A male sockeye salmon is identified by it distinct hook-shaped beak.
A male sockeye salmon is identified by it distinct hook-shaped beak. (Photo: Jason Ching)

If the realms of science and art seems worlds away from each other, you'd be gravely mistaken. After all, when you're studying the science behind the world around us, how can you not feel inspired by its sublime beauty? That's why it should come as no surprise to learn that some of society's most creative and passionate artists also happen to possess brilliant scientific minds.

One such scientist is Jason Ching, a Washington-based researcher who has spent years studying and photographing Bristol Bay's sockeye salmon populations.

"I have been coming up to Alaska as a research scientist for the Alaska Salmon Program/Fisheries Research Institute of the University of Washington almost every summer since 2007," Ching writes. "As both my office and playground, I found that it has been an incredible environment for me to develop an appreciation for nature, and nature photography."

Distinct hook-like nose of a sockeye salmon
(Photo: Jason Ching)

As an anadromous (migrating) species, the sockeye spends most of its life in the ocean, but every year, it returns to freshwater rivers and lakes to spawn. What's interesting about this species that when they are living in the ocean, they appear blue, but when they return to freshwater to spawn, their color changes to a brilliant red hue.

Earlier in 2015, Ching and his team traveled to Alaska's Iliamna Lake in hopes of improving upon methods for assessing salmon population using unmanned aerial systems (i.e. drones). The lake is an important spawning ground for the fish, and as luck would have it, 2015 turned out to be one of the strongest salmon returns in recent history.

Thanks to the drone's unobtrusive whizzing overhead, we're able to witness this spectacular spawning event like never before in the short film "Above Iliamna."

The short film is a masterful bridge between spectacular aesthetics and scientific education, which is exactly what Ching hopes to achieve with his larger body of work.

He explains: "Whether it’s a presentation, scientific paper, research or environmental video, newsletter or webpage, I believe in creating powerful and informative visuals to engage people in research topics and foster an appreciation for our environment and natural resources."

Continue below for more of Ching's sockeye salmon photography, and be sure to check out his website if you want to see more of his environmental outreach visuals.

Aerial view of sockeye salmon school
(Photo: Jason Ching)
Above water and underwater view of sockeye salmon
(Photo: Jason Ching)

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.