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Harrassment of marine creatures


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#1 Paul Kay

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Posted 23 September 2005 - 07:59 AM

There's been some discussion via emauil within NUPG about the lengths that should NOT be gone to to achieve a photograph. In the hope of stimulating debate might I add that disturbance of Basking Sharks in the UK may well be covered by existing legislation, in as much that deliberate targetting of a creature for photography could well leave the diver/photographer open to potential prosecution. This may well be an area in whch a clause within the Code of Conduct could be discussed with the Countryside Agencies and included to state what is considered acceptable practice. Any comments?
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#2 KenByrne

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Posted 23 September 2005 - 03:26 PM

What would be considered as disturbance?

How about macro photography with powerful flash guns. I have to say I've sometimes wondered what effect this might have on creatures that spend most o their life in comparative darkness.

Should night diving be banned, anyone who has seen lionfish following divers to feed on the unfortunate creatures that their torches illuminate can't argue that this is having an effect on behaviour.
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#3 Drew

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 03:47 PM

Well this being an u/w shooters website, I think the general consensus is that interaction is ok so long as it is "reasonable", like the subject survives and nothing is destroyed. Coral tramplers(esp intentional) and fish catchers will all go to photographer hell! :-)

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#4 Paul Kay

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 12:54 AM

Some marine creatures such as the lesser octopus (eledone cirrhosa) are not merely stressed by a flash going off, they can suffer physical damage (shock) and even death if a flashgun or guns are repeatedly used on them. I discussed this with a researcher who was looking into their reaction to light stimulus and she was adamant that this is the case. She suggested a limit of 6 flashes per animal would be ok and whilst it will cause some stress, this should not be too problematic. Any definition of 'reasonable' is therefore very dependent on may factors. In the overall scheme of things (overfishing, coastal habitat destruction, dumping at sea, hurricanes, etc.) of cousre this is irrelevant, but as photographers who to some degree interact with our wild subjects, we have a responsibility to adopt 'best practices'. As I said in my last post, legislation will affect us sooner or later (some already exists within the UK - such as that for the basking shark) and it would be best driven by voluntary codes produced by us rather than beaurocrats.
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#5 TonyG

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 09:05 AM

The original note (from another) is not here in this discussion, to which I replied originally via email, but it did mention swimming vigorously after the manta ray in order to get a (quick snap) shot. What isn't mentioned is how the person swam vigorously, ie towards the manta (which swam aware scared perhaps) or in parallel to circumvent it and intercept it further in water. It is difficult to tell and I dont know.

Manta Encounter
I agree it is sometimes subjective as to what is construed as a disturbance to a creature. I think, certainly from my perspective, swimming after a creature, ie chasing it, would not be acceptable and unsafe (from a diver-angle, ie buddy separation, over-exertion). To swim in a way to wait for the creature to come by again is ok as far as I am concerned, being very mindful of not "invading" a marine creature's space in such a way to cause distress - and this goes for sessile and mobile critters. Generally I have always been marine-aware, and the code of conduct was a good thing and any trip I am on, it is always in my mind.

Last year we had a manta encounter in Lanzarote (a rarity in Lanza), I was at 38m, and the manta was at 27m'ish. We came up and "slowly-slowly catche monkey" paid off. This was my first manta encounter after 900 dives, and it stayed initially at about 10m away in a wide circle. I did try and swim a course which would take it across our path, but it was wise. We therefore just hung there, motionless in the blue, and it came back, so we gradually ascended to 12m, and guess what, it stayed with us, and was circling within 3-4m by then. We just stopped and watched, and I took a photos as opportunities presented themselves, ie as it buzzed past, maybe 1 or 2 shots at a time. It was like this for 40 minutes, then we came up to 8m, it disappeared, we didnt chase it, we just continued our pleasant dive, then suddenly it was back again, about 5 mins later and stayed another 10 minutes, and so close, at 2-3m. We had all stopped motionless in the water again, and I just shot the last two frames off as it came past. It stayed with us until I launched the bag and were coming up to 2m in the safety, when a jet skiier went screaming by! So it took me 00's of dives to get the shot I was pleased with, but I know I did it without upsetting the creature in any way.

Similarly, in July this year, seal encounter in the Lleyn. The seal buzzed us and we we knelt on the bare sand and watched it. About 5 minutes later it came over to within <2m and I made a few of shots before it went again.

The trend? If you dont chase the creatures they'll come to you - as generally they are inquisitive.


I was subject to legislation a few years back in Kaua'i (Hawaiian Is.) where you were not allowed to upset either the monk seals or the large green sea turtles, the latter of whom sadly had many carbuncles on them due to pollution.

