We've recently witnessed the harsh side of nature with Hurricane Irma wreaking havoc in the Pacific, so the announcement of the finalists of the 53rd annual 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year' photography contest couldn't come at a better time to remind us of the beauty that nature has in store.
This year the Natural History Museum of London has selected 13 best photos out of 50,000 submissions from 92 different countries. The judges picked a balanced variety of wildlife photography shots, from incredible close-ups to the stunning pictures showing the very real issues that need attention right now.
The winners of the photo contest will receive a ticket to London for the awards ceremony as well as cash prizes up to £10,000 (about $13,000). But before the best photographer is announced, let's do our own little competition by casting the votes for these beautiful photos and picking our very own winner.
Arctic Treasure By Sergey Gorshkov, Russia
Carrying its trophy from a raid on a snow goose nest, an Arctic fox heads for a suitable burial spot. This is June and bonanza time for the foxes of Wrangel Island in the Russian Far East. Lemmings are the basic diet for Arctic foxes, but Wrangel suffers long, harsh winters and is icebound for much of the year, making it a permanent source of stored food for these opportunist animals. The food convoys arrive at the end of May. Over just a few days, vast flocks of snow geese descend on the tundra of this remote UNESCO World Heritage Site, traveling from wintering grounds some 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) away in British Columbia and California. Not only is this the biggest breeding colony of snow geese in the world, and the only remaining one in Asia, but it is also growing: from 160,000 geese in 2011 to about 300,000 by 2016. The Arctic foxes catch any weak or sick birds, but what they feast on are the goose eggs, laid in early June in open nests on the tundra. Though the pairs of snow geese actively defend their nests, a fox may still manage to steal up to 40 eggs a day, harassing the geese until there’s a chance to nip in and grab an egg. Most of the eggs are then cached, buried in shallow holes in the tundra, where the soil stays as cold as a refrigerator. These eggs will remain edible long after the brief Arctic summer is over and the geese have migrated south again. And when the new generation of young foxes begins to explore, they too will benefit from the hidden treasures.
Bear Hug By Ashleigh Scully, US
After fishing for clams at low tide, this mother brown bear was leading her young spring cubs back across the beach to the nearby meadow. But one young cub just wanted to stay and play. It was the moment Ashleigh had been waiting for. She had come to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park intent on photographing the family life of brown bears. This rich estuary environment provides a buffet for bears: grasses in the meadows, salmon in the river and clams on the shore. A large number of families spend their summers here, and with plentiful food, they are tolerant of each other (though wary of males) and of people. ‘I fell in love with brown bears,’ says Ashleigh, ‘and their personalities… This young cub seemed to think that it was big enough to wrestle mum to the sand. As always, she played along, firm, but patient.’ The result is a cameo of brown bear family life.
Winter Pause By Mats Andersson, Sweden
The red squirrel closed its eyes for just a moment, paws together, fur fluffed, then resumed its search for food. Winter is a tough time for northern animals. Some hibernate to escape its rigors, but not red squirrels. Mats walks every day in the forest near his home in southern Sweden, often stopping to watch the squirrels foraging in the spruce trees. Though their mainly vegetarian diet is varied, their winter survival is linked to a good crop of spruce cones, and they favor woodland with conifers. They also store food to help see them through lean times. On this cold, February morning, the squirrel’s demeanor encapsulated the spirit of winter, captured by Mats using the soft-light grain of black and white.
The Power Of The Matriarch By David Lloyd, New Zealand/UK
At dusk, in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, David waited for the herd of elephants on their evening trek to a waterhole. As they got closer to his vehicle, he could see that the mellow light from the fast-setting sun was emphasizing every wrinkle and hair. For a photographer who enjoys working with texture, this was a gift. When they were just a few meters away, he could see the different qualities of different parts of their bodies – the deep ridges of their trunks, the mud-caked ears and the patina of dried dirt on their tusks.
Bold Eagle By Klaus Nigge, Germany
After several days of constant rain, the bald eagle was soaked to the skin. Named after its conspicuous but fully-feathered white head (bald derives from an old word for white), it is an opportunist, eating various prey – captured, scavenged or stolen – with a preference for fish. At Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island in Alaska, USA, bald eagles gather to take advantage of the fishing industry’s leftovers. Used to people, the birds are bold. ‘I lay on my belly on the beach surrounded by eagles,’ says Klaus. ‘I got to know individuals, and they got to trust me.’
Sewage Surfer By Justin Hofman, US
Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their delicate prehensile tails. Justin watched with delight as this tiny estuary seahorse ‘almost hopped’ from one bit of bouncing natural debris to the next, bobbing around near the surface on a reef near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. But as the tide started to come in, the mood changed. The water contained more and more decidedly unnatural objects – mainly bits of plastic – and a film of sewage sludge covered the surface, all sluicing towards the shore.
Resplendent Delivery By Tyohar Kastiel, Israel
Tyohar watched the pair of resplendent quetzals from dawn to dusk for more than a week as they delivered fruits and the occasional insect or lizard to their two chicks. Resplendent quetzals usually nest in thicker forest, but this pair had picked a tree in a partly logged area in the Costa Rican cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota. The additional light made it easier for Tyohar to catch the iridescent color of the male’s dazzling emerald and crimson body plumage and tail streamers, despite his fast, erratic flight pattern. But the light also made it easier for the birds to see Tyohar. So he would arrive before dawn, sit in the same place and wear the same jacket, with the result that the pair accepted his presence and continued to stuff food into their chicks’ beaks every hour or so.
