I recently contributed images to The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science Blog, which featured my good friend Peter Lisi’s recent paper on the rodent-eating habits of Arctic Grayling, which he published as part of his PhD dissertation in Daniel Schindler’s research group. Article here
The Arctic grayling’s signature trait is its big floppy dorsal fin–it’s quite a sight.
What’s less appreciated are the grayling’s amazing colors. They’re easy to miss when you see the fish out of water; but underwater, with a little ambient light or some flash, the colors really pop–reds, blues, greens, and even a few purple spots on the dorsal fin.
I first photographed grayling in the summer of 2010, when I’d just gotten an underwater housing for my SLR camera. It was a humbling experience. I threw on a dry suit and crawled out into a riffle, expecting to have an easy time shooting the abundant grayling. Instead I learned how hard it is to position yourself in a river when you’re wearing a big buoyant dry suit and holding a camera housing the size of a toaster oven. I flailed around and scared all the fish away at first. Then I found some big boulders to anchor my feet in and was able to hold still enough to let the fish calm down. I was shooting with an ultra-wide lens to minimize the amount of water between the fish and me for clearer shots. As a result I had to get really close to the fish to make them large in the frame. My trick in these situations is to stir up the sediments a little to kick up bugs and give the fish a reason to come check me out. This grayling came in to nab a mayfly nymph, and I swung my camera out like paparazzi to get close-up. It took several attempts to finally get a reasonable composed, in-focus shot.
Every summer I return to Alaska I make sure to get back to this spot to spend time underwater with these amazing fish. The more my collaborators and I observe them, the more they surprise us. My friend Kale Bentley recently found that grayling are way more mobile that we thought, capable of swimming back and forth across vast watersheds as they search for good foraging spots. We built the antennas pictured below to monitor grayling movements.
I can’t wait to snorkel with some more grayling in 2015.