Protecting Sharks Through Photography

Diving with a scalloped hammerhead, photo by Josh Friedman

Josh Friedman, former aquarist intern at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, recently published the following article and accompanying photograph in Alert Diver Magazine. He is about to begin his third year of college.

When I tell people my biggest passion is underwater photography, they often respond with astonishment. I’m 19 years old and a sophomore in college, and it surprises people to learn that I have logged around 400 dives and fervently pursue photography of the marine world. School and other extracurricular interests take up the majority of my time, but during my breaks I am in the water, diving. The more I study environmental science and oceanography in school, the keener I am to get back into the water.

I started photographing marine life when I was certified as an open-water diver at age 12, and it has come to be what I love doing most. I have since become a rescue diver and now use a closed-circuit rebreather. To me, the most rewarding aspects of underwater photography are the life-changing experiences that occur in the ocean and the fascination and awe elicited by the photographs themselves. The sea is such an unfamiliar environment to many people, and by sharing photos I hope to encourage a sense of familiarity with and respect for the oceans — making marine conservation a more personal issue for people.

As the health of our oceans deteriorates, underwater photography has become a way for me to take action and encourage awareness among friends, family and the general public. Shark conservation in particular has become a very personal issue for me. I find sharks to be the most fascinating marine animals, and most of the dive trips I’ve taken 
have focused on diving with sharks. It saddens me to see widespread employment of fishing methods that lead to the large-scale and inhumane slaughter of sharks for their fins. As a result, I have committed myself to advocate for the conservation of shark populations worldwide and to expose unsustainable and destructive methods of fishing.

Diving has provided me with close, personal encounters with tiger sharks, bull sharks, oceanic whitetips and other species. Through these experiences I have come to understand much about the behavior and true nature of these animals. These interactions have driven my advocacy for these graceful creatures, and underwater photography has enabled me to use images of sharks to support their conservation by conveying that nature to my audience. Diving with sharks has made
 me living proof that they are not the ruthless, human-killing machines they have been portrayed to be.

In addition to driving my conservation efforts, the magnificence of the underwater world and its innumerable biological interactions and symbioses has made diving 
a significant and meaningful part of my life. Sensing the power, agility and playfulness of the wildlife that inhabit the oceanic environment is truly a singular experience. My hope is that more young people get involved in diving and come to really know the wondrous underwater environment, as this will undoubtedly help create a brighter future for our marine ecosystems.

Learn how to intern at Heal the Bay's Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Learn more about shark conservation in California.