Emperor penguins win photography prize

The overall winner of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year is Paul Nicklen (Canada) for his photo 'Bubble-jetting emperors'. It was taken near the emperor penguin colony at the frozen edge of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Paul awaited the return of parent penguins, remaining motionless in the freezing water and using a snorkel to breathe

From the BBC:

18 October 2012

Penguin power wins photo prize

By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, BBC News

A scene containing a frenzy of plumage and bubbles as emperor penguins prepare to blast their way through a hole in the ice has earned Paul Nicklen one of the world’s top photo awards.

The Canadian braved the extreme cold of Antarctica and attack by leopard seals to get the shot.

His picture won the Underwater Worlds category and the overall title in this year’s Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

It is called “Bubble Jetting Emperors”.

“The emperors are returning from the open ocean,” explained Nicklen.

“They’ve been at sea for three weeks, their bellies are full of food, and they’re bringing it back for their chicks. They’re about to rocket out on to the ice,” the National Geographic Magazine photographer told BBC News.

“I was just snorkelling with my legs locked under the ice, and they would be all over me – on my hand, on my back. Amazing.”

Speed kings

The emperors have to run the gauntlet of leopard seals who will try to grab and eat the birds as they exit the water. But the penguins have evolved a very clever strategy to evade capture.

First, they surface to survey the danger, but as they do so they trap as much air into their plumage as they can manage. Then they dive and, from deep down, they shoot for the edge of the ice, squeezing their feathers as they rise.

This expels millions of small bubbles. The “coat of air” reduces drag and accelerates the animal upwards and beyond the marauding seals.

“The science shows they can double or even triple their speed. They can go from 10km/h to 30km/h as they come rocketing up,” Nicklen said.

The photographer fired off more than 50,000 frames over the course of a three-week period in the Ross Sea, near Cape Washington.

Latest sensors

Long-time Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) judge Rosamund Kidman Cox described Nicklen’s work as outstanding.

“The picture has extraordinary colour and shape, and the more you look at it the more you see,” she told BBC News.

“As your eye wanders around the picture – and you must look at it on a large format – you discover all sorts of individual stories going on. It’s got tremendous depth. It’s beautiful and fascinating and you never tire of looking at it.”

The shot also highlights the impact the latest generation of digital imaging sensors are having on wildlife photography. These supersensitive chips permit short exposures in the sort of low-light conditions that would have defeated photographers five years ago.

“A lot of these new pictures are the result of the new chips, the new sensors. The new Nikons and Canons make it possible. I really believe everything is open to be re-explored,” said Nicklen. …

Organised by London’s Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, it [the photo competition] is now in its 48th year. Almost 50,000 entries were submitted to the competition this time around. You can see more images by clicking here.

Last year, a waterbirds photo was the winner as well.

Then, a photo of pelicans, victims of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, won.

The corporate contest sponsor is Veolia Environnement; which, in spite of its name, is not that environment friendly. Their sponsorship looks suspiciously like greenwashing.

Though maybe Veolia is not as bad a sponsor of the competition as the earlier sponsor of the prize Shell; which recently polluted the North Sea.

See also here on this year’s competition.

9 thoughts on “Emperor penguins win photography prize

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