'Hobby' Is His Work
"I'm sort of a freelance scientist," he says.
Pusser, 32, is a nomadic scientist, photographer, writer and conservationist. Companies around the globe make use of his photographs and stories -- and his expertise -- for all types of publications.
Pusser grew up in Eagle Springs with his parents, Larry and Dell Pusser, and it was watching the critters in his backyard of Moore County that first sparked his interest as a naturalist.
"I started photography when I was a freshman in high school," he says. "My parents bought me a Canon AE1 camera."
He began taking pictures of the wildlife he saw outdoors. He had no formal training in photography when he started.
"It was all trial and error," he says. "It was a hobby."
Pusser graduated from Pinecrest in 1991, and with a Tin Whistles Education and Research Foundation grant, he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He pursued his love of animals and graduated from UNC-CH in 1995. His degree in biology prepared him for part of his life through a lens.
"When I was at Chapel Hill, I took scuba-diving class, and we went down to Crystal River (Fla.) and we saw manatees," he says. "And since that time, I've made an annual pilgrimage."
"I haven't done any scientific work on them," he says, "but I have written about them and photographed them."
The first photograph he ever had published was a picture of the pan-tropical spotted dolphin that appeared in a 1996 calendar.
Works Often for BBC
Pusser's photographs are so well received that he has shifted his focus away from research and more toward photography. He is currently working on a book about the biodiversity of North Carolina.
He has tracked down all manner of critters, most of them tied to the water in some way. He has calendars, coffee-table books and magazines filled with his work. He has photographed dolphins leaping from the water and exotic-looking reptiles on black velvet backgrounds.
"I'm getting more out of the science," he says.
He has worked for the better part of 10 years since his graduation working on ships in one ocean or another.
As for his expertise, Pusser has lectured to travelers on eco-tourism cruises from the chilly waters of the Antarctic to the warm and sunny shores of the Bahamas.
"I reach a larger audience with the eco-tourism," he says.
Pusser's lectures include a healthy portion of his photographs and results of research he has collected through the years, trying to educate young and old alike on the needs of the flora and fauna of the world.
Most of his research has been based out of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. The institute studies marine geology, biology and engineering in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, and Pusser will travel on one of the Institute's ships to study whales and other watery wildlife.
"So I still dabble in the marine biology," he says.
He travels almost nine months out of the year, returning to his home in Aberdeen in between.
"I do a lot of work for the BBC," he says.
Focusing on Whales
Pusser has been featured in the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, the BBC photographs of the year and the National Wildlife Foundation's Magazine. He was earned a "highly commended" rating in the United Kingdom's National Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.
He has done a lot of work with whales, tagging and explaining the lives of the marine mammals, trying to figure out some of the mysteries of the less-studied species.
He is studying Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), and has captured species of dolphin and orca on film that tourists can't see at Sea World. Pusser and other researchers are trying to establish the whale's "baseline behavior" -- discovering its habits and tastes.
His work for the remainder of the year will focus on beaked whales. He left July 8 to spend several weeks in the waters off Italy, studying whales.
This fall he will travel to China to work on the Yangtze River as part of a pilot study to locate the extremely rare freshwater dolphin species that lives only in that river.
"This project in China -- no adequate surveys have been done," he says of the species of dolphin. "It may be extinct. ... This is certainly one of the most endangered animals on the planet. What I'm hoping is that my photos will lead to better conservation efforts."
Pusser has loved working around the world, and even the local shots can produce some fantastic artwork for his collection.
A Lot of Calls
In between his travels, he lives in Aberdeen with his pet, an unnamed albino snake, while he is working on his upcoming book.
He met his fianc, Tiffany Arnold, a local social worker, at the Tin Whistles annual Christmas party. There are framed pictures of Arnold and his friends and family in his home, but there are a lot more pictures of penguins, dolphins, and reptiles.
Pusser contributed to guidebooks on the whales and dolphins of the North American Pacific and has written about manatees off the coast of North Carolina for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission magazine "Wildlife."
The book he is currently working on is about biodiversity and conservation issues here in North Carolina.
"I concentrate a lot on North Carolina and the Sandhills," he says of his personal projects. "Moore County is home. I love this area, and this area is growing at a phenomenal rate."
That's just fine with Pusser.
"I rely a lot on the public," he says.
He takes calls and e-mails from county residents asking him to photograph the creatures they find in their neighborhoods.
Work Is Hobby
A woman from Pinehurst called him earlier this year, and he spent part of his spring in her backyard, photographing screech owls that had nested in her bird box .
New Zealand, Costa Rica and Panama have been some of his favorite places to work, but he still has a long list of locations to which he hopes to travel and species he wants to photograph.
"There are a lot of things I would like to do," he says, laughing.
What started as a hobby turned into a career, and while it doesn't leave much time for outside activities, Pusser isn't troubled.
"My work is my hobby," he says.
His book has provided him with a spectacular office view.
"I spent all day just out in the woods," he says.
The work is enormously satisfying for Pusser, and he would be happy to work wherever he gets his next assignment -- "as long as I'm outdoors taking pictures."
Caroline Kornegay can be reached at 693-2484 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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