It’s rare, for most of us, to see marine life in its natural habitat. That’s why wildlife photographers are important; they remind us of the beauty of these creatures and the importance of protecting them. For over 30 years, photographer Chris Fallows has been taking pictures of animals in the ocean and on land. Some of his most arresting images are of humpback whales—a population that has previously been ravaged by the whaling industry. But this species also shows how a decimated population can recover with the right protections. Fallows has celebrated their return with stunning images that showcase the majesty of these creatures.
Based in South Africa, Fallows has witnessed the recovery of the humpback whale population during his career. “By the mid-1980s, it was estimated that only 440 humpback whales remained south of the Equator,” Fallows explains to My Modern Met. “This was around the time when I started my natural history and photographic career. When I was at sea off the coast of South Africa we quite simply never saw them.”
Whaling bans in the middle of the 1980s helped save humpback whales from extinction. Additionally, it allowed their numbers to rebound. The population in the Southern Hemisphere is now over 50,000 and coming close to what it was prior to industrial whaling. “For the past 10 years, ever increasing aggregations of humpbacks have amassed off the South African coast to feed,” Fallows shares, “with sometimes close to 200 whales being in an area the size of just a few football fields.”
There is an artistry to the whales' movements. “Known as the ballerinas of the sea for their athletic breaches and beautiful hoisting of their tails, humpback whales are arguably the most spectacular and flamboyant of the great whales,” the photographer continues. “It is a sensorial overload, mesmerizing, breathtaking, and humbling experience to be in close quarters with so many of them.”
Fallows challenges himself to create images that evoke feeling. “You need mood, creative composition, dynamic angles, and engaging subject matter so that when a person looks at the work it not only is pleasing to the eye but it also stimulates a connection with the moment. In this respect, the opportunities afforded me have been incredible to go some way in artistically celebrating their sentience and majesty.”