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October 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Winner Sometimes Loses!

from the October, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Seahorse - by Justin Hofman

A photo of a tiny seahorse went viral on the Internet because it was clinging to a cotton bud (or Q-tip), just part of the garbage and debris it had swum through when photographed by Californian Justin Hofman, off Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago.

Seahorses ride ocean currents by grasping floating objects such as bits of seagrass with their tails. Hofman became upset when he considered what he was seeing -- trash taking over the underwater environment -- but he captured the image and later wrote on Instagram, "It's a photo that I wish didn't exist, but now that it does, I want everyone to see it."

He entered the photo and was a finalist in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition of the Natural History Museum in London, the photo serving as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. (

However, despite the success, and the awareness it raised about garbage in our oceans when Hoffman wrote that he wished his photo didn't exist, he meant that he wished the ocean was not full of sewage and other detritus.

But then came the naysayers. Certain members of the underwater photography community were aghast that the little seahorse might have been manipulated. The Internet warriors took to Facebook to besmirch the reputation of the photographer, assuming that he had manipulated the hapless creature onto the Q-tip to get the picture and that Q-tips would not sink.

Undercurrent experimented and found that paper Q-tips sank while plastic Q-tips tended to float. Regardless of that fact, the picture makes a powerful point that we should all respect and act on. Ocean garbage is real.

- John Bantin

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