The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, founded in 1965, is an annual international showcase of the best in nature photography. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. This year, the contest attracted nearly 50,000 entries from 92 countries. The owners and sponsors have once again been kind enough to share the following 13 finalists from this year's competition. Their website has images from previous years and more information about the current contest and exhibition. Captions are provided by the photographers and WPY organizers and lightly edited for style.
1.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. 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 Andersson using the soft-light grain of black and white.
2.Saved but caged - A back leg of this six-month-old Sumatran tiger cub was so badly mangled by a snare that it had to be amputated. He was lucky to survive at all, having been trapped for four days before being discovered in a rainforest in Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The likelihood is that the snare was set by oil‑palm plantation workers to catch bushmeat (though tigers are also deliberately snared). The workers are migrants who have been given small plots to grow their own oil palms but who have to work on the big plantations for about five years until their own crops generate a return. To feed their families, they have to hunt, and this cub’s bones would have fetched a good price on the black market. Anti-poaching forest patrols are helping to stem the killing, partly by locating and removing snares (now illegal), which is how this cub came to be rescued. The cub, however, will spend the rest of his life in a cage in a Javan zoo. Today, there are probably more Sumatran tigers in zoos than there are left in the wild.
3.Sewage surfer - Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their delicate prehensile tails. 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. 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 cotton swab. As Hofman, the seahorse, and the cotton swab 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.
4.Bear hug - After fishing for clams at low tide, this mother brown bear was leading her young spring cubs back across the beach to the nearby meadow. But one young cub just wanted to stay and play. It was the moment Scully had been waiting for. She had come to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park intent on photographing the family life of brown bears. This rich estuary environment provides a buffet for bears: grasses in the meadows, salmon in the river, and clams on the shore. A large number of families spend their summers here, and with plentiful food, they are tolerant of each other (though wary of males) and of people. "I fell in love with brown bears," said Scully, "and their personalities ... This young cub seemed to think that it was big enough to wrestle mum to the sand. As always, she played along, firm, but patient." The result is a cameo of brown bear family life.
5.Bold eagle - After several days of constant rain, the bald eagle was soaked to the skin. At Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak Island in Alaska, bald eagles gather to take advantage of the fishing industry’s leftovers. Used to people, the birds are bold. "I laid on my belly on the beach surrounded by eagles," said Klaus Nigge. "I got to know individuals, and they got to trust me." The species was declining dramatically until the 1960s, but reduced persecution, habitat protection and a ban on the pesticide DDT has led to its recovery. "As the eagle edged nearer, picking up scraps, I lowered my head, looking through the camera to avoid direct eye contact." It came so close that it towered over him.
6.Romance among the angels - Photographer Andrey Narchuk was on an expedition to the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East, and his intention on this day was to photograph salmon. But as soon as he jumped into the water, he found himself surrounded by thousands of mating sea angels. Quickly swapping to his macro equipment, he began photographing the pairs, 3 centimeters long and swirling around in the current. It was late summer and peak phytoplankton time, so there would be abundant food for the resulting larvae. To photograph them mating, Narchuk had to battle against strong currents and avoid a wall of gill netting, and when he was swept into the net and his equipment became snared, he was forced to make an emergency ascent, but not before he had got his shot. The following day, there wasn’t a single angel to be seen.
7.Arctic treasure - Carrying its trophy from a raid on a snow goose nest, an Arctic fox heads for a suitable burial spot. This is June and bonanza time for the foxes of Wrangel Island in the Russian Far East. Lemmings are the basic diet for Arctic foxes, but Wrangel suffers long, harsh winters and is ice‑bound for much of the year, making it a permanent source of stored food for these opportunist animals. The food convoys arrive at the end of May. Over just a few days, vast flocks of snow geese descend on the tundra of this remote UNESCO World Heritage Site, traveling from wintering grounds some 4,800 kilometers away in British Columbia and California. The Arctic foxes catch any weak or sick birds, but what they feast on are the goose eggs, laid in early June in open nests on the tundra. Though the pairs of snow geese actively defend their nests, a fox may still manage to steal up to 40 eggs a day, harassing the geese until there’s a chance to nip in and grab an egg. Most of the eggs are then cached, buried in shallow holes in the tundra, where the soil stays as cold as a refrigerator. These eggs will remain edible long after the brief Arctic summer is over and the geese have migrated south again. And when the new generation of young foxes begins to explore, they too will benefit from the hidden treasures.
