familiar they are. Turtles always seem very wise to me. We know that they live a long time, having similar lifespans to humans. Most sea turtles take decades to mature—between 20 and 30 years— and remain actively reproductive for another 10 years at least.

According to a quick search, hawksbills live 50 to 60 years, green turtles live to 70 or more … and loggerheads could live 70 to 80 years if not more. Sometimes, I think of turtles as marine mammals because they can be so interactive and seem so intelligent, but they are, of course, reptiles. Six out of seven sea turtle species are endangered—a great tragedy.

An extremely rare and lucky convergence of a hawksbill turtle and a grey angelfish photographed in the Exumas. THE BAHAMAS

April 2019


Seeing the turtle I wasn’t yet close to speed up past a large coral head, I didn’t expect to see it again. But after turning the corner, not only was it just nestled there, but a beautiful angelfish was with it as well—a lovely surprise. Neither seemed particularly concerned when I crept up to photograph them, and they stayed close together for perhaps half a minute, making good photographs easy.

A large hawksbill turtle with an emperor angelfish and a Klunzinger wrasse. ELPHINSTONE, EGYPT

November 2019

The hawksbill turtle I found and photographed at Elphinstone. EGYPT

November 2019

At the end of the dive I was low on air when I saw this beautiful—and rare—sight of a duo, and then trio, of animals one doesn’t usually find together, all three of them among my favourite species.

After observing its surroundings and lazily swimming above them, it decided to eat this soft coral. As the turtle ate, long strands of a gelatinous substance started to form and drift away.

No water, no life. No blue, no green. D r. S Y LV I A E A R L E

In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught. BABA DIOUM

Focused On Nature Focused On Nature (fon) is a Swiss association, based in Geneva, founded in 2013 by Hussain Aga Khan and Nazir Sunderji. Whilst the goal of Hussain’s photography has always been to help people fall in love with nature, inspire people to change behaviours and encourage them to educate others, fon was born out of the idea that raising awareness and engaging the public with some environmental education might not suffice. Hence, the creation of a fund to finance some of the best wildlife charities in the world for particular species and ecosystems of interest. Handpicked and vetted through a process of consultation with fon’s expert, committed advisors and contacts—or by literature review—organizations working on the conservation of sharks, mobulids, cetaceans, sea turtles, African elephants and rhinoceroses, rainforests and apes receive yearly donations. Grantees include the Shark Conservation Fund and Fins Attached, the Manta Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Wild Dolphin Project, the Sea Turtle Conservancy, The Rainforest Trust and Re:wild, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Rhino Pride Foundation, as well as the Jane Goodall Institute and Oceana.

fon occasionally also contributes to the purchase of parcels of habitat and land. For example, forest plots in Belize, Guatemala and Ecuador have been acquired along with partners such as Fundaeco, Re:wild and the Wildlife Conservation Society. More recently fon assisted the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with a new plot for their elephant protection work.

Photography by Hussain Aga Khan An avid tropical fish hobbyist since the age of five and a reptile and amphibian enthusiast for nearly as long, Hussain developed a keen interest in conservation at a young age and began scuba diving at 14. He started travelling to the tropics frequently after secondary school and began taking photographs of fauna and flora on a trip to the Brazilian Amazon in 1996. Numerous photographic expeditions, often organized jointly with scientists or professional photographers, have led him to constitute extraordinary archives, spanning diverse geographies and types of habitats and a multitude of marine and terrestrial species. An assembly of his rainforest photographs from seven countries, entitled Rainforests and including statistics related to deforestation and biodiversity, appeared in three exhibits in the US in 2004.

His work has also been exhibited, inter alia, in Paris at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (2007), at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco for the Blue Ocean Film Festival and for the 10-year anniversary of Prince Albert’s foundation (2015 and 2016 respectively), and at the iucn ocean conference in Hawaii in 2016. His photography was featured at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi (2018), at the National Museum of Natural History and Science in Lisbon (2019), at the Hay Festival in Segovia (Spain, 2020) and at the Natural History Museum of Venice (2022). Collections of his photographs have also been published in two books, Animal Voyage in 2004 and Diving into Wildlife in 2015.

