National Geographic : 2018 Oct
PHOTOS: STEVE DE NEEF. NGM MAPS is partway through a three-year story project on whales for National Geographic. It has taken him all over the world: to Alaska to photograph humpbacks, to Canada for belugas, and to Norway for orcas. In each location, the conditions are punishing in their own way, and subject to whale-size shifts of fortune. In Dominica, Skerry followed a research team led by Shane Gero, a biologist at Denmark’s Aarhus University and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. Each year Gero’s team tracks families of Caribbean sperm whales to try to decode their com- munication. The research contributes to a broader understanding of whale behavior, which can influ- ence human activity and conservation strategies to help populations rebound. Collecting data, however, is slow work. Like other wildlife photographers, Skerry talks a lot about patience, as though that’s enough to land a masterful shot. But only when in the boat with him is it possible to understand the mental gymnastics required to wait, trigger ready, for weeks at a time—knowing that the moment may never come. And yet, every so often, Skerry has not just a good day but an epic one. One day last spring, after a string of fruitless weeks, Skerry got a tip from a research boat that a pod of whales appeared to be moving toward the surface to socialize. Such behavior is rare for people to witness, let alone photograph. Skerry raced to the site and found six sperm whales under sunny skies. He swam with them for more than an hour, filling two memory cards with 1,500 images. Nature often has good reason to frown on humans—but sometimes it smiles anyway. Photographer Brian Skerry, the 2017 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year, is part of the new partnership that longtime allies Rolex and National Geo- graphic have formed. Its motto, “Committed to a Perpetual Planet,” reflects its mission: to promote conservation and exploration of Earth’s wonders. Learn more at natgeo.com/perpetualplanet.