The Natural History Museum in London has kindly released the 13 finalist images for the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, in advance of the October announcement of the competition’s winners. Now in its 53rd year, this year’s competition received almost 50,000 entries from 92 different countries. Imagine how difficult it would be to choose the winner from among these photos!
Bold Eagle: 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 photographer Klaus Nigge. “I got to know individuals, and they got to trust me.”
Sewage Surfer: Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their delicate prehensile tails. Photographer Justin Hofman 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. The seahorse let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a long, wispy piece of clear plastic. As a brisk wind at the surface picked up, making conditions bumpier, the seahorse took advantage of something that offered a more stable raft: a waterlogged plastic cottonbud. Not having a macro lens for the shot ended up being fortuitous, both because of the strengthening current and because it meant that Justin decided to frame the whole scene, sewage bits and all. As Justin, the seahorse and the cottonbud spun through the ocean together, waves splashed into Justin’s snorkel. The next day, he fell ill. Indonesia has the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity but is second only to China as a contributor to marine plastic debris – debris forecast to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. On the other hand, Indonesia has pledged to reduce by 70 per cent the amount of waste it discharges into the ocean.
Winter Pause: 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. Photographer Mats Andersson 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.
Saguaro Twist: A band of ancient giants commands the expansive arid landscape of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument in the U.S. 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 photographer Jack Dyckinga 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 neighbours before the distant Sand Tank Mountains.