2017 Laulima O Ka Moana: Exploring Deep Monument Waters Around Johnston Atoll

Getting to Know You: Annie White

Behind the Scenes with a Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration Video Producer

by Annie White, Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration
July 17, 2017

Hard at work, clipping video.

Hard at work, clipping video. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana. Download larger version (jpg, 16.1 MB).

“What do you do?” I love it when someone asks me that. A huge smile always spreads across my face and I get to say, “The coolest job in the world!”

Not long ago, I’d never imagined running off to the most remote parts of the globe for months on end, sailing the open ocean, and making videos about bizarre sea creatures. But that’s exactly what I spend my days doing aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. As a member of the onboard video team, I spend a lot of my time at sea wrestling with misbehaving computers, but I also get to help discover brand new species, operate giant underwater robots, and explore places that humans have never been before. Pretty much a dream come true.

Headshot taken in Samoa in 2017.

Headshot taken in Samoa in 2017. Image courtesy of Annie White. Download larger version (jpg, 488 KB).

So, how did I get here? I think it’s safe to say I took the scenic route. While most of my colleagues out here have fostered a deep fascination with all things oceanic since childhood, I just loved animals—flippered, finned, winged, hooved, pawed—it didn’t matter. Give me a whale to watch, a frog to follow, or a puppy to pet, and I was happy.

So, when the time came to head off to college, I picked the University of Colorado and dove headfirst into a B.A. in biology. I took as many classes in animal behavior and conservation as possible and spent all of my spare time doing field research with wild wolves. So when “Mission:Wolf,” a sanctuary for homeless captive-born wolves, needed a resident wildlife biologist, I jumped at the chance.

I spent the next six years living in a mountaintop tipi, teaching thousands of visitors, and caring for 52 wolves. I also traveled with our ambassador wolves for two years, bringing them into classrooms and museums across the country to meet people face-to-face. Watching those moments of connection between human and wolf, as their eyes met for the first time, is what ultimately inspired me to go into filmmaking. My hope was that by telling the personal stories of real animals, I could help spread that spark of recognition and understanding to as many people as possible.

Annie White working with wolves at the Mission Wolf sanctuary.

Annie White working with wolves at the Mission Wolf sanctuary. Image courtesy of Annie White. Download larger version (jpg, 1.0 MB).

But where do you even start to break into the movie business? For me, it was at the Science and Natural History Filmmaking master’s program at Montana State University—one of the only places in the world that specializes in turning scientists into documentary filmmakers. And before my first year was up, I was already running camera on a National Geographic WILD show.

In the years since, my life has been an even wilder ride than it was living with the wolves. I’ve worked with the BBC, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, ABC, Red Bull, GoPro, Curiosity Stream, and lots of non-profit groups as a writer, producer, camera operator, and editor. I’ve hung out with a giant grizzly bear named Brutus, dodged rattlesnakes in a lightning storm, and felt the brush of soft fur against my leg as a cougar galloped past.

While diving on Rose Atoll at a depth of ~700 meters, we encountered this active octopus exploring its surroundings. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa. Download (mp4, 30.5 MB)

But the biggest adventure of all has been sailing on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. My first time out, I climbed aboard for a month-long journey around the Mariana Trench without knowing if I’d get seasick. Thankfully, I survived! And I fell in love with the work. It’s an amazing experience to get to be a voice for the ocean, helping to spark curiosity about our planet’s unexplored reaches. Every day out here is a chance to bring my love for science and storytelling together. This is my sixth expedition in just over a year and despite the challenges of eating, sleeping, and working on the ever-rolling seas, the ship now feels like home and my shipmates like family.

During the final dive of the expedition, scientists witnessed a fierce battle between a caridean shrimp, Heterocarpus, and a type of midwater dragonfish, possible a stareater. During this impressive display of predatory behavior, the shrimp was observed impaling and consuming the dragonfish while the fish was still alive! The shrimp removed several pieces of fish tissue and stomach contents. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Discovering the Deep: Exploring Remote Pacific MPAs. Download (mp4, 47.0 MB)

Learn more about Annie in this log, "The Women Behind the Highlight Reels," from the Discovering the Deep: Exploring Remote Pacific MPAs expedition.