Bryant Austin, an underwater photographer who takes, and displays, life-sized images of whales and dolphins, will be presenting at ExplorOcean in Newport Beach on May 9. (Courtesy Bryant Austin / May 2, 2013)

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While conducting fieldwork, which can last between five weeks and three months, Austin tries to charter the same boat. Retaining consistency in the sound of the boat's engine, his gear and even his movements creates a greater chance of working with the same whale multiple times.

"I'm curious to see if they can come to know me as an individual and if I can gain a deeper level of acceptance and curiosity from them," he said.


Protecting the wild

Austin's 24 limited-edition pieces, made on commission, range from 12-by-18-inch to 6-by-30-foot photographs and are priced between $1,200 and $164,000.

Circumstances, however, haven't always been this way.

While he was trying to get his feet wet, powerful motivation compelled Austin to sell his car, home and boat in order to fund 124 days of field work in the South Pacific. Living in his mother's guest house helped, too, as did exhibitions in Norway and Japan, countries notorious for whale hunting.

"I don't want to tell people how to think or feel," he said. "I want simply to inspire people to lose their appetite for whale meat and have the demand for whale meat decline. And here in my own country, I want to inspire people to not want to eat seafood. Or at least food that is caught with gear that kills whales."

His most ambitious creations include a life-sized photograph of a blue whale, as well as a living whale entangled in commercial fishing gear.

According to Austin, who is now pursuing his next project to photograph killer whales in the Arctic Circle, entanglement in commercial fishing gear is the number-one cause of death for marine mammals.

"These are the subtle things I want to convey, and I don't want to make it a polarizing issue," he said. "I just want people to think about where their food comes from, what is the cost and what's at stake."

If You Go

What: Lecture by Bryant Austin

Where: Fun Zone, ExplorOcean, 600 E. Bay Ave., Newport Beach

When: 7 p.m. May 9

Cost: Free for members; $15 for non-members