I am an animal lover. To me, spiders are as enthralling as foxes . . . as dolphins . . . as chipmunks. This lifelong predilection led me, in a roundabout path through psychology, comparative religion and a good deal of traveling, to pursue a career as a marine biologist. From '94 to '99, I studied feeding behaviors of horn sharks. These are small benthic sharks of coastal California that eat sea urchins, fish and cephalopods but exhibit a remarkable range of individual preferences for eating urchins. When I entered graduate school at U.C. Santa Barbara, I switched to study predatory marine snails, but continued to focus on individual differences in food choices. Over the course of my work, I found myself caught between the desire to better understand these fascinating organisms and the reluctance to do them any harm. I quickly discovered that it is hard to do compelling research that does not, at minimum, cause discomfort to the animals, and at maximum, kill them. This left me in a constant state of confusion and stress in my day-to-day dealings in the lab and in the field. And while I made it a point to choose studies that did not require the “sacrifice” of any of my subjects, I soon realized that, with this attitude, I would not go far in this field of study.

This Marine Lab photo series was my attempt to reconcile the confusion I feel regarding science and its methods. While I strongly support its mission, science demands a disciplined, and sometimes cold lack of sympathy, which I find difficult to handle. I found myself asking unsettling questions. Which hypotheses are truly important enough to uproot or kill an organism? What gives me the authority to decide what the value of an individual life form is, regardless of its complexity?

I have tried to make these images truthful. Of course, truth is rarely black or white. Sometimes we can find it hiding, muddled within the shades of gray . . . perhaps beautiful, but not comforting …simple, but not easy.

Cristine McConnell