The ‘golden horseshoe’, an otherworldly image of a rare golden tri-spine horseshoe crab accompanied by a trio of golden trevallies fish, has been chosen as the winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 competition.
The winning image by French underwater photographer and marine biologist Laurent Ballesta was selected out of 49,957 entries from 95 countries.
The tri-spine horseshoe crab has survived for more than 100 million years but now faces habitat destruction and overfishing for food as well as for its blue blood used in the development of vaccines.
But in the protected waters off Pangatalan Island in the Philippines, there is hope for its survival.
‘To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat in such a hauntingly beautiful way was astonishing,” said Kathy Moran, chair of the jury and editor. “We are looking at an ancient species, highly endangered, and also critical to human health. This photo is luminescent.”
Laurent is only the second photographer in the competition’s 59-year history to be awarded the Grand Title award twice. He was first awarded Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2021 for his intriguing image of camouflage groupers exiting a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia.
The awarded photo and all the winners of the Natural History Museum’s prestigious contest were unveiled at an awards ceremony and will be exhibited at the flagship Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition that will open on October 13 at the Natural History Museum in London.
The newly-redesigned exhibition also features videos showing the impact wildlife photography can have and insights from jury members, photographers and Museum scientists to encourage visitors to advocate for the natural world.
The 19 other astounding category winners, each judged anonymously by an international panel of experts for originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice, showcase the rich diversity of life on Earth.
“Whilst inspiring absolute awe and wonder, this year’s winning images present compelling evidence of our impact on nature – both positive and negative,” said Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum. “Global promises must shift to action to turn the tide on nature’s decline.”
The exhibition will tour across Great Britain and internationally to venues including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand and Singapore.
The 60th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will open for entries from photographers of all ages, nationalities and experience levels on October 16, 2023. Ahead of the anniversary, Wildlife Photographer of the Year has announced the international jury of industry experts, an entry fee waiver for more than 100 countries, changes to the competition’s rules and a new prize to further encourage hopeful stories of the natural world.
Amit Eshel witnessed a dramatic cliffside clash between two Nubian ibex against a breathtaking backdrop. The battle lasted for 15 minutes before one male surrendered, and the pair parted without serious injury.
In the run-up to the mating season in Israel’s Zin Desert, part of the males’ coat darkens and their neck muscles thicken. Rivals will rise up on their hind legs and ram their heads together. Their horns sometimes break as they collide.
Hadrien Lalagüe was gratified for his patience with a perfect alignment of grey-winged trumpeters watching a boa slither past.
Lalagüe set up his camera trap by a track in the rainforest surrounding Guiana Space Center between Kourou and Sinnamary in French Guiana. He spent the next six months maintaining the camera kit against high humidity, plastic-munching ants and damage by poachers. This image was his reward.
Trumpeters – named for their loud calls – spend most of their time foraging on the forest floor, eating ripe fruits, insects and the occasional small snake. The boa constrictor, some 10 feet long, could have made a meal of them.
In her Portfolio Story, Karine Aigner reports on the annual hunting competition of West Texas Big Bobcat, in March 2022 — America’s highest-paying predator-hunting contest as participants line up to have their bobcats weighed.
The 24-hour tournament is held three times a year from January through March. There are a number of prizes, one of which is for the heaviest bobcat. In 2022, the winner of that category took home $35,530.
For some Americans, hunting wildlife is a hobby. In Texas, while there are strict regulations covering ‘game’ species, certain predators such as bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes have no protection and can be killed at any time and by any means.
In this portfolio, Karine delves deep into the contests and festivals that celebrate the killing of these unprotected and maligned species, exploring their relationship with humans.
Agorastos Papatsanis reveals the magic of a fungus releasing its spores in the forest of Mount Olympus in Pieria, Greece. Long fascinated by fungi, Papatsanis used his silver photographic umbrella to stop his camera getting wet, and covered his carefully positioned flash with a plastic bag.
