19 Feb

Galerie Gmurzynska - Palm Beach Show
Palm Beach County Convention Center

16 February 2023


Prince Hussain Aga Khan presents « Soul of the Sea », a series of 12 prints exhibited at Galerie Gmurzynska for the exclusive charitable benefit of Focused on Nature.

Hugging, nuzzling, cuddling, bonding, twisting, teaching and learning, dolphins are nothing if not intelligent, loving, playful, intimately and intricately connected to each other.

Calves stay with their mothers for 3 years. Social bonds and family structures are intense. And if you’re lucky enough to observe them frequently, as I do, you will witness endless antics, games, playful chases, aquatic somersaults, twists and turns.

And MATING. Lots and lots of mating. Even sexually immature juveniles and members of the same sex frequently practice.

I love the image of Atlantic spotted dolphins we’re showing here because the animals are all so close together, because those at the center are mating, and because of the colour contrast their rostra create.

That’s always the first thing you notice when a whale or dolphin starts coming towards you – the white on their noses or chins against blue water.

Sadly …a third of all dolphin and whale species are threatened with extinction.
Some species have been lost in our lifetimes.

This moment will forever be etched in my mind and tattooed on my lungs as I was desperately running out of air when I shot it.

We’re not allowed to scuba with dolphins and whales, only snorkel and free dive.

I have the lungs of a hamster and can’t stay down very long.

This majestic and beautiful, engaging spinner dolphin was approaching me from a few meters below my legs when I tried to take a photo. The camera wouldn’t shoot. Again, as it rose and I pressed down on the camera nothing happened.

Even once the dolphin was at my chest the camera wouldn’t shoot.

FINALLY the animal rose above me into the light, I arched my back and clicked once before my breath exploded at the surface.

Convinced nothing good would have come of this, I miraculously ended up with a book cover.

Nothing on the planet is so graceful, elegant and pure as a manta ray.

Coming in 2 species, one nearly 5 meters wide and one 7, they feast on plankton
And sometimes hover immobile in the current … to dine with zero effort.

With the largest brain of all fish and innate curiosity, seeing a manta is an honor,
True privilege, excitement secured.

Sometimes they play with divers’ bubbles.

Frequently they return again and again to check you out,
Making small circular paths as they come and go.

One played with me for 20 minutes in Ecuador, showing me its belly in a perfect rotation 6 times or more,
Locking its eyes with mine and

in the end, swimming with me – inverted and just below the surface.

Shown here are a manta vertical, swimming away from me maybe 15 meters down in La Paz, Mexico.
And another, its massive wings pointing skyward … and cephalic lobes coiled up
in Socorro, 600 kilometers from Mexico’s west coast.

Nothing is so powerful and bold, wide-finned and sadly rare as an oceanic whitetip shark.
Once one of the most common large animals in the world, with a circumglobal distribution, they are 
Down to 1-3 percent their population from the 1960s.

I visit them yearly at Cat Island in the Bahamas where their numbers are stable in a country that has banned shark fishing,

and at Elphinstone Reef in Egypt, a magnificent place home to beautiful corals, critically endangered hawksbill turtles, countless wrasse species, moray eels and angelfish.

Truly magnificent and regal creatures, oceanics – Carcharhinus longimanus, meaning long hands in Latin – are open ocean travelers and renowned predators.

I would be lying to you if I said being approached straight on by a large shark isn’t somewhat scary.

But with animals such as this one, streamlined, hydrodynamic, charismatic and emblematic of their family
you are in awe more than afraid.

And one can push animals away with large camera rigs such as mine.

I like to remind people that we kill between 80 and 273 million sharks a year whereas only 6-8 people die in shark attacks during the same period.

The image here was a poster at the natural history museum in Lisbon.

Of all the sharks – over 500 species across all the oceans and covering every depth – one of the most beautiful to me must be the silky.

Silkies are gorgeous and their physical attributes perfectly match their name.

Whilst they frequently reach a length of 8 feet and I’ve seen larger ones in the Galapagos, those we have at home in the Exumas are much smaller – maybe 4, 4 and a half feet.

We see them at Christmas time and during spring break; but not during the summer, when the water is much warmer.

Silkies are still quite common – as are the prolific blue sharks.

However, what happens with the finning industry is that as the more desirable species such as the oceanic whitetip become scarce … more common species are targeted.

