• Underwater Photographer: Ryan McInnis
    Ryan McInnis is a freediver and underwater filmmaker.

    Photograph courtesy Ryan McInnis

    By Stuart Thornton

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Ryan is currently working for the National Geographic Channel, freediving to take video footage of great white sharks off the coast of Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

    EARLY WORK

    At 11 years old, Ryan became certified as a scuba diver while growing up in Richmond, Virginia. “My dad got into diving,” he says. “As soon as I was old enough, I got dive lessons, and he and I traveled all over, scuba diving. By the time I was 15, I had hundreds of scuba dives, and I was already infatuated with sharks.”

    “I think one of the first real shark experiences I remember was when I was 14,” he says. “My dad and I were in the Sea of Cortez [Mexico] in the middle of nowhere. We dropped down to this deep seamount, and the current was ripping. We grabbed on to the seamount, and this big shoal of hammerheads came by. There were more than you could count.”

    At 18, Ryan took a job as a scuba instructor. Three years later, he graduated from University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a bachelor of science degree in marine biology. “Pretty much everything I did from a young age was geared towards trying to make a living while being in the water,” he says.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “When the equipment is working right. And the conditions are right. And the fish are there. Everything comes together.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “I would say that the equipment is the biggest challenge. The way I started was getting easy-to-use equipment and just happening to frame it right. People started wanting more, so I had to get more technical. It’s not about ‘I can hold my breath for a long time.’ It’s about being able to use a camera.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “Being an underwater guy, when I think of a place, I think of what fish are there, what the reef structure looks like. Fiji is known for its soft corals. It’s gorgeous there. Whereas Yap Island in Micronesia is all hard corals and cuttlefish and unique species. Totally different geography.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Even members of the same species, like great white sharks, can behave differently depending on their geographic location.

    Ryan says that the behavior of the great white sharks in the eastern Pacific, where he is currently diving, might differ from other populations.

    “White sharks are worldwide in temperate waters,” he says. “The work that I’ve done with them is unique to its location. I’ve worked with guys who have done most of their work in South Africa, and they tell me sharks are completely different there. I’m sure they look exactly the same, but they act differently. They eat different things.”

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . UNDERWATER FILMMAKER

    “The best advice I can give is take every opportunity that you can if there is education involved, even if it’s not specific to what you want to do, so that you develop a broad skill set that will make you the full package,” he says.

    GET INVOLVED

    To investigate the underwater world, Ryan suggests exploring the nearby coastline with your family or taking a dive class.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    behavior Noun

    anything an organism does involving action or response to stimulation.

    coastline Noun

    outer boundary of a shore.

    current Noun

    steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

    Encyclopedic Entry: current
    cuttlefish Noun

    marine organism (mollusk) related to squid and octopuses.

    equipment Noun

    tools and materials to perform a task or function.

    freedive Verb

    to swim deep into a body of water without the use of artificial breathing devices, such as scuba.

    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    gorgeous Adjective

    very beautiful.

    great white shark Noun

    large shark native to temperate ocean waters.

    hammerhead Noun

    shark with a large, flat, T-shaped head.

    hard coral Noun

    type of coral that creates a hard shell or exoskeleton around itself.

    infatuate Verb

    to cause to obsess or behave foolishly.

    marine biology Noun

    study of life in the ocean.

    reef Noun

    a ridge of rocks, coral, or sand rising from the ocean floor all the way to or near the ocean's surface.

    scuba noun, adjective

    (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) portable device for breathing underwater.

    seamount Noun

    underwater mountain.

    shoal Noun

    group of fish.

    soft coral Noun

    type of coral that does not create a hard exoskeleton.

    temperate Adjective

    moderate.

    unique Adjective

    one of a kind.

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