Amazing Underwater Photos of Ocean Creatures

Check out these incredible images by photojournalist Brian Skerry, and help select which photographs will appear in an upcoming exhibit

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Brian Skerry

Harp Seal

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(Brian Skerry )

Photojournalist Brian Skerry has taken photos for National Geographic for the past 14 years and counting. His photographs are the focus of a new exhibit scheduled for early next year at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. One of these photos will be selected as the visitors' choice for the exhibit. Vote early and often, as the polling closes on November 4.

Harp seals have the second-fastest weaning process in the animal kingdom: From birth to living completely on their own in just 14 days.

Skerry met this two-week-old pup in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada just as it was testing out the water and learning to swim for the first time.

“When they first get acquainted with the water, they bob up and down,” he says. “It was a unique little moment getting to the seal before it took off.”

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

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(Brian Skerry )

Photojournalist Brian Skerry has taken photos for National Geographic for the past 14 years and counting. His photographs are the focus of a new exhibit scheduled for early next year at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. One of these photos will be selected as the visitors' choice for the exhibit. Vote early and often, as the polling closes on November 4.

Skerry photographed this school of endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. The species is caught in the wild and fattened in pens for harvest—usually with unsustainable methods.

“Bluefin tuna are easily one of the most magnificent animals on the planet,” Skerry says. “They grow their whole lives. But we’ve gotten more efficient at killing and harvesting them. Stocks are down an excess of 90 percent from where they were 20-30 years ago.”

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Hermit Crab

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(Brian Skerry )

This little hermit crab—about the size of a grain of rice—was a difficult subject for Skerry. The tiny crustacean only pops his head out every so often to feed.

The crab, photographed in Japan, occupies a tube on top of an old World War II engine. “This was a challenging photo to make. He only gives you a few seconds to capture the shot,” he says.

Changes to the ocean’s temperature and chemistry threaten the crab’s home in the reef.

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Great Hammerhead Shark

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(Brian Skerry )

The great hammerhead shark is an elusive species and pretty hard to find. Skerry spent 19 days in the northern Bahamas in the winter to capture the image of this 14-foot male when the sea calmed down, waiting 100 hours for a few moments alone with the shark. Skerry believes their blend of grace and power makes sharks excellent photo subjects because they move elegantly and with confidence.

Though the creature looks terrifying, Skerry says there is a common misconception about sharks. “Sharks are not particularly interested in humans, it’s actually quite rare for divers to encounter them,” he says.

Skerry writes of his experiences with sharks on his blog:

“It has been said that sharks have remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years because they are perfect and that no further evolutionary change is necessary. A few days in the company of any shark is all that is required to know this is true.”

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Sea Angel

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(Brian Skerry )

Skerry shot this image of a tiny, shelled “sea angel” under an ice cap in Hokaiso, Japan. The frozen top layer can be 25 feet thick at times.

“The creatures have a translucent body and are the size of a Tic Tac candy,” he says, “but they fly on these little wings under the ice.”

Changes in ocean chemistry destroyed the shelled pteropods that this “naked sea butterfly” eats, in turn affecting predators like fish and squid that depend on the sea butterfly for food. Ocean acidification is a serious threat for these little guys.

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Beluga Whale

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(Brian Skerry )

A wild Beluga whale swims in the chilly waters off Nova Scotia, Canada. Its mother was killed and the orphaned whale lived in the bay for several years.

“He was very much interested in posing for the camera,” Skerry says.

Beluga whales are likely to suffer as a warming climate causes Arctic ice to retreat.

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Coral Reef

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(Brian Skerry )

Unlike most coral reefs, those of the Phoenix Islands are protected from pollution and overfishing, which allows them to recover from severe bleaching.

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Yellowfin Surgeonfish

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(Brian Skerry )

This photo was taken on the remote Nikumaroro Island in the Phoenix Islands. Up until a few years ago, it was the world’s largest marine protected area. Skerry took the shot of this school of yellowfin surgeonfish feeding on a shallow reef a few feet below the surface at sunset.

“I like to work on tropic coral reefs at dusk because I can get the real colors of the animals," Skerry says. “During the day, it’s too bright and it’s very hard to do.”

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Leatherback Turtle

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(Brian Skerry )

Skerry saw this large adult female leatherback turtle in Trinidad at about 1 or 2 a.m. using the moon as his light source. A flash was out of the question—the white light disturbs the nesting patterns of the turtles.

“Leatherbacks are the oldest, deepest-diving and widest-ranging of all sea turtle species,” Skerry says. “Their lineage dates back more then 100 million years—they’re older than dinosaurs, yet today they are also endangered.”

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Baby Fur Seal in Kelp Forests

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(Brian Skerry )

This New Zealand fur seal pup was only a few days old when Skerry got to meet him.

“He was playing peek-a-boo with me in the fronds of kelp,” he says. “To get the shot, I moved in very slowly— I never chase an animal: It’s not productive to do that because they’ll swim away. If you are non-threatening marine mammals will most of the time come over and check you out.”

Though this marine protected area in southern New Zealand has been thriving as of late, warming climate, changing ocean chemistry and overfishing threaten kelp forests and the many species that depend on them.

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!

Manatee

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(Brian Skerry )

This manatee, in Crystal River in Florida, was settling down for the evening in a clear water spring area where he and others rest over night. Skerry says he was lucky to make friends with the kind creature.

“Animals under water have to let you close,” Skerry says. “We can’t use telephoto lenses. This manatee very willingly let me do that. He relaxed and allowed me into his world.”

Manatees lose a lot of habitat in Florida. Forced to acclimate to humans, they now live in smaller bodies of freshwater and their numbers are dwindling. Often, they are injured or killed in collisions with boats, trapped in canal locks and tangled in fishing gear.

Vote for this photo to appear in the Natural History Museum’s Portraits of Planet Ocean exhibit, set to open in February 2013!