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A walk through Living Data

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During the Walk through Living Data guided tour, Bill Gladstone, Head of the UTS School of Life Sciences, described for a group of interested visitors, adults and children, how for him. art and science are equally creative….. ‘I take photographs to express my wonder at their beauty and their relationship to the environment. Making images that both depict the animals and express my feelings, and touch viewers in the same way, is as inspiring and creative as the process of scientific discovery.'


Professor Gladstone, who trained as a marine biologist, researches the biology of marine life (particularly sharks and fish) in order to develop conservation measures to protect them. He also has developed a passion for photography as these extraordinary pictures show.
The first photo Bill Gladstone ever took was under water, thus beginning a passionate interest that began when diving as a teenager.
Bill takes photos to illustrate his work in publications or when giving lectures or seminars. He also takes photos to express the emotions he feels in the beauty he sees in underwater nature.
The emotional response to photos drives the human connection to nature and can create changes. Iconic images such as the Franklin River or the hunting of seal pups were pivotal in driving opposition. Others, like the early pictures of Jane Goodall raised human awareness of chimpanzees.

Above: This photo of the white-faced heron was taken at Port Hacking at low tide when the herons hunt for fish trapped in the seagrass. It focuses on the eyes, drawing the viewer’s attention to personalise the experience
This close-up photo of the freckled hawk fish was taken after much stalking.

Hawkfish live in harems with a dominant male, aggressively defending his females against other males. This photo captures the vigilance of the dominant male perched on a coral head and looking tough, thus protecting his territory and his females. Interestingly hawk fish begin life as females and will turn into males typically when the dominant male dies. Even stranger is that if all the females in a harem die the male can turn female and join another harem, maximising its reproductive success

Left: A close-up photo of the mantle of a giant clam.
In real life the section of the clam’s mantle covered by this photo would be as big as a thumbnail. The slit in the mantle is how this bivalve draws in water (after contracting its muscles) to extract oxygen and planktonic food. It then filters the water for planktonic food and ejects this filtered water through an exhalant siphon. The clams are so large that the planktonic food is not enough so they have developed a symbiotic relationship with single-celled plants (called zooxanthellae) that are the very tiny dots embedded in the tissue of the mantle. The giant clams extrude the metabolic products of the plants’ photosynthesis and then consume them. The iridescent patches are iridophores that refract light of a certain wavelength to the zooxanthellae, maximising photosynthesis. It is also believed they reflect back harmful light wavelengths that might damage clam tissue.

This is a close-up of a sea anemone’s mouth.

It started to wrap its tentacles around the camera as I approached closer.
The enveloping tentacles reminded me of an image of sperm racing towards a cervix for fertilisation.

Below: This photograph of the juvenile great white shark was taken from a helicopter over Port Stephens.

Port Stephens is an important place for great white sharks as the juveniles spend part of the time in the surf zone while they are in the nursery. The photo shows the shallow water, the sea bed and the light being reflected back off a passing wave that also stirred up the sand.


Just like artists, many scientists can also be creative, marrying passion with artistic thought processes. It is the art of science.

 The video link for Bill Gladstone's presentation is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuqhc-z_pxg

Images from Professor Bill Gladstone; video and soundtrack provided by Dr Lisa Roberts; summary text by Victor Barry October 2015


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