Wildlife Photographer of the Year Finalists Announced

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( © Mats Andersson / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

That is a real picture of a real red squirrel. The photo by Mats Andersson is so stunning it almost looks like a painting or drawing until you zoom in and see the little pieces of dirt and debris in the squirrel's fur. The photo is one of thirteen finalists in the Wildlife Photographer of the year contest. A contest that's been organized and produced by the Natural History Museum of London since 1965. This year they attracted close to 50,000 entries from 92 different countries. Their website has more information about the current contest and show as well as past ones. Here are just a few of the amazing photographs for the top 13 pictures submitted. 

Winter Pause (photo at top of article):

The red squirrel closed its eyes for just a moment, paws together, fur fluffed, then resumed its search for food. Winter is a tough time for northern animals. Some hibernate to escape its rigors, but not red squirrels. Andersson walks every day in the forest near his home in southern Sweden, often stopping to watch the squirrels foraging in the spruce trees. Though their mainly vegetarian diet is varied, their winter survival is linked to a good crop of spruce cones, and they favor woodland with conifers. They also store food to help see them through lean times. On this cold, February morning, the squirrel's demeanor encapsulated the spirit of winter, captured by Andersson using the soft-light grain of black and white.

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(© Steve Winter / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Saved but Caged:

A back leg of this six-month-old Sumatran tiger cub was so badly mangled by a snare that it had to be amputated. He was lucky to survive at all, having been trapped for four days before being discovered in a rainforest in Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The likelihood is that the snare was set by oil‑palm plantation workers to catch bushmeat (though tigers are also deliberately snared). The workers are migrants who have been given small plots to grow their own oil palms but who have to work on the big plantations for about five years until their own crops generate a return. To feed their families, they have to hunt, and this cub's bones would have fetched a good price on the black market. Anti-poaching forest patrols are helping to stem the killing, partly by locating and removing snares (now illegal), which is how this cub came to be rescued. The cub, however, will spend the rest of his life in a cage in a Javan zoo. Today, there are probably more Sumatran tigers in zoos than there are left in the wild.

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(© Justin Hofman / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Sewage Surfer: 

Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their delicate prehensile tails. Hofman watched with delight as this tiny estuary seahorse 'almost hopped' from one bit of bouncing natural debris to the next, bobbing around near the surface on a reef near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. But as the tide started to come in, the mood changed. The water contained more and more decidedly unnatural objects--mainly bits of plastic--and a film of sewage sludge covered the surface. 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 swab. As Hofman, the seahorse, and the cotton swab spun through the ocean together, waves splashed into Justin's snorkel. The next day, he fell ill. Indonesia has the world's highest levels of marine biodiversity but is second only to China as a contributor to marine plastic debris--debris forecast to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.

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(© Ashleigh Scully / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Bear Hug:

After fishing for clams at low tide, this mother brown bear was leading her young spring cubs back across the beach to the nearby meadow. But one young cub just wanted to stay and play. It was the moment Scully had been waiting for. She had come to Alaska's Lake Clark National Park intent on photographing the family life of brown bears. This rich estuary environment provides a buffet for bears: grasses in the meadows, salmon in the river, and clams on the shore. A large number of families spend their summers here, and with plentiful food, they are tolerant of each other (though wary of males) and of people. "I fell in love with brown bears," said Scully, "and their personalities ... This young cub seemed to think that it was big enough to wrestle mum to the sand. As always, she played along, firm, but patient." The result is a cameo of brown bear family life.

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(© Klaus Nigge / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Bold Eagle: 

After several days of constant rain, the bald eagle was soaked to the skin. At Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak Island in Alaska, bald eagles gather to take advantage of the fishing industry's leftovers. Used to people, the birds are bold. "I laid on my belly on the beach surrounded by eagles," said Klaus Nigge. "I got to know individuals, and they got to trust me." The species was declining dramatically until the 1960s, but reduced persecution, habitat protection and a ban on the pesticide DDT has led to its recovery. "As the eagle edged nearer, picking up scraps, I lowered my head, looking through the camera to avoid direct eye contact." It came so close that it towered over him.

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(© Sergey Gorshkov / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Arctic Treasure:

Carrying its trophy from a raid on a snow goose nest, an Arctic fox heads for a suitable burial spot. This is June and bonanza time for the foxes of Wrangel Island in the Russian Far East. Lemmings are the basic diet for Arctic foxes, but Wrangel suffers long, harsh winters and is ice‑bound for much of the year, making it a permanent source of stored food for these opportunist animals. The food convoys arrive at the end of May. Over just a few days, vast flocks of snow geese descend on the tundra of this remote UNESCO World Heritage Site, traveling from wintering grounds some 4,800 kilometers away in British Columbia and California. The Arctic foxes catch any weak or sick birds, but what they feast on are the goose eggs, laid in early June in open nests on the tundra. Though the pairs of snow geese actively defend their nests, a fox may still manage to steal up to 40 eggs a day, harassing the geese until there's a chance to nip in and grab an egg. Most of the eggs are then cached, buried in shallow holes in the tundra, where the soil stays as cold as a refrigerator. These eggs will remain edible long after the brief Arctic summer is over and the geese have migrated south again. And when the new generation of young foxes begins to explore, they too will benefit from the hidden treasures.

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(© Laurent Ballesta / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Swim Gym: 

"We were still a few meters from the surface, when I heard the strange noises," said Laurent Ballesta. Suspecting Weddell seals, known for their repertoire of at least 34 different underwater call types, he approached slowly. It was early spring in east Antarctica, and a mother was introducing her pup to the icy water. The world's most southerly breeding mammal, a Weddell seal gives birth on the ice and takes her pup swimming after a week or two. The pair, undisturbed by Ballesta's presence, slid effortlessly between the sheets of the frozen labyrinth. "They looked so at ease, where I felt so inappropriate," said Ballesta. 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.

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(© David Lloyd / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

The Power of the Matriarch: 

At dusk, in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve, Lloyd waited for a herd of elephants on their evening trek to a waterhole. 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. When they were just a few meters away, he could see the different qualities of different parts of their bodies, the deep ridges of their trunks, the mud-caked ears, and the patina of dried dirt on their tusks. The elephants ambled by in near silence, peaceful and relaxed. 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 said, full of respect and intelligence, the essence of sentience.

They're impressive to be sure. The Atlantic has all thirteen finalist photos on their website if you'd like to see them all.