Photography allows us to see and appreciate our planet and the world around us in spectacular fashion. Places that seem far out of our reach become accessible thanks to photographs and, of course, the intrepid photographers who take them. RELATED: See the Winners of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Based in the United Kingdom, Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual contest that celebrates underwater photography, from oceans and lakes to rivers and even swimming pools. The first winner of the competition was named in 1965 and the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 has just been announced. The winner, Kat Zhou from the United States, earned the title out of over 6,000 entries from underwater photographers from 72 countries.

Zhou’s incredible winning photo shows a pink river dolphin breaching the water’s surface in the Amazon River in Brazil. Of the photo, Zhou says: “There’s a legend among locals in the Amazon that river dolphins, or “botos”, can transform into handsome men known as “boto encantado” at night to seduce women. Though I did not witness this elusive boto transformation, at dusk I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way. After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I knew I want a split shot at sunset. Though the water was so dark that I was shooting blind, this dolphin gave me a perfect pose and smile!”

Alex Mustard, who is the chair of the competition judges, said, “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.”

Ollie Clarke, an Englishman who now lives in Australia, was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year for his photo, captured in Ningaloo, Western Australia, titled “The Swarm”, which depicts a whale shark (the largest fish in the world) being swarmed by a bait ball of smaller fish. “Whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef are often accompanied by small groups of fish,” said Clarke. “The fish use the giant shark as a floating shelter. However, this bait-ball was huge with a lot more fish than usual and much denser, so I was really excited to photograph it.”

Spanish photographer Alvaro Herrero was named ‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2023. His emotional photo, ‘Hopeless’, was captured in Mexico, and shows a humpback whale dying of starvation after his tail was broken from getting entangled in ropes and buoys, rendering him unable to swim properly to find food. “Taking this photograph was the saddest moment I’ve experienced in the ocean,” said Herrero. “Especially because I have spent so much time with
humpbacks underwater, experiencing eye contact, interactions, and seeing how the whales are such intelligent and sentient beings. The photo is a reflection of how our oceans are suffering, the product of man’s selfishness and lack of responsibility. But I am, at least, happy that I could capture this moment and can now share it with the world and hopefully drive some real changes.”

Other winners include:

Theo Vickers, Most Promising British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023, for the photo ‘An island’s wild Seas’

Gregory Sherman (United States), Marelux Wide Angle – Winner, for the photo ‘Fade’

Shane Gross (Canada), Marelux Macro – Winner, for the photo ‘Unsung’

Suliman Alatiqi (Kuwait), Portrait – Winner, for the photo ‘The trunk’

Enrico Somogyi (Germany), Compact – Winner, for the photo ‘Klunzinger’s wrasse in motion’

Tony Reed (United Kingdom) British Waters Compact – Winner, for the photo ‘Crack rock blenny’

Visit to see the many other runners-up and highly commended images from the competition.


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