'Luminescent' image of horseshoe crab gliding across the bottom of the sea wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year as entrants showcase the beauty of our natural world

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  • Laurent Ballesta is the first person to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year twice in its 59-year history

A beautiful and bizarre portrait of a tri-spine horseshoe crab gently cruising along the bottom of the Pacific Ocean has helped a French man win the coveted title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year for a landmark second time.

The international contest run by the Natural History Museum sees entries showcasing some of the most spectacular images of the natural world – captured in brilliant high definition and colour.

Laurent Ballesta, an underwater photographer and marine biologist, found the horseshoe crab – which dates from prehistoric times – in the waters of Pangatalan Island in the Philippines. 

It is accompanied in the winning shot by three dazzlingly bright golden trevally fish, who seem to happily trail above the deep sea creature, which leaves clouds of sand in its wake.

Other entries saw Bertie Gregory from the UK depict a pod of orcas surrounding a Weddell seal on a patch of melting ice in Antarctica, while Mike Korostelev, from Russia, pictured a hippopotamus and her cubs resting underwater in the azure clear water lake at Kosi Bay, South Africa.

A dramatic shot of two Nubian ibex launching their horns in mid-air surrounded by the mountains of the Zin Desert was taken by Amit Eshel from Israel.

Laurent Ballesta, an underwater photographer and marine biologist from France, has won the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize after capturing this image of a horseshoe crab in the waters of Pangatalan Island in the Philippines

Laurent Ballesta, an underwater photographer and marine biologist from France, has won the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize after capturing this image of a horseshoe crab in the waters of Pangatalan Island in the Philippines

'Whales making waves', a pod of orcas as they prepare to 'wave wash' a Weddell seal at Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, by Bertie Gregory, from the UK

‘Whales making waves’, a pod of orcas as they prepare to ‘wave wash’ a Weddell seal at Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, by Bertie Gregory, from the UK

'Hippo nursery', a hippopotamus and her two offspring resting in the shallow clear-water lake at Kosi Bay, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa, by Mike Korostelev, from Russia

‘Hippo nursery’, a hippopotamus and her two offspring resting in the shallow clear-water lake at Kosi Bay, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa, by Mike Korostelev, from Russia

'Life on the edge', of two Nubian ibex at Zin Desert, Israel, by Amit Eshel, from Israel

‘Life on the edge’, of two Nubian ibex at Zin Desert, Israel, by Amit Eshel, from Israel

'Alpine exposure', of an ibex in snow at the Vercors Regional Natural Park, Rhone-Alpes, France by Luca Melcarne, from France

‘Alpine exposure’, of an ibex in snow at the Vercors Regional Natural Park, Rhone-Alpes, France by Luca Melcarne, from France

'Silence for the snake show', of grey-winged trumpeters watching a boa slither past at Guiana Space Center, between Kourou and Sinnamary, French Guiana, by Hadrien Lalague, from France

‘Silence for the snake show’, of grey-winged trumpeters watching a boa slither past at Guiana Space Center, between Kourou and Sinnamary, French Guiana, by Hadrien Lalague, from France

Kath Moran, chairwoman of the judging panel, described the winning photo as ‘luminescent’.

She said: ‘To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat, in such a hauntingly beautiful way, was astonishing.

‘We are looking at an ancient species, highly endangered, and also critical to human health.’

Mr Ballesta is only the second person to have won the competition twice in its 59 year history.

His first award was in 2021 for a shot of camouflage grouper fish in a swirl of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia.

The Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award went to Carmel Bechler from Israel, for snapping several barn owls in a hollowed-out concrete building by a roadside.

He used his family’s car as a hide with long exposure times to capture the light trails of passing traffic.

The 17-year-old said: ‘I hope to share with my photography that the beauty of the natural world is all around us, even in places where we least expect it to be – we just need to open our eyes and our minds.’

The winning photographs were selected from 49,957 original entries from 95 countries and were announced at an awards ceremony in South Kensington on Tuesday.

Among the 17 other category winners was a beached orca in the Netherlands photographed by Lennart Verheuvel which was later found to be malnourished and sick, likely from PCB contamination.

