I’m amazed at how many people attend the National Geographic series. Award winning photographer and marine biologist Paul Nicklen spoke at the Mesa Art Center this past week. Nicklen is one of National Geo’s most published storytellers and his adventures and photographs from Antarctica lit our imaginations with images of fantastic wild animals and an icy and imperiled land.
Paul grew up in northern Canada’s Baffin Islands living with an Inuit tribe. He credits that upbringing with his spirit of adventure and willingness to experience intensely rigorous conditions. He described for us the sensations of hour-long dives in nearly frozen sea waters and how his body becomes hypothermic, so numb he has to look at his hand to make sure he’s still pushing the shutter. His underwater photos of leopard seals are piercing.
Paul spent weeks in the Antarctic taking pictures of polar bears, emperor penguins, leopard seals and narwhales. Narwhales carry long ivory horns on their heads like unicorns and all the animals of the frozen arctic seem as magical as those mythical beings. Four foot tall emperor penguins hurried to the plane when Paul and his crew landed, eager to check out the action. The penguins grow large on diets of tiny fish that school under the ice. Thousand pound leopard seals feast on emperor penguins that evade them by shooting out of the water on explosions of air bubbles forced from their feathers. Thus propelled, the quickest penguins land safely on the ice. Massive, shaggy polar bears doggedly hunt the seals. Thus another perfect cycle of nature is fit to a frigid and seemingly desolate environment.
Paul stated his hope that his photographs will do what he was not able to accomplish as a marine biologist. He’s creating visual images to capture imaginations and inspire emotions. His visual stories aim straight for our heartstrings. He asked on the Mesa stage that we all look at our comfortable lives and consider what behaviors we can change to help protect the icy lands that provide a habitat for these wild creatures.
In addition to spending ten months out of twelve in the field pursuing stories for National Geographic, Nicklen has founded an organization called Sealegacy. Visit the website and be reminded that three fourths of our planet is ocean, an ecosystem vital to every aspect of life on Earth. Oceans provide food, oxygen, weather regulation and carbon sinks to support life. There is a clear connection between a healthy ocean and the well being of humans. (I was shocked by a statement on Sealegacy that 90% of all large marine predators have already disappeared from the oceans.)
Google Paul Nicklen Ted Talk and you can see a 15 minute presentation of his Antarctic photographs. It’s a terrific story.