Amazing Whale Photography with Bryant Austin - P2/2    
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Honored viewers, welcome to today’s Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants featuring the second program in a two-part series on photographer Bryant Austin of the United States, who has produced the world’s first life-size photographs of whales.

From World Ocean Day, June 8 to September 8, 2010, his collection of whale photos is on exhibit in Lofoten, Norway. Mr. Austin hopes that his close-up images will help change people’s perceptions about these ocean giants, particularly in whaling nations and eventually lead to a total ban on whaling activities around the world.

Director Kate Miller has produced a documentary entitled “A Short Film: In the Eye of the Whale” about Bryant Austin’s laudable project. Having spent countless hours in the water with these tender beings, Mr. Austin now describes the amazing songs he has heard sung by the Humpback Whales in the context of courtship.

Have you had experiences observing the courtship?

I have with the Humpback Whales. And what’s interesting about Humpbacks is the males compose songs, and each population had their own song and it’s different every year. And it evolves during the mating season. And it can be heard up to 15 miles away. And we really don’t understand what it’s for, and reasons for it. But I was with a female Humpback Whale and a male escort and the male escort was right next to her like this.

And instead of booming the song really loud, which is what they do, and it fills your whole body, your body vibrates when you’re above them while they’re singing, it’s incredible, he was whispering the song to her in a very soft (way). And that song I believe lasted 20 minutes, and is composed with all the same qualities of human musical compositions. They rhyme, they do; it’s just amazing. But he was whispering to her.

And I had never seen that before. I was with a biologist at the time who studies whales’ social biology, Libby Eyre, who’s based in Australia, and she was in tears. It was just such a remarkable experience to have the privilege to see that.

And do you listen to recordings of whales, the different songs?

I do and the songs are different every year. And I’ve spent four seasons in the South Pacific, in the Kingdom of Tonga and when I hear a song from that time, I know what year it was. And I have an emotional response to it. I knew if that was a rough year for me, or if we had a really good time that year, it brings back fond memories.

And what is it like to see the interactions of whales among one another within their own family? What does that feel like?

It’s remarkable. They’re very social, and they’re very tactile. Like with the Humpback Whales, I’ve seen them resting together, and one whale will put his pectoral fin, which is like our arm, he’ll put it over another whale and they’ll just rest like this. Or sometimes their pectoral fins will cross and they’ll just touch and rest on each other like this.

I’ve seen a mother Humpback Whale with her calf, her calf would lie on the sandy bottom, and the mother would come down and lie on top of the calf, as if she was helping him practice holding his breath and they would just stay there together. So they’re very social, I see us in them so often.

Let’s now learn how Bryant Austin produces his images of whales.

To make life-size photographs of a whale, I’ve found over the years I have to be six feet away and it has to be on their terms. So I spend up to three months with a specific population and I wait for them to come to me and I’m very slow and passive. Everything about what I do in the water is consistent and predictable for them and that applies to my vessel.

So we encourage them, we find ways to encourage them to come up to me very closely and when they do, that’s when I begin taking the photographs of their eye, and then I begin photographing their body in sections, up to 15 photographs. And so there’s a lot of trust, because at six feet, and with the camera to my face, I can’t really see what’s going on around me. And their pectoral fins that are on the sides, like our arms, they’ll pass underneath my body as I’m making these photographs, we’re so close. So, there’s a lot of trust, mutual trust.

Mr. Austin’s field assistant Diana Hay has a story about an amazing photo of a group of whales taken by Bryant. Here’s Ms. Hay to tell us how the situation unfolded.

When that encounter was about to happen, I could hear my heartbeat. And then to look at that animal in the eye was a deep sense of awe, definitely was a deep sense of awe. What happened is, Bryant kept swimming towards them and I was hoping that they would go towards him, because he’s the one who needs to be close to them. Well, for some reason, they thought I was more interesting. So they swam under him, and then they began to surface and come towards me. Luckily they didn’t surface all the way and that’s when Bryant took that photograph.

When we return, we’ll see more magnificent photographs of whales by Bryant Austin. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television.

Welcome back to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants here on Supreme Master Television, featuring Bryant Austin and his amazing, life-size photos of whales, which are now on exhibit in Lofoten, Norway, until September 8, 2010. These photos reflect Mr. Austin’s hope to inspire people to save the world’s dwindling populations of whales.

You take a series of photos along their body to make a full life-size composite. It takes about 100 hours to blend them together. And this whale wanted me to touch him and I wouldn’t touch him. And so he took the front of his head, which is the size of your front door of your house, and pushed it up against my body until I pushed off of him and touched it with my hand. And then I swam over to his eye to look at him and that’s when I began making some close-up portraits of his eye as he was studying me.

And would you tell us about this photograph that we’re now looking at? You said that it is a Minke Whale.

The Minke Whale, yes. It was really important to me to work with the Minke Whales. They’re the most heavily hunted whale in the world. I think probably more than 25,000 have been hunted and killed since the global ban on whaling. It just breaks my heart to think a wild creature that’s so friendly, so inquisitive and so gentle to me, that my species is bringing so much suffering to them.

It was just last year that I received funding to work with them and there is one female in particular that I spent five days with, up to six hours a day. I composed over 300 photographs of her body. I made portraits of her eye. I produced my largest life-sized composite photograph of her. It measures seven by 30 feet And that photograph just débuted in Norway last month. So I’m very grateful for that.

As part of your work in raising awareness about the plight of the whales and also whaling, do you travel to different nations and speak with some of the whaling communities?

I do, I exhibit within whaling communities. Right now, we’re focusing on Norway, and our fourth exhibition is up right now. It’s a public space exhibition, our first one, and it reaches 200,000 people a day. And it began during the opening of the whaling season. And this isn’t something that’s antagonistic or polarizing, it’s a pro-whale campaign. And they have exclusive access, the largest, most detailed photographs of whales premiere in these countries.

And audiences in whaling nations are my teachers, because if I can get through to them in a peaceful way that’s positive, there’s hope that I can create a new model for change, one that can be applied worldwide to the far more difficult issues whales face. So people in whaling nations have become my most important teachers.

What are some of the comments you’ve heard from people glancing at these photos for the first time?

The thing that strikes them most is the closeness of the photographs, that I’m so close to them. And that really draws out their curiosity and fascination about whales. And then I can engage them on that level, and then we could talk about whaling. But the idea that they’re so gentle and they take such great care not to harm me when we’re six feet away from each other, on their terms of course, and that’s had the most profound impact so far in these countries. I didn’t foresee that. I was always concerned about being that close to whales. I didn’t want to be that close. I tried at 10 feet.

I simply wasn’t able to make the photographs life-sized. The detail and tonal range is lost. The color is lost at that distance, so it’s interesting how that transpired. The closeness is what’s captivating my audiences most of all.

There’s a lot about whales that what we may never know and can lose. They’re complex, social animals with communication that we’ve been studying for four decades that we don’t even have a clue, yet. Carl Sagan once said that we are a way for the cosmos to know itself, meaning we’re basically, the cosmos becoming self-aware. I think that’s something we could benefit from, tremendously.

Thank you Bryant Austin and Diana Hay, for your hard work and devotion to producing and promoting images of the true nature of whales to help save these precious beings that bless our planet. May these awe-inspiring photographs continue to reach the hearts of people around the world.

For more details on Bryant Austin and his life-size whale portraits, please visit: or To view “A Short Film: In the Eye of the Whale” please visit

Thank you for joining us today on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Up next is Enlightening Entertainment, after Noteworthy News. May the songs of the ocean bring soothing calmness to your being!
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