Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition
"Elephant in the room" by Adam Oswell from Australia won in the Photojournalism category. In this photo, zoo visitors watch a young elephant perform underwater. The performance was promoted as educational for humans, and a workout for the elephants, which gave Oswell a look into the increased and exploitative elephant tourism in Thailand. Photo: Adam Oswell

Explosive Underwater Group Se​​x And Other Intense Moments In Wildlife Around The World

Check out the wildest photos from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 competition.
Pallavi Pundir
Delhi, IN
October 18, 2021, 10:55am

For five years, French biologist and underwater photographer Laurent Ballesta and his team visited and revisited the dark, quiet lagoon of Fakarava in French Polynesia, South Pacific Ocean. 

They spent roughly 3,000 hours diving just to watch a group of fish have sex. The otherwise ordinary-looking species of fish called the “camouflage grouper” has a unique mating ritual. Under the light of the full moon each July, they mate in groups, and the male and female fish each release a cloud of sperm or eggs.  

“This event only happens once a year, and lasts less than half an hour,” Ballesta told VICE. 

In one such trip, the groupers converged, and a dramatic cloud of eggs exploded from the mating. “I have photographed them for five years in a row but never like this one,” he added. On his Instagram, he observed: “The dark waters of the night soon [became] milky white.” He went on to aptly title the photograph: “Creation.” 

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Creation" by Laurent Ballesta won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021. Photo: Laurent Ballesta

This stunning image just won the Grand Prize in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, organised by London’s Natural History Museum. The competition is considered one of the world’s largest and most prestigious spaces for wildlife photography, and has been running for 57 years. Every year, it rewards photographers in 19 categories, such as animal behaviour, plants, and animal portraits, followed by a touring exhibition across the world. 

Ballesta said that the moment in which he captured the stunning image came and went in a split second. “It happens so fast that you can’t see it with the naked eye,” he said. “During these dives at night, everything is dark, 700 sharks are hunting at the same time, and the groupers are mating in a fraction of a second. The only thing I could think about was to trigger my camera and hope for the best.”

Rosamund Kidman Cox, the chair of the judging panel, described the image as “surprising, energetic, intriguing and [with] an otherworldly beauty.” In a statement provided to VICE, she said, “It also captures the magical moment – a truly explosive creation of life – leaving the tail-end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.” 

Ballesta said that the “question mark shape” of the cloud of eggs is unique, even symbolic. 


“I see it as a symbol: that of the uncertainties hanging over the future of global biodiversity, even in places as unspoiled as the Fakarava Reserve,” he said. 

Ballesta’s photo of the mating groupers is one of 50,000 entries from 95 countries, and among 19 category winners this year. 

Dr Doug Gurr, the director of the Natural History Museum, said that these visuals are significant in a year that is pivotal for the planet as countries across the world pledge to protect biodiversity. He added that the capture of the near-threatened fish species by Ballesta is a “compelling reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not address humanity’s impact on our planet.”

Here are some other photos from the awards.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Spinning the cradle" by Gil Wizen won an award in the Behaviour: Invertebrates category. In this photo, Wizen captured a fishing spider stretching out silk from its spinnerets to weave into its egg sac. Photo: Gil Wizen

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Road to Ruin" by Javier Lafuente from Spain is the winner in the Wetlands - The Bigger Picture category. Lafuente shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of the wetland landscape. Photo: Javier Lafuent

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Face-off, from Cichlids of Planet Tanganyika" by Angel Fitor won the Portfolio Award. In this, two male cichlid fish fight jaw-to-jaw over a snail shell. Inside, is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks, Fitor monitored the lake bed looking for such disputes. The biting and pushing lasts until the weaker fish gives way. This struggle was over in seconds but lasted just long enough for Angel to get his winning shot. Photo: Angel Fitor.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"High-flying Jay" by Lasse Kurkela from Finland won in Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year (15-17 Years) category. Here, Kurkela watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food. Photo: Lasse Kurkela

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Nursery Meltdown" by Jennifer Hayes won in the Oceans: The Bigger Picture category. Hayes captured this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. Photo: Jennifer Hayes

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Rich Reflections" by Justin Gilligan from Australia won in the Plants and Fungi category. Here's a reflection of a marine ranger among the seaweed. Seaweeds are getting increasingly impacted by climate change. Photo: Justin Gilligan

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"The Healing Touch from Community Care" by Brent Stirton from South Africa won in the Photojournalist Story Award category. Stirton profiled a rehabilitation centre caring for chimpanzees orphaned by bushmeat trade. Photo: Brent Stirton

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Dome Home" by Vidyun R Hebbar from India won in the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year (10 Years and Under) category. Here, Hebbar captured a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by. Photo: Vidyun R Hebbar

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, wild, competition

"Reflection" by Majed Ali won in the Animal Portraits category. Majed trekked four hours to meet Kibande, an almost-40- year-old mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas are endangered due to habitat loss, poaching and diseases. Here, Kibande is seen enjoying the rain. Photo: Majed Ali

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