Board of Advisors

FON’s activities are overseen by a Board of Advisors whose members include scientists, photographers, conservation professionals and others committed to wildlife and ecosystem conservation.

Dr. SY LV I A A . E A R L E

Oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-InResidence, Founder of MissionBlue and 2009 TED Prize Winner National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, called ‘Her Deepness’ by The New Yorker and The New York Times, ‘Living Legend’ by the Library of Congress, and first ‘Hero for the Planet’ by Time Magazine, is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer with experience as a field research scientist, government official, and director for corporate and non-profit organizations including the Kerr McGee Corporation, Dresser Industries, Oryx Energy, the Aspen Institute, the Conservation Fund, American Rivers, Mote Marine Laboratory, Duke University Marine Laboratory, Rutgers Institute for Marine Science, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Ocean Futures. Formerly Chief Scientist of noaa, Dr. Earle is the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc. (doer), founder of the Sylvia Earle Alliance (S.E.A.) / Mission Blue, Chair of the Advisory Council of the Harte Research Institute, inspiration for the ocean in Google Earth, leader of the ngs Sustainable Seas Expeditions, and the subject of the 2014 Netflix film, Mission Blue. She has a b.s. degree from Florida State University, m.s. and PhD. from Duke University, 27 honourary degrees and has authored more than 200 scientific, technical and popular publications, including 13 books (most recently Blue Hope in 2014), lectured in more than 90 countries, and appeared in hundreds of radio and television productions.


Founder and Research Director of the Wild Dolphin Project, Ph.D. Dr. Denise Herzing, founder and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project, has completed 35 years of her long-term study of the Atlantic spotted dolphins inhabiting Bahamian waters. She received her B.S. in Marine Zoology, her m.a. in Behavioural Biology and her Ph.D. in Behavioural Biology/Environmental Studies. She is an affiliate assistant professor in Biological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida. Dr. Herzing is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow with the Explorers Club, a scientific advisor for the Lifeboat Foundation and the American Cetacean Society, and on the board of Schoolyard Films.

She has led more than 100 expeditions and logged more than seven thousand hours underwater, including leading the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970, participating in ten saturation dives, most recently in July 2012, and setting a record for solo diving in 1,000 metres depth. Her research concerns marine ecosystems with special reference to exploration, conservation and the development and use of new technologies for access and effective operations in the deep sea and other remote environments. Her special focus is on developing a global network of areas in the Ocean, ‘Hope Spots,’ to safeguard the living systems that provide the underpinnings of global processes, from maintaining biodiversity and yielding basic life support services to providing stability and resilience in response to accelerating climate change. Her more than 100 national and international honours include the 2013 National Geographic Hubbard Medal, 2011 Royal Geographical Society Patron’s Medal, 2011 Medal of Honour from the Dominican Republic, 2009 ted Prize, Netherlands Order of the Golden Ark, Australia’s International Banksia Award, Italy’s Artiglio Award, the International Seakeepers Award, the International Women’s Forum, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, unep 2014 Champion of the Earth, 2014 Glamour Woman of the Year, Academy of Achievement, Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, un Global 500, and medals from the Explorers Club, the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, Lindbergh Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Sigma Xi, Barnard College, and the Society of Women Geographers.

In addition to many scientific articles (http://www., she is the coeditor of Dolphin Communication and Cognition, author of Dolphin Diaries: My 25 years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas and The Wild Dolphin Project (2002). Coverage of her work with the spotted dolphins has appeared in National Geographic Magazine 1992 and 2015, bbc Wildlife, Ocean Realm and Sonar magazines and featured on Nature, Discovery, pbs, abc, bbc, nhk, pbs and ted2013. Dr. Herzing has spoken at the Society for Marine Mammalogy, European Cetacean Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Explorers Club, ted2013, Boston Museum of Science, American Cetacean Society and others.


