A photograph of a golden horseshoe crab has been awarded top prize at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 Awards.
Taken by wildlife photographer and marine biologist Laurent Ballesta the image depicts the tri-spine horseshoe crab feeding on a seabed near Pangatalan Island in the Philippines, as it is followed by three golden trevallies looking to forage tasty morsels of food ploughed up in the horshoe crab’s wake. It’s a stunning, mysterious image.
Kathy Moran, the Chair of the jury and editor, says of the winning image, “To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat, in such a hauntingly beautiful way, was astonishing. We are looking at an ancient species, highly endangered, and also critical to human health. This photo is luminescent.”
The tri-spine horseshoe crab has survived for more than 100 million years but now faces habitat destruction and overfishing for food and for its blood, used in the development of vaccines. But, in the protected waters off Pangatalan Island, there is hope for its survival.
Ballesta has become only the second photographer in the Wildlife Photographer of The Year’s 59-year history to win the competition two times. He won in 2021 for his image of groupers mating.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest is produced by the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Ballesta’s photo was chosen from nearly 50,000 entires across 95 countries.
Incredible images of orca and fireflies are among the other winners of this year’s competition. Take a look at other wonderful winning images of this year’s competition below:
Winner, Animals in their Environment
Life on the edge by Amit Eshel, Israel
Amit Eshel witnesses a dramatic cliffside clash between two Nubian ibex in the Zin Desert in Israel. After hiking to a vantage point on the clifftop, Amit slowly crept closer, using a wide-angle lens to set the action of two clashing Nubian ibex against the dramatic backdrop. The battle lasted for about 15 minutes before one male surrendered, and the pair parted without serious injury.
In the run-up to the mating season, part of the males’ coat darkens, and their neck muscles thicken. Rivals will raise up on their hind legs and ram their heads together. Their horns sometimes break as they collide.
Winner, Behavior: Birds
Silence for the snake show by Hadrien Lalagüe, France
Hadrien Lalagüe is rewarded for his patience with a perfect alignment of grey-winged trumpeters watching a boa slither past. Hadrien set up his camera trap by a track in the rainforest surrounding Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. He spent the next six months maintaining the camera kit against high humidity, plastic-munching ants and damage by poachers. This image was his reward.
Trumpeters – named for their loud calls – spend most of their time foraging on the forest floor, eating ripe fruits, insects and the occasional small snake. The boa constrictor, more than three metres (9.8 feet) long, could have made a meal of them.
Winner, Behavior: Mammals
Whales making waves by Bertie Gregory, UK
Bertie Gregory tracks a pod of orcas as they prepare to ‘wave wash’ a Weddell seal. Bertie took two month-long expeditions searching for orcas around the Antarctic Peninsula. ‘We spent every waking minute on the roof of the boat, scanning,’ he says. After battling high winds and freezing conditions, he captured this remarkable behaviour with his drone. These orcas belong to a group that specialises in hunting seals by charging towards the ice, creating a wave that washes the seal into the water. With rising temperatures melting ice floes, seals are spending more time on land, and the behaviour of ‘wave washing’ may disappear.
Winner, 10 Years and Under
The wall of wonder by Vihaan Talya Vikas, India
Vihaan Talya Vikas watches as an ornamental tree trunk spider prevents its prey from escaping. This was Vihaan’s first visit to the tamarind grove in Nallur Heritage Tamarind Grove, Karnataka, India. Fascinated by stories of the Hindu god Krishna, it seemed to Vihaan as if the spider had positioned its web after being entranced by the sound of Krishna’s flute. This spider is an orb weaver, which creates a wheel-shaped web of sticky threads to catch flying insects. As the spider grows, it elongates its web, which entangles anything that lands on it.
Winner, Behavior: Invertebrates
Lights fantastic by Sriram Murali, India
Sriram Murali showcases a night sky and a forest illuminated with fireflies. Sriram combined fifty 19-second exposures to show the firefly flashes produced over 16 minutes in the forests near his hometown in Tamil Nadu, India. The firefly flashes start at twilight, with just a few, before the frequency increases and they pulse in unison like a wave across the forest. Fireflies, which are in fact beetles, are famous for attracting mates using bioluminescence. Darkness is a necessary ingredient in the success of this process. Light pollution affects many nocturnal creatures, but fireflies are especially susceptible.
Hippo nursery by Mike Korostelev, Russia
Mike Korostelev reveals a hippopotamus and her two offspring resting in the shallow clear-water lake in Kosi Bay, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa. For over two years Mike has been visiting the hippos in this lake and knew they were accustomed to his boat. He spent just 20 seconds under water with them – enough time to get this image from a safe distance and to avoid alarming the mother.
