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Sewage Surfer and other stories

Wildlife Photographer 2017

Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their delicate prehensile tails. Photographer Justin Hofman watched with delight as this tiny estuary seahorse “almost hopped” from one bit of bouncing natural debris to the next, bobbing around near the surface on a reef near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. But as the tide started to come in, the mood changed. The water contained more and more decidedly unnatural objects — mainly bits of plastic — and a film of sewage sludge covered the surface, all sluicing towards the shore. The seahorse let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a long, wispy piece of clear plastic.

As a brisk wind at the surface picked up, making conditions bumpier, the seahorse took advantage of something that offered a more stable raft: a waterlogged plastic cottonbud. Not having a macro lens for the shot ended up being fortuitous, both because of the strengthening current and because it meant that Justin decided to frame the whole scene, sewage bits and all. As Justin, the seahorse and the cottonbud spun through the ocean together, waves splashed into Justin’s snorkel. The next day, he fell ill. Indonesia has the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity but is second only to China as a contributor to marine plastic debris – debris forecast to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. On the other hand, Indonesia has pledged to reduce by 70 per cent the amount of waste it discharges into the ocean.

Together with other wonderful and touching shots, Sewage Surfer is a finalist of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017. Founded in 1965, the competition is an annual international showcase of the best in nature photography, developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. This year, the contest attracted nearly 50,000 entries from 92 countries.

Winter Pause // The red squirrel closed its eyes for just a moment, paws together, fur fluffed, then resumed its search for food. Winter is a tough time for northern animals. Some hibernate to escape its rigors, but not red squirrels. Andersson walks every day in the forest near his home in southern Sweden, often stopping to watch the squirrels foraging in the spruce trees. Though their mainly vegetarian diet is varied, their winter survival is linked to a good crop of spruce cones, and they favor woodland with conifers. They also store food to help see them through lean times. On this cold, February morning, the squirrel’s demeanor encapsulated the spirit of winter, captured by Andersson using the soft-light grain of black and white. © Mats Andersson

Bold Eagle // After several days of constant rain, the bald eagle was soaked to the skin. At Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak Island in Alaska, bald eagles gather to take advantage of the fishing industry’s leftovers. Used to people, the birds are bold. “I laid on my belly on the beach surrounded by eagles,” said Klaus Nigge. “I got to know individuals, and they got to trust me.” The species was declining dramatically until the 1960s, but reduced persecution, habitat protection and a ban on the pesticide DDT has led to its recovery. “As the eagle edged nearer, picking up scraps, I lowered my head, looking through the camera to avoid direct eye contact.” It came so close that it towered over him. © Klaus Nigge

The Insiders // The bulbous tips of the aptly named magnificent anemone’s tentacles contain cells that sting most fish. But the clown anemonefish goes unharmed thanks to mucus secreted over its skin, which tricks the anemone into thinking it is brushing against itself. While diving in the Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Lin noticed something strange about this particular cohabiting group. Each anemonefish had an extra pair of eyes inside its mouth — those of a parasitic isopod, a crustacean related to woodlice. An isopod enters a fish as a larva, via its gills, moves to the fish’s mouth and attaches with its legs to the base of the tongue. As the parasite sucks its host’s blood, the tongue withers, leaving the isopod attached in its place, where it may remain for several years. With great patience and a little luck, as the fish darted around unpredictably, Lin captured these three rather curious individuals momentarily lined up, eyes front, mouths open and parasites peeping out. © Qing Lin

Saguaro Twist // A band of ancient giants commands the expansive arid landscape of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument. These emblematic saguaro cacti, up to 200 years old, may tower at more than 12 meters, but are very slow growing, some sprouting upwardly curved branches as they mature. “This one allowed me to get right inside its limbs,” Dykinga said. As the gentle dawn light bathed the saguaro’s contorted form, his wide angle revealed its furrowed arms, perfectly framing its neighbors before the distant Sand Tank Mountains. © Jack Dykinga

Bear Hug // After fishing for clams at low tide, this mother brown bear was leading her young spring cubs back across the beach to the nearby meadow. But one young cub just wanted to stay and play. It was the moment Scully had been waiting for. She had come to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park intent on photographing the family life of brown bears. This rich estuary environment provides a buffet for bears: grasses in the meadows, salmon in the river, and clams on the shore. A large number of families spend their summers here, and with plentiful food, they are tolerant of each other (though wary of males) and of people. “I fell in love with brown bears,” said Scully, “and their personalities … This young cub seemed to think that it was big enough to wrestle mum to the sand. As always, she played along, firm, but patient.” The result is a cameo of brown bear family life. © Ashleigh Scully

Saved but Caged // A back leg of this six month old Sumatran tiger cub was so badly mangled by a snare that it had to be amputated. He was lucky to survive at all, having been trapped for four days before being discovered in a rainforest in Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The likelihood is that the snare was set by oil‑palm plantation workers to catch bushmeat — though tigers are also deliberately snared. The workers are migrants who have been given small plots to grow their own oil palms but who have to work on the big plantations for about five years until their own crops generate a return. To feed their families, they have to hunt, and this cub’s bones would have fetched a good price on the black market. Anti-poaching forest patrols are helping to stem the killing, partly by locating and removing snares — now illegal —, which is how this cub came to be rescued. The cub, however, will spend the rest of his life in a cage in a Javan zoo. Today, there are probably more Sumatran tigers in zoos than there are left in the wild. © Steve Winter

Romance among the Angels // Photographer Andrey Narchuk was on an expedition to the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East, and his intention on this day was to photograph salmon. But as soon as he jumped into the water, he found himself surrounded by thousands of mating sea angels. Quickly swapping to his macro equipment, he began photographing the pairs, 3 centimeters long and swirling around in the current. It was late summer and peak phytoplankton time, so there would be abundant food for the resulting larvae. To photograph them mating, Narchuk had to battle against strong currents and avoid a wall of gill netting, and when he was swept into the net and his equipment became snared, he was forced to make an emergency ascent, but not before he had got his shot. The following day, there wasn’t a single angel to be seen. © Andrey Narchuk

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