Whale graveyard under the ice wins the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

Feb 19, 2024

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Whale graveyard under the ice wins the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

Feb 19, 2024

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

A photograph of a free diver examining whale bones under Greenland ice has won the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024. The image was taken by Alex Dawson from Sweden and shot in some of the harshest and most challenging conditions possible.

Whales dominated the competition this year, with Spanish photographer Fernandez Caballero winning two categories with his photos of these ocean giants: a close-up of a grey whale’s eye and an action shot of a Bryde’s whale engulfing an entire bait ball, both taken in Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico.

Here are the breathtaking winning images:

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

‘Whale bones’ – Alex Dawson (Sweden)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Alex Dawson

In eastern Greenland, the local hunters bring their catch and share it amongst themselves. From a stable population of over 100 000 minke whales in the North Atlantic the hunters of Tasiilaq typically take less than a dozen. The whale is pulled up on the beach during high tide and many families gather to cut the skin, blubber and the meat off at low tide. Almost all the whale is consumed, however the skeleton is pulled back into the sea by the next high tide and the remains can be found in shallow waters where various marine invertebrates and fish pick the bones clean.

Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

‘Window of Opportunity’ – Lisa Stengel (United States)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Lisa Stengel

The moment of ambush amidst a blur of evasion! This photo captures the instant of the attack. We spent an exciting week looking for bait balls, which provided many opportunities. The season’s unique water temperatures kept the marlin farther from reach but brought an interesting phenomenon: an unprecedented amount of mahi mahi. I chose not to wear a hood and noticed a distinct noise from the bait ball every time the Mahi would attempt to hit a target. If you listen closely, there’s an enormous amount of sound in the ocean, especially surrounding bait balls. I honed in on the sound of mahi attacks and followed this unmistakable sound with my camera. This technique, coupled with serendipitous conditions, gave me the window of opportunity to capture this special moment.

‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2024

‘Saving Goliath’ – Nuno Sá (Portugal)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Nuno Sá

The golden beaches of Costa da Caparica, just across the river from Lisbon, were packed with sun-seekers on this sunny day. And then something unusual caught their attention on the horizon. A massive sperm whale seemed to be struggling to swim as it slowly moved towards the coast. Soon, its giant wounded body was passing by surfers and swimmers and reaching the shallow waters of the beach. But suddenly, dozens of sun seekers start running towards the whale. Together, they push and chant, trying to help the giant back into the sea as it slowly slaps its tail back and forth, and breathes heavily. Several hours later, the whale takes its last breath, its body crushed by gravity as it lays on the sand. An estimated 20,000 whales are killed every year, and many more are injured after being struck by ships-and few people even realise that it happens.

British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024

‘Star Attraction’ – Jenny Stock (United Kingdom)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Jenny Stock

Loch Leven is a Scottish dive site near Oban that can be easily accessed via a lay-by on the A82. Once there, a walk down a steep leafy track will lead you into the ‘refreshing’ water. As I descended into the dark green depths of the sea loch on a dusk dive, I approached an area where my torch picked out the vivid colours of a living carpet of thousands of brittlestars. Captivated by the variety of hues and patterns each star took, I felt this was an incredible encounter with a species I’d never seen before. I was happily snapping away when I spotted this purple sea urchin, and I got really excited. A dominant star next to this graphic invertebrate created a beautifully balanced pair, perfectly surrounded by an entanglement of the background brittlestars.

Macro

‘An abstract portrait of a Potbelly Seahorse’ – Talia Greis (Australia)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Talia Greis

I was drawn to this particular seahorse because it had especially distinguished markings around the eye, and the jaw-dropping colour palette made a striking contrast with the surrounding coral. Whilst seahorses are not rare on Sydney dive sites, photographing one that can really stand out has always been a dream for me. I chose to open the aperture all the way down to f/3.5, which transformed the coral into an out-of-focus cloud-like effect but also embraced the ominous green waters of Sydney summer diving. To me, the seahorse’s striking red eye and posture convey power and strength arising from the smoky underbelly of the ocean.

Wrecks

‘Chieftain Tanks’ – Martin Broen (United States)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Martin Broen

Together with an amazing group of photographers, I had the honor to be invited to compete in the 1st Aqaba underwater photo competition in Jordan, where a highlight is the underwater military museum. An unusual sight of war machines sunk in 15 to 28 meters of water and stationed along the reefs in tactical battle formation. I wanted to capture the symmetry of the Chieftain Tanks and the strong presence of their 120mm guns, but the position where I could shoot that image with my fish-eye lens was occupied by a military ambulance. Therefore, I experimented with a six-shot panorama from a point between the guns, which allowed me to recreate the virtual position further back and achieve an elegant symmetry of the tanks, supported by the central focal point of my dive buddy in the back.

