photos by paul nicklen for national geogrphic, who explains: “i have been traveling to northern baffin island for more than twelve years to try and get one underwater picture of a male narwhal. narwhals are very shy. they have a sensitive nature and excellent echolocation. you can see hundreds passing by the ice edge, but when you slip into the water, you may never see one.
“late one afternoon, i had been in the -1.7°C water for a couple of hours, and i was freezing so badly that my legs and arms were cramping up. i couldn’t feel my lips around my snorkel, so i just stared into the black 2,000-foot abyss trying not to think about how cold i was.
“then, out of the corner of my eye, i noticed something bright traveling through the murky water. i turned my head, and there they were: several male narwhals, swimming in beautiful formation. i put my frozen finger on the shutter and, as i was about to take the picture, the narwhal closest to me let out a stream of bubbles. i snapped the picture in what was the most incredible moment of the assignment.”