The colorful touches come from refraction of the light passing through the spore-laden air currents and rain. Parasol mushrooms release spores from the gills under their cap. Billions of tiny spores travel – usually unseen – in the air currents. Some will land where there is moisture and food, enabling them to grow networks under the forest floor.
Lennart Verheuvel shows the final moments of a beached orca. Stranded on its side in the surf, this orca had only a short time left to live on the Dutch coast at Cadzand-Bad in Zeeland.
Initially rescued, it soon was stranded again on the beach and died. A study later revealed that it was both severely malnourished and ill.
Research shows that orcas in European waters have the world’s highest concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls. These banned chemicals can persist for many years in marine food webs, weakening immune systems and reducing breeding success in whales, porpoises and dolphins.
Luca Melcarne makes the most of his mountain-guide skills to reveal the fascinating lives of Alpine animals. Born at the foot of the Vercors mountains in France, Melcarne is a professional mountain guide and nature photographer. He’s addicted to the cold, constantly watching the weather to make his plans.
To enable an early ascent into ibex territory, he had spent a bitterly cold night in a temporary shelter in the French Alps, having skied for six hours across the natural park.
His portfolio highlights the animals that live in France’s Rhône-Alpes Vercors Regional Natural Park, where Luca lives and works. His remarkable images demonstrate how patience, perseverance and passion are essential ingredients for dramatic wildlife photography.
Mike Korostelev reveals a hippopotamus and her offspring resting in the shallow clear water of a lake in South Africa’s Simangaliso Wetland Park. For more than two years, Korostelev has been visiting the hippos in this lake and knew they were accustomed to his boat.
He spent just 20 seconds under water with them – enough time to get this image from a safe distance and to avoid alarming the mother. Hippos produce one calf every two to three years. Their slow-growing population is particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation, drought, and illegal hunting for meat and ivory from their teeth.
Rachel Bigsby frames a gannet pair against the guano-painted curves of sandstone cliffs at Shetland, Scotland’s Noss National Nature Reserve. From her boat in turbulent sea swells, Bigsby realised that achieving her vision of showcasing gannets set against the towering cliffs would be tricky. But as the boat aligned with the rocks, she spotted this pair “isolated on a lower ledge, intertwining their necks and framed by streaks of guano.”
Each summer, the Isle of Noss hosts more than 22,000 northern gannets, which return to breed on the ledges carved by the elements. This species was hardest hit by the 2022 avian flu outbreak.
Vishnu Gopal recorded the moment a lowland tapir stepped cautiously out of the swampy Brazilian rainforest in Tapiraí, São Paulo. Finding hoofprints on a forest track near his campsite, Gopal waited nearby. An hour later, the tapir appeared. Using a long exposure and a flashlight to capture texture and movement, he framed the tapir’s side-turned head as it emerged from the forest.
Lowland tapirs rely on the forest for their diet of fruit and other vegetation and in turn the tapirs act as seed dispersers. This important relationship is threatened by habitat loss, illegal hunting and traffic collisions.
Bertie Gregory tracked a pod of orcas as they prepares to ‘wave wash’ a Weddell seal off a piece of sea ice and into the Antarctic water so they could eat it. The bubbles are thought to be part of the way they communicate with each other to form the waves.
Gregory took two month-long expeditions searching for orcas. ‘”We spent every waking minute on the roof of the boat, scanning,” he said. After battling high winds and freezing conditions, he captured this remarkable behavior with his drone.
These orcas belong to a group that specializes in hunting seals by charging towards the ice, creating a wave that washes the seal into the water. With rising temperatures melting ice floes, seals are spending more time on land, and the behavior of ‘wave washing’ may disappear.
Carmel Bechler discovered several barn owls in an abandoned concrete building near a busy road near Hof Hasharon, Israel. Bechler and his father used the family car as a hide. He made the most of the natural light and used long exposure times to capture the light trails of passing traffic.
