APOLAR bear and her cub, herring gulls feeding, fish with four eyes (two in their mouth) and a red fox with its head buried in the snow, just some of the stars of the 53rd Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition, which opens at the National Museum of Scotland today.
The world-renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, on loan from the Natural History Museum in London, takes over the museum’s largest exhibition gallery for the only Scottish date of its tour.
The most prestigious photography event of its kind, the annual competition has been showcasing the natural world’s most astonishing and challenging sights for over 50 years.
Chosen for their creativity, originality and technical excellence, just 361 entries were received when the challenge was launched in 1965, in 2017 there were almost 50,000 from 92 different countries.
Dr Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland, says, “We are thrilled the National Museum of Scotland will host the 53rd Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.
“These captivating images offer visitors new perspectives on the wonders of the natural world, and are as arresting as they are beautiful.”
The exhibition features the best of the 2017 entries displayed on large backlit panels where visitors can learn how the photographers captured their shots, and come face-to-face with some of nature’s most astonishing sights.
On display will be 100 extraordinary images celebrating the diversity of the natural world, from intimate animal portraits to astonishing wild landscapes.
We’ve chosen eight of our favourites to whet your appetite.
One of the most striking images is a finalist in the Behaviour: Mammals category.
“We were still a few metres from the surface, when I heard the strange noises,’ says photographer Laurent Ballesta.
Suspecting seals, he approached slowly... it was early spring in east Antarctica, and a mother was introducing her pup to the icy water.
The pair, unbothered by Laurent’s presence, slid effortlessly between the sheets of the frozen labyrinth.
“They looked so at ease, where I felt so inappropriate,” says Laurent.
Relying on light through the ice above, he captured the curious gaze of the pup, the arc of its body mirroring that of its watchful mother.
Another aquatic entry, The Insiders, by Qing Lin, was a finalist in the Under Water category and tells an extraordinary tale .
The tips of the 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 Indonesia, Qing noticed something strange - 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 to the base of the tongue.
As the parasite sucks its host’s blood, the tongue withers, leaving the isopod attached in its place.
With great patience and a little luck Qing captured these three rather curious individuals momentarily lined up, eyes front, mouths open and parasites peeping out.
There’s a touch of humour in some of the winning choices too. Ashleigh Scully’s Stuck In finds a female red fox hunting, bottom up, in deep snow blanketing the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.
Winner of the 11-14 years old category, Ashleigh captured the shot from the back of the family car, her camera lens resting on a beanbag.
She says, “It was funny to see but also humbling to observe how hard the fox had to work to find a meal. I really wanted her to be successful.”
Unfortunately, she wasn’t. But then the image, says Ashleigh, “illustrates the harsh reality of winter life in Yellowstone.”
Many of the images also carry a more serious message as Justin Hofman, finalist in the The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Single Image category highlights.
His beautiful image of a seahorse and a cotton bud, has a sinister title, Sewage Surfer.
Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their tails.
Justin watched as this tiny estuary seahorse “almost hopped” from one bit of bouncing natural debris to the next.
As the tide came in, the mood changed. The water contained ever more unnatural objects.
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 cotton bud.
MEMORIAL TO A SPECIES
The most tragic shot in the competition, however, is Brent Stirton’s devastating Grand Title Winner, which depicts the murder of a black rhino.
The killers entered the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve at night and shot the black rhino bull using a silencer.
Working fast, they hacked off the two horns and escaped before being discovered by the reserve’s patrol.
For the photographer, the crime scene was one of more than 30 he visited in the course of covering this tragic story.
THE GOOD LIFE
Lifting the mood, Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner Daniel Nelson’s mischievous The Good Life captures Caco, a nine-year-old Silverback gorilla in the forest of Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo.
In his portrait, in which Caco is about to feast on his African breadfruit, Daniel captured the inextricable similarity between these wild apes and humans and the importance of the forest on which they depend.
THE INCUBATOR BIRD
Most birds incubate their eggs with their bodies. Not so the Australian brush turkey, one of a handful of birds (megapodes) that do it with an oven.
Only the males oversee incubation. In this case, a male had chosen to create his nest‑mound near photographer Gerry Pearce’s home in Sydney.
Winner of the Behaviour: Birds category, Gerry spent four months watching the male and his mound, every day from dawn.
After seven weeks, and despite egg raids by a large lace monitor lizard, at least a quarter of the 20 or so eggs hatched.
THE POWER OF THE MATRIARCH
At dusk, in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, David Lloyd, a finalist in the Animal Portraits category waited for a herd of elephants on their evening trek to a water hole.
As they got closer to his vehicle, he could see that the mellow light from the fast-setting sun was emphasizing every wrinkle and hair.
For a photographer who enjoys working with texture, this was a gift.
The female leading the dozen-strong herd, probably the matriarch, looked straight at him, her eye a glowing amber dot in the heavy folds of skin.
Her gaze was, he says, full of respect and intelligence, the essence of sentience.
Don’t miss these and the many more images that capture the majesty and fragility of the planet’s animals at the National Museum of Scotland until the end of April. Animal magic, if ever there was such a thing.
53rd Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, until 29 April, £8, children under 16 free