There are moments that are seared into Dr. Guy Harvey’s memory, like when he was in Baja, filming the first Blue Planet series with the BBC. The day was beautiful, calm, and they were filming striped marlins—along with sea lions—feeding on sardines. “I would never know to paint sea lions feeding on sardines,” Guy Harvey says. “Suddenly, a Bryde’s whale with a mouth as wide as a garage door comes by, taking a whole patch of sardines. It happened several times. As a 40-foot animal, they are the boss. Everything moves out of their way”.
Then, as often happens with fish stories, Harvey tops it. In 2005, while filming an episode of a fishing show in Panama, his team caught a 1,200-pound black marlin on a 50-pound line. “It was a five-hour fight. I dove to get underwater footage. It would have been a world record, but the angler wanted to catch it and tag it with a satellite tag, not kill it,” he says. “When they fight that long, we know they tire and may not recover. So, I dove down with another line and clipped it onto the leader to give us two rods. It took two anglers to get the fish up, put on the satellite tag, take the hook out, and let it go. It did about nine weeks of travel and covered 1,500 miles. This was probably one of the most incredible fishing adventures I’ve been a part of—and I was just taking pictures!”
For Guy Harvey—artist, scientist, scuba diver, angler, conservationist, explorer, photographer, and entrepreneur—such fish stories are all in a day’s work. And there’s more where those came from.
An Early Love of Art and Wildlife
A 10th-generation Jamaican of English heritage, Guy Harvey, 66, grew up on a property that had been in his mother’s family for centuries, inspired by the nature around him and encouraged by his parents, who hunted and fished. “My dad was a great shot and a fantastic coach. He taught me how to shoot game and encouraged me to enter shooting competitions,” Harvey says. “My mom was a really good artist, and encouraged my artistic ability at a very early age. She was also an avid birdwatcher, so most of her subject matter was tropical birds and flowers. About one-third of my current portfolio is tropical birds and flowers, which don’t get much attention these days, because I found my niche in fish”.
Although Harvey attended boarding school in England and only spent summers at home, those memories of a glinting, sun-dappled sea and the fantastic creatures within were indelible. He spent hours drawing what he had seen, trying to capture the raw power of the marine life he witnessed when he dove and fished. Harvey pursued a formal education to better understand them, earning high honors in marine biology at Aberdeen University in Scotland and a Ph.D. in fisheries management from the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
Guy Harvey relished his life by the sea. “Aberdeen is right on the North Sea and was the European fishing capital,” he says. He admits it took him a bit longer to earn his degree when he returned to Jamaica. “I was a bit sluggish, too many distractions, too much fishing,” he says with a chuckle. He joined the Jamaica Defence Force, where he formalized his maritime training and seamanship navigation.
Throughout his travels, art remained a steady passion. When he was around 13, his mother gave him a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and Sea. “Growing up in Jamaica, fishing with people who caught big fish in small boats, it was a very cool story for me to read,” he says. “I was fascinated because the blue marlin is the fish I most revere. I was amazed that somebody could write about it so eloquently.” When he was 17, he set about illustrating the whole book in 44 pen-and-ink drawings. The series formed the basis of his first one-man art show in 1985 in Jamaica. In 1999, the drawings were published as Santiago’s Finest Hour, Harvey’s first book, which celebrated the centennial of Hemingway’s birth and benefited the International Game Fish Association, for which Guy Harvey sat on the board.
While completing his doctorate, Harvey continued to host informal shows of his work, and he joined the Society of Animal Artists. “I was surprised by how few aquatic artists were in the group; it was mostly artists who painted big game,” he says.
In 1986, Guy Harvey connected with a tee shirt company in Fort Lauderdale and started licensing his art, a franchise that branched out to include everything from prints to affordable clothing and housewares. “I jumped into it with both feet, and I’ve never looked back. It’s just been a rollercoaster ride,” he says. “I think it’s the coolest thing. Whatever the product, a painting, a shirt, a boat decal, it makes people smile. It makes them happy and it makes them want to go fishing”.