KAT HY MOR A N Photo Editor, MoranGriffin

Kathy Moran is National Geographic magazine’s former Deputy Director of Photography. As the magazine’s first senior editor for natural history projects, Moran has been producing projects about terrestrial and underwater ecosystems for the magazine since 1990. She was the project manager for the National Geographic Society/Wildlife Conservation Society’s partnership documenting photographer Nick Nichols and Dr. Michael Fay’s trek across Central Africa. The resulting stories were the impetus for the creation of Gabon’s national park system. More recently she produced two single-topic conservation focused issues of the magazine on Oceans (May ’21) and the Serengeti (December ’21). Moran has edited several books for the Society, including Women Photographers at the National Geographic, The Africa Diaries – An Illustrated Life in the Bush, Cat Shots and most recently, Tigers Forever. She was the photo


National Geographic Photographer/Explorer, Senior Fellow—International League of Conservation Photographers, Associate Director—The Manta Trust Thomas P. Peschak is a National Geographic Photographer and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in documenting both the beauty and fragility of the world’s oceans, islands and coasts. Originally trained as a marine biologist, he embraced photojournalism after realizing that his photographs could have greater conservation impact than scientific statistics. Since 2009 he has shot ten stories for National Geographic Magazine on a range of subjects, from manta rays to seabirds, and the Seychelles to the


Co-founder and Vicepresident—Savia Fund Co-founder—Tropical Herping Lucas Bustamante has been bitten by countless snakes, chased by elephants, and has dived along with sharks. He is an Ecuadorian biologist and wildlife photojournalist whose primary goal is to use photography to promote environmental and cultural


Independent Fund-Raising Professional, VermontForWildlife founder, VermontForWildlife website Ashley Prout McAvey is a graduate of the Environmental Biology programme at Yale College and holds a Master of Environmental Management (mem) degree from the Yale School of the Environment. She first visited Africa when she was 16 and saw first-hand the devastating results of human greed on a continent and its wildlife. She immediately fell in love with the beauty of the people, places and wildlife there, and she hopes the movement to ban ivory sales at the state level in the United States will continue swiftly.

editor for two anthems of wildlife photography, 100 Best Wildlife Pictures and Wildlife, The Best Photos. She recently curated an exhibition for the Society’s museum 50 Best Wildlife Photographs which has traveled around the country and internationally. She produced numerous books with ilcp photographers in collaboration with the University of Chicago Press. She was named ‘Picture Editor of the Year’ for her winning portfolios in the 2017 and 2006 poyi competition and the 2011 Best of Photo competition and has been part of the editing teams who have won the Angus McDougall Excellence in Editing award from poyi as well as the Best of Photojournalism team award from nppa. She is a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and currently serves on the Board. She is on the advisory committee for Focused on Nature. As a member of Moran Griffin studio she continues to edit books and projects, mentor photographers, serve on photo juries and work with the xPosure Festival in Sharjah, UAE. She lives in Arlington, VA, with her husband and two bad cats. Galápagos Islands. His most recent feature assignment on sea turtle conservation was published in the October 2019 issue. Thomas is a founding director of the Manta Trust, a senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and the former director of conservation of the Save our Seas Foundation. He has written and photographed seven books, including the recent Sharks and People and Manta: The Secret Life of Devil Rays. He is a multiple winner in the bbc Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards and has received seven World Press Photo Awards for his images and stories. In 2015, he gave the ted talk ‘Dive into an ocean photographer’s world’, which has been viewed more than 1 million times. When not travelling the world on assignment, he calls Cape Town in South Africa home.

conservation. Lucas is a co-founder of Savia Fund and Tropical Herping, and an associate fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ilcp). He manages research and photography projects in different countries throughout South America, Africa, and Asia. Lucas is an author of some books, such as Reptiles of the Galapagos, and he has described eight new species. Lucas spends his time diving and playing soccer with his friends when taking a break from work.

She feels indebted to the men and women who have died protecting Africa’s most majestic creatures, and she is fuelled by their sacrifices to spread awareness and action in the United States, which is, sadly, still today one of the leading markets for ivory. Ashley founded VermontForWildlife (, an all-volunteer grassroots organization dedicated to educating and raising awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation through public policy and legislative action at the state level. Its mission is to inspire states to take a stand against extinction. After eight years of grassroots advocacy, VermontForWildlife was a key partner in making Vermont the 12th state in the nation to ban the sale of imperiled wildlife parts on October 8, 2020.



