Kim Hildebrandt's September Photo Journal: An Our World Underwater Rolex Scholar Journey


In the first days of September, I was at the SEA LIFE Trust´s Beluga Whale Sanctuary and Puffin Hospital on the island of Heimaey in Iceland.

The open-water sanctuary is the very first in the world of this kind and will- from next spring on- house the 2 Belugas, Little White and Little Grey, who have previously been kept in a Marine Park in China. Currently, they are still acclimating to the cold temperatures, so they are still in the indoor facility of the center. I got to learn a lot about the care and health of cetaceans by the amazing team of caretakers, I am still stunned about the incredible journey the two belugas have behind them and I am excited for them to move into their forever home in Klettsvik Bay.

When I first attempted to take photos of them from the edge of their habitat, just holding the camera in the water, I wasn´t sure if they would come close enough. But in fact, they got far too close and wanted to investigate the camera! It was such a good feeling to enhance the interaction that is purely chosen by the animal itself.

After my stay on Heimaey, I returned to the Icelandic mainland. My urge to finally jump into the water again brought me to Silfra: the place with the clearest water in the world. Additionally, Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive between two continental plates: Europe and America. Thanks to Arctic Adventures, I got to experience Silfra´s otherworldly magic in two dives. Even in 2 degrees Celcius water, which immediately froze my fingers, I could not stop myself from taking many photos!

Then, my journey took me to Vancouver, Canada where I visited many institutions, including the Vancouver Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, Nuytco Engineering, and Shearwater Research. On Vancouver Island, I visited to learn about underwater minimentary production and learned about underwater filming from Maxwel Hohn, who I was lucky enough to join on a salmon snorkel and shoot in Campbell River. I also got to try out a tethered dive in a Kirby Morgan diver helmet with DiveSafe International, and visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police´s Dive and Boat Unit. Another highlight was to experience humpback whales, orcas, pacific white-sided dolphins and harbor porpoises with Big Animal Encounters in the beautiful sounds around Campbell River. And, of course, dived some amazing dive sites around Bowen Island and Whytecliff. I enjoyed the cold water diving here tremendously as there is such different marine life to photograph in comparison to the subjects that I photographed in Egypt and the Maldives.




After the jam-packed time in British Columbia, I then flew to breathtaking Alaska, where I was to spend 3 weeks at the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward. Here, I assisted the center´s head vet, Dr. Carrie Goertz, in the pre-transport acclimation of two sea otters, who had been rescued and rehabilitated in the ASLC last year. Because they were rescued as pups, they, unfortunately, can´t be released into the wild but will find their new forever home in Europe. To make this long journey as stress-free as possible for them, we worked towards familiarising them with their Transport boxes and other transport-related stimuli, and I monitored their stress level by recording their body core temperature changes through radio transmitters that are implanted into their peritoneal cavity. The otters showed quick progress and I am convinced that they are now well prepared for their travels.

Additionally, I got to jump into Alaskan waters 3 times: 1 shore dive on the remains of the old train tracks which got struck by the big Alaskan earthquake of 1964, and 2 dives from a boat in Resurrection Bay. Here I found myself in the most beautiful underwater landscape, surrounded by hundreds of rockfish, plumose anemones, kelp, and northern sea nettles.

Overall, I can say that the month of September has been absolutely incredible. It has brought me to places that I have never seen before, and I was able to experience a completely other world of scuba diving. I am in awe with what cold water diving can offer, and I can´t wait to explore more of it!