Strobes
As far as strobes are concerned, whichever camera system you are using I myself am very conscious indeed of using flash on octopus & sepia, and seahorses. I think 6 shots per creature is way too much. I saw one case in Lanzarote recently, whereby a sea horse was spotted by a diver, he took 10 shots or so, then the other 7 divers came over and proceeded to offload their strobes. So, "6 shots per creature" means nothing - 6 shots per creature spread amongst however many divers on that dive who are taking shots of it?

If there is just buddy and me, I personally restrict myself to max 3, usually 2, and if I've seen other photographers around an octopus or suchlike then I dont bother.

Sadly, the tale of the sea horse story was that the divers as far as I could tell were all "snappers" (using mainly compact cameras dangling from BCs, which I am not against), and were "divers which just happen to have a camera attached" and may not be as eco-friendly as ourselves.

Red Sea
Its worse in the Red Sea, with the massed droves of divers invading reefs. Liveaboard night dives can be terrible. We were out on the reef last year, Gubal Barge Night dive, 4th boat and furthest away. We swam 100m across the coral, finding many lionfish, crocodilefish, large morays (including George), scorpionfish. None would come near, they were all skittish - and these are some of the creatures that are supposed to be stone still! We eventually arrived at the barge, where upwards of 40 divers were flying around chasing the few creatures left (perhaps a slight exaggeration but that's what it seemed at the time). All we (12 of us) could see were flash guns going off and torches flaying, divers going past in disarray, difficult to tell who was buddied with whom, and the majority had cameras, albeit compacts. It was not surprising the critters had all jumped out of the barge. So, what did our group do, some went in, but the majority stayed on the outside until all the other boats divers went.

You need a licence to drive a car, or dive, (in the UK you can take a boat onto the water without a licence), but what of cameras, anyone can take a camera into the water and (potentially) trash a reef. Self policing and mandatory reef & camera education at the training level perhaps is the only ways forward....

#6 Paul Kay

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 01:00 PM

Hi Tony

6 shots per animal not per diver!

Self regulation is, in my opinion, sadly a lost cause. We had 2 divers down in the moorings off Abersoch last weekend (diving from Paul T's RIB) when a powerboat TOWING A SKIER went over them in 4m - this despite an A flag flying and it being amongst fairly dense moorings. To add insult they did it twice - the divers saw (and felt) the boat overhead. Such imbecilic behaviour in spite of a rash of diver/prop incidents including one death in the vicinity over the last few years. (I hear a diveboat took a diver's leg off in the Farne's recently too). Finally legislation will follow and if divers don't clean up their act with regard to marine life, I suspect that we'll finally see no dive areas in the UK as exist in the Cayman's, El Hierro, etc..

Nice octopus off N Anglesey this weekend. Vis ~ 1m (2 if you are a very positive person).
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#7 Drew

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Posted 27 September 2005 - 02:31 AM

That's why I shoot video, no strobes of death. With videolight, the subjects run the hell away long before I have a good shot if they want to.

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#8 KenByrne

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Posted 29 September 2005 - 09:30 AM

I agree with Tony that with patience animals will often come closer out of curiosity.

It's interesting, considering Paul's information about the lesser octopus, that common cuttlefish (sepia officinalis) apper to be attracted by strobes. My experience of photographing them around Plymouth is that the best way to get a shot is to ignore them after spotting them. Find something else to photograph and they will gradually come closer. Eventually you can turn the camera on them and they will come within inches of the port. When they decide they've had enough they leave and no amount of finning would allow you to catch up.
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#9 Paul Kay

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 03:20 AM

Hi Ken

Interesting, but then I rarely see lesser octopus in such well lit habitats as the cuttlefish so I suspect that they are 'adapted' to the higher light levels and are consequently not so worried about the flash (strobe) going off. I've seen the odd octopus out in bright conditions and again they are not as bothered about flash. Perhaps, like the human eye, they adapt to ambient light levels and it is the sudden and rapid change that upsets them.

I used to photograph octopus in commercial aquaria. Sometimes the octopus would recognise me (or the camera) if I came back to their tank - and they would hide as soon as they saw me! Pretty intellingent for relatives of the slug!
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#10 JackConnick

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 08:47 AM

OK, ethically I'd like to know if it is a no-no to move a nudibranch out into the open a bit (on a similar area where they are found) to shoot macro of them. I generally shoot them where I found them, but several times I have been tempted. After all they are pretty much part clam!