Chair of the AKDN Environment and Climate Committee Prince Rahim (born in 1971) is the second of His Highness the Aga Khan’s four children. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, he has been actively involved for many years in the governance of the Aga Khan Development Network (akdn). Prince Rahim is Chair of the akdn Environment and Climate Committee (ecc) and sits on either the board or executive committee of most of the akdn agencies. He also co-chairs akdn’s budget review committees.


Theatre Director, Producer, Entrepreneur Henning has been working in the arts industry in New York and Europe as an artist, performer, and director since 1997. He has extensive experience in the not-forprofit sector as a founder and with positions on boards in the arts as well as within health and sports. Henning’s passion is for the sea, both on and under the waves. He is an avid diver and is committed to doing


Financial Operations Manager, Cambridge Associates, LLC Tamiko lives near Revere Beach in Boston with her dogs, Moose and Mac. From dog walks to diving adventures, she is enamoured with the beauty and bounty of life within our natural world. And all too

S H A R I S A N T P LUM M E R President, Code Blue Foundation

Shari is an environmental philanthropist and ocean activist, is president and founder of Code Blue Charitable Foundation, secretary/trustee of the Summit Charitable Foundation, founding board member of the Sylvia Earle Alliance, vice chair of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and former vice president of Seacology. A proponent of impact photography and filmmaking, Shari served as board chair of the International League of Conservation Photographers for five years and is currently an affiliate. Shari also serves on the advisory board for Focused on Nature. She is also a producer of documentary films, including

Prince Rahim graduated from Brown University, Rhode Island, USA, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Comparative Literature awarded in 1996. He received his secondary education at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In 2006, he completed an executive development programme in management and administration at the University of Navarra iese Business School in Barcelona, Spain. Prince Rahim travels regularly to Asia and Africa to oversee programmes and other projects of the Aga Khan Development Network.

his part to increase awareness about environmental issues and protect the oceans. Henning is a graduate of Middlebury College, Dartington College of Arts and Columbia University and is a recipient of awards and grants for his work, including the Wallenberg Award for promoting international understanding, as well as the Kurt Weill and Schubert Grants.

often while engaging with the natural world she’s confronted with how poorly we can treat our world. As an advisor for FON, she works to further our mission of protecting the natural world by making meaningful change today. Day to day, at the investment management firm Cambridge Associates, she is responsible for the financial operations of her clients’ portfolios.

the Emmy-award-winning Netflix documentaries Mission Blue (executive producer) and Chasing Coral (associate producer), and is executive producer on Anote’s Ark, Sharkwater Extinction, and Ghost Fleet. A graduate of New York University, Plummer worked as senior stylist and design director for Ralph Lauren in New York for nine years, then as visual director at Esprit. In 1994, in San Francisco, she founded the environmental lifestyle store Worldware. She sold the business in 2001, and now devotes herself full-time to environmental work, with a focus on producing impact media to inspire change. As an avid diver, photographer, and ocean activist Shari travels extensively throughout the world, promoting ocean conservation and environmental awareness. She lives in New York and California.



Director of Conservation & Board Member of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation Jim Angell is the director of conservation and a board member of the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation. Jim’s work at the Foundation focuses primarily on supporting efforts to protect and conserve the world’s ocean habitats, coral reefs and apex predators whose survival is imperilled by overfishing and global climate change. Prior to joining the Foundation, Jim worked as an attorney for nearly two decades with Earthjustice, a U.S. public interest environmental law firm. As an attorney