Israel has the densest barn-owl population in the world. A national project has provided nesting boxes near agricultural fields, encouraging owls to nest near farmland. Because the owls hunt rodents that eat seeds and crops, this arrangement has reduced the use of pesticides on farms.
Ekaterina Bee shares her intimate encounter with some common bottlenose dolphins off the Isle of Skye on Scotland’s west coast.
From the boat, she composed this image that highlights the surface patterns on the water created by the dolphins’ movements. Common bottlenose dolphins can be found throughout the world’s oceans except in polar regions. Living in small groups, they are highly social animals, and are among the top marine predators living in Scottish waters.
Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar shows the devastating path of a new cross-country tourist railway line in Mexico. To reach a point from where he could launch his drone at Paamul, Quintana Roo, Martínez was guided through four kilometres of an underground cave system. The result of his challenging trek was this image.
The government-funded railway line connecting tourist destinations brings economic benefits to Mexico’s southeast but it also fragments ecosystems, threatens protected reserves and archaeological sites and impacts Indigenous peoples. While trains are a more environmentally friendly form of transport, conservationists warn of devastating consequences.
Joan de la Malla provides a bird’s-eye view of the polluted Ciliwung River winding through Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. To find a time when lower air pollution allowed a clear view, de la Malla returned to the scene over several days. His image documents one of the most polluted rivers in the world and illustrates the growing global issue of river pollution.
Plastic rubbish, human waste, agricultural fertilizers and factory waste are suffocating the Ciliwung. As a result, Jakarta’s residents must resort to groundwater for drinking water, triggering widespread subsidence — and the city is now sinking.
Juan Jesús Gonzalez Ahumada watched as toad tadpoles feasted on a dead sparrow. The drama unfolded near his home in Ojén, Málaga, Spain, when a newly-fledged sparrow launched itself from a nest on his neighbor’s roof and fell into a nearby pond, where it drowned.
Gonzalez had to pick his moment to show the tadpole formation and the sparrow’s eye. Common toad tadpoles have varied diets consisting of algae, vegetation and tiny swimming invertebrates. As they grow larger, they become more carnivorous. So when a banquet like this arrives, they take full advantage.
Knut-Sverre Horn offers a glimpse of kittiwake chicks and their parents illuminated in an abandoned factory at Vardø, Troms og Finnmark in Norway.
From his vantage point inside an abandoned fish-processing factory, Horn kept watch on the black-legged kittiwakes tending to their chicks on the windowsill. As midnight approached, the low summer sun struck the north-facing window, sharpening the birds’ silhouettes for the image he wanted.
Kittiwakes naturally nest on the narrow ledges of high, steep coastal cliffs. Recently, numbers have plummeted and some have headed for urban areas due to shortages of food caused by warming oceans and pollution.
Sriram Murali showcases a night sky and a forest illuminated with fireflies. “Searching for the stars near my hometown, Pollachi, led me to the forests of the Anamalai Tiger Reserve,” he explained. “As I moved away from town and its lights, the darker it got, the more I could see – fireflies, stars, like hundreds of fires.
The firefly flashes start at twilight, with just a few, before the frequency increases and they pulse in unison like a wave across the forest. Fireflies, which are in fact beetles, are famous for attracting mates by using bioluminescence. Darkness is a necessary ingredient in the success of this process. Light pollution affects many nocturnal creatures, but fireflies are especially susceptible.
An ornamental tree trunk spider prevents its prey from escaping. The young photographer captured this scene during his first visit to the tamarind grove at the temple in Nalluru, a small village on the outskirts of Bangalore that has beautiful carvings of Hindu god Krishna.
Fascinated by stories of the Hindu god, it seemed to Vikas as if the spider had positioned its web after being entranced by the sound of Krishna’s flute.
This spider is an orb weaver, which creates a wheel-shaped web of sticky threads to catch flying insects. As the spider grows, it elongates its web, which entangles anything that lands on it.