Here's the second installment in my weekly photo series, where I present and talk about my favorite photographs from my career.
This image shows a pod of orcas (killer whales), swimming down a narrow lead in the ice that just opened up a few minutes before. Here are captions from some magazines and books about this image:
In McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, the austral summer arrives each January accompanied by the sound of cracking ice and the sight of hunting orcas. Bombarded by four months of continuous sunlight, the sea ice that once covered 7 million square miles, shrinks to a mere 1 million square miles. And as the ice breaks up, orcas prowl the newly formed edges for prey ranging from Weddell seals and penguins to the giant Antarctic cod, or Disosstochis mawsoni.
“I’ve watched large groups of orcas work one area of the ice edge, diving repeatedly down and under the sea ice,” says Jim Mastro, an expert on Antarctic marine life. “They can’t get deep enough into the ice to stand much of a chance to get Weddell seals ... but we do know that there are mawsoni hanging out under the fast ice, and there is no bigger, juicier treat than one of them.”
As air breathing mammals, these killer whales are taking considerable risks to get food. The ice channels and holes they explore can close up within minutes, leaving them trapped without access to the surface. Sometimes, the whales will rest within small pools of open water for hours, waiting for the ice around them to clear so that they can swim back to the open ocean. Other times, a pod will spy hop from an ice hole apparently looking for a safe route back to open water.
While the orcas hunt for their prey, scientists like Mastro also risk the shifting ice floes to study the orcas. Helicoptered in from the McMurdo Station research base some 20 miles away, teams take advantage of walk-up access to get tissues samples, take photos and even dive with the orcas.
Well, the above caption is a typical caption in a magazine where editors, and not writers or photographers, control and edit the content. One thing I've learned over the years is that the media almost ALWAYS takes a photograph and puts a "research" slant on it that was not there. In this case, I had heard from folks in the McMurdo community -- mostly helicopter pilots and NOT scientists -- that they had often seen orcas on the ice edge. I heard more and more stories about orcas coming close to people when they landed near the ice edge. I therefore asked for permission to try to film these orcas for a film in 2001 that was produced by WNET/Thirteen for the Nature series that airs on PBS. We had great luck. I can tell you that it was our team and film crews after us that dove with the orcas, and I don't believe any scientist has ever done so.
This bothers me, because it devalues professional photographers and the work that we do. Natural history photographers chronicle wildlife and natural history events, sometimes are the first to do so and sometimes are the first to discover new behaviors or species. Then the media uses our images to sell copies, but the text states that we were there documenting research. The implication is that witnessing and documenting the event, and the photographs themselves, are not good enough.
I am always appalled at how little the camera manufacturers respect professional photographers. Sure, they'll use our images in their advertising calendars and in magazines sometimes. However, when you see an ad for Canon cameras on TV, you see tennis players in the ads. If you see a Nikon TV ad, you'll see Ashton Kutcher touting the gear. What happened to the professional photographers who are actually getting out there, sometimes risking their lives, and using the gear? This is a pretty big slap in the face to photographers.
The BING search engine website ran a couple of different images from this expedition. Here are the links and the images themselves: