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  • January 14, 2014

Paul Nicklen on Protecting the Arctic

“There is an incredible urgency in the work that I am doing, I must shoot these pictures now.” —Paul Nicklen

Picture of Leopard seal chasing penguin chick
I expected this 12-foot-long (4-meter) female to flee with her catch, a live penguin chick, but instead she dropped it on my camera. Then she opened her mouth and engulfed the camera-and most of my head. After 45 minutes of more threats, she finally relaxed and ate. The next day, as if wanting an audience, she came looking for me. This photo was taken in the Antarctic.

Paul Nicklen says that he found photography through frustration. A marine biologist by training, he grew tired of the watching the gap grow between the science he loved and the public’s knowledge of environmental issues. Specializing in polar regions, Nicklen says cold climates are place of comfort for him. He grew up in the Arctic climate of Northern Canada and learned early on how to survive in the harsh environment.

Working so closely with leopard seals, walruses, and polar bears, many of his assignments put his life in danger. To him, the risks are worth taking because the Arctic he knew and loved as a child—and as an adult—is disappearing. He feels that he must do what he can to bring the rapidly changing global environment to the world’s attention. Nicklen has published 11 stories in National Geographic magazine and has received awards from World Press Photo and Pictures of the Year International. —Caitlin Kleiboer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This video portrait was produced by National Geographic magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It is part of an ongoing series of conversations with the photographers of the magazine, exploring the power of photography and why this life of imagemaking suits them so well. Learn more about the making of the series and watch the full trailer here.

View more of Paul Nicklen’s work on his websiteand follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Video Production Credits
Photographer: Paul Nicklen
Producers: Pamela Chen, NGM
Chad A. Stevens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Associate Producer: Elyse Lipman, NGM
Editor: Kathryn Carlson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Camera and Sound: Spencer Millsap, NGM, Shannon Sanders, NGM

There are 40 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Chris Odlum
    January 30, 2014

    A beautiful photo! I instantly recognized the animal as a leopard seal. It’s blasphemous that the human species is destroying the global environment. And who are we to cause this havoc on our planet?-Why, just go to Walmart and look around.

  2. Debra Carlson
    January 25, 2014

    What can we do to get your message with these pictures out there?

  3. Helia Rivera
    January 25, 2014

    An amazing pic! Thanks for bringing light to the urgency behind preservation.

  4. Alan Lieberman
    January 21, 2014

    Thank you for doing what you do. I find the photos you’ve submitted captivating and I appreciate the risk taken to capture those moments. I can’t imagine myself going on an expedition, although I would like to. I enjoy your contributions and admire your efforts to educate your readers.

  5. Jeanne Percy
    January 21, 2014

    Thank you, Thank you, thank you !!!!!
    Would never get to see these without your wonderful pictures!

  6. Andrew Stewart
    January 20, 2014

    Very disappointed to read Don Dudley’s comments. Sorry Don, the science of climate change just can’t be squeezed into a 30 second sound bite…..

  7. Carol Worrell
    January 20, 2014

    You are like the modern day “Job”. I would have loved to hear your thoughts during the moment your head was engulfed…..and her thoughts too. Amazing capture of the moment. You are a brave soul. Thank you for documenting this moment.

  8. felix kwan
    January 20, 2014

    it look dangerous close to the photographer.

  9. Janice Murota
    January 20, 2014

    what an amazing photograph and bravo for your work. I thought leopard seals were highly predatory and dangerous! I have read about leopard seals underwater pursuing humans who are running over the ice above them. scary. stay safe.

  10. Cheryl Pelavin
    January 20, 2014

    I think you are a hero. Thank you for what you do.

  11. Don Dudley
    January 20, 2014

    Paul Nicklen, we all loved the photographs and you commitment to your craft; however, we are bewildered by your desire to preserve the “Artic Regions”. There is NO EVIDENCE that mankind has/can influence these climates [and the ozone]. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that nature is in control of currents, solar flares, auroras and tropical zones. Certainly mankind has the responsibility to oversee our ‘footprint’ [nuclear use], but you cannot believe your pictures can change the progression of polar ice caps. Sorry for your guilt – just trying to help.

  12. Andrew Stewart
    January 19, 2014

    Confusing – A story about the Arctic featuring fauna from the Antarctic.

  13. Mary Kay McMurrough
    January 19, 2014

    Excellent photography!

  14. Eaglekiss
    January 19, 2014

    She engulfed the camera and most of your head for 45 minutes? Were you wearing head protective gears? Were you injured? What did she eat? The prey that she had dropped before or another prey? Sorry I could not understand the story though the depiction is very lively!

  15. motleyjust
    January 19, 2014

    The extreme close up is very dramatic, but it took me a while to figure out the orange colored hand like things were the penguin chick’s feet. It might also help to tell 12-foot-long (4-meter) female what?

