The Good, Bad, And Ugly Of Wildlife Photography

“Ugh, Another fu*cking Instagrammer. Can I get on with my life now?”

This is a very thoughtful analysis of both the good that responsible wildlife photographers can do, and the negative impacts on wildlife that irresponsible photographers can have:

When the details of Ramsey’s daring encounter came to light, scientists were quick to raise these issues.

Take, for example, Instagram influencer and shark conservation advocate Ocean Ramsey. In January 2019, Ramsey made international headlines after publishing photos of herself getting up close and personal with a six-meter great white shark that experts suspect was pregnant.

Ramsey and her husband, Juan Oliphant, owners of the Hawai‘i-based dive charter company One Ocean Diving, were freediving off the coast of O‘ahu when a massive great white shark approached their boat. The shark had come to feed on a whale carcass floating nearby. As the barrel-bodied creature approached the carcass, Ramsey dove down and ran her hand along its back. When the shark moved out of reach, Ramsey swam after it and stroked it a second time. As the encounter unfolded, Oliphant and three other freedivers moved in to capture photos and videos…[snip]

…According to Domeier, the shark Ramsey touched appeared pregnant and by forcing it to interact with her, she risked scaring it away from the whale carcass.

“A pregnant female white shark spends almost 18 months in the open ocean where prey is few and far between, so you don’t want to risk scaring one away from a meal that it needs to take care of the 500 or 600 pounds [225 or 275 kilograms] of babies it’s carrying,” says Domeier.

It is hard not to feel that humans–photographers, tourists, developers, hunters, researchers, it’s a long list–are relentlessly and increasingly intruding on the lives of wild animals. We definitely need many more, and much stricter, protected zones in both the ocean and on land. But what we really need, more than anything, is a different guiding ethic, in which our own needs and desires are no longer the only needs and desires considered, or dominant.

The Power Of Activist Art: Factory Farm Edition

Yesterday I posted this mesmerizing photo on my Facebook page (click image for full size):

 

At first glance it looks like modern art, maybe Francis Bacon, maybe Ralph Steadman.

What it really is is a satellite image of a factory farm waste lagoon, that is part of a series curated by British artist Mishak Henner (hat tip to Rachel Clark for pointing the provenance out to me) that seeks to reveal the true impact of factory farming on the American landscape.

Here’s how Inhabitat.com describes the work:

Big food companies are always trying to convince us that their products come from idyllic family run farms, although that rosy image couldn’t be further from the truth. A recently released batch of aerial photographs by British artist Mishka Henner show that factory farming is taking its toll on our planet. In addition to producing nutrient-poor “food” rife with GMOs, these farms are literally carving swaths of death through the American landscape. Henner’s shocking photos provide bird’s eye proof of the destruction that follows when industrial beef farming moves into town.

The images, discovered by Henner while researching satellite photographs of oil fields, look more like post-apocalyptic wastelands than acreage in America’s heartland.

““While I was working on that series I was looking intensely at the American landscape, and that’s when I came across these really strange-looking structures, like a big lagoon, or all these dots that look like microbes,” Henner told Fast Co. “We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away.”

The aerial shots of factory farming feedlots are open source satellite imagery, so Henner doesn’t have to worry about the legal risk of publishing them. In recent years, the commercial agriculture industry has sought to hide its disgraceful practices from the public’s view, and journalists found photographing feedlots have faced arrest and criminal charges under bogus “Ag Gag” laws. It’s not hard to see why they’d rather no one know what they’re up to.

“Massive waste lagoons, which waft up dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes and can contaminate groundwater with nitrates and antibiotics, first resemble open, infected wounds,” explains Fast Co. The land on which the feedlots sit is totally barren, brown and dry. Brightly colored waste from the poor animals housed there gives off an alien glow against the neutral backdrop of dying land. The cows themselves look like ants from the aerial perspective, crowded together with no shade or comfort from the harsh conditions.

“To me, as somebody in the U.K., looking at something [like] the feedlots I was shocked on a very personal level,” Henner told Fast Co. “I think what the feedlots represent is a certain logic about how culture and society have evolved. On one level it’s absolutely terrifying, that this is what we’ve become. They’re not just feedlots. They’re how we are.”

Here’s are some more photos (full set here). Very powerful.

 

 

Moment Of Zen: False Killer Whales

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 1.53.40 PM

 

Via NatGeo:

 

Whales on the Move

Photograph by Mazdak Radjainia, Reuters

A pod of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens)—a rare species related more to dolphins than true killer whales, or orcas—swim off the coast of New Zealand on April 13.

False killer whales swim in the open ocean and often socialize with bottlenose dolphins. Orcas, however, are not so friendly. They have been seen attacking their false counterparts.

Moment Of Zen: No Orca Trainers Here

A wide evening view to Måbødalen in Eidfjord municipality, Hordaland, Norway, in 2011 August. The view has been captured from the eastern end of the valley. Photograph by Simo Räsänen (User:Ximonic)

From the 2012 Wikimedia Commons Pictures Of The Year.

Moment Of Zen (2): Whale Eye

Photographer Bryant Austin is out with a beautiful new book, “Beautiful Whale.”

From the publisher:

Photographer and conservationist Bryant Austin’s breathtaking photographic projectBeautiful Whale is the first of its kind: It chronicles his fearless attempts to reach out to whales as fellow sentient beings. Featuring Austin’s intimate images—some as detailed as a single haunting eye—that result from encounters based on mutual trust, Beautiful Whalecaptures the grace and intelligence of these magnificent creatures. Austin spent days at a time submerged, motionless, in the waters of remote spawning grounds waiting for humpback, sperm, and minke whales to seek him out. As oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle says in her foreword to the book, “As an ambassador from the ocean—and to the ocean—Bryant Austin is not only a source of inspiration. He is cause for hope.”

More on Austin and his work, here and here.