Photograph by Brian Skerry
Photograph by Brian Skerry

The Moment: Mesoamerican Reef

This story appears in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Big Fish, Little Fish Trapped under ice, lost at sea, chased by sharks—Brian Skerry has had more than a few scares in 35 years of photographing underwater wildlife. This close encounter with a whale shark was quite the opposite. Snorkeling off Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, amid some 400 of the world’s biggest fish, Skerry spotted a massive maw coming at him with a remora darting around inside the giant filter feeder. “It’s not something the shark would eat,” notes Skerry of the suckerfish. Neither is he. Nonetheless, he quickly moved out of the way. —Luna Shyr

Behind the Lens

Q: Were you scared to be in the path of a 30-foot whale shark?

A: Fear is a good thing when working with wild animals. Whale sharks aren’t harmful to people. The worst thing is you might get bumped by one, but it’s not like a bluefin tuna swimming like a torpedo at 60 miles an hour. This thing is moving very slow and steady, kind of just mowing the grass, so my only concern was that I would bump it and somehow bother it.

Q: What’s unusual about this picture?

A: Sharks are near and dear to my heart, and this is a view that many people don’t get to see. I saw behavior in this area I’d never seen before: several hundred whale sharks all feeding right at the surface of the water. It blew me away. It’s pretty rare to see more than one animal at a time.

Q: Wouldn’t it have been safer to use a telephoto lens?

A: Underwater photographers don’t always have the luxury of using them. We have to get very close to our subjects to capture color and details because the water refracts and scatters light. I never cease to be amazed how these animals allow us into their worlds.