DAV I D DE R OT H S C H I L D Founder of the Voice for Nature Foundation

As an explorer, who has traversed some of the world’s toughest environments, David de Rothschild has been harnessing his curious spirit to help give Nature a voice and make the world a more sustainable place for the last two decades. In 2006, he founded the Voice for Nature Foundation, an organization that uses exploration, adventure and storytelling to give ‘Nature a voice.’ David is one of the leaders of a new generation of change-makers focused on re-igniting collective hope in the future of the planet. Along with helping unearth innovative solutions to tackle our most pressing problems, David uses innovative storytelling to inspire


Conservationist, photographer and author Robin Moore is a conservationist, photographer and author with a PhD in Biodiversity Conservation from the University of Kent in the UK. His first book, In Search of Lost Frogs, is a 70,000word narrative wrapped around 400 images depicting


Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist at the World Bank Saurabh has been working on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation projects for close to twenty years. Since 2017, following the devastating hurricane season that impacted the Caribbean, he has worked for the World Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean region. Prior to that, he led and managed a portfolio of over one billion dollars, focusing on large disaster reconstruction and disaster mitigation projects in South Asia for the World Bank. Before joining the World Bank, Saurabh was based in Aceh, Indonesia with the British Red Cross working on

in Earthjustice’s Bozeman, Montana office, and later as the managing attorney in the organization’s Denver, Colorado office, he litigated and directed numerous cases whose goals were to protect the landscapes and endangered species of the American West, and to preserve the clean air and water upon which the region’s residents depend. Jim has degrees from Columbia College (ba), the University of California at Los Angeles (ma), and the University of California at Berkeley (jd). Jim lives in Colorado with his wife, Shannon Connery, and their four children, of whom he is inordinately proud.

a movement around how we can all live more sustainably. Despite having witnessed first-hand the impact of climate change and human industry on some of the planet’s most fragile ecosystems, David remains boldly confident that if we can all work together and act now, there is still a chance we can turn things around and continue to live on ‘spaceship earth’. David has taken his call to action to millions of individuals across all demographics—from children in classrooms to world leaders, ngos to nasa, industries to non-profits, Oprah Winfrey to Nickelodeon. He has hosted conferences, delivered keynotes, published books, produced a Sundance Channel TV series and a National Geographic documentary and was featured in a recent cnn series, Modern Explorers.

his search for some of the most elusive creatures on earth. The book was featured by the Guardian, Mother Nature Network and the Dodo as one of the top nature and conservation photography books of the year. He is a communications director with Global Wildlife Conservation and a senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. He also teaches photography and video storytelling bootcamps with National Geographic.

tsunami reconstruction projects following the 2004 Asian tsunami. He has worked with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok, Thailand, and at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, which is part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York. Before joining the development sector, Saurabh worked as an engineer with an environmental consulting firm designing solid waste management and landfill-gas-to-energy projects in California. Saurabh has a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Pune, India, a Master’s in Environmental Engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Columbia University.



Managing Director of Maryana Capital Mr. Hedayat is the founder and has been managing director of Maryana Capital, a financial firm in Toronto, Canada. He previously cofounded Edoma Capital in London, a capital fund, where he worked from 2010 until December 2012, and was a partner at Indus Capital, a capital fund in London, from May 2013 until March 2015. Mr. Hedayat held progressively more senior roles at the Goldman Sachs Group from 1997


Managing Partner, ATKA Capital Julian has been involved in the airline industry for close to 25 years, initially on the investment banking side in 1995 as an associate at The Chase Manhattan Bank in London, New York and Johannesburg. In 2003, Julian launched Flybaboo, a regional airline based in Geneva, and was the ceo until 2008, and then chairman until 2011 when the company was sold. In 2012 he joined Aviasolutions/ge Capital Aviation Services as a director of the airline strategic consulting team.


Founding Partner at Two Bulls Noah Harlan is a founding partner of the digital product studio Two Bulls with offices in Brooklyn and Melbourne. Noah has served in a variety of leadership positions in the tech community with a focus on open source software and open governance including as president and director of the AllSeen Alliance, and treasurer and director of the EdgeX Foundry, two major industry consortia under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. Prior to Founding Two Bulls, Noah worked

until 2010, including from 2005 to 2007 as managing director of the European Principal Strategies group and from 2007 to 2010 as managing director and cohead of the Americas Principal Strategies group. Mr. Hedayat served on the board of U.S. Geothermal Inc., a leading renewable energy company, from February 2017 until its sale to Ormat Technologies Inc. in April 2018 and currently serves on the board of Crius Energy, an independent energy retailer in the United States and Restaurant Brands International, a leading quick service restaurant operator.

