Critter of the month - killer whale

Underwater photographer Brian Skerry picks an intelligent ocean hunter for his critter of the month.
10 November 2011

Interview with 

Brian Skerry


Orcas - Killer Whales - breaching


Hello. My name is Brian Skerry and I'm a wildlife photojournalist specialising in marine wildlife, underwater and ocean subjects. And if I were a marine creature I think I would like to be an orca, otherwise known as a killer whale...

I suppose that's somewhat of a shallow statement in the sense that I've chosen the most supreme creature in the sea, perhaps, an animal that I at least believe reins supreme pretty much over everything else. So I guess that tells you something about me.

I am just so impressed with orca. I think that they are on a level quite unlike anything else. I'd like to think that they're much smarter than human beings and that they have this ability and awareness that we can't even begin to understand.

I've only encountered orca a few times throughout my career in the ocean. The first time I had a real close encounter was back in 1994. I was in the Norwegian Arctic diving, free-diving, in very cold water in a place where they were gathering to feed on herring over the winter.

It was just magical, the cliffs and the fjords were immense and kind of spooky, it was this beautiful purple light in the sky. The sun never got very high at that time of year, this was in October. But on a few occasions I was able to get underwater with my dry suit, no scuba tank, just free-diving down, and see these animals in pods and in groups.

I had one day where a young orca, a juvenile, a baby, broke off from its mom and came around and circled me. And the whole time they're looking at you with this eye that you know has this incredible intelligence, this great awareness behind them.

I've had the privilege of being with many great underwater creatures from tiny ones to giant ones, and marine mammals are always very special because they are choosing to interact with you. They are making that decision that they want to know more about you and they're curious.

Orca is quite unlike anything else. They have this depth, this soul if you will, that goes back eons and if only we could tap into that I think we could learn so much.

The notion of coming back, if I could be reincarnated or if I could just snap my fingers and become an orca, I think would be pretty magical because I would learn so much about the ocean and have the ability to travel great distances and interact with everything that lives in the sea.

Sarah - That was Brian Skerry with those intelligent hunters the orcas, or killer whales - And did you know they are in fact big dolphins, a member of the Delphinidae family, the ocean dolphins.

This month Brian's fantastic new book, Ocean Soul, is published - it's a collection of some of his most stunning underwater photographs from his career taking pictures for National Geographic Magazine - so well worth checking out.


The big white patch on the Orca looks like a big eye. That seems to suggest that they are trying to appear bigger than they are. What were the Orca hiding from?

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