Harvey draws upon his scientific education to accurately portray the anatomy and physiology of marine life as well as the ecology of their environment. “I can paint things that can’t be caught on camera. I tell a little bit about the life history of the animals—that’s the educational part,” he says. “In our documentaries, we can record the actual behavior of the animals, the color changes, the fin arrangements, the movement, how they behave in the presence of prey, their use of their habitat. I portray all of that in my art.”
Harvey lives in Grand Cayman with his wife, Gillian, and his children, Jessica and Alex, who work for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Inc. respectively. In his studio, he uses a variety of media, from watercolor-on-paper to acrylic-on-canvas that allow him to go big—really big, like 12 feet by 15 feet. “Big fish like marlins demand big canvases,” he explains.
But nothing compares in size and scope as his commission to paint the hull art on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship in 2014. “That was such an honor,” he says. “They have a very strong sustainability and conservation ethic”. Harvey partners with the company for an annual conservation cruise during which guests are educated about marine life.
While wildlife artists have the ability to spend hours or days in the field with their subject matter, marine artists only have a fleeting encounter. To capture such moments, Guy Harvey pioneered a method of photographing free-swimming billfish. He and his team would get the billfish up to the boat using a lure as bait with no hooks. “So when they grab it, you can pull it away from them. Then, they spin around and come back after it and you get all these fantastic shots,” he says.
For Harvey, the ultimate experience is to dive within a feeding situation, such as when he filmed billfish for a 2007 TV fishing series. “It was quite spectacular. I got the most amazing pictures. There were tunas and little bait fish all balled up and hemmed in against the surface, being preyed on. The smaller billfish species—white marlin and striped marlin—were synchronized, organized. They knew exactly what they were doing,” he says. “We are so persistent about getting that kind of footage because you can’t keep these animals in captivity or reenact this natural feeding behavior because if they stop, like run into walls, they die.”
Guy Harvey, the artist, is foremost Harvey the educator and conservationist, who is concerned about the serious threats facing marine life, such as overfishing, water quality, plastic in the oceans, loss of habitat, and biodiversity. In addition to raising money and donating proceeds from his work to protect marine life, he educates through his films, shows, and books, including his most recent, Guy Harvey’s Underwater World.
His philanthropy runs decades-deep. In 1999 he began annual donations to Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, where he founded the Guy Harvey Research Institute. The Institute is a global leader in shark and billfish conservation research. In 2008, he established the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to raise awareness, develop programs, and fund research on marine conservation.
Scientists at the Institute track the advance and decline of fish populations and the illegal trade of endangered species, and their research has advanced our knowledge of marine life. They’ve identified new species of shark, discovered asexual reproduction in captive female sharks, and penetrated the Hong Kong fin trade to establish a figure for the number of sharks killed annually (50 to 73 million sharks).
Our primary concern is overfishing and the loss of species, not just to the fin trade, but to indiscriminate fishing methods worldwide, and the rapid decline of so many of these fish for biological reasons,” Harvey says. “Sharks in particular do not reproduce quickly. They’re an apex predator; they are supposed to be a long-lived, stay-around-forever kind of animal. So, if you start taking out millions of them, they can’t replace that amount of extraction.”
Anglers should be aware of all the local regulations and limits, Harvey asserts. “These are based on scientific research, not picked out of the air,” he says. “Recreational fishermen are just as guilty in some respects as commercial fishing is in terms of overfishing and indiscriminate fishing.”
As an angler, Guy Harvey is a passionate advocate of catch-and-release. “The difference between hunting and catch-and-release fishing is that when you pull that trigger, there is a finality: The animal is harvested. With fishing, depending on local laws, you have a choice as to whether to harvest the animal or not. But if you release the fish in a responsible way, someone else can catch it, too,” he says. “Twenty years ago when catch-and-release was first making an impression, you heard ‘Oh, the fish don’t survive the trauma of being caught.’ That’s rubbish; our tagging program proved that.”
To determine what happens to fish after release, Harvey and other researchers tagged billfish and then swam with them. “We found pretty good results, even with the ones that were laboring and having a hard time propelling themselves. We would revive them by holding their bills, putting them through the water, ramming the waters over their gills so they get revived, and the tags showed that they lived,” he says.
“Sharks are an extremely successful group of animals as there have been 512 species identified so far. And there are probably a few more to be discovered,” he continues. “They’ve been around for 400 million years. That’s a long time.”