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Wu films a leopard seal.
Photo Credit: Ryan Caldwell
Norbert Wu films a leopard seal lounging on an ice floe. Wu jumped in the water with the sharp-toothed predator after watching it shake a penguin like a dog with a chew toy only a few minutes earlier. 

Antarctic art gets to 'hearts and souls of people'

More Wildlife
Check out the marine environment around the Antarctic Peninsula with these YouTube videos showing some of the sights while Boating Around Palmer Station External Non-U.S. government site, including a leopard seal, and The Day of the Whales External Non-U.S. government site. Also, check out a time- lapse video BBC shot of monster worms in McMurdo Sound External Non-U.S. government site.
Wu hopes to create a similar body of work with his latest grant from the NSF through its Informal Science Education program External U.S. government site, with a focus on public outreach, as part of the International Polar Year External U.S. government site. He returned to McMurdo Station External U.S. government site last season and worked with a film crew from the BBC on an episode for its nature documentary series “Life.”

He also made his first visit to the Antarctic Peninsula that same season in 2009-10, hoping to expand the online field guide, as well as create new material for future books and a film. This year is the last field season on his grant.

After his success at McMurdo, why come back?

“I wanted to see the Antarctic Peninsula,” says Wu, who had to endure a four-day crossing of the Southern Ocean from Chile to reach this remote location. (He gets extremely seasick.) “It’s very different. It’s amazing how much difference there is in marine life and visibility there is here.”

Dive boat pushes through brash ice in Hero Inlet.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
A dive boat pushes through brash ice.

Different isn’t always better. McMurdo Sound is famous for its amazingly clear water, with more than 100 meters of visibility as the rule rather than the exception. A green murkiness shrouds the underwater world near Palmer Station, making it difficult to get the dramatic shots that became iconic of Wu’s work out of McMurdo Sound.

An instructor and dive guide from Seattle, Caldwell says the diving is also challenging because the team doesn’t really know what it will find at any particular spot.

“You don’t have people from yesterday telling you what the dive is going to be like today. In a lot of places, you’ll get that,” observes Caldwell, who also worked with Wu in McMurdo. “It’s a lot more exploratory diving. When you get to a site, you don’t know what you’re going to see.”

Caldwell says he hopes the work produced here will spur interest in not only the Antarctic but conservation issues as well. The science is important, he says, but programs like those produced by Wu and the BBC get to “the hearts and souls of people.”

“I’m amazed by the work we did in McMurdo … being a part of it makes me feel proud of what I’ve done, what I’ve worked for. I love this and I don’t ever want it to go away,” he says, gesturing to the ocean, the icebergs, penguin colonies on distant islands, “and it’s deteriorating quickly. Outreach is definitely very important.”

Wu and Day transport gear to a boat.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
Andy Day and Norbert Wu transport gear to the dive boat.

Wu knows he has to tell a dramatic story in images and film to capture those hearts and souls. One of his goals this season is to film predation of penguins by leopard seals — large, sharp-toothed carnivores with reptilian heads that have been known to chew on the Zodiac’s inflatable pontoons.

He got his wish on a different day, when he and Caldwell found a leopard shaking a penguin like a dog with a chew toy. Later, sated by the meal, the leopard lounged on an ice floe. Wu jumped in the water to film some additional footage after only minutes before watching the power of the spotted predator.

“I think long and hard about dangerous situations the older I’ve gotten,” he admits. “I used to jump in with stuff all the time — alligators or whatever.”

The 48-year-old photographer isn’t necessarily slowing down, but after years of crisscrossing the world, he’s learned to savor some experiences over others.

“I’m more selective about what I get excited about,” Wu says. “It really is the journey than what you see in a lot of ways.”

NSF-funded research in this story: Norbert Wu, Norbert Wu Productions, Award No. 0732907 External U.S. government site.Back   1 2

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Curator: Michael Lucibella, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Peter West, Office of Polar Programs