Underwater photo competition showcases stunning images of marine life


Diving northern gannets

Kat Zhou/UPY 2024

Snowy-white northern gannets (Morus bassanus) plunge into icy waters off the Shetland Islands in Scotland in search of food in this action-packed photograph. The seabirds are almost as big as an albatross, with a wingspan of up to 180 centimetres. They are also uniquely adapted to high-speed diving, with strong neck muscles and nostrils inside their bills that can be closed to prevent water entering.

The shot was one of the most spectacular in the 2024 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition, which celebrates the wonders of the marine world. Here are some of New Scientist’s top picks from the many entries.

Virgo wreck near Recife, Brazil

Fabi Fregonesi/UPY 2024

In this photo by Fabiana Fregonesi, a school of fish swarm around a wreck, forming a shape resembling a boat’s sail for a fleeting moment. The vessel, called Virgo, was deliberately sunk in 2017 to become a dive site near Recife, Brazil.

“The feeling I had at the time was that the ship was ready to set sail, beginning its journey towards an unknown adventure,” Fregonesi said in a statement.

The eye of a grey whale

Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2024

The eye of an eastern grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) pierces this mysterious shot taken from just above the surface of a saltwater lagoon in west Mexico. These marine giants are friendly creatures, often showing their curiosity by approaching boats. The whales make one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal – from summer feeding grounds in the Arctic southwards along the west coast of North America to the warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico.

An octopus ringed by a pyrosome

Dennis Corpuz/UPY 2024

In stark contrast to the gigantic grey whale, this 10-centimetre-wide organism was captured up close in deep waters off the Philippines. The circular subject of the image is a pyrosome – a colonial animal that is made up of hundreds or thousands of minuscule individuals called zooids. Enveloped inside the bizarre pyrosome is a little octopus, just peeking out.

A diving cormorant

Jon Anderson/UPY 2024

This ravenous cormorant makes a beeline towards photographer Jon Anderson’s camera, after mistaking it for a fish. The extraordinary image was taken in a kelp forest at a dive site in Monterey, California, during a bright summer afternoon. Many cormorant species rely on these special marine ecosystems to survive; however, local kelp forests have declined 80 per cent in the past decade.

A stranded sperm whale

Nuno Sá/UPY 2024

Dozens of beachgoers in southern Portugal attempt to save a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) in this incredible aerial shot.

“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,” said photographer Nuno Sá in a statement. Despite their best efforts, the whale died several hours after beaching – crushed under its own weight without the support of water.

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