Beneath Cold Seas: The Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest

David Hall, University of Washington Press, 2011, 160 pages

An incredible photographic showcase of marine life of the Pacific Northwest, “Beneath Cold Seas” offers spectacular imagery of the undersea world in our region. Numerous amazing images are accompanied by interesting text that explains the images and the challenges of high-end photography in the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest.

The first sentence of the foreword by Christopher Newbert well describes the unbelievable accomplishment that is “Beneath Cold Seas”: “The beauty of a flawlessly executed, perfectly composed underwater photograph seldom reflects the extreme technical difficulty or environmental obstacles that had to be overcome to make the image, much less the physical handicaps and physiological dangers that marine life photographers routinely work with.”

“Beneath Cold Seas” is organized by photographic subject, each accompanied by a short vignette. There are six chapters concerning the following topics: crabs, hooded nudibranches and jellyfish, sockeye salmon, stellar sea lions, wolf-eels and harbor seals, and the warbonnet and the octopus. All of the images were taken while scuba diving in British Columbia waters, but virtually all of the plants and animals reflect the diverse marine life of the Pacific Northwest. The vignettes are fascinating, often explaining the underwater adventure that took place during each photo shoot. For example, during one dive the author stumbled upon a harbor seal using the perfect rock as a back scratching post.

Renowned musician Jerry Garcia once described scuba diving as “an ecstatic experience” and stated, “I love it almost as much as I love the music.” This book provides riveting examples of why Garcia felt this way about the undersea experience. Some of the images are taken in such a way that they show an image half above the surface and half below.  The creatures and plants, bright colors, and unique marine environments are all beautiful and enchanting.

A well-written introduction by Sarika Cullis-Suzuki emphasizes the importance of natural ecosystem protection. She concludes her introduction with these words: “I hope this book fills you with excitement and wonder, inspires you to explore and connect with the natural world, and helps you recognize what we still have: a complex and vulnerable wilderness beneath cold seas.”

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