Polar bear sleeping on iceberg wins wildlife photography competition

Photographer Nima Sarikhani wants the image, taken in Norway's Svalbard, to inspire hope about the climate crisis

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An image of a young polar bear drifting off to sleep on an iceberg has won the UK's annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

The shot was captured by British amateur photographer Nima Sarikhani in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, a region that has been particularly affected by global warming.

Mr Sarikhani said he wanted the photograph to inspire hope and that there is still time to “fix the mess we have caused” by the human-made climate crisis.

It came top in a public vote that saw a record 75,000 nature and photography enthusiasts choose their favourite picture from shortlist of 25 images.

Dr Douglas Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, which runs the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, said the picture is a visual representation of the impacts of climate change and habitat loss.

After three days searching for polar bears in thick fog off Svalbard, the expedition vessel Mr Sarikhani was travelling on changed course to where there was still some sea ice, and encountered two of the animals.

Just before midnight, a young male climbed on to a small iceberg and used his paws to scrape away the ice to carve out a bed for himself, allowing Mr Sarikhani to capture the moment the bear drifted off to sleep.

Dr Gurr said that Mr Sarikhani's image allows us to see the "beauty and fragility of our planet".

“His thought-provoking image is a stark reminder of the integral bond between an animal and its habitat and serves as a visual representation of the detrimental impacts of climate warming and habitat loss.”

Among the 25 pictures, four shots that also proved favourites with voters included the interaction between a pond turtle and a northern banded groundling dragonfly, and a starling murmuration forming the shape of a bird.

Two lionesses grooming a cub and two moon jellyfish illuminated by the aurora borealis in a fjord in Norway were also among the highly commended finalists in the public vote.

The shortlist for the People’s Choice Award was drawn by the Natural History Museum and an international judging panel from almost 50,000 images submitted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

The five images will be displayed online and at the Natural History Museum in London until June 30, 2024.

Updated: February 08, 2024, 6:18 AM