Editorial: In the clearing stands a boxer

In contrast to the image under discussion, Stefan Follows of Koh Pha Ngan Photographic captured this beautiful and creatively shot image of a boxer crab (Lybia tessellata) in its natural habitat.

The Wetpixel Facebook Group is a place where people share amazing and inspiring imagery. Perhaps inevitably, some of this imagery is also sometimes controversial. A recently posted image portrayed a boxer crab (Lybia tessellata) beautifully lit with a snoot as it stood in the open on a blue Linkia sp. sea star. The image is not included in this article as Wetpixel does not have the creator’s permission to post it, and are reluctant to give it further exposure.

These crabs are typically very shy and live in broken rubble areas of the reef. They are very hard to spot and it is extremely rare to encounter them in the open. If they are in the open, they tend to be moving swiftly. A closer investigation also showed that the sea star was actually upside down when the image was taken. Sea stars are only upside down if something has caused them to be so!

It should be noted that it is a very striking image indeed, and attracted a great deal of attention on the group. Capturing images using snoots takes time, skill and patience, and it is hard (but not impossible) to imagine a circumstance in which a boxer crab would stay still in the open long enough to allow a photographer to capture one snoot lit shot. My understanding that this one shared was one image of a series of at least 13, taken over some 35 minutes.

When this is combined with the pose of the animal on an upside down starfish, the likelihood of it occurring naturally is so remote as to be grounds to challenge the techniques used to capture the shot.

The actual events surrounding the capture of this image are known only to the photographer, their party and/or their guides. It seems likely that the crab was herded in some way onto the starfish and kept in place long enough for the images to be created. My understanding is that the photographer refutes any such accusation.

While there are much bigger issues facing the marine world, and the crab was probably basically unharmed by this action, it does call into question whether images like this should be shared. Given how popular this image has been, it has helped to normalize behaviors that certainly seem to be unnatural. Conversely, if the image is simply removed, it voids the opportunity to educate the audience about what constitutes natural behavior and to help to create a desire to see images that faithfully and creatively represent what we see underwater. Given that, this should be a part of an ongoing discussion, here on Wetpixel and anywhere else underwater image makers (or indeed wildlife photographers in general) share their work.