Craig Parry has taken hundreds of photos of whales, but his iconic image of Migaloo captured off Byron Bay remains a stand out.
"I love it more and more each year, and I don't normally do that with my photos," he says.
"There's something about that particular image and that particular experience that I'll never forget."
The Lennox Head-based nature photographer captured the first (and still only) underwater photo of the rare all-white whale from his dad's boat in 2016.
They'd got word Migaloo was on his way up the coast and headed out in the hope of spotting him.
"We were sitting off the Cape (Byron) just waiting, waiting...having a cup of soup.
"And then I looked north and probably about 10 kilometres away I could see this little dot going around and around and I said to dad 'Oh my God that's the Channel 7 helicopter. Migaloo's gottta be up there.'"
The whale 'really put on a show' for them that afternoon, Parry says.
"We'd stop the boat, turn it off and he'd come over. You could feel that he wanted to interact."
It was then that Parry used his camera, water-housing and trigger pole from over the side of the boat to capture the image.
And although he has seen Migaloo almost every season since, he says nothing compares to that first time.
"That was the most memorable time because of his curiosity. Every time I've seen him since he just swims off."
It's not surprising that whales and other sea creatures became a fascination of Parry's.
Growing up on the North Coast around Ballina and Lennox Head, he spent many hours in and around the ocean, and learnt to surf at The Pass at Byron Bay.
By 16 he had a video camera with water housing that he would use to film his friends surfing.
He worked for a while as a wedding photographer and a finance broker, but when he was made redundant from that job during the GFC, he decided it was time to follow his passion.
After admiring whales from afar as they swam past the North Coast each winter, in 2014 he decided to get to know them a little better and headed to Tonga. The waters around Tonga are birthing and mating grounds for a specific population of humpback whales, which means they are around for months each year.
"Their behaviour in Tonga a little bit different," he says.
"Over here, when they pass Byron, they're half way on their migration. In Tonga, that's their destination. They're a lot more inquisitive. The mothers and calves that are there are resting so they'll interact with you. They get very close to you and you have this amazing moment with them.
"It's the consciousness that you see in them. You have the opportunity to look these animals in the eye. You can see their intelligence.
When someone swims with a whale...there's this deeper connection that they have - not just with the whale but with the ocean.Craig Parry
"When someone swims with a whale - whether or not they love whales, there's this deeper connection that they have - not just with the whale but with the ocean.
"It grew my appreciation and respect not just for the ocean but for the Mother Nature and the whole ecosystem ."
The incredible images Parry captured of whales in Tonga cemented his place as a leading ocean and wildlife photographer. One single image from his experience posted on Instagram saw him gain 30,000 new followers in just one week. Another image, Fin Swipe, saw him pick up Underwater Photograph of the Year in the International Photographer of the Year Awards.
He's since had the opportunity to travel to all corners of the globe with his camera, including a stint in Norway last year with Chris Hemsworth (before COVID), as a photographer for the new National Geographic series, Limitless.
"If someone walked up to me 15 years ago and said 'one day you'll be working with National Geographic and Disney, and with one of Australia's most famous actors, there's no way I would have believed it.
"I have to pinch myself sometimes."
HOME IN PARADISE
Of course, COVID has put the brakes on his overseas adventure for a little while, but Parry has been making the most of his time at home.
"I still feel like Julian Rocks is one of the best dive sites in the world. It's got so much variety," he says.
"In summer there's manta rays and leopard sharks, in winter you've got the Grey Nurse and the migrating species like the whales....and it's so close to shore."
Parry is out in the ocean whenever he gets the opportunity and sharing the beauty he sees through his lens with the world.
"Taking a photo of my experiences and being able to share that with other people... and hopefully inspire them to look after our planet. Whether its about cleaner oceans or respecting the forest - that's my driving force - that's where it all comes from."
WHERE TO SPOT A WHALE THIS YEAR
For an up-close experience try a whale watch tour. Local operators include Out of the Blue Adventures, Blue Bay Whale Watching and Whale Watching Byron Bay. Tours generally start in June. For land based whale watching the best vantage points include:
- Brunswick Heads break wall
- Cape Byron headland
- Pat Morton Lookout , Lennox Head
- Ballina Head lookout
- Cabarita headland