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Field Notes
Paul Nicklen
Photograph by Mark Thiessen
Paul Nicklen

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

I heard that oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau ranked God's Pocket, east of Vancouver Island, as his third favorite diving place in the world. Supposedly, he would have scored it higher if it wasn't for the extremely cold water. I got the opportunity to dive there, and it was just marine life caked on top of marine life. I could do an hour dive to a three-foot (one meter) section of reef and still not have enough time to see everything in that one spot. I've never seen a place so chockablock with intense color and life.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

I really wanted to photograph species that had adapted to high-current areas. So I went out to these rocky cliffs and clung on with one hand while using my other to hold my big underwater camera housing, made even heavier by two strobes. I shot like this for weeks and ended up with the worst tendonitis. At night, my elbows were in so much pain that I could hardly pick up a pen. By the end of the assignment I was such a mess that it took a year of acupuncture and therapy for me to recover.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I dove into a giant school of herring as white-sided dolphins raced around them, picking off fish. The herrings must have seen me as some kind of safety net; they kept getting closer to me until they completely swallowed me up. I had herring—eight inches (20 centimeters) long—swimming around my regulator and hitting against my mask. So many fish were in the way that I couldn't even touch the dials on my camera.

At one point I poked my head out and heard a loud squeal. Large bubbles were coming up from below, typical behavior of a humpback whale before it goes in for a big bite. All the dolphins took off, and I came bursting out of their midst. I swam back about 30 feet (ten meters) and waited, but the whale never showed up. I don't know if all my scuba gear scared it away or if the bubbles were just from other dolphins.