Strobe's effects on marine life

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Reaction score
Trinidad and Tobago
# of dives
100 - 199
Hi All,

Speaking with my wife (the primary photographer on our dives) she tells me she often hesitates to use the strobe because based on human experience (imagine a sudden camera flash in a dark room) she thinks that it may have some kind of negative effect on the marine life and she would prefer to err on the safe side.

We all know that touching various animals can be hazardous to them, have there been any studies to show that strobes have no significant impact on the majority of marine life?

It would be easy to dismiss concerns about the effect of photographic strobe's on marine wildlife. I'm sure the total number of underwater encounters between marine life and underwater photographers is negligible in the face of other environmental concerns and it would be difficult to quantify and document such effects. Some might go as far as to say that such concerns would be leftist, hippie, tree-hugging. But for me, this post brought up a deep guilt that I've carried for almost two decades.

I was on a night dive in a lake with my Nikonos III ('69 Mustang of UW cameras). It was a typical weekend night dive at my local lake but conditions were perfect, still and clear with 25 foot visibility. As I was easing up the sheer limestone wall, sweeping with my light, I came across a beautiful Largemouth Bass that had to weigh at least 6 or 7 pounds, right off the cover of a fishing magazine. Like many of the game fish, he was asleep, hovering in an alcove in the rock. I held my breath as I eased up on the magnificent fish and took his picture.

When the flash went off the fish convulsed and shot away in panic like it had been fired from a rail gun right smack into a limestone boulder. I will never forget the sound of pounds of flesh and bone hitting solid rock at that velocity. A lot of you have had the experience of feeling sound underwater, particularly lower frequencies. I felt that fish's head hit the rock and it resonated in my own head just a couple of feet away. The force and weight of the impact made a sound that still makes me wince.
The fish shook for just a second then shot off into the night in a different direction away from the limestone wall.

I would have no problem killing that fish, gutting him and eating him but I still carry guilt of what happened that night.

I don't seriously believe underwater photographers are any threat to marine life. But maybe there is a mola-mola somewhere, blinded in one eye, swimming in a circle ceaselessly, until it starves to death because it was photographed with high power strobes for the cover of a diving magazine.

I keep telling myself that that bass wasn't hurt that badly but I know what I felt and heard.
[FONT=&quot]It does feel a little better to talk about it.[/FONT]
yup that's also something she wonders about... but then again something like that can happen without a strobe as well so may not be totally unavoidable as long as you're in the water.

I've shot many shots very close to marine life with no visible effects on the animal though, she's more worried about the effects we may not see...

but based on responses (or lack thereof) i guess it hasn't been an issue
I don't think there is much question that strobes (and my video lights) affect the night vision of critters. I can't point to any specific studies, but as a marine biologist I can't imagine there is no impact at least on complex eyes. This is not to mention the assistance my video lights provide for predators like kelp bass and sea lions at night that seek out fish caught in the beams. I admit to feeling bad about it with some species, but weight it against the fact that I take the images back and share them with divers and non-divers to advance their understanding of and love for the marine environment. It is a bit of an ethical dilemma though.
I worry about shooting with strobes with subjects like seahorses and pipefish that don't have eyelids and which I photograph from close proximity in order to get a good focus on. I'm not at all worried about nudibranchs, and generally not very worried about fish I shoot from several feet away. I try really hard not to wake fish up at night, and for some reason I don't seem bothered by getting light in the eyes of shrimp, even at night. The seahorses, though, always turn away from the light, so I figure it really bothers them.
I think there may also be a small electrical charge that is dumped into the water, I saw a shark flinch and charge a photographer once when he took its picture with a double flash. then shark did not bite the photographer just nosed him and made the water a little brown by the rear of the diver. :)

Of course one observance does not make more than a theory, but sharks can sense these things better than most, and maybe it is true.

I would assume that fish eyes can recover from a flash about as well as we can, think of all the pictures we have taken through our lives, and our eyes may only suffer a little. the average fish probably only has one or two pictures of himself to show at family and school gatherings.

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