8.Swim gym - "We were still a few meters from the surface, when I heard the strange noises," said Laurent Ballesta. Suspecting Weddell seals, known for their repertoire of at least 34 different underwater call types, he approached slowly. It was early spring in east Antarctica, and a mother was introducing her pup to the icy water. The world’s most southerly breeding mammal, a Weddell seal gives birth on the ice and takes her pup swimming after a week or two. The pair, undisturbed by Ballesta's presence, slid effortlessly between the sheets of the frozen labyrinth. "They looked so at ease, where I felt so inappropriate," said Ballesta. Relying on light through the ice above, he captured the curious gaze of the pup, the arc of its body mirroring that of its watchful mother.
9.Saguaro twist - A band of ancient giants commands the expansive arid landscape of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument. These emblematic saguaro cacti, up to 200 years old, may tower at more than 12 meters, but are very slow growing, some sprouting upwardly curved branches as they mature. "This one allowed me to get right inside its limbs," Dykinga said. As the gentle dawn light bathed the saguaro’s contorted form, his wide angle revealed its furrowed arms, perfectly framing its neighbors before the distant Sand Tank Mountains.
10.Resplendent delivery - Kastiel watched a pair of resplendent quetzals from dawn to dusk for more than a week as they delivered fruits and the occasional insect or lizard to their two chicks. Resplendent quetzals usually nest in thicker forest, but this pair had picked a tree in a partly logged area in the Costa Rican cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota. The additional light made it easier for Kastiel to catch the iridescent color of the male’s dazzling emerald and crimson body plumage and tail streamers, despite his fast, erratic flight pattern. On the eighth day, the parents fed the chicks at dawn as usual but then didn’t return for several hours. By 10 a.m., the chicks were calling ravenously, and Kastiel began to worry. Then something wonderful happened. The male arrived with a wild avocado in his beak. He landed on a nearby branch, scanned around, and then flew to the nest. But instead of feeding the chicks, he flew back to his branch, the avocado still in his beak. Within seconds, one chick hopped out to the nearest perch and was rewarded. Moments later the female appeared and did exactly the same thing, and the second chick jumped out. The family then flew off together into the rainforest, leaving Kastiel bereft, and thrilled.
11.Glimpse of a lynx - Vilas had seen many of Spain’s wild animals, but never the elusive Iberian lynx, an endangered cat found only in two small populations in southern Spain. Unlike the larger European lynx, the Iberian lynx feeds almost entirely on rabbits. So a disease that wipes out the rabbit population can be catastrophic. Vilas' family traveled to the Sierra de Andújar Natural Park in search of the lynx, and got lucky on their second day, as a pair were relaxing not far from the road. There were many photographers there but an atmosphere of respect. Vilas watched for an hour and a half, the only sound being the whir of cameras if a cat glanced in their direction. "The animals’ attitude surprised me. They weren’t scared of people, they simply ignored us," said Vilas. "I felt so emotional to be so close to them."
12.The insiders - The bulbous tips of the aptly named magnificent anemone’s tentacles contain cells that sting most fish. But the clown anemonefish goes unharmed thanks to mucus secreted over its skin, which tricks the anemone into thinking it is brushing against itself. While diving in the Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Lin noticed something strange about this particular cohabiting group. Each anemonefish had an extra pair of eyes inside its mouth—those of a parasitic isopod (a crustacean related to woodlice). An isopod enters a fish as a larva, via its gills, moves to the fish’s mouth and attaches with its legs to the base of the tongue. As the parasite sucks its host’s blood, the tongue withers, leaving the isopod attached in its place, where it may remain for several years. With great patience and a little luck, as the fish darted around unpredictably, Lin captured these three rather curious individuals momentarily lined up, eyes front, mouths open and parasites peeping out.
13.The power of the matriarch - At dusk, in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, Lloyd waited for a herd of elephants on their evening trek to a waterhole. As they got closer to his vehicle, he could see that the mellow light from the fast-setting sun was emphasizing every wrinkle and hair. For a photographer who enjoys working with texture, this was a gift. When they were just a few meters away, he could see the different qualities of different parts of their bodies, the deep ridges of their trunks, the mud-caked ears, and the patina of dried dirt on their tusks. The elephants ambled by in near silence, peaceful and relaxed. The female leading the dozen-strong herd, probably the matriarch, looked straight at him, her eye a glowing amber dot in the heavy folds of skin. Her gaze was, he said, full of respect and intelligence, the essence of sentience.