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March 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Strobes Donít Damage the Marine Life

from the March, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

You still can't touch the fish, but you can photograph them without causing any harm.

That sums up the results of a new study in Scientific Reports, in which Australian scientists investigated the physical and behavioral impacts of photographers and their camera lights on marine life that are popular subjects in divers' photo albums and Instagram feeds.

The scientists ran one field study and two lab tests on the effects of underwater photography using strobes and flash on seahorses and 14 different types of bottom-dwelling fishes. Over 34 days, they tested 82 animals with 4,600 exposures to full-power flash gun discharges. The results showed that the impact of the flashes of light were negligible and didn't have any stronger effect than motion and movements made by a camera-less human. But while photographers' strobes didn't cause any changes to vision or alter their feeding behavior, physical manipulation of the animals by divers elicited strong stress responses.

While some marine parks, dive operators, and public aquariums may have rules and regulations against the use of flash guns or strobes while photographing animals, those well-intended measures aren't based on any evidence, the scientists say. They want their study to help those groups develop better strategies for animal welfare and sustainability. That means bring all the camera gear you want but hands off otherwise.

"Behavioral and Pathomorphological Impacts of Flash Photography on Benthic Fishes," by Maarten De Brauwer et al., Scientific Reports, vol. 9, Article number: 748 (2019)

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