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Once-in-a-lifetime humpbacks win over judges

Synchrony in motion (Rachel Moore)
Synchrony in Motion (Rachel Moore)

“A once-in-a-lifetime encounter with humpback whales in the crystal-clear waters of French Polynesia,” is how US underwater photographer Rachel Moore describes her winning shot in the Ocean Conservancy 2023 Photo Contest. Synchrony in Motion was awarded the Judges’ Choice grand prize in the annual competition, the results of which were announced recently.

“While drifting miles offshore looking for whales this trio – mother, calf and male escort – came in for a close pass in perfect synchrony,” says Moore. Born and raised by the sea, she says she knew from the age of seven that she wanted to become a scuba diver and explore the hidden world. She studied marine biology, logged thousands of dives as a PADI Divemaster – and has now made the sea her home.

For the past seven years Moore has been sailing around the world on her boat Agape “capturing the wild beauty of our planet to inspire others to protect and conserve our precious ocean”.

“What can be better than sharing the ocean with humpback whales?” asked conservation photo-journalist Alex Rose, one of the judges of the contest organised by the US-based environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy. “Likely very little. These three stacked humpbacks create an engaging moment of living art complete with sunbeams illuminating them like spotlights from above. I’m certain this was nothing short of a magical moment in time.”

“Harmony, respect, fragility and the power of nature, generations embodied in an image, with how vast the ocean is but at the same time the great challenge of safeguarding it due to the impact that human beings have made,” commented fellow-judge Karen Fuentes of the Manta Caribbean Project, while photo-journalist David Coffey pointed out that the “lighting and composition are incredible”. 

Three categories

“It’s safe to say that this was our best yet,” said Ocean Conservancy of the 2023 competition, which divided entries into the three categories Human Impact, Marine Wildlife and Spectacular Seascapes before putting them to a public vote.

Choked Up (Nicholas DeNezzo) - photo contest won by humpback shot
Choked Up (Nicholas DeNezzo)

Human Impact winner Choked Up by Nicholas DeNezzo depicts an entangled California sea-lion drawing bystanders. “As a rescue professional, this scene is a part of our everyday life, in which we deal with the fishing-gear, trash pollution and other human impacts affecting our local marine life,” commented DeNezzo.

Climate Endurance (Jenny Wong)
Climate Endurance (Jenny Wong)

Jenny Wong’s work was highlighted in the Marine Wildlife category with Climate Endurance. From the top of a cliff in Canada's Baffin Island, Wong used a 500mm lens to capture a polar bear and her two cubs. “As the open-water season gets longer in the Arctic, the mother will struggle to not only feed herself but also her young, and long commutes to safety or better hunting grounds becomes an arduous journey for their future.” said Wong.

The Shallows (Maximilian Holba)
The Shallows (Maximilian Holba)

The Shallows by Maximilian Holba scored in Spectacular Seascapes: “Simple bliss: On a calm early morning, when the reef awakens from its nightly slumber, and small fish are again swirling around and about, making you feel like you are in a tropical aquarium, you can be in the moment and soak in the wonderful cornucopia of marine life, to forget for just one brief moment all the unfortunate truths of the climate’s peril and the ocean’s pollution…” said Holba.

Staff favourites

Ocean Conservancy staff favourites included I Glove You by Shireen Shipman, Living In A Bubble by Brandon Berry, Low Tide by Christopher Baker, Sardinia Seascape by Lorenzo Ragazzi, The Colourful Great African Sea Forest by Ross Sheldrake and The Great Race by Wilfrido Lucero, all shown below.

I Glove You (Shireen Shipman)
I Glove You (Shireen Shipman)
Living In A Bubble (Brandon Berry)
Living In A Bubble (Brandon Berry)
Low Tide (Christopher Baker)
Low Tide (Christopher Baker)
Sardinia Seascape (Lorenzo Ragazzi)
Sardinia Seascape (Lorenzo Ragazzi)
The Colourful Great African Sea Forest (Ross Sheldrake)
The Colourful Great African Sea Forest (Ross Sheldrake)
The Great Race (Wilfrido Lucero)
The Great Race (Wilfrido Lucero)

Ocean Conservancy originated in 1972, though it took the name only in 2001, and is a science-based body that works internationally to protect marine wildlife and communities that depend on it: “We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean,” it says. Its latest report is Plastic is Everywhere – Except The One Place It Should Be: How Investor and Company Climate Commitments Ignore Plastic And What to Do About It

Also on Divernet: Ocean views from ‘Surprise’ to ‘End of the World’

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