A river dolphin, or “boto,” preens just below the water’s surface at dusk in the winning image for this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.
The picture was taken in the Amazon, where local legend has it that, at night, dolphins transform into handsome men, or “botos encantado,” 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, recalled Kat Zhou, the photographer behind the shot. “After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I knew I wanted a split shot at sunset.”
“Though the water was so dark that I was shooting blind, this dolphin gave me a perfect pose and smile!”
Zhou’s picture was chosen from the 6,000-some photographs submitted to the competition from 72 different countries.
“Like a chef reducing his sauce, this powerful image improved with each viewing and saw off the incredibly high-quality images that this competition attracts,” said one of the competition’s three judges, Peter Rowlands.
“At first glance simple, then simply perfect. In dark, tannic waters, Kat has created a striking composition capturing this rarely photographed and vulnerable species at the perfect moment,” echoed another judge, Alex Mustard.
Other winners from the competition include a picture of a whale shark enveloped in a swarm of small fish, which took home the British Underwater Photographer of the Year award; a shot of several stingrays gliding in a line across a sandy seabed off Grand Cayman island, which nabbed the award for wide-angle images; and a sobering photograph of a dying humpback whale tangled in ropes and a buoy, which was selected in the Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation category.
The photog behind the latter image, Alvaro Herrero, called it a “reflection of… our oceans’… suffering” and “the product of man’s selfishness and lack of responsibility.”
“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,” Herrero said. “But I’m ‘happy’ to being able to capture that moment and show the world what is happening, what we are doing.”
See more shortlisted shots from the 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition below.