NatGeo photographer Brian Skerry on close calls and coveted adventures

He has spent more than 10,000 hours underwater over the last three decades and has travelled by flippers, snowmobile and Goodyear Blimp to get the perfect shot. Award-winning photographer Brian Skerry is praised worldwide for his unique story telling that celebrates the mystery and beauty of the sea, while bringing attention to what is threatening it. His year-round assignment schedule frequently finds himself in environments of extreme contrast from tropical coral reefs to diving under polar ice. He added Toronto to his travel schedule, speaking this week at Roy Thomson Hall as part of the National Geographic Live series.

What’s your essential travel accessory? “Whenever I am travelling on assignment I take my satellite phone with me so that I can be in touch essentially anywhere. I often find myself in pretty remote regions and being able to call home or my editor is wonderful. Aside from the sat phone, I always travel also with eye shades and ear plugs, so that I can rest even in noisy or bright places.”

If you had two weeks to travel, not on an assignment, where would you go? “Well, since I am almost always in ocean places, which I love, I would probably travel to someplace else, like Nepal. The notion of being in a remote mountain wilderness really appeals to me.”

What are some must-see places closer to home? “There are so many fantastic locations throughout Canada and the U.S., it’s difficult to name only a few. But I absolutely love the Canadian maritime provinces. Wandering around Prince Edward Island or Cape Breton is something I love to do, especially in the fall. Listening to fiddle music in a pub on a chilly autumn night is pretty great. In the U.S., I’ve recently been working on assignment in Cape Cod, not too far from where I live and was reminded how much I enjoy the ambiance of this region. A day of solitude on a quiet beach in Wellfleet is a bit of heaven.”

Harp Seal_ photo by Brian Skerry

Harp Seal. • Photo by Brian Skerry

What’s your favourite souvenir of all time? “I have many cool items that I have collected over the years from places around the globe. But among my favourite are some old, glass floats that I found on a deserted island in the central South Pacific. I was on a five-week expedition to photograph remote and unspoiled coral reefs and frequently explored these islands when I wasn’t diving. I had always hoped I would find a glass float from an old net and on one of these islands, I did!”

Where are you headed to next? “I am currently at work on four new shark stories for National Geographic magazine. My next location is Hawaii.”

Any close calls on our adventures? “I’ve had several, from being lost for a few moments beneath arctic pack ice to being chased by a sperm whale in the Azores. I once surfaced after a dive in Ireland and the dive boat didn’t see me. The current swept me offshore and I drifted for 90 minutes before eventually being picked up by a fishing boat.”

What destination has impacted you the most?
“I think that New Zealand might have had the biggest impact. I first went there to do a story on the value of creating marine reserves. This was for a story that was a solution to a cover story on the global fish crisis [and problems of over fishing]. I had spent nearly two years working on the over-fishing story and was disheartened about how bad things were in many places in the sea. But after spending time in the many N.Z. reserves, where the ocean had been protected, I saw the sea’s ability to heal itself and thrive once again. My soul was renewed and it was quite inspiring. I’ve returned to N.Z. several times for work on subsequent stories and always enjoy my time there, but that first experience remains the most powerful.”

To see more of Brian’s work, visit


  1. I heard Brian speak at the National Geographic Series in Calgary AB, a couple of years ago. One of the best story tellers and photographic technique in the series!
    Love his book and adventure stories.

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