Meet the Underwater Photographer Who Chases Sperm Whales

Brian Skerry dives to photograph some of the most elusive animals in the ocean, sometimes on just one breath.

Brian Skerry gets a rare opportunity to photograph a social gathering of six sperm whales near the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica. Researchers with the Dominica Sperm Whale Project work with local officials to protect and study the whales’ unique feeding and breeding habits. Dominica and nearby islands were severely damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

For underwater photographer Brian Skerry, there are good days. The sun shines, the water’s clear, the surface is calm, the whales come, and Skerry can slip into the ocean fast enough to photograph them as his mask stays unfogged and his camera doesn’t malfunction.

But most days aren’t like that. The whales don’t show up, or there are particles in the water, or wind roils the waves, or the sun dips behind a cloud at the worst moment. Or, as soon as Skerry gets in the water, the whales dive several thousand feet to feed, and he can chase them only as far as one breath will take him.

A National Geographic photography fellow and the 2017 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year, Skerry free dives—which means no scuba tanks, no buoyancy device, no equipment except his fins, mask, and camera. Over the past two years he’s spent nine weeks off the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica in a 30-foot boat chasing sperm whales around their warm-water habitat.

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