None of those finalists, striking as they were, won through, and the winners can be seen here. However, all the images are included in the exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London, which runs until late May 2018. They will also be taken on a UK and international tour.
This 53rd competition, intended to showcase the world’s best nature photography and photo-journalism, attracted almost 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across 92 countries.
The Ice Monster by Laurent Ballesta, France
(Winner, Earth’s Environments)
Ballesta and his expedition team had been silenced by the magnitude of the ice-blocks – mountainous pieces of the ice-shelf – awed in the knowledge that only 10% of their volume is ever visible above the surface.
They were working out of the French Dumont d’Urville scientific base in east Antarctica, recording on film and in photographs the impact of global warming. Ice-shelves in some parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are melting faster than scientists had previously assumed, threatening a movement of land ice into the sea to raise sea levels dramatically.
When Ballesta spotted this relatively small iceberg, he saw the chance to realise a long-held ambition – to show the entire underwater part.
The ‘berg was stuck in the ice field – “hovering like a frozen planet” – unable to flip over so safe to explore. But it took three days, in virtually freezing water, to check out the location, install a grid of lines from the seabed to buoys (so that Ballesta could maintain a definite distance from it) and then take the pictures with a very wide-angle lens to capture the entire scene.
“None of us could see the whole thing under water,” he says. “Close-to, it was overflowing from our view. From a distance, it disappeared into the fog.” So back at the station there was a tense wait at the computer while the result of 147 stitched images came together on screen.
The front of the vast foot of the frozen monster, polished by the current probably over years, shone turquoise and blue in the light penetrating the ice ceiling, dwarfing Ballesta’s companions as they lit its sides.
• Taken with a Nikon D4S & 13mm f2.8 lens; 1/30 to 1/60sec @ f6.3 – 147 stitched images; ISO 3200; Seacam housing; flashlights.
Crab Surprise, by Justin Gilligan, Australia
(Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates)
Out of the blue, an aggregation of giant spider-crabs the size of a football field wandered past. Known to converge in their thousands elsewhere in Australian waters – probably seeking safety in numbers before moulting – such gatherings were unknown in Mercury Passage off the east coast of Tasmania.
Gilligan (who DIVER readers may know as an contributor) was busy documenting a University of Tasmania kelp transplant experiment ,and was taken completely by surprise.
A single giant spider-crab can be hard to spot – algae and sponges often attach to its shell, providing excellent camouflage – but there was no missing this mass march-past, scavenging whatever food lay in their path on the seabed.
“About 15 minutes later, I noticed an odd shape in the distance, moving among the writhing crabs,” says Gilligan. It was a Maori octopus that seemed equally delighted with the unexpected bounty.
Though large – the biggest octopus in the southern hemisphere, with muscular arms spanning up to 3m and knobbly, white-spotted skin – it was having trouble choosing and catching a crab.
Luckily for Justin, the stage was set with clear water and sunlight reflecting off the sand. He quickly adjusted his camera and framed the octopus finally making its catch.
• Taken with a Nikon D810 & 15mm f2.8 lens; 1/100 sec @ f14; ISO 400; Nauticam housing; two Ikelite DS161 strobes.
The Jellyfish Jockey, by Anthony Berberian, France
In open ocean far off Tahiti, French Polynesia, Berberian regularly dives at night in water more than 1.25 miles deep. His aim is to photograph deep-sea creatures – tiny ones, that migrate to the surface under cover of darkness to feed on plankton.
This lobster larva (on top), just 1.2cm across, with spiny legs, a flattened, transparent body and eyes on stalks, was at a stage at which its form is called a phyllosoma. Its spindly legs were gripping the dome of a small mauve stinger jellyfish.
The pair were drifting in the current, the phyllosoma saving energy and possibly gaining protection from predators deterred by the jelly’s stings, its own hard shell probably protecting it from stings. The phyllosoma also seemed able to steer the jelly, turning it around at speed as it moved away from Anthony.
The odd thing about the jelly was that it had few tentacles left, suggesting that the little hitch-hiker was using it as a convenient source of snacks. In fact, a phyllosoma has a special digestion to deal with jellyfish stinging cells, coating them with a membrane that stops the stings penetrating its gut.
In several hundred night dives, Berberian met only a few lobster larvae, and it took many shots of the jellyfish jockey to get a composition with which he was happy – a portrait of a creature rarely observed alive in its natural surroundings.
• Taken with a Nikon D810 & 60mm f2.8 lens; 1/250 sec @ f22; ISO 64; Nauticam housing & SMC-1 super-macro converter; Inon Z-240 strobes.
Giant Gathering, by Tony Wu, USA
(Winner, Behaviour: Mammals)
Dozens of sperm whales mingled noisily off Sri Lanka’s north-east coast, stacked as far down
as Wu could see. This was part of something special – a congregation of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of social units, like a kind of gathering of the clans.
Sperm whales are intelligent, long-lived and gregarious, and groups play, forage, interact and communicate in different ways and have distinctive cultures. Aggregations like this could be a critical part of their rich social lives, but are rarely reported.
Some two-thirds of the sperm-whale population was wiped out during the peak of industrialised whaling in the 20th century.
But commercial whaling was banned in 1986, and this kind of major gathering could be “a sign that populations are recovering”, says Wu, who has spent 17 years studying and photographing sperm whales.
Tactile contact is an important part of sperm-whale social life, but rubbing against each other also helps slough off dead skin. So the water was filled with a blizzard of skin flakes.
More photographically challenging was the smearing of the camera?housing dome with oily secretions from the whales, and thick clouds of dung released as they emerged from the gigantic cluster. But by continually swimming to reposition himself and the tolerance of the whales themselves, Wu got a unique photograph of the mysterious Indian Ocean gathering.
• Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III & 15mm f2.8 lens; 1/250 sec @ f6.3; ISO 800; Zillion housing + Pro-One optical dome-port.
The Ancient Ritual, by Brian Skerry, USA
(Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles)
Like generations before her, this leatherback turtle shifts her considerable weight with her outsized, strong front flippers and moves steadily back to the ocean.
Leatherbacks are the largest, deepest-diving and widest-ranging sea turtles, the only survivors of an evolutionary lineage that diverged from other sea turtles 100-150 million years ago. Much of their lives are spent at sea, shrouded in mystery. When mature, their leathery shells now averaging 1.6m-long, females return to the shores where they themselves hatched to lay their own eggs.
Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, provides a critical nesting habitat, successfully managed for decades. Elsewhere, leatherbacks are not so lucky, threatened primarily by fisheries bycatch as well as factors including human consumption,? coastal development and climate change.
The females each lay about 100 eggs in nests dug deep in the sand. Some 60 days later, the hatchlings emerge, their sex influenced by incubation temperatures (hotter nests produce more females).
Nesting turtles are not seen every night at Sandy Point, and were often too far away for Brian to reach. When after two weeks he got the encounter he wanted – under clear skies, with no distant city lights – he hand-held a long exposure under the full moon, artfully evoking a primordial atmosphere in this timeless scene.
• Taken with a Nikon D5 & 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 24mm; 10 sec @ f8; ISO 1600; Nikon flash at 1/64th power & tungsten gel; Nikon remote release.
Admission to the NHM exhibition is from 10am to 5.15pm (open until 5.50), adult tickets cost £14, children’s £8, and they can be booked ahead at nhm.ac.uk/wpy
The 2018 competition is open for entries from 23 October to 14 December this year (2017) – to enter go to nhm.ac.uk/visit/ competition.html