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Immerse yourself in nature with these 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year images

<em>High-flying jay</em> by Lasse Kurkela, Finland, Winner, 15-17 Years. Lasse Kurkela watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food. Kurkela wanted to give a sense of scale in his photograph of the Siberian jay, tiny among the old-growth spruce-dominated forest. He used pieces of cheese to get the jays accustomed to his remotely controlled camera.
<em>High-flying jay</em> by Lasse Kurkela, Finland, Winner, 15-17 Years. Lasse Kurkela watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food. Kurkela wanted to give a sense of scale in his photograph of the Siberian jay, tiny among the old-growth spruce-dominated forest. He used pieces of cheese to get the jays accustomed to his remotely controlled camera.

The winning images of the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition are here, and they're enthralling.

The annual competition is organized by London's Natural History Museum and is recognized as the world's longest-running and most prestigious nature photography competition. In announcing the winners on Tuesday, the museum said it had received more than 50,000 submissions from 95 countries.

The entries in this year's competition — the 57th edition — were judged anonymously by a panel of international experts for "originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice."

"The two Grand Title winners were selected from 19 category winners that celebrate the captivating beauty of our natural world with rich habitats, enthralling animal behaviour and extraordinary species," the museum explained.

The newest Wildlife Photographer of the Year is French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta, whose first-place image was actually years in the making.

It's called Creation, and it captures camouflage groupers exiting a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in a biosphere reserve in Fakarava, French Polynesia. The museum said that Ballesta and his team returned to the lagoon every year for five years, "diving day and night so as not to miss the annual spawning that only takes place around the full moon in July."

<em>Creation</em> by Laurent Ballesta, France, Winner, Underwater. Laurent Ballesta peers into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exit their milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years Ballesta and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks hunting the fish.
Laurent Ballesta / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Creation</em>, by Laurent Ballesta, France, winner, category: underwater. Ballesta peered into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exited its milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years Ballesta and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks that were hunting the fish.

Camouflage groupers as a species are endangered by overfishing, the museum noted, though these particular fish are protected within the reserve.

"This year's Grand Title winner reveals a hidden underwater world, a fleeting moment of fascinating animal behaviour that very few have witnessed," said Doug Gurr, the museum's director, in a statement. "In what could be a pivotal year for the planet, with vital discussions taking place at COP15 and COP26, Laurent Ballesta's Creation is a compelling reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not address humanity's impact on our planet. The protection provided to this endangered species by the biosphere reserve highlights the positive difference we can make."

The top award in the 17-and-under category (Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year) went to 10-year-old Vidyun R Hebbar of Bengaluru, India.

His image shows a tent spider upside down in a web, against the bright colors of a passing tuk-tuk in the background. The museum said Vidyun loves to photograph the "often-over looked creatures that live in the streets and parks near his home" and was first featured in the competition at age 8.

"The jury loved this photo from the beginning of the judging process," said Natalie Cooper, a jury member and National History Museum researcher, in a statement. "It is a great reminder to look more closely at the small animals we live with every day, and to take your camera with you everywhere. You never know where that award winning image is going to come from."

One hundred images from the competition — contextualized with insights from scientists and other experts — will be showcased in lightbox displays at a special Natural History Museum exhibit. It will open in London on Friday and will travel to venues in the U.K., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany and the U.S. in the coming months.

And for any curious wildlife photographers reading this: The 2022 competition will accept entries starting Monday, with a close date of Dec. 9.

Check out some of the stunning images from contest winners below.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

