Amazon River Dolphin Wins Underwater Photographer of the Year—Beside Sea Jungles and Shipwrecks

BY Michael Wing TIMEFebruary 25, 2023 PRINT

We humans may fancy our dry-land abode a pretty fine place, yet nature has furnished a whole universe full of jaw-dropping scenes underwater. And it’s just waiting for landbound photographers to embrace its marine majesty.

Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY) specifically focuses on this milieu of aquatic, camera-wielding visual artists in its yearly competition, displaying some of the best underwater photography in the world. It doesn’t have to be from the ocean, either. The imagery can come from rivers or even your own backyard swimming pool.

This year’s UPY winner, Kat Zhou from the United States, captured a magical moment dubbed “Boto Encantado” during a sunset in the Amazon River. It features the endangered river dolphin in a split image that depicts scenery above and below the dark, turgid river’s waterline.

Zhou triumphed over 6,000 other entries from 72 countries with her shot of a solo river dolphin at sunset and claimed the top title of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023.

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023

Epoch Times Photo
“Boto Encantado” by Kat Zhou. (Courtesy of Kat Zhou/UPY2023)

Sharing some of the inspiration behind her shot, Zhou recounted a local South American legend:

“There’s a legend among locals that river dolphins, or ‘botos,’ can transform into handsome men known as ‘boto encantado’ to seduce women,” she told UPY. “Though I did not witness the transformation, I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way. After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, 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!”

She notes that as more people settled the Amazon they began living in closer proximity to the dolphins.

“Many river dolphins have been killed for use as fish bait, drowned in gill nets or poisoned by mercury pollution from mining,” she said. “I fear that one day botos will truly become no more than mythical creatures.”

Of Zhou’s enchanting sunset scene from the Amazon River, chair of the competition’s judges, Alex Mustard, said it was “at first glance simple, then simply perfect.”

British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023

Epoch Times Photo
“The Swarm” by Ollie Clarke. (Courtesy of Oliver Clarke/UPY2023)

UPY devotes four of its other categories specifically to underwater images taken by British photographers. Ollie Clarke, an Englishman now living in Australia, claimed the title of British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 for his image, “The Swarm,” in which he portrays the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, engulfed in a bait ball of smaller fish in Ningaloo, Western Australia.

“Whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef are often accompanied by small groups of fish,” Clarke said. “The fish use the giant shark as a floating shelter. However, this bait-ball was huge with a lot more fish than usual and much denser, so I was really excited to photograph it.”

Judge Mustard called Clarke’s image “perfectly timed” to capture the moment when the normally-benign, giant escort suddenly switches—becoming the hunter gulping down its prey.

Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2023

Epoch Times Photo
“An Island’s Wild Seas” by Theo Vickers. (Courtesy of Theo Vickers/UPY2023)

Besides underwater animals—such as river dolphins and whale sharks—there are thriving jungles of plant life beneath the waves, such as the marine jungle of the Himanthalia algae on the chalk reefs of the Needles Marine Conservation Zone, captured by UK-based photographer Theo Vickers. He spoke of the expedition leading up to his winning image, titled “An Island’s Wild Seas.”

“Exploring the shallower reefs on a summer evening, my mission was to capture a wide-angle image that documented this stunning local habitat, combining both the towering forests above and the anemones that rule the chalk seabed below,” he told UPY. “After several unsatisfying attempts, I stumbled upon this gully packed with snakelocks, and sinking into the forest beneath, found the composition I had been seeking.”

And, what underwater world would be complete without the haunting allure and mystery of underwater wrecks?

Wrecks: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Engine With a Saddle” by Brett Eldridge. (Courtesy of Brett Eldridge/UPY2023)

UPY has a category dedicated to exactly that. Brett Eldridge from the United States took some 750 photos of a WWII-era fighter aircraft that crashed decades ago and now rests in a watery grave, some 270 feet below the waves.

Eldridge pieced the images together and built a 3D model of the downed F8F Bearcat, garnering him top prize in the Wrecks category.

Nor must all photographers necessarily be divers. Minus the scuba gear and underwater housing, Shane Gross from Canada employed a probe lens to scout pools under rocks in British Columbia to peruse the yearly spawning ritual of the plainfin midshipman fish.

Marelux Macro: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Unsung” by Shane Gross. (Shane Gross/UPY 2023)

These “absolutely wild” deep-water swimmers enter the intertidal zone where males then “sing” to attract females to lay their eggs. She may or may not, depending on her partiality toward the song. Gross’s aptly titled picture, “Unsung,” garnered him the top prize in the Marelux Macro category.

“The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest aims to celebrate underwater photography in all its diversity and we are delighted that this year’s awarded images come from the poles to the tropics, from all corners of the ocean, and from renowned freshwater bodies like the river Amazon and Lake Baikal,” said judge Mustard. “Being more than a nature contest, we even have winners taken in swimming pools.”

Marelux Wide Angle: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Fade” by Gregory Sherman. (Courtesy of Gregory Sherman/UPY2023)

Marelux Wide Angle: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Crowd Control” by Andy Schmi. (Courtesy of Andy Schmid/UPY2023)

Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2023

Epoch Times Photo
“Hopeless” by Alvaro Herrero Lopez. (Courtesy of Alvaro Herrero Lopez/UPY2023)

Wrecks: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Salem Feeling” by Nicolai Posininsky. (Courtesy of Nicolai Posininsky/UPY2023)

Behavior: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Double Whale Time” by Wojciech Dopierala. (Courtesy of Wojciech Dopierala/UPY 2023)

Behavior: Third

Epoch Times Photo
“Chew With Your Mouth Closed!” by Bryant Turffs. (Courtesy of Bryant Turffs/UPY 2023)

Portrait: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“The Trunk” by Suliman Alatiqi. (Courtesy of Suliman Alatiqi/UPY 2023)

Portrait: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Curiosity Among Icebergs” by Rafael Fernandez Caballero. (Courtesy of Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2023)

Black & White: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“El Blanco” by Courtesy of Don Silcock. (Courtesy of Don Silcock/UPY 2023)

Compact: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Klunzinger’s Wrasse In Motion” by Enrico Somogyi. (Courtesy of Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2023)

British Waters Macro: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Egg Eaters” by Kirsty Andrews. (Courtesy of Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2023)

British Waters Wide Angle: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Scillonian Reflections” by MNimmo. (Courtesy of MNimmo/UPY 2023)

British Waters Macro: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Sanctuary” by MNimmo. (Courtesy of MNimmo/UPY 2023)

British Waters Living Together: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Pipe Reef” by Dan Bolt. (Courtesy of Dan Bolt/UPY 2023)

British Waters Living Together: Third

Epoch Times Photo
“Mussel Lines” by Henley Spiers. (Courtesy of Henley Spiers/UPY 2023)

British Waters Compact: Winner

Epoch Times Photo
“Crack Rock Blenny” by Tony Reed. (Courtesy of Tony Reed/UPY 2023)

British Waters Compact: Runner Up

Epoch Times Photo
“Autumn Above And Below” by James Lynott. (Courtesy of James Lynott/UPY 2023)

British Waters Compact: Third

Epoch Times Photo
“Beauty In The Blow Hole” by Tony Reed. (Courtesy of Tony Reed/UPY 2023)

Share your stories with us at, and continue to get your daily dose of inspiration by signing up for the Inspired newsletter at

Michael Wing
Editor and Writer
Michael Wing is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Canada, where he was born and educated in the arts. He writes mainly on culture, human interest, and trending news.
You May Also Like