Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 Announced
An eye-catching photo of a pink river dolphin breaching the surface of the Amazon river sees Kat Zhou from the United States named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023.
Zhou’s photograph triumphed over 6000 pictures entered by underwater photographers from 72 countries.
Zhou’s photo ‘Boto Encantado’ perfectly frames this endangered species, whose numbers are falling year on year, by photographing it simultaneously above and below the surface, at sunset.
“There’s a legend among locals that river dolphins, or ‘botos’, can transform into handsome men known as ‘boto encantado’ to seduce women,” she said. “Though I did not witness the transformation, I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way.
“After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I wanted a split shot at sunset. Though the water was so dark that I was shooting blind, this dolphin gave me a perfect pose and smile!
“As more people have settled the Amazon, river dolphins began living in closer proximity to human populations,” explained Zhou.
“Many river dolphins have been killed for use as fish bait, drowned in gill nets or poisoned by mercury pollution from mining. I fear that one day botos will truly become no more than mythical creatures.”
Chair of the competition judges, Alex Mustard, commented “At first glance simple, then simply perfect. In dark, tannic waters, Kat has created a striking composition capturing this rarely photographed and endangered species in a precision composition.
“This is by far the best image we’ve ever seen of this species, whose numbers are declining at an alarming rate and whose IUCN’s Red List status was worryingly uprated to Endangered in 2019.
“It is appropriate that the Amazon, as the world’s mightiest river, has produced our overall winner,” Mustard continues.
“The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest aims to celebrate underwater photography in all its diversity and we are delighted that this year’s awarded images come from the poles to the tropics, from all corners of the ocean, and from renowned freshwater bodies like the river Amazon and Lake Baikal.
“Being more than a nature contest, we even have winners taken in swimming pools.”
The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Ollie Clarke, an Englishman now living in Australia, was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 for his image “The Swarm”.
It shows a whale shark, the largest fish in the world, hidden within a bait ball of smaller fish. Clarke photographed this scene in Ningaloo, Western Australia.
“Whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef are often accompanied by small groups of fish,” said Clarke. “The fish use the giant shark as a floating shelter. However, this bait-ball was huge with a lot more fish than usual and much denser, so I was really excited to photograph it.”
Competition judge, Mustard commented “Whale sharks are sometimes mislabeled as plankton feeders, but they are also active predators of schools of small fish.
“To me, Ollie’s stunning image is perfectly timed as the shark pounces, switching from benign escort to hunter, mouth gulping down its prey.”
In the same contest, Spanish photographer, Alvaro Herrero, was named ‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2023, with his photo ‘Hopeless’, taken in Mexico.
Herrero’s photograph shows a humpback whale dying of starvation because it is unable to swim properly after its tail has been broken from being entangled in ropes and buoys.
“Taking this photograph was the saddest moment I’ve experienced in the ocean,” said Herrero. “Especially because I have spent so much time with humpbacks underwater, experiencing eye contact, interactions, and seeing how the whales are such intelligent and sentient beings.
“The photo is a reflection of how our oceans are suffering, the product of man’s selfishness and lack of responsibility. But I am, at least, happy that I could capture this moment and can now share it with the world and hopefully drive some real changes.”
Competition judge Tobias Friedrich commented “What a message this image delivers. I can’t imagine the sadness when this poor whale was discovered, but by making a few images, Alvaro will help raise awareness and should save many whales in the future.”
Dr James Lea, CEO of the Save Our Seas Foundation, said “Images have a profound capacity to affect how people view the world, and at SOSF we are all about encouraging positive change in how people view and interact with the marine environment.”
The full collection of awarded images can be seen on the contest’s website and in the free eBook of winners.