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#11 KenByrne

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Posted 30 September 2005 - 09:49 AM

As you say tempting but I tend to follow the touch nothing, take only photographs and leave only bubbles approach.
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#12 Paul Kay

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Posted 01 October 2005 - 04:30 AM

I have seen shots of a nudibranch in which it had been moved onto a different coloured background to produce a splendid, stunningly colourful image. Unfortunately it had been moved onto a coral where it is not normally found and which may even be disasterous for it to have been on. If you don't understand the natural history of the subject then leave well alone - if you do and know that no damage will ensue then moving may be acceptable! Generally though leave well alone - which is the accepted norm for all other nature photography!
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#13 Kelpfish

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Posted 01 October 2005 - 08:39 AM

I think we need funding for more research :)

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#14 TonyG

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Posted 06 October 2005 - 06:50 AM

MOVING CREATURES
I saw a photograph of colourful starfish on top of white plumose anemones - quite a famous one as well, taken in Scotland. I thought starfish usually are found on everything other than plumose, and mostly their food sources ie other mussels and dead things.

I totally agree with Ken & Paul. Its just like the paparazzi only underwater otherwise -> "anything for a photo at the cost of anything - cos I dont care what happens I just want the photo".

ALTERED IMAGES
Yes, there are compositions that do appeal if you move things around, but who is the photographer kidding (look in the mirror)? What better way to photograph a marine creature than its natural environment, the challenge being to encapsulate the best shot from it. With all the new software around you can always cut/paste/merge and fiddle to get the desired "out-of-character" shot - as we've seen with the manta ray which started this conversation. But at least with the "altered image" its soft-production didnt damage anything, so there is something to be said!

HARASSING
Even last year a compact digital user was with our group in Dominican Rep., and as soon as a large angelfish came bimbling through the sea whips in front of us, we stopped to admire it, only to be bludgeoned out of the way by fins, elbows belonging to this idiot who then proceeded to blast away indiscriminately at the poor fish by which time it was now escaping through the sea whips. Where was he? Going through the sea whips after it, fins all over them. Another case of "moving" marine creatures, but in a different way.

So whether chasing or physically moving its the same - harrassing.

#15 Paul Kay

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Posted 06 October 2005 - 07:08 AM

To quote two parts taken from the Royal Photographic Societey Nature Group's Code of Conduct:

"There is one hard and fast rule, whose spirit must be observed at all times. The welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph."

"A nature photograph should convey the essential trurh of what the photographer saw at the time it was taken.....The removal of minor blemishes or distractions is permissible."

This about sums it all up!
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#16 AndyBarker

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Posted 06 October 2005 - 11:11 AM

HI Paul & All,
I totally agree with you, you can always come back another day
to re-shoot , but you can not if it's been frightend to death.
I have also seen divers & supposed photograpthers climbing over
reefs & breaking coral off chasing sea creatures. I'm sure these
inderviduals would not like it if the shoe were on the other foot.
We as respectable divers, photograpthers need to spread the word
about what we & others need to do to protect the underwater
invironment, & remember the underwater world was here before
us & it will be hopfully be there for A long long time after we're gone.

DIVE SAFE & ENJOY.

ANDY :D :D

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#17 Graham Abbott

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 04:06 PM

As a guide I have seen my fair share of harassment from a huge variety of divers. Though if we are to go all the way on this subject, then even keeping bright lights on critters at night has to be of some harm to the animal doesn't it, video lights included! Have you ever seen how a ghost pipefish reacts at night? If not -- they basically head dive straight into the sand or substrate beneath them, lost in bright lights, the animal simply can't see anymore, in fact most seahorses come to think of it will react this way. I don't how many times now I have rescued pigmy sea horses, yes it's true... it's kind of sad to see these tiny little animals flayling round on the bottom lost and blinded by bright strobe lights and video lights included!

If we talk about impact, we should also think about not going into coral overhangs, my friend Adam Powell once mentioned this to me many years ago and it's very true... How many divers consider what amount of damage their bubbles are doing by entering an overhanging reef and breathing out big plumes of bubbles. We should all really either not enter coral overhangs or at the best try not to breath out when we go inside and come back out to breath, or if we have to -- breath out very slowly so the bubbles are distributed as smaller bubbles which may not cause as much harm.

This debate is one that could go on for years, back and forth with opinions on what is wrong and what is acceptable, my attitude is one of -- do not harm, touch or harass, especailly when you do not know better or you are not too sure what you may be touching!

I believe a lot of this relavant to where you dive, the amount of diver impact a certain site may have. When I was resort Manager at Wakatobi Dive Resort we would dive the cavern only once on a trip, if there was someone who wanted to dive it again we would make a special trip. This was when they had only 16 divers maximum, lucky for me I only had this amount on rare ocassions. Now they have 40 plus divers each trip, with this amount of divers there may soon be no coral left on the top of the cavern if they continue to dive the cavern! Look at the Hanging Gardens on Sipadan, I have not been there for a very long time but there not many hanging coral lefts when I last went there, in fact I don't think they dive this site anymore, I could be wrong though?

