The winners of the 2021 BigPicture Natural World Photography contest have been announced. Held annually by the California Academy of Sciences and now in its eighth year, the winning photographs are fascinating, thought provoking, beautiful and disturbing.
The competition is centred largely around conservation and humans’ impact on the environment. The 2021 contest entries show the profound changes to the planet in recent months alone by documenting the desolate landscape following Australian bushfires and a disposable face mask floating off the coast of California.
Following are the winning shots and the finalists, together with text and photographer bios, from the competition’s site at:
Hope in a Burned Plantation
Iconic Australia is captured in this particular moment as a resilient kangaroo pauses in a burned eucalyptus plantation. Nearly three billion animals perished or were displaced in the cataclysmic Australian bushfires of 2019 and 2020. This eastern grey kangaroo and her joey represent the lucky survivors, escaping from an area that had been transformed by humans for farming and then devastated by fire.
Jo-Anne McArthur is an award-winning photojournalist and the founder of We Animals Media. For almost two decades, she has traveled during a large part of each year to document the plight of animals on all seven continents and share their stories worldwide. She has authored three books and was the subject of a documentary, The Ghosts in Our Machine.
AQUATIC LIFE WINNER:
The photographer swam with this battery of barracuda in the Blue Corner for four days, looking for the perfect angle. At the end of a 50-minute dive on his fifth day, the fish allowed him to swim among them as part of the school and he captured this fisheye view. On the sixth day, he joined the fish without his camera.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Yung-Sen Wu is a self-taught photographer originally from Keelung City, Taiwan. Although he specializes in macro underwater photography, his curiosity about underwater techniques motivated him to achieve this unique perspective.
Other finalists in this category:
Joseph Platko | Marina, United States
Monterey, United States
This smack of jellyfish was one of the largest and densest the photographer had ever encountered. To get this photo without disturbing them, the photographer freedove and took advantage of unusually clear waters devoid of summer algal blooms—which typically coincide with the invasion of Monterey Bay by Pacific sea nettles.
Amos Nachoum | Pacific Grove, United States
Pleneau Island, Antarctic Peninsula
The young gentoo penguin jumped into the lagoon to play during low tide, and was ambushed by the leopard seal, which had been lying in wait.
Marek Jackowski | Poznań, Poland
Treasure on Ice
As the disappearance of sea ice due to climate change becomes more evident, polar bears are rapidly losing their habitat. At dusk, this lucky male settled down on a small iceberg—a refuge for the night.
Andy Schmid | Kleindöttingen, Switzerland
Orcas Under the Arctic Sun
Drawn to the fjord in search of herring that shelter from the open ocean each winter, this curious but protective orca mother allowed the photographer to swim nearby during the single hour that the sun shines through the fjord and into the water in mid-November.
Mike Korostelev | Moscow, Russia
Private Moment of Milk Feeding
A pod of sperm whales tolerated the photographer’s proximity long enough for him to catch one of the mothers nursing her baby, almost at the water’s surface. Not so easy to hold your breath and drink at the same time—for the baby whale, that is.
Cristina Mittermeier | Nanoose Bay, Canada
Crabeater Ice Palace
Crabeater seals lounged on an Antarctic iceberg as the photographer passed by on an inflatable boat. This expedition photograph was created as an argument for the protection of the Antarctic Peninsula—where billions of tons of sea ice have been lost—as the largest sanctuary on Earth.
TERRESTIAL WILDLIFE WINNER:
Great Bear Rainforest, Canada
This spirit bear, one of only a few hundred white bears in this subspecies of black bears in the coastal rainforests of British Columbia, is known by the name “Boss.” After lowering his head into the river in search of salmon roe, he pulled his head up and shook, droplets spiralling around his head, looked at the photographer for a split second, and then plunged back into the water for his meal.
Michelle Valberg has travelled to every continent in search of adventure and photographic opportunities for more than 30 years, and is especially passionate about Canada and the Arctic. She is a Nikon Ambassador, philanthropist, and community leader, has published four books, and is the first Canadian Geographic Photographer-in-Residence
Other finalists in this category:
Come High Water
Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, United States
"Come hell or high water" is a common southeastern saying that implies perseverance in the face of difficulties. This mother raccoon appears to be rescuing her baby from a flooded nest after a heavy rain in late October, in one of the handful of remaining old growth swamps in the southeastern United States.
Petr Bambousek | Pribram, Czech Republic
Boca Tapada, Costa Rica
Leafcutter ants (genus Atta) carry leaves and other plant parts to nourish the fungus gardens in their underground nests—which they harvest to feed themselves and their young. The dance-like movement is highlighted by skilful exposure techniques on the ant delivering its unusually colored leaf.
Ayala Fishaimer | Gane Tal, Israel
Judean Foothills, Israel
An Arabian red fox cub emerging from its den sniffed a shrew out of the sand and began playing with it. For a brief moment, the hapless shrew appeared to be asking the fox to spare its life.
Jagdeep Rajput | Delhi, India
Corbett National Park, India
This herd of Asian elephants had just arrived from an adjoining national park. Demonstrating both their right of way and their social behavior, the elephants marched slowly in formation, creating a protective front row that kept the young ones safe in the middle.
Lung-Tsai Wang | Taichung City, Taiwan
Unspecified mountains, Taiwan
The birth of dozens of lynx spiders is followed by two days of cannibalism until only one spider remains. This mesmerizing spectacle of the ultimate sibling rivalry can be observed annually in the mountains of Taiwan.
Vladimir Cech Jr. | Horšovský Týn, Czech Republic
Doupov Mountains, Czech Republic
The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is rare, elusive, and difficult to photograph. After studying the area for several months, the photographer caught this image with a homemade DSLR camera trap, built in his photo studio in the forest.
To be continued