A Photo and Its Story

Fas­ci­nat­ing pic­tures and the story be­hind them

iD magazine - - Contents -

The black wall in front of Michael Aw’s eyes is get­ting thicker and thicker. Thou­sands of sar­dines— cor­nered by sharks and dol­phins— are pushed into a few cu­bic me­ters of ocean off the east coast of South Africa. It seems it will be only a mat­ter of sec­onds be­fore the first shark pierces the dis­ori­en­tated swarm to snag its prey. But sud­denly Aw, an un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher, ob­serves that the preda­tors are swim­ming away from the shoal of sar­dines— and the wa­ter un­der the shoal starts to shine with a sil­very-white glow. Mo­ments later, a 25-foot-wide mouth shoots up from the depths and sucks in hun­dreds of sar­dines. All Aw can do is swerve to one side— and press his cam­era’s shut­ter. The re­sult: a unique snap­shot of the mouth of a Bryde’s whale— the phan­tom of the ocean. In­deed, we know less about these up to 55-foot-long gi­ants than about any other whale. How many are there? How long do they dive for? Where do they mi­grate to? All of these ques­tions are still unan­swered be­cause the whales are rarely sighted and do not fol­low a fixed pat­tern of be­hav­ior. And so, ev­ery en­counter with one of these mys­te­ri­ous colossi is a nerve-rack­ing ad­ven­ture. This is how Aw’s col­league Doug Per­rine de­scribes div­ing with a Bryde’s whale: “Un­like its more pon­der­ous rel­a­tives, the Bryde’s whale is like a sleek preda­tory mis­sile. Div­ing in the pres­ence of one is like stand­ing on train tracks in the fog: You know that a high-speed lo­co­mo­tive could ap­pear in an in­stant, but you don’t know from which di­rec­tion.”

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