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Whale skeletons under ice judged world’s best underwater photograph


Alex Dawson's winning photograph from Underwater Photographer of the Year

An emotive photograph showing a freediver examining the aftermath of whaling sees Alex Dawson from Sweden named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024. Dawson’s photograph Whale Bones triumphed over 6,500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from around the world.

“Whale Bones was photographed in the toughest conditions,” explains chair of judging
panel Alex Mustard, “as a breath-hold diver descends below the Greenland ice sheet to bear
witness to the carcasses. The composition invites us to consider our impact on the great
creatures of this planet.

“Since the rise of humans, wild animals have declined by 85%. Today, just 4% of mammals are wildlife, the remaining 96% are humans and our livestock. Our way needs to change to find a balance with nature.”


Whales dominated the winning pictures this year, with Spanish photographer Rafael
Fernandez Caballero winning two categories with his revealing photos of these ocean giants:
a close up of a grey whale’s eye, and an action shot of a Bryde’s whale engulfing an entire bait
ball, both taken in Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico.

Fernandez Caballero took Grey Whale Connection while drifting in a small boat, holding his camera over the side in the water to photograph the curious whale. The End Of A Baitball required Fernandez Caballero to dive down and be in exactly the right place at the moment the whale lunged.

“The photo shows the high speed attack,” he said, “with the whale engulfing hundreds of kilograms of sardines in one bite — simply unforgettable to see predation on such a scale.”

Rafael Fernandez Caballero’s stunning shot of a whale’s eye

Lisa Stengel from the United States was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image of a mahi-mahi catching a sardine in Mexico. Stengel used both a very fast shutter speed and her hearing to catch the moment.

“If you listen there’s an enormous amount of sound in the ocean,” she explained. “The action was
too fast to see, so I honed in on the sound of the attacks with my camera to capture this
special moment.”

Lisa Stengel’s incredible image of a mahi mahi

“It is such an exciting time in underwater photography because photographers are
capturing such amazing new images, by visiting new locations and using the latest cameras,”
commented judge Alex Mustard. “Until this year I’d hardly ever see a photo of a mahi mahi,
now Lisa has photographed one hunting, action that plays out in the blink of an eye.”

The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Jenny Stock was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image Star
Attraction, which finds beauty in species of British wildlife that are often overlooked.

Exploring the west coast of Scotland, Stock explained “in the dark green depths my torch
picked out the vivid colours of a living carpet of thousands of brittle stars, each with a
different pattern. I was happily snapping away, when I spotted this purple sea urchin and I
got really excited.”

Jenny Stock was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

In the same contest, Portuguese photographer Nuno Sá was named Save Our Seas
Foundation Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2024, with his photo Saving
Goliath, taken in Portugal. Sá’s photo shows beachgoers trying to save a stranded sperm
whale. The picture gives us hope that people do care and want to help the oceans, but also
warns us that bigger changes are needed.

“The whale had been struck by a ship and its fate was sealed,” explains Sá. “An estimated 20,000 whales are killed every year, and many more injured, after being struck by ships-and few people even realise that it happens.”

Nuno Sa’s emotive shot of a stricken whale being assisted by beachgoers

Alex Mustard said: “This year we attracted a record number of entrants and a record number of pictures – thank you to every photographer who entered. As always, the collection is a great reminder that while underwater photography is a specialist discipline, there is huge diversity within it.

“Our winning photographers come from around the world, as do their images. It is such an exciting time in underwater photography because photographers are capturing such amazing new images, by visiting new locations and using the latest cameras. Please enjoy every single picture.”

You can view all of the winning images here.

About Underwater Photographer of the Year

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that celebrates
photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools, and attracts
entries from all around the world.

The contest has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters.

The winners were announced in an award ceremony last night (Friday 16 February) in Mayfair, London, hosted by The Crown Estate. This year’s UPY judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

Photo credit: Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

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4 months ago

I check FlickR Explore on a daily basis for some years now. There are true artists who make beautiful photo’s. But this photo is so ridiculously bizarre, that it really blows my mind. A mammal skeleton on the bottom of the ocean, under the ice, with a ray of light coming through the “tunnel”. It is a work of art from another world in another galaxy.


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Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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