National Geographic : 2016 Aug
EXPLORE Field Notes To learn more about the ways National Geographic is funding research and exploration, visit nationalgeographic.com/explorers. Skerry reports: When I started diving in the late 1970s, the movie Jaws had just come out. It was a big joke that no diver wanted to see a shark underwater. Today it’s just the opposite. We know sharks are vital to the health of the oceans and are also incredi- ble creatures that have been swimming since before dinosaurs emerged. Yet the world is killing 100 million sharks a year, largely just to put their fins in a soup. I think when an animal is villainized, it’s an easy stretch to kill them. We need to give them a makeover. I’ve spent the last two years traveling from New Zealand to Cape Cod to create intimate pictures of sharks. My task as a photographer is to portray them as what they really are: miracles of evolution. As much as they’re the biggest, baddest guys in the ocean, life can still be hard: They’re affected by climate change, by overfishing, by pollution. You can get into the water in the Bahamas with 14-foot tiger sharks that could easily tear you up, but they don’t. If you went to the Serengeti and put a toe out of the Land Rover, those lions would be all over you— God forbid you put a steak on the ground and got out with your camera. Tiger sharks are certainly predators, but you can dive near them without a problem. It’s a testament that these animals are not really out to get us. BRIAN SKERRY Nat Geo photographer Prehistoric beasts deserve ‘a makeover’ The Oceans By studying the drone imagery that Dominique Meyer collect- ed, archaeol- ogists were able to identify potential ex- cavation sites remotely. It wasn’t his first trip: The then 19-year-old Swiss astrophysics major had flown camera- equipped drones over the coastal Yucatán state of Quintana Roo. The images were used to create a 3-D map of the area and were analyzed with data from satellites and a technique called lidar, which can detect terrain levels through the tree canopy. Clues from this analysis hinted at possible architectural structures, so Mey- er and three others, including archaeologist Dominique Rissolo, returned on a National Geographic grant in search of the ruins. “Some of our technology has really revolu- tionized archaeology and excavations,” Meyer says. “In the past, surveying a site would take multiple months, but we’re able to go there and accurately do it in a couple hours.” The team strung up hammocks and spent 10 days hiking around three settlements, in- cluding two pyramids, all previously undocu- mented and—surprisingly—unlooted. Meyer stresses this wasn’t their discovery: “The locals know pretty much every square meter of the rain forest.” But he hopes the mapping will mean the structures are protected and studied for clues to how the mysterious Maya lived. “Archaeologists always say that you learn by sitting in environments,” Meyer says. Seeing the sites by drone, “you lose a little. But now anyone is able to look at data. Archaeologists don’t need to hike to Mexico; they can just sit in their offices.” — Nina Strochlic PHOTOS: VERA SMIRNOVA, CISA3-CHEI, UCSD (ABOVE); BRIAN SKERRY Skerry’s photos appear in the series “The Summer of Sharks” in the Geographic’s June and July 2016 editions and starting on page 112 of this issue.