How a NatGeo photographer tracked down an old cover model — a dolphin photographed in 1992


posted Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 2:50 PM EDT


The story of photographer Steve McCurry’s quest to find the "Afghan Girl", a decades later search to find the iconic cover subject of National Geographic, is the stuff of legend. But another National Geographic photographer has just managed to pull of a similar feat — one that's even more impressive, because the subject can't speak. She's a dolphin.

Photographer Flip Nicklin captured an image of a wild spotted dolphin in 1992, a distinctively marked female calf known as Nassau, which was emblazoned on the September 1992 cover of National Geographic. Now, two decades later, another National Geographic photographer returned to the same region for a shoot, and aimed to try and rediscover Nassau.

Photographer Brian Skerry had been informed by researcher Dr. Denise Herzing that Nassau was still in the area, despite having a rather nasty brush with a shark. So, when he traveled to the Bahamas for a piece on dolphin cognition, he made a special effort to try and track down the aquatic mammal. But for the first time in 30 years, the dolphins had dispersed, spreading across a more than 90 mile area, making his chances of tracking Nassau down far smaller.

As he describes it:

On the afternoon of day six, Herzing shouted from the bow: “I think we found Nassau!” I raced to the pulpit and saw Herzing with a big smile—the cover girl was indeed among the pod of 12 dolphins. And her new calf, Nautilus, was with her.

For the next two hours I swam amongst this pod of wild dolphins, that for a brief time, allowed me into their world. Nassau mostly remained in the distance. But finally, for just a few moments, this grand dolphin dame swam elegantly near, with little Nautilus beneath in the infant swimming position.

As for the final image? Well, you'll have to click through to the National Geographic Proof blog to see it — but it's a beautiful photo, and a fitting end to Skerry's search.