In 2016 Julian raised usd 75 million to launch Flybondi, the first low cost airline in Argentina, and was the ceo until December 2018. Julian is the Managing Partner at atka Capital which focuses on investments in the aviation sector. He was on the board of Impact Finance Management, a Geneva-based fund manager offering loans to companies with a strong social impact in emerging markets, from 2012 to 2016. Julian holds a bsc in Economics from The London School of Economics and Political Sciences and an mba from Columbia Business School in New York.

in film and media as a producer of six feature films and received an Emmy Award as a documentary writer and director. Noah currently serves as vice-chair of UrbanGlass, America’s leading organization dedicated to the art, craft, education and advocacy of glass as a medium and sits on the innovation committee of the Made in ny Media Center. Noah has been an avid scuba diver for over 35 years and is a certified Master Diver. Noah holds a degree in Computer Science from Williams College and lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Micol Ostow, a best-selling author, and their two daughters.

Species Cetacean Facts

info 90




Baiji (Yangtze River dolphin) Lipotes vexillifer Vaquita Phocoena sinus Atlantic humpback dolphin Sousa teuszii North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis Rice’s whale Balaenoptera ricei

Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus North Pacific right whale Eubalaena japonica South Asian river dolphins Platanista gangetica Amazon River dolphin Inia geoffrensis Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris Tucuxi Sotalia fluviatilis Indian Ocean humpback dolphin Sousa plumbea Perrin’s beaked whale Mesoplodon perrini Hector’s dolphin Cephalorhynchus hectori Narrow-ridged finless porpoise Neophocaena asiaeorientalis


Among them, six isolated subpopulations of Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris in marine and fresh or brackish waters







MAIN THREATS Due to dramatic increase of human population (trebled in the last 70 years), and its global impact, the main threats to cetaceans are: > Entanglement and bycatch: The greatest immediate threat to cetaceans. > Ship strikes, as a result of the increase of human population and marine transport. > Habitat degradation: A wide range of impacts include decreased feeding opportunities, stress, noise exposure, disease and reducing rates of reproduction. > Toxic chemicals: Studies of whale and dolphin tissues from around the world show damage to both reproductive and immune systems. > Climate change affects cetaceans’ feeding and migration patterns.


> Hunting is a major issue for small whales, dolphins and porpoises. Around 100,000 individuals hunted every year.

The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria is intended to be an easily and widely understood system for classifying species at high risk of global extinction. It divides species into nine categories: NOT EVALUATED




Shark Facts










African spotted catshark Holohalaelurus punctatus Ganges shark Glyphis gangeticus Irrawaddy river shark Glyphis siamensis Daggernose shark Isogomphodon oxyrhynchus Angelshark Squatina squatina Striped smooth-hound shark Mustelus fasciatus Pondicherry shark Carcharhinus hemiodon Great hammerhead Sphyrna mokarran White-fin swellshark Cephaloscyllium albipinnum Shorttail nurse shark Pseudoginglymostoma brevicaudatum

Basking shark Cetorhinus maximus Scalloped hammerhead Sphyrna lewini Whale shark Rhincodon typus Great white shark Carcharodon carcharias Dusky shark Carcharhinus obscurus Brown shyshark Haploblepharus fuscus Sand tiger shark Carcharias taurus Porbeagle shark Lamna nasus








MAIN THREATS > Overfishing is the main risk for all (100%) of the 391 threatened chondrichthyans. These species tend to grow slowly and produce few young relative to other fish. > Shark finning: the cruel practice of removing fins (including the tail) from a shark before discarding the remainder of the shark at sea. When a shark has its fins removed and is cast overboard alive, it is unable to swim or breathe and subsequently drowns. > Habitat degradation, primarily resulting from development (25.8% of species) and agriculture/aquaculture (9.5% of species). Pollution is a key risk for 6.9% of species. > Climate change currently affects 10.2% of threatened chondrichthyan species through the degradation of coral reefs and/or ranges shifting toward the poles as waters warm.






