Perfectly timed image of rare pink river dolphin wins top underwater photography award

Kat Zhou from US wins big as Kuwait's Suliman Alatiqi also lands prize for curious elephant shot

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A rare pink river dolphin pops out of the Amazon River, sticking its snout high into the last light at dusk.

It's a scene captured by American creative Kat Zhou, who went on to win the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 award.

Scroll through the gallery above to see all the award winners from this year

Entitled Boto Encantado, it was one of 6,000 pictures submitted by underwater photographers from 72 countries.

“There’s a legend among locals in the Amazon that river dolphins, or 'botos', can transform into handsome men known as 'boto encantado' at night to seduce women. Though I did not witness this elusive boto transformation, at dusk I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way,” said Zhou, about her winning snap.

“After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I knew 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.”

Judge Peter Rowlands, publisher of the Underwater Photography online magazine, praised the composition of the image shot in South America's greatest river.

“This is a perfectly timed and composed image of a distinct but rarely well-photographed subject so it stood out from the crowd very early on. Like a chef reducing his sauce, this powerful image improved with each viewing and saw off the incredibly high-quality images that this competition attracts. A pleasure to behold.”

Other celebrated images in the contest feature whale sharks on the Ningaloo coast in Western Australia; light play in a conservation area on the Isle of Wight; and a haunting visual of a dying humpback whale with its tail entangled in ropes and buoys.

In the portrait category, photographer Suliman Alatiqi from Kuwait took the top prize for his close-up of a curious elephant's trunk, shot in Phuket, Thailand.

"The elephant's trunk is one of the most distinctive anatomical features in the natural world and this photo aims to emphasise it," said Alatiqi. "Luckily, he was curious about my camera and was happy to feel it out, which gave me the opportunity to capture this perspective."

The Underwater Photographer of the Year awards are an annual competition in the UK, but open to photographers worldwide. It has 12 main categories including Wide Angle, Wrecks, Portrait and more.

Now in its ninth year, it highlights some of the strongest sets of underwater photos in any contest. This year, a record number of entries were received, said Alex Mustard, head of the judging panel.

Updated: February 20, 2023, 1:11 PM