Emotive images as Underwater Photographer of the Year announced

Whale with fishing nets attached to tail

The winners of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Award 2023 have been announced, with the winners capturing emotive images of magnificent and endangered underwater species.

An eye-catching photo of a rare 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’ captures this endangered species 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 says. “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.”

Image credit: ‘Boto Encantado’ ©Kat Zhou/UPY2023

Chair of the competition judges, Alex Mustard, comments: “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.”
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’ showing a whale shark, the largest fish in the world, hidden within a bait ball of smaller fish.

‘The Swarm’ ©Oliver Clarke/UPY2023

Clarke photographed this scene in Ningaloo, Western Australia. “Whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef are often accompanied by small groups of fish,” says 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.”
As part of the competition, 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,” Herrero says. “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.”

Other images recognised by the awards included:

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