Sharks, monsoons, melting sea ice—they can all muck up the undersea shots captured by National Geographic shooters David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes. But so can a bright strobe light that renders them little more than “underwater paparazzi,” Doubilet says. This month at Benaroya the photogs share what Hayes calls “the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hideous” tales about the watery depths. —Allison Williams
Do you have a favorite type of underwater destination?
DD: I’m more crazy about the tropics than I am about ice, and I think Jennifer is the opposite way. The world of a coral reef, it’s like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting that’s come to life. It has colors that are unbelievable, especially when we use underwater flash to bring them out. The ice is stark, empty, glacial, cold, and totally sculptural.
Coral and ice are both disappearing. Which is worse off?
JH: When we work on the Canadian ice, it’s climate change in your face. We’re watching it evolve into a less stable sea ice system. Or you’re standing in Antarctica, and it’s raining. In Antarctica!
We had this fabulous opportunity to share the world of the harp seal...but as we were leaving, the sea ice broke up behind us. And 100 percent of those seal pups that were living and surviving on the ice died. Literally while we were there. So. That’s in our face.
What’s the most dangerous aspect for you? Is it sharks?
JH: I was badly bitten by male seals. Mauled. They went over my head, they nipped at my ankles. One bit my groin, a generous bite—we call it a temporary sexual reassignment. A female seal intervened on my behalf. I’m not a dolphin-saves-me person, but after this encounter under the ice, I have to eat my words, I think.
Any animals you haven’t been able to find?
JH: Dear god, the list is long. Greenland sharks!
DD: How about killer whales? We’ve never seen killer whales.
JH: You can’t bet on biology. You think you know, you bring a guide, you bring your knowledge—and the animals do exactly what the animals want to do. “Shoulda been here last week!” is David’s favorite song.
DD: It’s a wildly frustrating existence. But when something goes right, it’s fabulous.
This article appeared in the February 2015 issue of Seattle Met magazine.