Sea Turtle Facts





Hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata Kemp’s Ridley turtle Lepidochelys kempii

Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas


It is widely stated that only 1 out of 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood, although in some places it could be as few as 1 out of 10,000 that survive. To compensate for high rates of hatchling and juvenile mortality, sea turtles rely on very high egg production. The good news is that sea turtles respond well to long-term conservation efforts: green turtle nesting is growing exponentially in Florida after 30 years of sustained protection.

Olive ridley sea turtle Lepidochelys olivacea Leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea Loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta




MAIN THREATS Sea turtles face an incredible number of survival threats— almost all of which are linked to the behaviour of humans: > Shrimp trawl nets have been an important threat for many years, although the recent use of TEDs (Turtle Excluder Devices) has allowed a drop in the number of victims. Unfortunately, many countries don’t require them. Other practices, such as commercial longline fisheries around the world, are estimated to catch and/or kill thousands of sea turtles each year. > Artificial beachfront lights disorient tens of thousands of hatchling sea turtles each year as they emerge from their nests and attempt to make their way to the sea. > The increasing amount of plastic in the ocean is a growing problem for sea turtles, particularly hatchlings. Nearly 100% of the hatchlings dissected as part of a recent study at the University of Florida Whitney Marine Lab contained plastic pieces in their digestive tracts. > Consumption of sea turtles and eggs by humans remains a major source of mortality in some parts of the world.



Pinniped Facts


CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SPECIES AND SUBSPECIES Caspian seal Pusa caspica Hawaiian monk seal Neomonachus schauinslandi Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus Saimaa ringed seal Pusa hispida saimensis

ENDANGERED SPECIES Galápagos fur seal Arctocephalus galapagoensis Australian sea lion Neophoca cinerea New Zealand sea lion Phocarctos hookeri Galápagos sea lion Zalophus wollebaeki POPULATIONS OF GALÁPAGOS SEA LIONS AND GALÁPAGOS FUR SEALS HAVE DECREASED BY









VULNERABLE SPECIES Northern fur seal Callorhinus ursinus Hooded seal Cystophora cristata Ringed seal Phoca (pusa) hispida Bearded seal Erignathus barbatus Atlantic walrus Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus The physical structure of oceanic habitats often determines, through a multi-step process, the success of animal populations. Sea surface temperature and its variability is widely known to affect oceanic top predators such as pinnipeds, through bottom-up mechanisms. Abrupt or sustained changes in sea surface temperature affect the abundance and diversity of plankton communities, pelagic fishes, and ultimately marine mammals.

MAIN THREATS > Commercial hunting: Human greed has led to the decline of many seal populations. In the past, millions of seals were killed for their valuable meat, blubber, and pelts. In some countries, seals are still killed in large numbers because fishermen blame them for the decline in fish. > Direct and indirect fishery interactions. > Sea ice loss related to climate change. > Shifts in prey availability induced by climate change. > Climate change is likely contributing to the recent Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) for species like Arctic seals and walruses. > Habitat destruction by human activity. > Introduced species, such as dogs, carry diseases that can spread to sea lions.


La Fábrica P H OTO G R A P H S

Hussain Aga Khan

The typefaces used in this book are Requiem and Verlag, and it has been printed on Arctic Volume White paper.