And you can imagine that, with a 71% decline in the abundance of sharks since 1970 and an overall death toll of a hundred million sharks a year, silkies may not always do so well.

In the print being shown here the shark is trailing a fishing line, a very visible hook lodged in its mouth.

Perhaps a quarter of the sharks I see in the Bahamas have hooks in their mouths or visible damage from fishing accidents.

This image is called “Moving Mummy Hug” — for obvious reasons.

Other images in the series are nice, too.

One could feel the family tie and affection between these 2 individuals.

Sea lions are incredibly energetic, curious, boisterous and playful.

They move so fast that it’s sometimes hard to keep the focus on them.
Frequently even well-planned images come out blurry.

Our second image here is called “surface shenanigans” and represents a family unit I found lolling about
at the surface after a very long swim with a manta ray.

Hello Georgia O’Keefe! The most suggestive piece by far is that of a giant clam in Raja Ampat, one of the 2 most biodiverse places underwater in the world – in West Papua, a province of Indonesia.

The part of the clam in the image is its inhalant siphon.
It exhales from a smaller, more circular hole.

The largest giant clam ever found measured 137 centimeters, 4 foot 6.

They can weigh over 200 kilos, and one species is unable to close completely.

The most commonly depicted species is highly endangered.

They are absolutely exquisite creatures, and perhaps my favourite thing about giant clams
is that they actually have eyes!

The mantle border is covered in several hundred eyespots which allow them to respond to sudden dimming of light
by withdrawing their mantles and partially closing their shells, presumably to protect from predators.

And there was a real fear, probably unwarranted, among early fishermen and sailors that they could get their hands caught inside a clam and drown. If you research enough you can find diagrams and drawings of this.

Bold and beautiful evidence that good things come in small packages might be the diminutive, shy, mysterious and fairly diverse pigmy seahorse.

These guys and gals are usually no bigger than your fingernails. They are MASTERS of disguise and have a frustrating propensity to drop their heads and turn their necks before twisting their torsos completely away from the camera.

The gorgonian coral they dwell on is so thin that focusing on these cruel animals and their homes is a major ordeal.

Pygmies come in 8 known species and several colours – red, yellow, black and bluish grey.

With only 2 notable exceptions I’ve only ever seen these creatures 28 to 32 meters deep.

The seahorse in my print was photographed in the Philippines in 2017.

All species live in Southeast Asia.

The shapes and colours and variety of nudibranchs, which come in hundreds of species if not more, are flabbergasting.

With “Nudibranch” essentially meaning “naked lungs”, sea slugs breathe with the beautiful bouquet on their backs.

Nudis, as divers often call them, are horrible meals, poisonous to eat, producing toxins they derive from their diets of things like poisonous sponges. One surface species – Glaucus atlanticus – lives entirely on jellyfish.

The slug in the image here is a Hypselodoris apolegma.

Try saying that fast 3 times in a row.
I can’t!

I’ve only seen two of these animals and what I can tell you is that their beauty is as unrivaled as their daintiness extreme.

This is by far and away my favourite coral image. Taken in Indonesia in 2015 I don’t actually remember snapping it.

Anchor coral, also known as hammer coral and even sausage coral, is widespread throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-West Pacific with a large presence in Indonesia.

Colonies are usually no more than a meter across and live in waters that are turbid, yet gentle,

and inhabit both reef slopes and reef bottoms.

It is common in some areas, but it faces several threats that have reduced its overall population. Its coral reef habitat is also degraded and destroyed in many areas.

One of the great tragedies we are living today is the continued degradation of our coral reefs.
We have already lost half of our reefs since 1950.

Many believe we will lose 70 to 90 % of what’s left within 20 years’ time.

Even the Great Barrier Reef has suffered massive damage with bleaching events affecting over 70% of its area.

The most biodiverse ecosystems in the world – second only to rainforests – coral reefs support up to a fifth of all marine species at some stage of their lives.

One of the great tragedies we are living today is the continued degradation of our coral reefs. We have already lost half of our reefs since 1950.

Many believe we will lose 70 to 90 % of what’s left within 20 years’ time.

Even the Great Barrier Reef has suffered massive damage with bleaching events affecting over 70% of its area.

The most biodiverse ecosystems in the world – second only to rainforests – coral reefs support up to a fifth of all marine species at some stage of their lives.