In which a scientist is mistaken for a giant fish 

Marine biologist Helen Scales was in the South China sea studying Napoleon wrasse, a rare and endangered coral reef giant, when a six-foot wrasse charged her, ready to mate.

This well-meaning, but mistaken wrasse is one of the many endangered creatures Helen researches in a part of our world that most of us hardly ever see — the one beneath the waves. At TEDxLSE, Helen shared stories of this watery world, reminding us why it needs protection:

Human actions are ruining the oceans like never before. And the only way we’re going to change that, I think, is if people know about and care for some of the things that live there — and what better place to start than to have your mind spin with stories of real sea monsters?

Hear more of her stories here »

(Above: Top: tetzl, Middle: Saspotato:, Bottom: ollographic)

May I have this dance? Photographer Shawn Heinrichs photographs models swimming alongside endangered ocean-dwellers, an effort to raise awareness and hopefully save their lives. 

Shawn fell in love with the ocean and its denizens after he took up scuba diving 20 years ago, a passion that led him to marine habitats all over the world. But as he traveled from sea to sea, he quickly began to realize that not everything underwater is rosy. Particularly, he was struck by the plight of the whale shark and the manta ray, two endangered species — one targeted for its fins and the other oft-mistaken for a stingray, a deadly lookalike.

Shawn took up photography (and film-making) in hopes to connect people with these animals most never see face-to-face. As he says in his talk at TEDxBoulder:

Art is such an essential tool in halting the destruction of these threatened species. By connecting people with the beauty and vulnerability of these animals, we ignite a new level of curiosity and passion for them.

Because, ultimately, it is the human connection that is central to conservation. Without it, our efforts will ultimately falter, but by harnessing it, we can change the world.

Above, photos from his work with manta rays and whale sharks showing the potential for real connection between human and animal. For more information on his work and conservation efforts, watch his entire talk here.

Joel Sartore is a photographer whose portrait subjects regularly pee and poop in front of him. A little weird, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

The National Geographic photographer started a series called the Photo Ark in which he takes studio portraits of the world’s animals as if they were posing for a grade 7 yearbook. He aims to photograph every species that he can. As you can see above, the result are glorious.

Why take on such a project? Visibility creates passion, he says in a talk at TEDxDeExtinction.

"We have to make it interesting," he says. “We have to get people off the couch, [engage] them, and get them to meet these animals face-to-face…We have to get it to be popular to care about animals … People will save something if they see other people saving it.”

Swimming with whales is not a typical task in most job descriptions, but it’s just a day in the life for TEDxSanJoseCA speaker Bryant Austin, a photographer who snaps images of these gentle giants from hardly 10 feet away.

In a quest to prevent the extinction of whales of all kinds — from humpback to minke — Austin uses his photography to create life-sized portraits of these creatures: one of which took over 200 hours to make and weighed a whopping 1,200 pounds.

At the top, a selection of his photographs — and below his talk on his process and the wonder of seeing a living, breathing whale up close: