Dal diver's new book offers vivid glimpse into the remarkable ecosystem of the Northwest Atlantic

- January 19, 2022

Chris Harvey-Clark, university director of animal care at Dalhousie, photographed more than 200 species for his new field guide. (Chris Harvey-Clark photos/Meisterworks Publishing)
Chris Harvey-Clark, university director of animal care at Dalhousie, photographed more than 200 species for his new field guide. (Chris Harvey-Clark photos/Meisterworks Publishing)

Chris Harvey-Clark seeks to connect human beings back to the sea with his new book, Maritime Marine Life.

As an avid diver and professional underwater cameraman, Dr. Harvey-Clark — who is the university director of animal care at Dal — was motivated to create the field guide to help inspire and educate the public about the beauty of the ocean.

“I was watching these kids on a dock pulling sculpins out of the water, which are these very colourful, beautiful fish, and they were just letting them flop around and die on the dock. They were killed just for fun,” recalls Dr. Harvey-Clark.

The experience was so profound for Dr. Harvey-Clark, he says he had an “epiphany.”

“It made me realize that there was some sort of a disconnect going on with the kids, and they weren't learning that things in the ocean were valuable and to be conserved.”

He set out to educate the masses on the importance of the sea, putting together a field guide in the 1990s called Eastern Tidepool and Reef (1997). His new book builds on the earlier edition, offering expanded sections on summer tropical fauna, sharks, and sea turtles — all with the aim of hammering home the point that these widely unknown creatures are valuable alive and worth respecting and protecting in the wild.

In an interview with Dal News, Dr. Harvey-Clark highlighted a few of the more than 200 species of fish, invertebrates and plants he photographed in full-colour for the book. Each photo is accompanied with detailed descriptions. (Bonus: It also includes the first-ever underwater diver-shot images taken of Great White Sharks in the Atlantic Canadian waters — shown above left).

The Torpedo Ray

Dr. Harvey-Clark says not much is known about the Atlantic torpedo ray, Torpedo nobiliana. In the water, these rays can give off an electric charge. Like any other stingray, they can be dangerous if they feel threatened. The torpedo ray can shock electricity through their wing like body disc. The charge ranges to 200 volts and is mainly used to stun prey but can also be used as a defense mechanism.
“The torpedo ray has been a species I've been fascinated by and there's again almost nothing known about it scientifically,” he says. “They get up to two metres long and 100 kilos (220 pounds). They’re badass. They can put out enough volts to kill you. I've been zapped before when we’ve dived with them to tag them.”

The Naked Sea Butterfly

Candy coloured and shell-less, the naked sea butterfly (pictured above top right) glows in orange, blue, yellow and red colours. Dr. Harvey-Clark says they resemble a beautiful bonbon in a candy store, and to him the butterflies of the sea are like something from another planet — equally as mesmerizing and important as the butterflies of the air.

“If you were trying to think of what an amazing alien would look like and you gave a kid a coloring book and some crayons and said, ‘Draw me a crazy alien and make it make it colourful,’ this is what the kid would probably produce,” he says, “something that looked like the naked sea butterfly.”

The Atlantic Squid

The squid is a soft bodied mollusk. A mollusk is the living creature (a gastropod) inside shells like conchs and whelks. Squids are mollusks too, and just like a conch-shelled mollusk, have an active predatory lifestyle. They are all part of the underwater animal kingdom. Squid are found all over the world and have their own signature characteristics.

“There's a picture in the book of two squid fighting over a sandlance fish — they’re both trying to eat it at the same time,” says Dr. Harvey-Clark. “They're pretty interesting to watch and photograph their behaviour as they interact and do all the crazy things they do.”

The Northern Basket Star

The northern basket star is proof that there is a whole other world under the sea. They are a starfish found all over the Northern Hemisphere. The northern basket star fans out its arms to catch prey that they then bring to absorb through a mouth at the centre of their bodies. Unlike other five-armed sea stars, this creature branches out its arms as it grows to look like many more arms that resemble the shape of a basket.

“Tanglefoot is a nickname that fishermen have for them,” says Dr. Harvey-Clark. “These things are actually predators, and they have these little hook-like things on the ends of their arms that catch prey.”

The Lumpfish

Lumpfish are found in the waters of the North Atlantic and even in the Arctic. As juveniles, they are a bright teal blue colour and can fit in the palm of a human hand. As adults, they are grey and grey-green in colour, matching the substrate bottom where they can be found. Smaller in size than females, the males turn a brilliant crimson sunset colour when they are mature and ready to mate. The females are sought after, fished and harvested for their eggs, famously sold as caviar. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has classified the Lumpfish as threatened.

“Lumpfish are these strange little fish,” says Dr. Harvey-Clark. “They have a sucker on the bottom that allows them to stick on the substrate and they're often found in really current swept areas. The males turn this beautiful bright red color and guard the eggs that the female lays.”

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

A titan of the sea, the Atlantic bluefin tuna is the largest type of tuna. Atlantic bluefin are often found in the deep-sea, swimming or hunting in schools. Sunlight hits their large shiny exteriors amongst the tops of waves, and they notably glisten in their migratory patterns and commutes. Their torpedo shaped bodies prove they are built for speed. The Atlantic bluefin tuna can be clocked at 70-kilometres per hour. Known as speedy predators and formidable foes, the bluefin feeds on squid, mackerel, herring and even eels. We are used to seeing this giant fish fileted in supermarkets, but Dr. Harvey-Clark gives us a livelier view in Maritime Marine Life.

“These things get to a huge size,” says Dr. Harvey-Clark. “Sometimes 8-feet long and 1,100 pounds. They’re such a beautiful, charismatic fish.”

Want to learn more? Contact Dr. Harvey-Clark directly to order a copy of Maritime Marine Life. Cost: $21.95 (no tax). Shipping: $5 anywhere in Canada, $12 in U.S.


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