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Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023

Posted on Feb 16, 2023

Amazonian pink dolphin wins Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023

Based in the UK, the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest celebrates the world beneath the surface of our oceans, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. The first winner was named way back in 1965, and today the competition is bigger than ever and attracts entries from around the world. This year, there were over 6000 pictures from 72 countries.

Themes include Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck, with a few focused purely on British waters. The judges include photographers who are well-versed in the underwater scene, like Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

Alongside the ‘Save Our Seas Foundation’, the free-to-enter Marine Conservation Award promotes the protection of life in our oceans. The Foundation has funded around 425 projects in over 85 countries, striving for a deeper understanding of marine research, conservation and education.

Let’s take a look at the winners of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023…



Kat Zhou, USA – ‘Boto Encantado’

The captivating image of a pink river dolphin breaching the surface of the Amazon River has been named the winner.

‘Boto Encantado’, as this river dolphin is known by locals is shrouded in mystery. Locals say that these “river dolphins, or ‘botos’, can transform into handsome men known as ‘botos encantado’ to seduce women’. Though Zhou did not witness the transformation herself, she was still captivated by their beauty. “After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I wanted a split shot at sunset”, she recalls. In even the dark, the dolphin gave her the picture-perfect pose! The result is staggering – the endangered species is framed brilliantly above and below the surface.

Living in closer proximity to humans than ever before, “many river dolphins have been killed for use as fish bait, drowned in gill nets or poisoned by mercury pollution from mining”, Zhou explains, fearing that one day their status will become purely mythical.

Chair of the competition judges, Alex Mustard, commented, “at first glance simple, then simply perfect. In dark, tannic waters, Kat has created a striking composition capturing this rarely photographed and endangered species in a precision composition. This is by far the best image we’ve ever seen of this species, whose numbers are declining at an alarming rate and whose IUCN’s Red List status was worryingly uprated to Endangered in 2019.”

©Kat Zhou/UPY2023
Overall Winner, 'Boto Encantado, ©Kat Zhou/UPY2023


Ollie Clarke, UK – ‘The Swarm’

Ollie’s image depicts a whale shark camouflaged within a bait ball of smaller fish. Captured in Ningaloo, Western Australia, Clarke points out how “the fish use the giant shark as a floating shelter.”

Competition judge, Mustard commented, “whale sharks are sometimes mis-labelled as plankton feeders, but they are also active predators of schools of small fish. To me, Ollie’s stunning image is perfectly timed as the shark pounces, switching from benign escort to hunter, mouth gulping down its prey.”

Winner, 'The Swarm',©Oliver Clarke/UPY2023
Winner, 'The Swarm',©Oliver Clarke/UPY2023


Alvaro Herrero, Spain – ‘Hopeless’

A pensive image, this one shows a starving humpback whale, unable to swim properly after having its tail broken from being entangled in ropes and buoys. “Taking this photograph was the saddest moment I’ve experienced in the ocean”, said Herrero. Spending much of his time amongst humpbacks in the ocean, experiencing eye contact and interactions, Alvaro truly gets to witness the intelligence of the species. “This photo is a reflection of how our oceans are suffering, the product of man’s selfishness and lack of responsibility”, he states, yet he is happy that his image gained recognition and could be influential to future change.

Winner, ''Hopeless', © Alvaro Herrero Lopez/UPY2023
Winner, ''Hopeless', © Alvaro Herrero Lopez/UPY2023


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