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Sunday, April 30, 2017

What Do Fish Think of Humans Who Scuba Dive Into Their Homes?

(c)Engbretson Underwater Photography

I've been photographing fish underwater for twenty five years and this is a question I've thought about a lot. I know what's it's like on the lake bottom taking pictures of fish, but what's it like from the fish's point of view?  How do they process the experience?  I can’t imagine what it’s like for them, but let's try to experience the encounter from their point of view.  Let's imagine for a moment that the roles are reversed.

So imagine you’re sitting in your living room one day and then, out of nowhere, an alien creature enters your home. It doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen before. It has eyes like you do, but there’s very little about its body that you can comprehend. It doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen. It’s enormous in size and you’re not sure where it came from or why it’s in your home. You’re terrified. But…. you might also be a little curious. You’re torn between running for your life, and trying to understand what you’re seeing. Let’s say you choose not to run. You keep your distance and start observing this alien life form. It’s immediately obvious that this creature has severe limitations. It seems to be clumsy and awkward. It doesn’t move with any grace or fluidity. In fact, it seems to have difficulty moving around at all. It’s also slow. This is reassuring to you because you’re certain you can outrun it easily if it approaches too closely.    Then suddenly it moves up to the ceiling of your living room and seemingly disappears. Where did it go? The entire encounter is incomprehensible to you. This is how I imagine the first time encounter would be like if the roles were reversed.

I can’t imagine what fish think of us.  But I’m always impressed with the fish that don’t immediately flee. I don’t know if I would have the nerve to hang around and observe this strange monster in the scenario I described. It’s extremely humbling to realize that these fish are braver and have more courage than I would in their situation.

I think after many repeated encounters, a certain level of comfort develops. While fish may never understand what we are, they know we’re not the otters they see who move with great speed and agility and should be feared. We’re probably regarded more like the way they view snapping turtles. Large, plodding creatures with no real underwater skills who aren’t a threat unless they get very close.

Over time, the fish begin to notice that as we clumsily move through the water, we create a disturbance. Unseen insects and other invertebrates that are hiding on plants or on the lake floor may be exposed or displaced and to the fish, they magically appear for them to eat. Maybe a crayfish is suddenly seen fleeing and again a food item is summoned out of nowhere. They may begin to view us as sorcerers who can conjure up food items by our mere presence. If they arrive at this conclusion, the entire dynamic between fish and us changes. We become viewed as a waiter or sorts. Instead of fearing us, we instead become something that should be paid attention to and even followed around so they’re able to snap up any treats that we may cause to appear.  For this reason, eventually, over time, I would say some of the fish are absolutely gleeful when they see us.