Amazing image of an Amazon river dolphin wins underwater photo awards

From a ‘smiling’ Amazon river dolphin to a haunting sunken shipwreck: The astonishing winners of the 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year awards revealed

  • Over 6,000 photographs were entered into this year’s contest by photographers from 72 countries 
  • American photographer Kat Zhou has earned the title of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023
  • READ MORE: Sussex photographer captures the drama and picturesque delights of his home county

Water incredible selection of photographs.

The winners of the 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year awards have been revealed, giving a platform to awe-inspiring photography captured beneath the surface of oceans, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools.

This year, over 6,000 pictures were entered by underwater photographers from 72 countries. A heart-wrenching photograph of a dying humpback whale, a haunting photo of a shipwreck off the coast of Egypt and a vibrant picture of a langoustine in Scotland are among the pictures that have snapped up prizes.

However, it’s a photograph of a playful pink river dolphin in the Amazon River that has truly mesmerised the judges, earning U.S photographer Kat Zhou the title of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023.

Praising her work, the judges remark: ‘In dark, tannic waters, Zhou has created a striking composition capturing this rarely photographed and endangered species in a precision composition. This is by far the best image we’ve ever seen of this species, whose numbers are declining at an alarming rate.’

They add: ‘It is appropriate that the Amazon, as the world’s mightiest river, has produced our overall winner.’ Below is MailOnline Travel’s pick of the incredible underwater shots that have earned acclaim – scroll down to the very bottom to lay eyes on Zhou’s prize-winning picture…

A whale shark is surrounded by a cluster of small fish – known as a bait ball – in Australia’s Ningaloo Reef in this dynamic picture by photographer Ollie Clarke, who has earned the title of British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023. He explains: ‘The whale sharks on the Ningaloo are often accompanied by bait-balls like this one, where the small fish use the shark as a floating shelter. However, this one was huge, much denser and with a lot more fish than usual… the shark almost looked as if it was getting fed up with the small fish and it was attempting to shake off the swarm.’ Noting that whale sharks are ‘active predators of schools of small fish’, the judges remark: ‘Ollie’s stunning image is perfectly timed as the shark pounces, switching from benign escort to hunter, mouth gulping down its prey.’ The picture is also a runner-up in the ‘Up and Coming’ category 

LEFT: This eye-catching picture shows a ‘variable blenny’ fish caring for his eggs in the crevice of a rock off the coast of Devon. The image, which takes the top prize in the ‘British Waters Compact’ category, is the work of UK photographer Tony Reed, who says that the fish was an ‘inquisitive little chap’. The judges remark: ‘What a portrait.’ RIGHT: Danish photographer Rene B Andersen snared this eerie picture of the ‘Mahusan’ wreck – a vessel that was deliberately sunk to a depth of 50m (164ft) as a diving attraction – in lake Kreidesee in northern Germany. Divers’ lights can be seen around the sunken vessel. The picture is third in the ‘Wrecks’ category

Topping the podium in the ‘Macro’ category, this eye-opening picture by photographer Shane Gross shows plainfin midshipman fish nesting along the shore of Vancouver Island, Canada. In their nest, the fish are attached both to the seabed and their egg sacs

Ranking third in the ‘Behaviour’ category, this fascinating picture by U.S photographer Bryant Turffs shows a ‘charismatic’ common snapping turtle eating a flatfish in a freshwater spring in Florida. Turffs notes that the type of fish that the turtle is feasting on is commonly known as ‘hog-choker’. He explains: ‘The fish species got its name from farmers who observed pigs choking on their spines. These spines, however, were no match for the turtle who used her forelimbs to scrape them away before swallowing’

Ranking third in the ‘Wide Angle’ category, this magnificent picture shows a fever of stingrays off the coast of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. Spanish photographer Rafael Fernandez Caballero says that witnessing the scene was similar to ‘seeing a sky full of birds when underwater’. He recalls: ‘I dived down, holding my breath and waited until hundreds of rays unexpectedly passed over my head. Such moments are so amazing that you can almost forget to go up to breathe’

This spellbinding picture of a diver in one of the cenotes (sinkholes) of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is the work of French photographer Fabrice Guerin. The picture is third in the ‘Black and White’ category 

Taking the top spot in the ‘Marine Conservation’ category, this devastating picture shows a humpback whale dying ‘a slow, painful and agonizing death after having its tail entangled in ropes and buoys, rendering its tail completely useless’. It was captured by Spanish photographer Alvaro Herrero off the coast of Mexico, and earned him the title of Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2023. The photographer admits: ‘Taking this photograph was, for me, the saddest moment I’ve experienced in the ocean. Especially because I have spent so much time with humpbacks underwater, experiencing eye contact, interactions, and seeing with my own eyes how they are sentient and intelligent beings’ 

Australian photographer Victor Huertas snared this poignant picture of captured green turtles in Nicaragua. Shedding light on the efforts to govern green turtle fishing in the country, he says: ‘These turtles had been confiscated by the Nicaraguan National Police because they were being illegally transported to Bluefields [a Nicaraguan city], where turtle consumption is no longer allowed. The turtles were later released back into the ocean.’ The shot is highly commended in the ‘Marine Conservation’ category 