Hippos produce one calf every two to three years. Their slow-growing population is particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation, drought, and illegal hunting for meat and ivory from their teeth.
Winner, Wetlands – The Bigger Picture
The dead river by Joan de la Malla, Spain
Joan de la Malla provides a bird’s-eye view of the polluted Ciliwung river winding through Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. To find a time when lower air pollution allowed a clear view, Joan returned to the scene over several days. His image documents one of the most polluted rivers in the world and illustrates the growing global issue of river pollution.
Plastic rubbish, human waste, agricultural fertilisers and factory waste are suffocating the Ciliwung river. As a result, Jakarta’s residents are having to use groundwater for drinking water. This has resulted in widespread subsidence and the city is now sinking.
Winner, Plants and Fungi
Last breath of autumn by Agorastos Papatsanis, Greece
Agorastos Papatsanis reveals the magic of a fungus releasing its spores in the forest around Mount Olympus, Pieria, Greece. Long fascinated by fungi, Agorastos used his silver photographic umbrella to stop his camera getting wet, and covered his carefully positioned flash with a plastic bag. The colourful touches come from refraction of the light passing through the spore-laden air currents and rain. Parasol mushrooms release spores from the gills under their cap. Billions of tiny spores travel – usually unseen – in the air currents. Some will land where there is moisture and food, enabling them to grow networks under the forest floor.
The tourism bulldozer by Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar, Mexico
Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar (Mexico) shows the devastating path of a new cross-country tourist railway line in Paamul, Quintana Roo, Mexico. To reach a point from where he could launch his drone, Fernando was guided through four kilometres (2.5 miles) of an underground cave system. The result of his challenging trek was this image. The government-funded railway line connecting tourist destinations brings economic benefits to Mexico’s southeast, but it also fragments ecosystems, threatens protected reserves and archaeological sites, and impacts Indigenous peoples. While trains are a more environmentally friendly form of transport, conservationists warn of devastating consequences.
Winner, 15-17 Years
Owls’ road house by Carmel Bechler, Israel
Carmel Bechler discovered several barn owls in an abandoned concrete building near a busy road in Hof HaSharon, Israel. Returning to where he had spotted a barn owl the previous year, Carmel and his father used the family car as a hide. He made the most of the natural light and used long exposure times to capture the light trails of passing traffic. Israel has the densest barn-owl population in the world. A national project has provided nesting boxes near agricultural fields, encouraging owls to nest near farmland. Because the owls hunt rodents that eat seeds and crops, this arrangement has reduced the use of pesticides on farms.
Winner, 11-14 Years
Out of the blue by Ekaterina Bee, Italy
Ekaterina Bee shares her intimate encounter with some common bottlenose dolphins. Ekaterina’s trip to the west coast of Scotland was filled with wildlife encounters, but bottlenose dolphins were an unexpected surprise. From the boat she composed this image, which highlights the surface patterns on the water created by the dolphins’ movements.
Common bottlenose dolphins can be found throughout the world’s oceans except in polar regions. Living in small groups, they are highly social animals, and are one of the top marine predators living in Scottish waters.
Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture
Last gasp by Lennart Verheuvel, the Netherlands
Lennart Verheuvel shows the final moments of a beached orca in Cadzand-Bad, Zeeland, the Netherlands. Lying on its side in the surf, this orca had only a short time left to live. Initially rescued, it soon was stranded again on the beach and died. A study later revealed that not only was it severely malnourished, it was also extremely sick.
Research shows that orcas in European waters have the world’s highest concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls. These banned chemicals can persist for many years in marine food webs, weakening immune systems and reducing breeding success in whales, porpoises and dolphins.
Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award
Alpine exposure by Luca Melcarne, France
‘The ice ibex.’ To enable an early ascent into ibex territory, Luca had spent a bitterly cold night in a temporary shelter in the French Alps, having skied for six hours across the natural park. Luca thawed his camera with his breath and took the ibex’s portrait.
Winner, Animal Portraits
Face of the forest by Vishnu Gopal, India
Vishnu Gopal records the moment a lowland tapir steps cautiously out of the swampy Brazilian rainforest. Finding hoofprints on a forest track near his campsite, Vishnu waited nearby. An hour later, the tapir appeared. Using a long exposure and torchlight to capture texture and movement, Vishnu framed the tapir’s side-turned head as it emerged from the forest.
Lowland tapirs rely on the forest for their diet of fruit and other vegetation and in turn the tapirs act as seed dispersers. This important relationship is threatened by habitat loss, illegal hunting and traffic collisions.
The Natural History Museum released the highly commended photographs from this year’s competition last month in anticipation of the awards being announced. These images along with the winning images will be on exhibition in London, UK at the Natural History Museum. To learn more about the exhibit visit the Natural History Museum’s website.