Brian Skerry has been a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine since 1998. His new book, Ocean Soul, features spectacular images from a 30-year career in underwater photography. Browse a selection of his pictures in this gallery. Here, blue maomao swim above a bed of kelp in New Zealand.
Corals, Kingman Reef
Shallow-water corals in Kingman Reef, 2007 The remoteness of the Line Islands' Kingman Reef, which barely breaks the ocean’s surface, has kept it relatively unspoiled and removed from the overfishing and pollution affecting more easily reached locales. Within Kingman’s massive lagoon, water quality is exceptional, allowing reef systems to thrive, and in every corner, wildlife teems. In the handful of places like this that remain, we can learn how coral reefs were meant to function, and create models for conservation elsewhere.
Southern Right Whale, New Zealand
Southern right whale and diver, New Zealand, 2007 It was a stunning scene—a 45-foot-long, 70-ton right whale hovering over the bottom just a few feet away from a diver standing on the bottom. … At some point I stopped and kneeled on the sand to catch my breath, and I was certain the whale would just keep swimming. Instead, the whale also stopped, turned, and hovered over me as it stared with that soulful eye. A few seconds later, I resumed swimming alongside the whale, making pictures, and savoring every second.
Moray Eel, Japan
Moray eel, Japan, 2008 Washed by a mix of nutrient-rich currents, the temperate waters of central Japan hold a stunning array of wildlife. Swimming over the volcanic sands of Suruga Bay is like entering a fairy tale, with characters to be found around every turn and each dive like another chapter.
Batfish, Japan, 2008 Far from the frenetic activity of mainland Japan, marine life surrounding the Ogasawara Islands moves to its own rhythm. The undersea terrain here morphs from boulder-strewn shallows to coral reefs, each with its own cast of characters. In these waters the ocean has also transformed shipwrecks from bygone wars into lush gardens of life, and oceanic caves hide species not yet described by science. The gift that warm water provides is the gift of time, being able to spend prolonged periods in the water so that we can begin to make sense of all that we see. As we move slowly through these places, patterns begin to emerge and behaviors are revealed. In time, order is created from chaos
Black Coral, New Zealand
Black coral, New Zealand, 2006 The resilience of the oceans is evident within the many marine reserves throughout New Zealand. In places like the Poor Knights Islands, Fiordland, and Goat Island, no-take protection has resulted in a rebounding of marine life, creating a new baseline for healthy marine ecosystems. Some of these places were protected because they were extraordinary; others became extraordinary thanks to protection. Diving in these waters, surrounded by schools of fish and seeing animals everywhere, people become aware of the restorative powers of conservation. This is how the ocean looked a hundred years ago, perhaps.
Caribbean Reef Shark, Bahamas
Caribbean reef shark, Bahamas, 2005 The Bahamas is a very “sharky” place. Throughout the more than 700 islands there are mangrove nurseries, coral reefs, and deep oceanic trenches, all perfect habitats for a wide variety of shark species. Far from being the solitary, aggressive monster they have often been portrayed as, sharks are complex animals, and they are crucial to the health of the oceans. With clear, blue water as a backdrop, this tropical locale is the ideal environment for an underwater photographer seeking to capture the special blend of power and grace that these animals exude.
Giant Clams, Kingman Reef
Giant clams, Kingman Reef, 2007 Swimming through the waters of Kingman Reef is a feast for the eyes: Gardens of giant clams clutter the bottom, their neon-colored mantles glowing vibrantly, and are juxtaposed with brightly hued mushroom corals ranging in size from silver dollar to dinner plate.
Coral Goby, Japan
Coral goby on soft coral, Japan, 2008 In spooky forests of whip coral, a pair of shrimp, male and female, are found living on a single strand, while nearby a goby mimics the brilliant orange of soft coral as a defense against predators. Other cool-water sites offer more fablelike scenes. For a few nights each year in spring, firefly squid spawn in the deep waters off Toyama Bay. On moonless nights they rise to the surface, and dying females get swept by currents to nearby beaches, glowing an eerie blue as they wash ashore.
Harp Seal, Canada
Harp seal pup, Canada, 2002 I found that living with harp seals around the clock in full immersion was inspiring and addictive in a way that few wildlife experiences have been. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see, and as each roll of film was wound up, I wanted to shoot another. I also loved being far away from everything else. We had a radio on the boat and a satellite phone that I used occasionally, but for the most part it was just the ice, the seals, and me.