Thomas Peschak

National Geographic Photographer // Storyteller // Conservation Biologist // NatGeo Explorer // 🇿🇦


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150 years ago in Baja California’s San Ignacio lagoon, gray whale mothers weaponized their powerful tail flukes to smash whaling boats while protecting their young calves. Despite their heroic actions, which earned them the name devilfish, more than 20,000 gray whales were killed in the region. Today the scene could not be more different and gray whales have made a remarkable comeback. Our relationship with these marine mammals also changed dramatically. In just a single century it went from being dominated by fear and violence to one of mutual curiosity. Today the descendants of the few whales that survived the whaling years off Baja swim up to boats filled with whale watching enthusiasts. Today in San Ignacio lagoon the whales are in charge and will often surface right next to visitors to have their heads scratched. These inter-species interactions first began to occur in the 1970s and this new type of whale culture is being passed on from mother to calf. Shot on assignment for @NatGeo Magazine. @maresmexicanos #baja #mexico #whales #sanignaciolagoon

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Sometimes I have to go to extraordinary lengths to make photographs... like free diving in jellyfish soup and having my face tickled by their tentacles. Fortunately these moon jellies off Canada are only mildly venomous and barely irritate. Over the past 10 years I have had the immense privilege of photographing many assignments for @NatGeo in some truly extraordinary and unique places. Congrats to @NatGeo for reaching 100 million followers on Instagram. The more people are inspired by photography, storytelling and science the brighter the future of our planet will become. @insidenatgeo #natgeo #jellyfish #freediving

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In the tropical Indian Ocean coral reefs receive most of the attention, but I find lagoons, with their seagrass and mangrove ecosystems every bit as fascinating. At low tide lagoons are often completely separated from the #ocean, isolated by exposed reefs and sandbars (Pic 1). At high tide seawater floods back in, connecting the lagoon and ocean once again (Pic 2). Lagoons are often both nursery and feeding grounds for many different species of #sharks. In the #Seychelles I often encounter blacktip reef sharks hunting amongst the mangrove branches and roots (Pic 3).

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Marine scientists from the @darwinfound and @saveourseasfoundation explore a underwater cave at Wolf island (Pic 1), one of the most northerly outposts of the Galápagos. Sea turtles, sea lions (Pic 2) and even hammerhead sharks have been encountered inside. Shot on assignment for @natgeo magazine in collaboration with @parquegalapagos and @pelayosalinas #adventure #explore #ocean #galapagos

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A curious gray whale spyhops to get a better look at me standing on the bow of a panga (small boat) shooting a @natgeo story on marine conservation in Baja California, Mexico (Pic 1). A whale’s eye is remarkable in that in can focus both under and above water ( Pic 2) but unlike humans, whales don’t see in color. Ironically theirs is not a blue world, but one defined by shades of grey. @maresmexicanos #mexico #baja #whales

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This is the last thing (Pic 1) plankton sees when trapped in #Hanifaru bay during a manta ray feeding frenzy (Pic 2). Despite their large size #mantas feed almost exclusive on tiny zooplankton, mainly microscopic crustaceans, crab like animals. These photographs were part of my first ever story for @NatGeo magazine, shot in 2008 and published in 2009. If you are interested in manta rays conservation give my friends at the @mantatrust a follow.

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This is hands down still one of my all time favorite behind scenes pics of me at work. Coming across this image today brings back great memories of photographing Aliwal Shoal and it’s tiger sharks in the mid 2000s. We called this large and confident shark Dartboard and I sometimes wonder if she still frequents the Indian Ocean off South Africa’s East coast. Photograph by @finomon (Wolfgang Leander) who sadly passed away in 2018. His son Felix continues to update his Instagram account, so give @finomon a follow for some #oldschool underwater shark photography (Nikonos V, b&w film, No Scuba) #southafrica #aliwalshoal #tigershark #freediving

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PLACES I SLEEP SHOOTING STORIES FOR @NATGEO // When photographing stories in the wilds of Southern Africa (my home base for the last 20 years) I usually sleep in a rooftop tent perched on top of my trusty Land Rover Defender (Pic 1). As long as my shooting location is within 2000 miles of my home I prefer using my own 4x4s in the field. This vast range encompasses both the desert west coast of South Africa and Namibia (Pic2), the lusher East Coast and the tropical shores of Mozambique (Pic 3). #sleepingonassignment #southafrica #landroverdefender #campsite #lifeinthebush #vanlife Behind the scenes Pic 1 shot by @peterianchadwick

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If I could only photograph one thing for the rest of my life, it would have to be a sardine baitball - the most intense and high octane underwater experience on the planet. Swipe left to encounter the cast of sharks, dolphins and seabirds that make documenting these shape shifting fish balls so exhilarating. #underwaterphotography #sharks

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People who think that shorebirds are brown and boring have probably never seen a African Black Oystercatcher...... they are the ultimate gateway drug to shorebirds! #southafrica #endemic #biodiversity #coast

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ANGRY BIRDS // Seabird biologists on the Farallon Islands, 30 miles to the west of San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Bridge, face unique challenges and “dangers”. During the Western gull nesting season construction helmets (Pic 1) are a must for researchers monitoring or ringing birds. The gulls are particularly aggressive just after the chicks have hatched and will dive-bomb researchers traversing the island on designated paths (Pic 2). The #angrybirds also unload copious amounts of poop onto the scientists (Pic 3) collecting data critical for the management and conservation of one of North America’s most important seabird islands. Raincoats are also a must have accessory and the coat rack in the old coastguard house, turned research base, is unique to say the least (Pic 4). Shot on assignment for @natgeo for the July 2018 story Seabird Crisis #dirtyjobs

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SLEEPING ON ASSIGNMENT // Places I sleep shooting stories for @NatGeo // To photograph humpback whales feeding on herring (Pic 1) I spent months exploring the seas off Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest (Pic 2). For a few glorious weeks I lived on Gill Island deep in the heart of Gitga'at territory, the home of @bcwhales scientific research station (Pic 3). The marine realm just steps from the front door (Pic 4) is one of the most important cetacean habitats in North America, but I must admit that a outdoor bathtub (Pic 5) from which one can actually whale watch was equally memorable. #bathroomgoals #bedroomgoals #onassignment #whales #gitgaat #pacificnorthwest

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