Magazine

Swimming with elephants and sharks

  • 25 January 2016
  • From the section Magazine
Elephant "Rajan" swimming off the Andaman Islands, India Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Ali Bin Thalith grew up by the coast in Dubai where both his father and grandfather were pearl divers. He spent much of his childhood either in the water or watching Jacques Cousteau films - since then he's become a photographer, specialising in underwater images.

Swimming with an elephant off the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean "was a terrifying moment," says Ali Bin Thalith, "but one one of my best experiences".

He got his first camera at the age of 18, but didn't think of combining photography with diving for another 10 years, when his brother suggested taking pictures of sand gazelles swimming near the island where he worked.

"I waited and waited, and then one day, very early, about 20 to 30 of them crossed between islands. It was a hard photo to take. They are good swimmers."

Sand gazelles swimming off Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Bin Thalith is now publishing a collection of his most striking images. "One of my best places to dive is Sipadan in Malaysia - I had just finished a dive there when suddenly a young water monitor lizard appeared. "She had been carried by the current and wanted to rest on our equipment. She was really tired. We took her to the island behind me in the photo."

Water monitor lizard with Ali Bin Thalith - Sipadan Island, Sabah, Malaysia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Sharks - like these in the Bahamas - he says, "give you a big message that they own that place - it's like a game".

Sharks off The Bahamas Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith
White line 10 pixels
Caribbean reef sharks seen off Grand Bahama, The Bahamas Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

The boxfish uses its mouth to blow tiny jets of water into the sandy seabed, stirring up small invertebrates. It can also be deadly to other fish, releasing a poisonous substance from its mucous glands when it feels threatened.

Yellow boxfish seen in Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

The boxfish was photographed in Indonesia, as were the striped triplefin and pygmy seahorse below.

Striped triplefin seen in Komodo National Park, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith
White line 10 pixels
Pygmy seahorse seen off Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Some creatures, such as the coconut octopus which can be found off the Philippines, are often more active at night, says Bin Thalith.

Coconut octopus at night seen off Anilao, Philippines Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

A pair of mandarin dragonet at sunset in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and a nearby coral reef.

Mandarin dragonet mating off the Wakatobi Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith
White line 10 pixels
A coral "bommie" off the Wakatobi Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Atlantic bluefin tuna often weigh up to 400kg each and can swim at 43mph (70km/h). "The fisherman we were with thought we needed some more action, so he threw sardines in - the tuna went crazy."

Atlantic bluefin tuna seen off Malta Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Bigeye trevally are found in tropical waters - Bin Thalith photographed this school off Sipadan Island, Malaysia.

School of bigeye trevally seen off Sipadan Island, Sabah, Malaysia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

A bigfin reef squid in the Philippines was chasing plankton illuminated by Bin Thalith's light, providing a perfect opportunity to catch the creature in action.

Bigfin reef squid seen off Anilao, Philippines Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

A pink skunk clownfish, guarding its host sea anemone in Indonesia, has a layer of mucus on its skin to protect it from the anemone's stinging tentacles.

Pink skunk clownfish seen off Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

A crocodilefish in Malaysia sticks close to the seabed where it is well camouflaged.

Eye of a crocodilefish seen off Mabul Island, Sabah, Malaysia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Another well-camouflaged creature - a crinoid shrimp - can be seen left of centre, below.

Crinoid shrimp seen off Anilao, Batangas, Philippines Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

"When you are approaching these creatures, you have to give them signals that you are not a danger to them," says Bin Thalith. "Stay calm, no sudden movements. And wait a few minutes until you take the photo, so they feel safe.

"This scribbled pipefish was off Cebu in the Philippines. He just landed on that brain coral, and he was just lovely."

Scribbled pipefish seen off Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

In West Papua, Indonesia, Bin Thalith swam into a cave which divers tend to avoid. "I was about to leave when suddenly an octopus flew in front of me. He gave me my moment - with the entrance to the cave illuminated in the background."

Octopus in a cavern seen off Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

The squat shrimp - pictured on an anemone in the Philippines - is also known as the "sexy shrimp" because of its unusual body movements. It sways its abdomen back and forth in a dance-like rhythm.

Squat shrimp seen off Anilao, Batangas, Philippines Image copyright Ali Bin Thalith

Truly, Madly, Deeply by Ali Bin Thalith is published on 1 February 2016.

All images subject to copyright.

Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.

Related Topics