Paul Nicklen is different from the rest of us. He likes to swim in 29-degree water beneath the Arctic ice, alone, in search of potentially predatory animals. Which can sometimes get him into trouble, like when he was nearly body-slammed by a 7,000-pound elephant seal. “The only thing, almost ever, that can kill you is panic,” he says. “It’s not that I’m willing to die. I think that I’m just not scared.”
A marine biologist and wildlife photographer with more than 20 National Geographic assignments and 5.2 million Instagram followers to his credit, Nicklen grew up in Canada’s far-north Nunavut province and lived in the Arctic on and off for 25 years. “Being around big animals and nature and the cold and diving and ice is definitely my comfort zone,” says Nicklen, 50. “To have a 25-foot-long massive male killer whale come within two feet of me in the middle of a feeding frenzy is very calming to me. It’s beautiful.”
Pictured: A polar bear in Svalbard, Norway. Some scientists fear a third of the species may be gone by 2030.