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Animals

Surprise Seal, Svalbard, Norway, 2006

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About the Photographer

Flip Nicklin

National Geographic photographer and marine biologist Flip Nicklin is one of the world's leading photographers of whales. His majestic photos and amazing audio tracks of humpbacks and killer whales have appeared in numerous National Geographic publications and television specials. The North American Nature Photography Association has named him Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year. Flip migrates with the humpbacks, spending summers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska and winters off Maui, Hawai’i.

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Waiting in the water with his camera, hoping to get an 800-pound seal to look at him, photographer Flip Nicklin finally got his picture, which appears on the [May 1997] issue’s cover. “Then all of a sudden, I felt a pair of flippers on my forearms, and there she was, nuzzling the top of my head,” he says.

Once surfaced, the two swimmers saw eye to eye – a new experience for Flip. “In my ten years of photographing in the Arctic, I’ve probably gotten two shots of bearded seals, and those were from a distance. It was great to get that close at last.”

Navigating two open-air powerboats on choppy water through floating chunks of ice, Flip and the seal researchers wore heavy, metal-toed “survival suits” for protection.

“For 14 days in a row I spent up to 12 hours a day on a boat and lost all feeling in my feet,” Flip recalls. “It’s nice to have them back!”

Location: Svalbard, Norway
Photograph Date: 2006
Medium: Chromogenic Print
Edition: 20