<em>Where the giant newts breed</em> by João Rodrigues, Portugal, Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles. João Rodrigues is surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in the flooded forest. It was Rodrigues' first chance in five years to dive in this lake as it only emerges in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow.
João Rodrigues / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Where the giant newts breed</em>, by João Rodrigues, Portugal, winner, behaviour: amphibians and reptiles category. Rodrigues was surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in this flooded forest. It was Rodrigues' first chance in five years to dive into this lake, as it emerges only in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow.
<em>Elephant in the room</em> by Adam Oswell, Australia, Winner, Photojournalism. Adam Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform underwater.
Adam Oswell / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Elephant in the room</em>, by Adam Oswell, Australia, winner, category: photojournalism. Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform underwater.
<em>Head to head</em> by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy, Winner, Behaviour: Mammals. Stefano Unterthiner watches two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem. Unterthiner followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in "the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain." The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away.
Stefano Unterthiner / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Head to head</em>, by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy, winner, behaviour: mammals category. Unterthiner watched two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem. Unterthiner followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in "the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain." The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away.
<em>Bedazzled</em> by Alex Mustard, UK, Winner, Natural Artistry. Alex Mustard finds a ghost pipefish hiding among the arms of a feather star. Mustard had always wanted to capture this image of a juvenile ghost pipefish but usually only found darker adults on matching feather stars.
Alex Mustard / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Bedazzled</em>, by Alex Mustard, U.K., winner, category: natural artistry. Mustard found a ghost pipefish hiding among the arms of a feather star. Mustard had always wanted to capture such an image of a juvenile ghost pipefish but usually found only darker adults on matching feather stars.
<em>Reflection</em> by Majed Ali, Kuwait, Winner, Animal Portraits. Majed Ali glimpses the moment a mountain gorilla closes its eyes in the rain. Ali trekked for four hours to meet Kibande, an almost-40-year-old mountain gorilla. "The more we climbed, the hotter and more humid it got," Ali recalls. As cooling rain began to fall, Kibande remained in the open, seeming to enjoy the shower.
Majed Ali / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Reflection</em>, by Majed Ali, Kuwait, winner, category: animal portraits. Ali glimpsed the moment a mountain gorilla closed its eyes in the rain. Ali trekked for four hours to meet Kibande, an almost-40-year-old mountain gorilla. "The more we climbed, the hotter and more humid it got," Ali recalls. As cooling rain began to fall, Kibande remained in the open, seeming to enjoy the shower.
<em>Face-off</em>, from Cichlids of Planet Tanganyika by Angel Fitor, Spain, Winner, Portfolio Award. Angel Fitor provides an intimate look into the lives of cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika. Two male cichlid fish fight jaw to jaw over a snail shell. Inside the half-buried shell is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks Fitor monitored the lake bed looking for such disputes.
Angel M. Fitor / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Face-off</em>, from the "Cichlids of Planet Tanganyika" portfolio by Angel Fitor, Spain, winner, Portfolio Award. Fitor provides an intimate look at cichlid fishes in Africa's Lake Tanganyika. Two male cichlid fish fight jaw to jaw over a snail shell. Inside the half-buried shell is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks, Fitor monitored the lake bed looking for such disputes.
<em>Nursery meltdown</em> by Jennifer Hayes, USA, Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture. Jennifer Hayes records harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice. Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. "It was a pulse of life that took your breath away," says Hayes.
Jennifer Hayes / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Nursery meltdown</em>, by Jennifer Hayes, U.S., winner, Oceans - The Bigger Picture category. Hayes recorded harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice. Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. "It was a pulse of life that took your breath away," says Hayes.
<em>Cool time, from Land time for sea bears</em> by Martin Gregus, Canada/Slovakia, Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award. Martin Gregus shows polar bears in a different light as they come ashore in summer. On a hot summer's day, two female polar bears took to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play. Gregus used a drone to capture this moment.
Martin Gregus / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Cool time</em>, from "Land time for sea bears" portfolio, by Martin Gregus, Canada/Slovakia, winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award. Gregus shows polar bears in a different light as they come ashore in summer. On a hot summer's day, two female polar bears took to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play. Gregus used a drone to capture this moment.
<em>The intimate touch</em> by Shane Kalyn, Canada, Winner, Behaviour: Birds. Shane Kalyn watches a raven courtship display. It was midwinter, the start of the ravens' breeding season. Kalyn lay on the frozen ground using the muted light to capture the detail of the ravens' iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.
Shane Kalyn / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>The intimate touch</em>, by Shane Kalyn, Canada, winner, behaviour: birds category. Kalyn watched a raven courtship display. It was midwinter, the start of the ravens' breeding season. Kalyn lay on the frozen ground and used the muted light to capture the ravens' iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.
<em>Road to ruin</em> by Javier Lafuente, Spain, Winner, Wetlands - The Bigger Picture. Javier Lafuente shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of the wetland landscape. By maneuvering his drone and inclining the camera, Lafuente dealt with the challenges of sunlight reflected by the water and ever-changing light conditions.
Javier Lafuente / Wildlife Photographer of the Year
<em>Road to ruin</em>, by Javier Lafuente, Spain, winner, category: Wetlands - The Bigger Picture. Lafuente shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of a wetland landscape. By maneuvering his drone and inclining the camera, Lafuente dealt with the challenges of sunlight reflected by the water and ever-changing light conditions.