National Geographic

A Photographer's Challenge: Oil Spill Animals

Joel Sartore is used to photographing animals. It's kind of his thing. His recently published book, Rare, is a portrait catalog of America's endangered species. And his dedication to conservation was recently recognized by the Defenders of Wildlife with a Spirit of Defenders Award for Citizen Advocacy.

So he's used to photographing animals — but he's not used to seeing them drenched in oil. Sartore's photos in the October National Geographic magazine were taken on the Gulf in the days after the oil spill. It was undoubtedly a difficult job, but on the flip side, it produced some of the most mobilizing imagery to come out of the Gulf.

  • According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 5,000 birds had been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico since the oil spill, as of Oct. 3. "You could see the life draining out of it," said parish official P.J. Hahn, who rescued this brown pelican. This bird lived.
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    According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 5,000 birds had been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico since the oil spill, as of Oct. 3. "You could see the life draining out of it," said parish official P.J. Hahn, who rescued this brown pelican. This bird lived.
    Joel Sartore/National Geographic
  • Workers bag oil-collecting pom-poms in Barataria Bay, La., with absorbent tubes at their feet. According to National Geographic, the cleanup had generated almost 40,000 tons of solid waste by the end of July.
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    Workers bag oil-collecting pom-poms in Barataria Bay, La., with absorbent tubes at their feet. According to National Geographic, the cleanup had generated almost 40,000 tons of solid waste by the end of July.
    Joel Sartore/National Geographic
  • Oil-stained pelican chicks huddle on Cat Island, at the westernmost point of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Unsullied juveniles stand in the background.
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    Oil-stained pelican chicks huddle on Cat Island, at the westernmost point of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Unsullied juveniles stand in the background.
    Joel Sartore/National Geographic
  • A brown pelican rests at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center in Buras, La., after being cleaned. Only a fraction of birds affected by the spill were retrieved and released. It is unclear how oil and dispersants might affect reproduction.
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    A brown pelican rests at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center in Buras, La., after being cleaned. Only a fraction of birds affected by the spill were retrieved and released. It is unclear how oil and dispersants might affect reproduction.
    Joel Sartore/National Geographic
  • Smoke rises from burning surface oil near the Deepwater Horizon blowout. The well spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil.
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    Smoke rises from burning surface oil near the Deepwater Horizon blowout. The well spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil.
    Joel Sartore/National Geographic

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