  16. Deborah Deatherage
    January 19, 2014

    I love your photographs, they speak much louder than words would to show what we must protect. I am also thankful you are taking photos in case they too are just another victim of what is now happening to us and our Earth. Thank you for this.

  17. rafael valdes
    January 19, 2014

    keep up with what you are doing, besides the breathtaking photos you believe in your work .

  18. wray menzies
    January 19, 2014

    Spot today’s deliberate mistake!

  19. Eli Robillard
    January 19, 2014

    The feedback is correct, and folks who follow Nicklen will know that while he does shoot a lot in the Arctic, the (extremely well-know) series including the Leopard Seal was indeed shot down by the other pole. If the title expresses the intent then it would be appropriate to change the photo.

  20. Ali Gale Photography
    January 19, 2014

    Amazing shot! Wow!

  21. Steve
    January 19, 2014

    Aside from the location muddle, I hope your head was not in the seals’ mouth the entire 45 minutes.

  22. mike mustoe
    January 19, 2014

    Superb and beautiful work. And thought provoking too

  23. Bruce Kopetz
    January 19, 2014

    Poor journalism, to be sure. I agree with writers Kopelman, Walsh, Townsend & Breis. NGS has transposed Antarctica and the opposite pole. This sketch has put me on alert concerning the accuracy of all NGS literature.

  24. Coburn Dukehart
    January 19, 2014

    Thanks to the astute readers for the comments on the seal photo. It was indeed taken in the Antarctic, and the caption has been updated to reflect where it was shot. Paul Nicklin has done extensive work in both the Arctic, and the Antarctic regions.

  25. Dianne Johnson
    January 19, 2014

    Your passion for science and art are very evident. Thank you for the work you do on behalf of the beautiful wild life you are surrounded with. As a mere spectator, I am in awe!

  26. Jay Kopelman
    January 19, 2014

    Just a nit-picking question. The text seems to indicate this picture was taken in the Arctic. How did that seal find a penguin chick in the Arctic?

  27. dee mosi
    January 19, 2014

    Just finished “Shackleton’s Stowaway” and was introduced to the sea leopard as a gigantic killer. Your photos are amazing, brave, courageous, beautiful.

  28. Jane
    January 19, 2014

    Love the pictures and the dedication!

  29. Mike Walsh
    January 19, 2014

    great photo! immediately gets your attention – need to identify that it’s a 12 ft leopard seal – initially wasn’t sure what it was until I read on and was able to surmise

  30. N.W. Eddy
    January 19, 2014

    As Canada prepares for a national election, it is more important now than ever to inform the public. Startling photo!

  31. Andrea Camargo
    January 19, 2014

    This was such an inspiration for a young amateur photographer as me. I’m so glad to see other people living the dream I dream.

  32. Bill Townsend
    January 19, 2014

    Some confusion here…the text seems to indicate mostly Arctic work and mentions walrus and polar bears along with leopard seals in the same sentence. The photo is from the Antarctic however as are penguins and leopard seals.

  33. Dawn Tepper
    January 19, 2014

    Such dedication, amazing work!

  34. Kimberly Williams
    January 19, 2014

    The Old saying, “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” are so true. However, with a dumbed down society and one that has lost it’s political power to corporate greed it is doubtful that educating the public will do much good. We know that the greed of the few has destroyed our world and our dreams. Until the many regains it’s power, we are all nothing but sheep being led to the slaughter. it is not just our environment in grave danger, but our freedom as well!

  35. Peter Breis
    January 19, 2014

    Sorry to nitpick, but surely the headline should read “Paul Nicklen on Protecting the Antarctic” unless these were very lost leopard seal with penguin chick!

  36. Iris Coussens
    January 19, 2014

    I saw your photography on your website, took my breath away, no words…just breathtaking beautiful. I wish you all the success in the world in your goals of protecting the arctic and making people aware with your photography

  37. Otilia
    January 17, 2014

    You did a great job ! Amazing ….I am very impressed by your work and dedication .

  38. Laura Sederberg
    January 16, 2014

    I am very impressed with your photography and share your concerns for our future. It makes sense that you turn to your camera and your words to share what you see about the environment and looming crisis. Thank you for what you are doing.

  39. Gustavo Carneiro
    January 16, 2014

    Amazing… one of the best photographers I’ve ever seen.

  40. Fabienne Lefeuvre
    January 14, 2014

    I am glad to hear that…I feel that scientists get lost into their jargon sometimes! But also, to be fair, it is a tough job to translate scientific knowledge to the public as well.
    Wildlife photography and documentaries can indeed make the bridge between science and people. These tools are so powerful… they can bring up people’s emotions to the surface. They tell stories that statistics cannot tell and make us realise how vulnerable and misunderstood some species are.
    Amazing job Paul ! Very inspiring-)
    Thanks for getting under the ice and sharing your work with us!

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