Commended in the ‘Marine Conservation’ category, this heartbreaking picture shows an olive ridley sea turtle that’s ‘badly entangled’ in a fishing net near the Sri Lankan port city of Trincomalee. Hong Kong photographer Simon Lorenz, who was behind the lens, reveals that the turtle was later freed from the net. He says: ‘Turtles consume floating plastic and get entangled in fishing nets. The problem in Sri Lanka is that fishermen leave the nets afloat as they are fish aggregation devices. They will rescue turtles if they come across it but since these floats can be many miles from shore, the rescue often comes too late.’ The judges describe the picture as a ‘lovely photograph of an awful image’

Japanese photographer Takeshi Iioka snared this uplifting shot – a runner-up in the ‘Compact’ category – of dolphins swimming in the waters off the coast of Japan’s Mikurajima Island 

Taking the top prize in the ‘Black and White’ category, this evocative portrait of a southern right whale calf near Argentina’s Valdes Peninsula was captured by Australian photographer Don Silcock. The photographer points out that the calf’s mother can be identified in the background. He says: ‘The mother accepted our presence and allowed the calf to interact with us. It was very playful but careful not to hit us with its tail and seemed to be really enjoying it all – almost as much as we were! White calves are very rare and referred to locally as “El Blanco” or the white one’ 

This haunting photograph shows the wreck of the MV Salem Express, a passenger ship that sank in the Red Sea, near Egypt, in 1991. Tragically, it’s estimated that 470 passengers and crew died in the disaster. The picture, taken by German photographer Nicolai Posininsky, is a runner-up in the ‘Wrecks’ category 

In this mesmerising photograph, a female orca swims through a bait ball of ‘nutritious, egg-filled herring’ near Skjervoy, northern Norway. Swiss photographer Andy Schmid says: ‘I’ve been travelling to Northern Norway for the five past winters to witness one of our planet’s most spectacular wildlife events, the herring migration into the fjords which attracts a large number of orcas and humpback whales.’ The picture is a runner-up in the ‘Wide Angle’ category  

The waters off the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico, were the setting for this picture by Polish photographer Wojciech Dopierala. It shows two Bryde’s whale racing towards a swarm of fish, with a hunting blue marlin fish to the right of the frame. Dopierala notes that the cluster of tiny fish was ‘shattered to pieces’ in a matter of seconds by the whales. The picture is a runner-up in the ‘Behaviour’ category 

This jarring photograph of a row of dead sharks was taken in Sri Lanka by photographer David Serradell. The Spanish photographer says: ‘Looking at the fisherman standing behind his most recent catch I thought about how little money he was just going to get from that day, comparing it to how much Asian markets would get when reselling the future dried fins from these sharks. I cannot blame the fisherman, this is the only thing they have been doing for their entire life with the only goal of bringing food to the family table. It is easy to blame, difficult to listen to the whole story.’ The judges describe the picture, which is highly commended in the ‘Marine Conservation’ category, as  ‘an emotional picture’ that demonstrates the ‘complexity of social factors behind most conservation issues’

In this moving picture, Paradorn, an orphaned Irrawaddy dolphin calf, nibbles on a baby bottle while resting in the arms of its caretaker at the Marine Endangered Species Veterinary Hospital in Rayong, Thailand. Thai photographer Sirachai Arunrugstichai, who captured the shot, says: ‘The six-month-old dolphin was rescued from stranding in the eastern Gulf of Thailand and then taken into care by the veterinarians of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, since the chance for an unweaned calf to survive in the wild without its mother is slim.’ Sadly, Arunrugstichai notes that the dolphin calf died soon after the picture was taken, despite efforts to keep it alive. The picture is commended in the ‘Marine Conservation’ category 

This shot – highly commended in the ‘Marine Conservation’ category – shows the moment that Argentinian photographer Damian Almua and his friends freed a trapped turtle from a fishing net on the Thai island of Ko Lipe. Though he was happy to free the turtle from the net, he admits: ‘I can’t help wondering if she will remain free or if other fishing nets are waiting to catch her again’ 

This striking shot takes the top prize in the ‘British Waters Living Together’ category. Taken by British photographer Dan Bolt, it shows a large langoustine in Loch Fyne, western Scotland. He notes that the shellfish was ‘seemingly unperturbed’ by his presence

LEFT: Bagging the bronze medal in the ‘British Waters Living Together’ category, this picture by UK photographer Henley Spiers shows mussels being farmed off the coast of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. RIGHT: Behold, the picture that has earned photographer Kat Zhou the title of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023. The picture, which also takes the top prize in the ‘Up and Coming’ category, shows a river dolphin in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon River. Zhou says: ‘There’s a legend among locals in the Amazon that river dolphins, or “botos”, can transform into handsome men known as “boto encantado” at night to seduce women. Though I did not witness this elusive boto transformation, at dusk I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way… though the water was so dark that I was shooting blind, this dolphin gave me a perfect pose and smile!’

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