BY NICOLE CLARK
How many humans do you know who can say they have spent over 10,000 hours underwater?
Brian Skerry, a National Geographic photojournalist, has done just that. Over the last 30 years, Skerry has spent that time using his camera to create stories of some of the ocean’s inhabitants. He also took the time to spend a night to be a part of the Centre in the Square’s four-part explorer series called National Geographic Live! Bob Poole, a wildlife filmmaker, Jodi Cobb, a photographer, and Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist, will be speaking about their discoveries in upcoming segments.
On Nov. 30, Skerry took his audience into the deep as he told stories and shared crisp photos and awe-inspiring short videos that brought the adventures to life in front of the audience’s eyes at the Ocean Wild: The Light Beneath the Seas lecture.
Skerry began his journey to becoming an underwater photojournalist at a young age.
“I loved all exploration, I wanted to be an astronaut, I mean, I wanted to be a geologist. I loved many different things but there was something about the ocean, I think that really spoke to me,” he said. However, he had to wait until he was 15 to get his scuba diving certificate. “At that point I just wanted to be an ocean explorer, I wanted to see sharks and whales and dolphins and shipwrecks and all kinds of things.”
At 16, he attended a diving conference in Boston, the oldest dive show in the world, known as the Boston Sea Rovers show. In the audience, surrounded by photographers and documentary filmmakers who were showcasing their work, Skerry had a life-changing moment.
“I had somewhat of an epiphany where I said, this is what I want to do, you know, that’s the perfect career, I will explore the ocean with a camera,” he said.
Skerry just had his 27th article for National Geographic published, a three-part series on sharks, and he does not show signs of stopping. He plans to begin a new series on the topic of whale wisdom in 2017 and will spend the next few years working on it.
During his lecture, he touched on many things including dolphin intelligence and whale culture.
In the early stages of his work on dolphin intelligence Skerry asked one of the researchers he worked with, a behaviour ecologist, just how smart dolphins really are and was met with the answer, “We don’t know, maybe the better question is how do we know dolphins are smart?”
He went on to tell of dolphins’ unique feeding strategies that change depending on where in the world they live. There are bottlenose dolphins doing crater-feeding by echolocation and orca in Patagonia going up on the beach to grab seal pups – they are the only pod in the world known to exhibit this behaviour.
He also spoke about Denise Herzing, who has spent much of her life researching and communicating with wild dolphins after developing the technology to do so.
“So, she’s correlated the clicks and whistles with certain things that they’re saying, so if they see something in the water, like a piece of seaweed, there’s a certain pattern of whistles; they have a word, essentially, for seaweed,” said Skerry.
Herzing, along with a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, created a wearable device that allows her to communicate with the dolphins.
Skerry has spent years exploring the sea. With National Geographic as his platform he has been able to bring attention to the beauty, enormity and state of the ocean and its inhabitants.
“We need to do that, we need to, somehow, not see ourselves above or apart from nature but what we need to be, connected and a part of it,” he said, adding he hopes that the world will soon grasp the ocean’s importance. “I believe that it’s not too late, that if we protect big places in the ocean, productive places, biodiverse places, that it will do great things,” Skerry said.
As the National Geographic Live! series continues in 2017 at the Centre in the Square, wildlife filmmaker Bob Poole will take the stage Feb. 23, photographer Jodi Cobb will be on March 30 and paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim will appear on May 31. For more information and to view ticket details visit centreinthesquare.com or call 519-578-1570.