Pink dolphin portrait is the world's best underwater photograph

Underwater Photographer of the Year
'The Swarm' (Image credit: Oliver Clarke / UPY2023)

The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition attracts thousands of entries each year, and showcases some absolutely stunning results from photographers all over the world, with 12 diverse categories to enter. 

Sea creatures captured in their natural habitats can make for some remarkable viewpoints that we seldom get to see, and a chance to connect with the underwater world in new ways through the power of photography. 

• Take your own underwater photographs with the best waterproof cameras (opens in new tab)

Photographer Kat Zhou from the US has been awarded the prestigious title of Underwater Photographer of the Year (opens in new tab) for her stunning image of a pink river dolphin emerging from the water, with a sunset background, titled Boto Encantado (below)  Interestingly, this phrase in mythology relates to traditional Amazon River folklore about a dolphin shapeshifter who at night transforms into a handsome young man.

River dolphins (botos) are an endangered species, and as Zhou explains, "Many river dolphins have been killed for use as fish bait, drowned in gill nets, or poisoned by mercury pollution from mining. I fear that one day botos will truly become no more than mythical creatures.

Boto encantado – Overall winner and Up and Coming category winner (Image credit: Kat Zhou / UPY2023)
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"Though I did not witness the transformation, I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way. After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I wanted 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!"

Chair of the competition judges, Alex Mustard, spoke glowingly of Zhou's winning shot. "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."

Spanish photographer, Alvaro Herrero, was named the Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2023, with his winning image Hopeless (below) being captured in Mexico. Herrero's photograph depicts a humpback whale dying of starvation, as a result of its tail being broken after getting entangled in ropes and buoys, making it unable to swim properly.

Hopeless – Save our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation category winner (Image credit: Alvaro Herrero / UPY2023)
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"Taking this photograph was the saddest moment I've experienced in the ocean, 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," said Herrero.

"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.”

Fade – Marelux Wide Angle category winner (Image credit: J.Gregory Sherman / UPY2023)
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The competition also crowned another photographer, Ollie Clarke, as the British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 for his image The Swarm (top of article) featuring a whale shark – the largest fish in the world. 

Being a UK-based competition, there are four British Waters categories whereby submitted entries must have been captured in UK waters. This image was shot by Clarke in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, where the British-born photographer now lives. 

An Island's Wild Seas – British Waters Wide Angle category winner (Image credit: Theo Vickers / UPY2023)
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The Most Promising British Underwater Photographer title was awarded to Theo Vickers, from the UK, for his image of Himanthalia algae titled An Island's Wild Seas (above) captured at a conservation zone on the Isle of Wight. 

Be sure to check out the full winners gallery (opens in new tab) and collection on the Underwater Photographer of the Year website, with over 130 amazing images and video interviews featured from the competition.

Each year, the contest creates a free-to-download yearbook showcasing the complete collection of winning images. You can check out and download the 2023 yearbook (opens in new tab) from the competition website while you're there!

The Trunk – Portrait category winner (Image credit: Suliman Alatiqi / UPY2023)
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El Blanco – The White One – Black and White category winner (Image credit: Don Silcock / UPY2023)
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Klunzinger's Wrasse in Motion – Compact category winner (Image credit: Enrico Somogyi / UPY2023)
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Pipe Reef – British Waters Living Together winner (Image credit: Dan Bolt / UPY2023)
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Egg Eaters – British Waters Macro category winner (Image credit: Kirsty Andrews / UPY2023)
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Unsung – Marelux Macro category winner (Image credit: Shane Gross / UPY2023)
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Engine with a Saddle – Wrecks category winner (Image credit: Brett Eldridge / UPY2023)
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Make Love Not War – Behavior category winner (Image credit: Yury Ivanov / UPY2023)
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Crack Rock Blenny – British Waters Compact category winner (Image credit: Tony Reed / UPY2023)
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You may also be interested in the best underwater drones (opens in new tab), as well as the best waterproof phones (opens in new tab), plus the best underwater housings for cameras and phones (opens in new tab), and not forgetting the best fisheye lenses (opens in new tab)

Take a look at last year's sea-sational Underwater POTY 2022 (opens in new tab)winners, and discover if Underwater cameras could save the photo industry (opens in new tab)

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.