Swim Gym By Laurent Ballesta, France
“We were still a few meters from the surface when I heard the strange noises,” says Laurent. Suspecting Weddell seals – known for their repertoire of at least 34 different underwater call types – he approached slowly. It was early spring in east Antarctica, and a mother was introducing her pup to the icy water.
Glimpse Of A Lynx By Laura Albiac Vilas, Spain
Laura had seen many of Spain’s wild animals, but never the elusive Iberian lynx, an endangered cat found only in two small populations in southern Spain. Unlike the larger European lynx, the Iberian lynx feeds almost entirely on rabbits. So a disease that wipes out the rabbit population can be catastrophic. They also need a particular blend of open scrub and natural cavities for natal dens. Laura’s family traveled to the Sierra de Andújar Natural Park in search of the lynx – and struck lucky on their second day – a pair were relaxing not far from the road. There were many photographers there but an atmosphere of ‘respect’. Laura watched for an hour and a half, the only sound being the whirr of cameras if a cat glanced in their direction. ‘The animals’ attitude surprised me. They weren’t scared of people—they simply ignored us,’ says Laura. ‘I felt so emotional to be so close to them.’
Romance Among The Angels By Andrey Narchuk, Russia
Andrey was on an expedition to the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East, and his intention on this day was to photograph salmon. But as soon as he jumped into the water, he found himself surrounded by thousands of mating sea angels. Quickly swapping to his macro equipment, he began photographing the pairs, 3 centimeters (11⁄4 inches) long and swirling around in the current. Sea angels are mollusks related to slugs and snails, without shells and with wing-like lobes used as swimming paddles. They hunt sea butterflies – swimming sea snails – using specialized feeding parts to prise them from their shells. Each individual is both male and female, and here they are getting ready to insert their copulatory organs into each other to transfer sperm in synchrony. One is slightly smaller than the other, as was the case with most of the couples Andrey observed, and they remained joined for 20 minutes. Both would go on to lay 30–40 tiny eggs after fertilization. It was late summer and peak phytoplankton time, so there would be abundant food for the resulting larvae.
To photograph them mating, Andrey had to battle against strong currents and avoid a wall of gill netting, and when he was swept into the net and his equipment became snared, he was forced to make an emergency ascent – but not before he had got his shot. The following day, there wasn’t a single angel to be seen.
Saved But Caged By Steve Winter, US
A back leg of this six-month-old Sumatran tiger cub was so badly mangled by a snare that it had to be amputated. He was lucky to survive at all, having been trapped for four days before being discovered in a rainforest in Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The likelihood is that the snare was set by oil‐palm plantation workers to catch bushmeat (though tigers are also deliberately snared). The workers are migrants who have been given small plots to grow their own oil palms but who have to work on the big plantations for about five years until their own crops generate a return. To feed their families, they have to hunt, and this cub’s bones would have fetched a good price on the black market. The population of Sumatran tigers, a subspecies, is as low as 400–500 (the world population of all wild tigers is no more than 3,200)—the result of poaching to fuel the illegal trade in tiger parts for the Chinese-medicine market. Anti-poaching forest patrols are helping to stem the killing, partly by locating and removing snares (now illegal), which is how this cub came to be rescued. The cub, however, will spend the rest of his life in a cage in a Javan zoo. Today, there are probably more Sumatran tigers in zoos than there are left in the wild.
The Insiders By Qing Lin, China
The bulbous tips of the aptly named magnificent anemone’s tentacles contain cells that sting most fish. But the clown anemonefish goes unharmed thanks to mucus secreted over its skin, which tricks the anemone into thinking it is brushing against itself. Both species benefit. The anemonefish gains protection from its predators, which daren’t risk being stung, and it also feeds on parasites and debris among the tentacles; at the same time, it improves water circulation (fanning its fins as it swims), scares away the anemone’s predators and may even lure in prey for it.
Saguaro Twist By Jack Dykinga, US
A band of ancient giants commands the expansive arid landscape of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument in the US. These emblematic saguaro cacti—up to 200 years old —may tower at more than 12 meters (40 feet) but are very slow growing, some sprouting upwardly curved branches as they mature. The roots —aside from one deep tap— weave a maze just below the surface, radiating as far as the plant is tall, to absorb precious rainfall. Most water is stored in sponge-like tissue, defended by hard external spines and a waxy-coated skin to reduce water loss. The surface pleats expand like accordions as the cactus swells, its burgeoning weight supported by woody ribs running along the folds. But the saturated limbs are vulnerable to hard frost – their flesh may freeze and crack, while the mighty arms twist down under their loads. A lifetime of searching out victims near his desert home led Jack to know several that promised interesting compositions. ‘This one allowed me to get right inside its limbs,’ he says. As the gentle dawn light bathed the saguaro’s contorted form, Jack’s wide angle revealed its furrowed arms, perfectly framing its neighbors before the distant Sand Tank Mountains.