'The wall of wonder', of an ornamental tree trunk spider prevents its prey from escaping at Nallur Heritage Tamarind Grove, Karnataka, India, by Vihaan Talya Vikas, from India

‘The wall of wonder’, of an ornamental tree trunk spider prevents its prey from escaping at Nallur Heritage Tamarind Grove, Karnataka, India, by Vihaan Talya Vikas, from India

'The tadpole banquet', of toad tadpoles feast on a dead fledgling sparrow at Ojen, Malaga, Spain, by Juan Jesus Gonzalez Ahumada, from Spain

‘The tadpole banquet’, of toad tadpoles feast on a dead fledgling sparrow at Ojen, Malaga, Spain, by Juan Jesus Gonzalez Ahumada, from Spain

'Owls' road house', at Hof HaSharon, Israel, by 17-year-old Carmel Bechler, from Israel, won the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize

‘Owls’ road house’, at Hof HaSharon, Israel, by 17-year-old Carmel Bechler, from Israel, won the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize

Face of the forest', of a lowland tapir in Tapirai, Sao Paulo, Brazil, India, by Vishnu Gopal, from India

Face of the forest’, of a lowland tapir in Tapirai, Sao Paulo, Brazil, India, by Vishnu Gopal, from India

'Lights fantastic', of a night sky and a forest illuminated with fireflies at Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India, by Sriram Murali, from India

‘Lights fantastic’, of a night sky and a forest illuminated with fireflies at Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India, by Sriram Murali, from India

The unprotected', contestants lining up to have their bobcats weighed in the March 2022 West Texas Big Bobcat Contest, by Karine Aigner, from the US

The unprotected’, contestants lining up to have their bobcats weighed in the March 2022 West Texas Big Bobcat Contest, by Karine Aigner, from the US

'Last gasp', of a beached orca at Cadzand-Bad, Zeeland, the Netherlands by Lennart Verheuvel, from the Netherlands

‘Last gasp’, of a beached orca at Cadzand-Bad, Zeeland, the Netherlands by Lennart Verheuvel, from the Netherlands

'Birds of the midnight sun', of kittiwake chicks illuminated in an abandoned factory at Vardo, Troms og Finnmark, Norway, by Knut-Sverre Horn, from Norway

‘Birds of the midnight sun’, of kittiwake chicks illuminated in an abandoned factory at Vardo, Troms og Finnmark, Norway, by Knut-Sverre Horn, from Norway

'The dead river', he polluted Ciliwung river winding through Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, by Joan de la Malla, from Spain

‘The dead river’, he polluted Ciliwung river winding through Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, by Joan de la Malla, from Spain

'The art of courtship', of a gannet pair at Noss National Nature Reserve, Shetland, by Rachel Bigsby, from the UK

‘The art of courtship’, of a gannet pair at Noss National Nature Reserve, Shetland, by Rachel Bigsby, from the UK

'The tourism bulldozer', of the path of a new cross-country tourist railway line at Paamul, Quintana Roo, Mexico, by Fernando Constantino Martinez Belmar, from Mexico

‘The tourism bulldozer’, of the path of a new cross-country tourist railway line at Paamul, Quintana Roo, Mexico, by Fernando Constantino Martinez Belmar, from Mexico

'Last breath of autumn', of a fungus releasing its spores in the forest at Mount Olympus, Pieria, Greece, by Agorastos Papatsanis, from Greece

‘Last breath of autumn’, of a fungus releasing its spores in the forest at Mount Olympus, Pieria, Greece, by Agorastos Papatsanis, from Greece

Horseshoe crabs have survived for more than 100 million years, but they now face habitat destruction and overfishing as they are caught for food and for their blue blood, which is used in vaccines.

Poisoning from this industrial chemical is common in European waters despite the chemical being banned decades ago. Its unique properties mean it builds up through the food chain.

Agorastos Papatsanis revealed how the parasol mushroom releases its spores for them to drift on air currents in search of new places to grow in his home country of Greece, on Mount Olympus, capturing the colourful refraction of light through the rain.

An illuminated forest in Tamil Nadu, India, won the Behaviour: Invertebrates award, with Sriram Murali showcasing how fireflies attract mates by combining 50 exposures of 19 seconds with 16 minutes of the beetles’ bioluminescence.

Two Nubian ibex locking horns in a cliff-side clash in Israel was captured by Amit Eshel as he crept up to the battling males, which ram their heads together during the mating season in a competition of physical prowess.

Dr Doug Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, said: ‘Whilst inspiring absolute awe and wonder, this year’s winning images present compelling evidence of our impact on nature – both positive and negative.

‘Global promises must shift to action to turn the tide on nature’s decline.’

Next year, the Natural History Museum will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award with new prizes and waiver fees for more than 100 countries. Submissions are open from October 16.







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