Hussain Aga Khan CO O R D I N AT I O N

Antonin Potoski La Fábrica, 2022 Images: Hussain Aga Khan Text: Hussain Aga Khan







978-84-18934-08-7 DL

M-11289-2022 Printed in Spain

All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed or transformed in any way without the permission of the publishers, bar exceptions stipulated by Spanish law. Should you wish to photocopy or scan any fragment of this work, go to CEDRO (Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos,


Lizzie and my family, not least my uncles, mother and brother, for their support and encouragement. Antonin Potoski and Patrick Codomier, who have managed all the photography expertly for 15 years, doing everything from making selections for—and coordinating—exhibitions to running the fon website and Instagram, making prints, organizing files and occasionally touching up photographs. Mike Lappin for improving the images that need it. Mike, Antonin and Patrick can make an overexposed, blurry photograph look like a masterpiece! Emilio Gil and Jorge García from tau Diseño who, for months, have shown creativity, patience, expertise and curiosity, finding amazing design solutions for this book and exhibitions. Nazir Sunderji, who has tirelessly administered fon, communicating with grantees, managing the money and reporting.

The fantastic fon advisors, whose combined well of knowledge and experience are unparalleled and who, along with some grantees, continue to teach and inspire. Trevor Frost, Olivier Clément and Simone Piccoli for endless research and planning, technological acquisition, assistance and repair, strong arms and enduring friendship. Brian Skerry and Thomas Peschak for their advice, instruction and humor—and allowing me to join them on trips. Kathy Moran for her invaluable editing, unbelievable kindness and fantastic direction. Her husband, David Griffin, for further strengthening this work. Shari Sant Plummer for expeditions, introductions, being a mermaid and perfect dive buddy, and for giving me the Blue Ocean Film Festival exhibition in Monaco and Oceans - Currents of Life in New York. For fantastic guiding: Simone in Egypt; Alistair Coldrick in Tonga; Denise Herzing and the Wild Dolphin Project team in the Bahamas; Ramly Salaati and Nolfi Babai in Lembeh; Lito Pernito in the Philippines; Lius in Raja Ampat; Izzy Madisetti, Curt Benoit and Sophia Tellman in Dominica; José Solís and my friends Frank Pichardo and Lucas Bustamante in Puerto López. For opportunities and events for which one couldn’t possibly ask or be grateful enough: Mark Lloyd, Lord Rumi Verjee and co., as well as Fiona McWilliams, Richard Sabin and Alanna Fisher at the Natural History Museum in London; Azim Lakhani, Farrah Nurani and co. in Nairobi; Marta Lourenço, Xenia Geroulanos, Nuno Gusmão, Nazim Ahmad, Philippe Mendes, Raquel Barata and co. in Lisbon; Prince Lorenzo de’ Medici, Sheila Cremaschi, Emilio Gil and his team in Segovia. Simo again for a budding partnership, combining photo and video. My friends, so many of whom appear in this book, who join on expeditions and make what would otherwise be a lonely job fun. Lee Crockett from the Shark Conservation Fund, George Berry from Whale and Dolphin Conservation, David Godfrey from the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Stephen Ham, Alexa Nelson and Martin Robards from the Wildlife Conservation Society, for facts and figures.

EDMUND (with alcoholic talkativeness): You’ve just told me some

high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They’re all connected with the sea. Here’s one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself—actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way. Then another time, on the American Line, when I was lookout on the crow’s nest in the dawn watch. A calm sea, that time. Only a lazy ground swell and a slow drowsy roll of the ship. The passengers asleep and none of the crew in sight. No sound of man. Black smoke pouring from the funnels behind and beneath me. Dreaming, not keeping lookout, feeling alone, and above, and apart, watching the dawn creep like a painted dream over the sky and sea which slept together. Then the moment of ecstatic freedom came. The peace, the end of the quest, the last harbor, the joy of belonging to a fulfillment beyond men’s lousy, pitiful, greedy fears and hopes and dreams! And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint’s vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see—and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason! (He grins wryly.) It was a great mistake, my being born a man, I would have been much more successful as a sea gull or a fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death!

E U G E N E O ’ N E I L L , Lo n g Da y ’s Jo u r n e y In t o Ni g h t


Clarion Call A photo essay celebrating the beauty and magic of the ocean, in which poetry blends with imagery

Diving Stories Descriptions, both photographic and literary, of some of the most enthralling and surprising encounters the photographer has experienced under the surface

The Living Sea — An exhibition An immersive exhibition shown in multiple countries. Each photograph is augmented with facts or anecdotes by Hussain Aga Khan