Photographing a disappearing wonder

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

National Geographic photographer Jen Hayes has spent more than 11,000 hours underwater, swimming with saltwater crocodiles and blackwater diving. When asked how she’s staying sane these days, it’s no surprise that she sought solace with her aquatic neighbors: “Sturgeon,” she replied.

Jen’s appreciation for the species stretches back to the ‘90s when she began documenting lake sturgeon during graduate school. “I fell in love with this group of dinosaur fishes,” she writes.

Jen, along with her partner in photography and life, David Doubilet, live on the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes, a vault for about 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, to the Atlantic Ocean. And it’s here that 27 species of sturgeon live, including these four-month-old lake sturgeon fingerlings (above) that are being released into the St. Lawrence River. Eggs collected from the native St. Lawrence stocks are raised in a hatchery and released to restore populations of this species. Although the lake sturgeon is the oldest and largest native fish species in the Great Lakes, it is listed as threatened in New York State as its population has been decimated by habitat loss and overharvest.

Every June, Jen returns to the same spawning area. This year was no different. Here, decades-old fish gather for just a few days. “It is a very short window into their very secret lives,” she writes.

“And my answer to sanity."

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This year, these young sturgeon are particularly abundant. Hayes says the lake sturgeon eggs collected in June and shipped to Genoa Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin demonstrated such good survivorship that the hatchery had too many sturgeon, “a very good problem to have,” she adds. The decision was made to ship thousands of them overnight to New York State and were released into their native waters on July 23.

“I submerged beneath the surface to document the behavior of these tiny ancients and their potential predation by the invasive round goby,” Hayes says of the lake sturgeon depicted above. “The two-inch-long sturgeon excitedly swam down the slope seeking deeper water and explored their new home. I watched as they successfully swam past smaller predators but did witness larger hand-sized gobies stalk and consume some of the newcomers."

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Throughout her years of documenting lake sturgeon in the St. Lawrence River, Hayes has encountered these animals at various points in their life cycle—such as this female sturgeon (above) that Hayes came across between spawning events in 2011. Hayes says female lake sturgeon look for food by using the tiny electroreceptors atop their heads as well as their mustache of four long barbels, whisker-like sensory organs; they then vacuum up their prey using a complex tubular mouth.

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Every few years, Hayes encounters Miss Chippy (above), a more than 76-year-old lake sturgeon that she first met in the late ‘90s as she was completing her graduate work. Though Hayes aged and tagged Miss Chippy at the time, she says she can easily recognize the fish from an old wound to her spinal cord. In 2011, Hayes spotted the missing chunk of flesh on this lake sturgeon’s back and swam over to pose together for this photograph. In a way, she says, it was a family reunion.

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Today in a minute

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You thought Florida beaches were crowded? Take a look at this beach in Wladyslawowo, Poland. Photographer Kacper Kowalski took the aerial image on August 1, and noted little change in the crowds from previous summers, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Poland has recorded more than 1,800 deaths and 52,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.

The Last Roll: Jeff Jacobson, an American photographer who pioneered the open-flash technique and pushed the boundaries of photojournalism, died on August 9, 2020, after a long battle with cancer. “He photographed right up until he couldn't raise his camera,” his son Henry said in the announcement, adding that he plans to finish the book his father had been working on. Jacobson’s last book, The Last Roll, was published in 2013. In it, he reflected on beauty and mortality in the wake of his cancer diagnosis, saying, “My photographs are images of a world hurtling toward an uncertain future, made in a medium that has already ended, by a photographer confronting his own demise.”

A study in Pinkerton: Colorism—the hierarchy of lighter skin over darker skin, particularly among people of the same race—is a legacy of British colonialism that persists throughout the Caribbean. As T: The New York Times Style Magazine writes, Jamaican-born photographer Amber Pinkerton is challenging these biases in her work, which “shows darker-skinned people in a way many locals have never seen: within an art context.”

Dorothea Lange, digitized: Hundreds of rare photographs taken by American photographer Dorothea Lange, whose exploration of the hardships of American life during the Great Depression earned her international renown, are now on display in an Oakland Museum of California virtual exhibit. As SFist reports, the “Dorothea Lange Digital Archive” is the first digital curation of Lange’s work and comprises more than 600 photographs from Lange’s personal archives, which she gifted the museum after her death in 1965. The collection also includes seldom seen photographs from her early and personal work.

Your Instagram of the day

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Kids, meet your new teacher: When photographer Jasper Doest’s veterinarian cousin Odette rescued Flamingo Bob in 2016, she realized his injuries were too severe to return to the wild. Instead, Bob helps out with conservation education at local schools in Curaçao. Says Doest: “Turns out Bob's the best teacher—all the kids love him. When the flamingo starts flapping his wings, children start to flap their arms, and so do grown-ups. They are mesmerized by his beauty.”

Subscriber exclusive: Meet Flamingo Bob, the poster bird for conservation

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The big takeaway

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Hotshots: Women make up only 12 percent of wildland firefighters—but that number is growing. Photographer Alex Potter explains this is partly due to the rise of initiatives dedicated to cultivating female leadership such as the one Deb Flowers, pictured second from left (above), leads for the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center. Here, she discusses the outcomes of a controlled burn with Seneca Smith, Kelly Lewis, and Tiffany Vickery. Below left, Ritz Krantz, (left) a 12-year firefighter on a helicopter rappel crew in McCall, Idaho, cleans and catalogues equipment. When fires are too difficult to reach by road or by foot, the rappel team gets to them by sliding down 250-foot ropes such as those pictured below right.

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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Hidden figures: Eliza Scidmore is considered the first female writer and photographer to be published in National Geographic magazine. Known mostly for her work in Japan, Scidmore traveled across Asia and documented the lives of women—including these street dancers in Delhi, India, whom she captured for the April 1907 feature “Women and Children of the East.” Our senior photo archivist Sara Manco, who selected this image, says, “I love the movement of this photo, as well as the texture and patterns of their clothing.”

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This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Janey Adams, Kimberly Pecoraro, and Amy McKeever contributed. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!