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In the underworld

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  November 25, 2008 01:13 PM

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Right Whale
Underwater photography of a right whale by Brian Skerry

Meet Brian Skerry, a corrugated-box salesman from Uxbridge. Once you've processed that snapshot and think you know who he is, meet Brian Skerry, globe-circling underwater photographer for National Geographic and other top magazines. His was a simple transformation, if you call 20 years of hard work simple.

Skerry learned to dive in a backyard pool at 15, earned his scuba certification, and soon was spending countless hours swimming among New England's many shipwrecks, which is dangerous diving because of the region's strong currents, murky waters and threats of entanglement. But the rough conditions allowed Skerry to perfect both his diving and his photography, and when he snared his first National Geographic assignment a decade ago, shooting one such local wreck, he got it right.

Since then, he has shot features on sharks, marlins, whales, and tuna. To reach assignments, he has traveled by helicopters, snowmobiles, and canoes, has lived on fishing boats and in undersea dwellings, and has shot atop tropical reefs and under Arctic ice.

Recently he photographed right whales off New Zealand, an almost mystical experience. "There were days when I was at the bottom at 70 feet, and here comes this bus swimming down," he said in an interview. "I'm standing on the bottom, and as it comes down I get on my knees, lean over backwards - my scuba tank is now digging into the sand. . . . It came within inches. Here's this softball-size whale eye looking at me. But then it stops, stops on a dime. It's just hovering there, and literally one flick of its tail, and it would have crushed me like a bug. But it doesn't. It was just highly curious."

In recent years, Skerry has specialized in documenting the rising environmental threats to marine life. "The oceans are in trouble," Skerry says. "There are some serious problems out there that I believe are not clear to many people. . . . Photography can be a powerful instrument for change."

Skerry speaks at the New England Aquarium, 1 Central Wharf on Boston Harbor, at 7 p.m. Monday (Dec. 1), with a reception to follow. His lecture is free, though registration is required. Contact Vickie Cataldo at 617-973-0235 or e-mail her at

Skerry Underwater
Underwater photography by Brian Skerry
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