Behaviour

‘The End Of The Baitball’ – Rafael Fernandez Caballero (Spain)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Rafael Fernandez Caballero

I was fortunate enough to experience this unique spectacle in the open Pacific waters in Magdalena Bay at the end of 2023. Due to the warmer water this year caused by the climate phenomenon “El Niño”, more species than ever joined this hunt. Bait balls of sardines attracted a variety of predators, but the main stars of the show, visiting Baja in perhaps larger numbers than ever, were the Bryde’s whales. They patrolled the waters, searching for bait balls to get their bellies full of hundreds of kilograms of fish. This photo shows the very moment of attack, with the whale’s ventral pleats wide open and filtering the prey from the water using their baleens after engulfing hundreds of kilograms of sardines in one bite — simply unforgettable.

Portrait

‘Grey Whale Connection’ – Rafael Fernandez Caballero (Spain)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Rafael Fernandez Caballero

Encounters with grey whales in Pacific saltwater lagoons are extremely special. Known for their friendly and curious nature, grey whales often approach boats, allowing observers to witness distinctive behaviours like spy-hopping. This photo was taken from the boat, where the whale displayed a friendly gaze toward my camera, resembling a human look of curiosity and innocence. During their migration from the Bering Sea to Baja California, these lagoons serve as crucial havens and winter maternity wards. With only around 1300 grey whales left, responsible practices of ecotourism are key to protecting these giants. These special moments highlight the beauty and intelligence of the whales, creating enduring memories for both observers and, surely, the curious whales themselves.

Black & White

‘Water Dancers’ – Jasmine Skye Smith (Australia)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Jasmine Skye Smith

This image was from a creative shoot from my first underwater portrait exhibition, “Underneath” (held in August 2023). I challenged myself to be outside of my comfort zone and push myself creatively. I approached some girls from the synchronised swimming team to do a shoot, and I booked the heated dive pool as it was our winter. I was expecting to be using the 3m depth side, but at the last minute, they said we would be using the 5m end, which was amazing to play with in such a controlled environment- but also came with the challenge of a slanted edge down the bottom which proved very difficult to keep my black backdrop in place with my usual weights. The two 6x3m backdrops only held in place for a few minutes before coming apart -and this was one of the magical captures in that short window.

Compact

‘Nudi on Fire’ – Enrico Somogyi (Germany)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Enrico Somogyi

This picture of a nudibranch (Hypsolodoris apolegma) with an emperor shrimp on the head was taken in Tulamben. To create the fire-like background, I built a special tool, which took me a long time to get to work. But in the end, I got the picture I was looking for.

British Waters Wide Angle

‘Divebomb’ – Kat Zhou (United States)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Kat Zhou

I took this photo during a trip to dive with Northern Gannets in Shetland. The experience of being amidst dive-bombing gannets is both chaotic and adrenaline-fueled, and it was hard to choose where to aim my camera! I tried to photograph any bird that zoomed by, and I was pleasantly surprised when I later saw how this shot was able to depict the dynamic motion of the experience.

British Waters Living Together

‘Bottled blenny’ – Kirsty Andrews (United Kingdom)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Kirsty Andrews

Butterfly blennies naturally choose abandoned whelk shells as their home, but it seems they can get creative. On the seabed of the river Fal, amongst beautiful pink maerl, many have chosen to use discarded glass bottles as a shelter. Waste not want not.

British Waters Compact

‘Catshark in Bootlace’ – Jon Bunker (United Kingdom)

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 Jon Bunker

The bootlace weed can sometimes completely blanket the pebbles overlooking the reef at Chesil Cove in the summer. Scores of catshark, cuttles, young congers and other nighttime predators patrol this seasonal ‘jungle’ slope, happy to snack on whatever comes their way. This sleepy catshark was, as you can see, unsure of what to make of me, poking its head tentatively through the weed to establish if I was either a threat or food. While it was considering this, I managed to play around with my strobes a little in an attempt to diffuse some of the light through the tresses of early summer algae. My subject let me take three shots before swimming off into the night.

All of the winning entries and runners-up can be seen on the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 website.

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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One response to “Whale graveyard under the ice wins the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024”

  1. Dinala Avatar
    Dinala

    Stunning pictures!