The Big Issue : Edition 494
THEBIGISSUE25SEP–8OCT2015 25 BRIAN SKERRY SWIMS with the fishes – the dolphin, the tuna, the shark, the whale, the goby, the manta ray and many, many more. He has been doing so for 38 years, 18 of them with National Geographic, clocking up 10,000 hours underwater. That’s a total of one year and two months – including, once, seven days straight off Key Largo, Florida. “Yep, I was an aquanaut,” he says of that time, which required 17 hours of decompression (so as to not get the bends) before he could resurface. He has taken photographs everywhere: in tropical waters and polar regions, in mangroves, estuaries, the deep ocean, around all the continents. And the beauty and wonder he experiences never ceases. Not least when it comes to dolphins. In his time as a photographer, Skerry once observed an experiment to see if dolphins can talk. Trained dolphins were asked by their instructor to ‘innovate’ – perform one of their tricks, but not one already performed that day. Then two dolphins were asked to innovate – in unison. They disappeared underwater, chirped at each other, then rose, slowly rolled over together and flipped their tails three times each. Asked to innovate again, the dolphins once more dived and chortled – then blew bubbles, pirouetted side by side and walked on their tails simultaneously. “When you witness that, you have to believe,’’ Skerry says. Skerry has the knack of capturing moments of magic: the manta ray that leapt in front of him in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico as he was preparing for a dive; the harp seal sniffing a pup to make sure it’s hers before feeding it; the ridiculously cute yellow goby caught in a soft drink can at the bottom of Suruga Bay in Japan. “I almost expected him to speak to me.” It’s not all beauty, though. “The oceans suffer from the fate of having a beautiful exterior,’’ he says, ‘‘but get under the surface and you find a lot of problems.’’ Cape Cod in the US, for example, was so named because of the extraordinary number of fish that were there. They were once so thick in the water that sailors could not row ashore. Now, because of over-fishing, they are all but gone. “I’d love nothing more than just taking pretty pictures, but I do the harder stories, because I have a sense of responsibility and urgency,’’ Skerry says. And while he feels compelled to sound the warning bell – more than half the planet’s coral reefs have been lost, the Pacific and Atlantic bluefin tuna are in danger of being fished to extinction, 100 million sharks are taken every year – Skerry is no doom merchant. His sense of wonder endures. “Every breath we take depends on the oceans,’’ he says. by Michael Epis OCEANIC WHITETIP SHARK SWIMS PAST BIOLOGIST WES PRATT INSIDE THE SHARK CAGE. BAHAMAS » Brian Skerry speaks at Sydney’s Opera House on 17 October and at Perth’s State Theatre on 24 October. See his work at brianskerry.com.