Planet Earth

The Dynamic Lives of Undersea Animals

Photographer Richard Salas produces artwork with a purpose: ensuring sea life sticks around for future generations.

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Photo Credits: Richard Salas

Diving with Steller sea lions is like playing rugby with a 500-pound, 7-foot animal that just doesn’t have any respect for one’s personal boundaries. Their ability to slam their massive bodies against yours while checking out your head with their canine teeth can be a bit unnerving.

But being with these Steller sea lions, Eumetopias jubatus, is one of the most enjoyable interactions between me and any sea life I have ever had.

Underwater photographer Richard Salas is on a mission to save the creatures of the sea using his unique talents, by sharing their stunning photos with the world. 

Salas, an avid diver, has spent hundreds of hours in the vast blue ocean mingling with some of its most interesting inhabitants. From these excursions Salas has collected his artwork into three books — Sea of Light, Blue Visions, and Luminous Sea — some of the proceeds of which go toward the Ocean Foundation.

Here, some of our favorite photographs from across Salas' collection, with descriptions in his own words.

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

Scalloped hammerhead sharks, Sphyrna lewini, are very shy, 12-foot dinosaurs. The bubbles from a diver will keep them at a distance and can even chase them away.

These mighty, silent animals have a powerful elegance not experienced by most and are as misunderstood as their great white cousins.

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

Sometimes as a diver you turn around and there’s one fish, two fish, fifty, one hundred, one thousand fish! Being in a bait ball is a somewhat dizzying experience since there is no floor or ceiling and all these little beings are moving up, down, left, right.

As I am engulfed by these silvery critters, I feel accepted by these Pacific sardines, Sardinops sagax, allowing me to be in their midst and experience the abundance of life around me.

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

Often compared to an old man muppet, these beautiful wolf eels, Anarrhichthys ocellatus, have taken up residence in an old wreck on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The more I photograph these creatures, the more I fall for their cute ugliness.

Photographs and excerpts by Richard Salas and used with permission. You can learn more about Salas' book trilogy and his photography by visiting Ask Photography Underwater

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

Shy and quick to dart away, the decorated warbonnet, Chirolophis decorates, is always a prize to get a photograph of. Just trying to find these guys, so well camouflaged with their cartoonish headdresses, is an exercise in frustration.

But when you find one, the heavens open up and angels sing.

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

This lingcod, Ophiodon elongates, seems to think he knows what is his best side for a fish portrait. Because every time I tried to get another angle, he would turn his head so I could only photograph his left side.

Perhaps he read something in a Hollywood tabloid that influenced his actions.

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

We all uncontrollably gasp when confronted by this kind of photograph. But in reality, this 14-foot, 3,000-pound beauty is only opening her mouth because there’s a big piece of tuna right outside of the shot — not because of the bubble blowing photographer in a cage.

Lied about, sensationalized and totally misunderstood, these apex predators need our help to build a new image. Great white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, are of vital importance in keeping our oceans healthy, and our oceans need to be healthy for us to survive.

Photo Credits: Richard Salas

I often think of octopi as dancers moving about in this liquid weightlessness, striking poses that defy gravity and are nothing but graceful.

This two-spot octopus, Octopus bimaculoides, strikes a pose like the portrait of the famous dancer Martha Graham but, unlike Martha, he then squirts ink and dives down into the depths, ending our dance together.

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