Think about night diving, I often have divers asking me to dive Cannibal Rock and other coral rich sites at night. My answer is nearly always no, why? Diver impact, many divers are bad enough in the day, at night I have seen so much destruction, especially the first few times I had to lead divers on coral rich sites when I was working for other operators. My attitude now, there is not really much you can't photograph on most reef sites at night that you can't photograph in the day and most of what you can see, can be seen on less rich reefs where impact will be minimised. My preferance is to find a good sandy bottom where often the more unusual cryptic critters will emerge out of the sand and where divers can do less accidental harm!

How about considering this next time you talk a walk, think about how many animals you are killing by walking in the local woods, forest, jungle, even our own gardens!

#18 seagrant

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 08:59 PM

I totally agree with Graham about the "diver bubble" issue. It is my opinion that a lot of divers don't realize how much "tons of bubbles" disturbs many sea creatures, coral overhangs, caverns, etc. It is a learned skill just like anything else to breath less, make few bubbles to scare things and get lots of time out of a tank. Anyone can do it with practice and the sea, its creatures and fellow divers will love you for it because bubbles are distracting and noisy!!!

So yes, too many strobe blasts might have an impact on some creatures, but there are so many other things that need to be considered and before pointing the finger I think some self-examination needs to be done. The bubble issue might be even more detrimental to many creatures than the strobe issue, who knows?

Yes, breaking coral, etc is inexcusable but disturbing by not breathing correctly is not good either.

Plus personally I feel that even though I am not against it, shark cage diving/chumming/hand feeding to get good closeup photos is about the most extreme form of wildlife harassment I'm aware of. Now don't kill me for saying it but it isn't OK to say - single out macro photographers who photo - say pygmy seahorses - if you go shark cage diving with all the altered behavior, stress to the sharks, etc that those creatures go through. Yes it is easy to see when pygmy seahorses get stressed but sharks get afraid and stressed also by divers invading their space, strange feeding habits and huge doses of the most powerful strobes at close range for a shark.

Also I don't think video lights are any better than strobes. Once in the Flower Gardens, Gulf of Mexico there were a lot of video lights for shooting coral spawn. I was surveying fish, no camera, and somehow a bright video light reflected off a shiny Dring on my BC and a large (4 to 5 foot) great barracuda rammed me head on at close range and cracked a rib (mine, ouch!!!), we supposed he thought the reflection was a fish. And another diver on the same trip got rammed by a barracuda near his shoulder, he was with a group tech diving; videoing the coral spawn at night. So those video lights I actually think are worse cause they don't go off and might tend to "blind" some creatures. Still I wouldn't tell anyone not to use them, I love to see night footage shot with video lights underwater!! Just use common sense and don't put fellow divers or creatures at risk.

Anyway upshot is we can't point fingers at "what" is the most harassment without taking all factors into account. For sure we can say that outright breaking coral and stepping on the reef is very bad, but there are other impacts that are bad too. Common sense needs to prevail.

Same with the basking sharks in the UK, if it comes down to legislation then we have all failed as a group if what was done to photograph the basking sharks is considered harassment? There must be some "greatest good" solution for both people and the creature I believe.

That's my 2 cents for what it is worth,

Carol

Edited by seagrant, 15 September 2006 - 09:20 PM.

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#19 Photobeat

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Posted 20 September 2006 - 07:39 PM

Funny Eric and I were talking about this on the Gudalupe trip on the way out, agreeing that it is about finding a balance. The balance between using our images for the good of the enviorment/subject by showing and educating others with a minimum of negative affects. I don't think the sharks are stressed, they seem very much in control lol but the bait feeding for sure is a behavioral issue and was the main topic we discussed. Now lets take shark tagging, that might be more stressfull but what a greater good!. Just look at stingray city for a behavioral issue. I think it is such a tiny dot on the UW map that more good comes out of it than bad.

Does some minor wrong create a greater good? I have given many slide show presentations to school kids using my UW images as I am sure there are countless other ways UW photography helps more than hurts. UW lights and strobes have got to affect a tiny fraction of the entire undersea universe. Moderation and balance is the key but the experts may need to tell others where that balance is but I think decent common sense is the best starting point.

Edited by Photobeat, 20 September 2006 - 07:41 PM.

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#20 kriptap

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 02:25 PM

It was one big conspiracy, Alex was involved, notice the magic filters! no flash at all now. :lol: :blush: