BY APB Staff on 27 Feb 2024

An emotive photograph showing the aftermath of whaling sees Alex Dawson named Underwater Photographer of the Year.

Alex Dawson Whale Bones

Alex Dawson ‘Whale Bones’ (UPY 2024/Alex Dawson.)

An emotive photograph showing a freediver examining the aftermath of whaling sees Alex Dawson from Sweden named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024.

Dawson’s photograph ‘Whale Bones’ triumphed over 6,500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from around the world.

“Whale Bones was photographed in the toughest conditions,” explains chair of judging panel Alex Mustard, “as a breath-hold diver descends below the Greenland ice sheet to bear witness to the carcasses. The composition invites us to consider our impact on the great creatures of this planet. Since the rise of humans, wild animals have declined by 85 per cent. Today, just 4 per cent of mammals are wildlife, the remaining 96 per cent are humans and our livestock. Our way needs to change to find a balance with nature.”

Rafael Fernandez Caballero 'Grey Whale Connection.

Rafael Fernandez Caballero ‘Grey Whale Connection’. (UPY 2024/Rafael Fernandez Caballero.)

Whales dominated the winning pictures this year, with Spanish photographer Rafael Fernandez Caballero winning two categories with his revealing photos of these ocean giants: ‘Grey Whale Connection’, a close-up of a grey whale’s eye and an action shot of a Bryde’s whale engulfing an entire bait ball, ‘The End Of A Baitball’, both taken in Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico.

Caballero was previously named overall Underwater Photographer of the Year in 2022 for an incredible image of five whale sharks in the Maldives. 

Fernandez Caballero took ‘Grey Whale Connection’ while drifting in a small boat, holding his camera over the side in the water to photograph the curious whale. ‘The End Of A Baitball’ required Fernandez Caballero to dive down and be in exactly the right place at the moment the whale lunged.

The End Of A Baitball. Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2024

Rafael Fernandez Caballero ‘The End Of A Baitball’. (UPY 2024/Rafael Fernandez Caballero).

“The photo shows the high-speed attack,” he says, “with the whale engulfing hundreds of kilograms of sardines in one bite — simply unforgettable to see predation on such a scale.”

Lisa Stengel from the United States was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image Window of Opportunity of a mahi-mahi catching a sardine in Mexico. Stengel used both a very fast shutter speed and her hearing to catch the moment.

“If you listen there’s an enormous amount of sound in the ocean,” she explains. “The action was too fast to see, so I honed in on the sound of the attacks with my camera to capture this special moment.”

Window of Opportunity. Lisa Stengel/UPY 2024

Lisa Stengel ‘Window of Opportunity’. (UPY 2024/Lisa Stengel).

Judge Alex Mustard comments: “It is such an exciting time in underwater photography because photographers are capturing such amazing new images, by visiting new locations and using the latest cameras.

“Until this year I’d hardly ever see a photo of a mahi mahi, now Lisa has photographed one hunting, action that plays out in the blink of an eye.”

The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Jenny Stock was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image Star Attraction, which finds beauty in species of British wildlife that are often overlooked.

Exploring the west coast of Scotland, Stock explains: “In the dark green depths my torch picked out the vivid colours of a living carpet of thousands of brittle stars, each with a different pattern. I was happily snapping away when I spotted this purple sea urchin, and I got really excited.”

Star Attraction. Jenny Stock/UPY 2024

Jenny Stock ‘Star Attraction’ (UPY 2024/Jenny Stock.)

In the same contest, Portuguese photographer Nuno Sá was named ‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2024, with his photo Saving Goliath, taken in Portugal. Sá’s photo shows beachgoers trying to save a stranded sperm whale.

Judges said the picture gives us hope that people do care and want to help the oceans, but it also warns us that bigger changes are needed.

“The whale had been struck by a ship, and its fate was sealed,” explains Sá. “An estimated 20,000 whales are killed every year, and many more injured, after being struck by ships-and few people even realise that it happens.”

Saving Goliath. Nuno Sá/UPY 2024

Nuno Sá ‘Saving Goliath’. (UPY 2024/Nuno Sá.)

Last year, an eye-catching photo of a pink river dolphin breaching the surface of the Amazon river saw Kat Zhou from the United States named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023. 

Zhou’s photograph triumphed over 6,000 pictures entered by underwater photographers from 72 countries.

For more Blue Planet news click here