Norwegian scientist and photographer Audun Rikardsen documents marine ecosystem in his home region of northern Norway.
His award-winning project, “The Polar Winter Feeding Feast,” documents the result of massive marine ecosystem changes that, since 2011, have resulted in unusual North Atlantic herring migration patterns.
In order to depict the world above and below the water’s surface, Rikardsen literally developed and built a unique camera system with a special protective underwater housing and a powerful flash system that makes it possible to get well-lit shots in the middle of the dark polar winter.
The project took about two years and involved nearly 100 days on and in the sea.
As a result of climate change and ocean global warming, Rikardsen says many marine organisms are shifting north. Herring, for example, are migrating for unknown reasons to some fjords in northern Norway. They overwinter there for about four months before moving further south to spawn. Of course, the food chain dynamics kick in, resulting in a frenzy of whales, sea birds, fisherman and tourists following the runs to get their share.
According to Rikardsen, who works as full time professor in biology at the University of Tromsø, some fishermen use whales to locate herring shoals. And some whales have learned that the sound of nets being hauled up signals a free meal.
“On the face of it, a win-win situation for everybody,” Rikardsen explains in his project description. “But some of the whales try to get fish directly from the nets, creating potentially very dangerous situations for both parties. All this has led to heated discussions concerning a fishing quota for herring, and the reduction of potential hazards at the point where humans and whales connect, where by some fairly drastic measures have been demanded.”
Rikardsen says dangerous situations occur frequently, including whales being tangled in fishing nets or submarine cables. If they cannot be rescued, they often sustain fatal injuries. “So, what the region needs is good management that benefits both fishing activities and the whales.”
Rikardsen, named Global Arctic Awards’ “Arctic Photographer of the Year” in 2017 and CNN Nature Photographer of the Year in 2015 (Portfolio category), encourages people interested in nature photography to explore and document their own backyards.
“The world of wildlife has plenty of things to discover and is constantly changing,” he told CNN. “That’s the most exciting thing — finding those points of change and documenting them.”
Portfolio category, described how he developed a close relationship with a walrus nicknamed “Buddy” which enabled him to take some remarkable close-ups of the animal.
“I spent several days with him… I played with him, he came like a dog, he loves to cuddle with me. So it was a great opportunity to take pictures of this guy,” he told CNN.
He encourages anyone who is thinking of exploring nature photography to get to know their local neighborhood — a view shared by Blackwell.
“The world of wildlife has plenty of things to discover and is constantly changing,” he said. “That’s the most exciting thing — finding those points of change and documenting them.”