Photographer’s Mission to Change the Way You Think About Sharks

When National Geographic photographers go on assignment, it’s not just a job—it’s a mission. Covering stories that are as urgent as they are timeless, they travel to every corner of the globe to show us what we need to know now, and change how we think about the world.

In this episode of Mission Critical, award-winning underwater photographer Brian Skerry has appointed himself a public relations guru for sharks: he aims to give them an image make-over! And he’s the man for the job—with over quarter of a million Instagram followers, Brian knows how to take pictures that amaze.

Watch: Forming a Connection with Animals

Photographer Brian Skerry talks about the connection he forms with the marine animals he documents in his pictures.

Now, after three decades of capturing the world’s oceans on camera, Brian makes the case that sharks are misunderstood. (Watch: The Misunderstood Shark) Not killing machines, these often-demonized predators are critical to the health of the oceans—and the oceans encompass 90% of the planet’s habitable environment. The oxygen in every breath you take comes from the seas: without healthy marine ecosystems, we’re in trouble. Brian uses his camera to investigate cutting-edge research that’s revealing astonishing new information, and his pictures will change how you view these incredible predators.

In Mission Critical: Sharks Under Attack Brian’s work starts with the most iconic and feared of all sharks—the great white. He heads to unexpected territory—Cape Cod, the setting for Jaws. While great white sharks traditionally assemble in more famous hubs like South Africa and Australia, each summer they’re now showing up off some of the U.S.’s most famous beaches. Brian joins scientists making brand new discoveries about great whites, which will make us rethink this animal, and help us learn how to safely share the water with them.

Photograph by Brian Skerry
Underwater photographer capturing an Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) in the waters off Cat Island in the Bahamas. Photograph by Brian Skerry

Assignments in the Bahamas and Hawaii reveal that tiger sharks are not mindless man-eaters, and he explores the key conditions that sometimes trigger attacks. He learns how the lifestyle of oceanic white tips means they need to be respected as potentially dangerous, but only in rare instances. And he uses a specialized super-high speed camera to capture the fastest shark in the ocean, the mako. He documents every step of his investigation with images that show us sharks in a new light.

Having the “best job in the world” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because when you’re assigned a Mission Critical, you’ve only got one shot at telling the story—and making a difference.

Watch Related: Brian Skerry’s Iconic Photo

Brian Skerry discusses the famous photograph he took of his assistant standing on the ocean floor next to a 40 foot long Southern Right Whale.

Don’t miss Mission Critical: Sharks Under Attack this Sunday at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.