The California Academy of Sciences has announced the winning images of its 2021 BigPicture contest.
The images show both destruction and beauty in nature, from surreal landscapes to bushfires.
Judges selected 49 winning images from 8,400 entries submitted by photographers in 68 countries.
Jo-Anne McArthur captured this Grand Prize-winning image of a kangaroo standing amid ashes with a joey in her pouch after a bushfire ravaged a eucalyptus plantation in Mallacoota, Australia.
In January 2020, McArthur was helping a group of conservationists search a burned eucalyptus plantation for koalas that had been injured or deprived of food when she came across this kangaroo, according to the photography competition’s media sponsor, bioGraphic.
“For McArthur, it was a powerful moment: two of Australia’s most iconic species—the kangaroo and the eucalyptus tree—standing at a worrisome crossroads in their history. But the individuals in her frame were also symbols of hope, that life can persist against all odds,” bioGraphic wrote.
Amos Nachoum was diving off the coast of Antarctica when he captured the moment a leopard seal closed in on its prey: a Gentoo penguin.
“With their silky coats, big, dark eyes, and perpetual grins, leopard seals can look downright cuddly lounging on Antarctic ice floes,” bioGraphic wrote of Nachoum’s photo. “It’s safe to say, though, that penguins have a different perspective of these powerful apex predators.”
Crouching low in a remote rainforest in British Columbia, Michelle Valberg waited for this Kermode bear to surface from the water and shake water off of its coat, sending droplets hurdling through the air.
Valberg told bioGraphic that after shaking its coat free of water, the bear briefly made eye contact with her. “I felt a catch in my throat,” she said.
Fran Rubia was taken aback when he saw otherworldly volcanoes streaked with deposits of iron oxide from his drone in Fjallabak Nature Reserve in Iceland.
“It seemed to me a primal place without any human alteration, which made it even more special,” Rubia told bioGraphic of the nature reserve in Iceland.
Peter Mather’s winning photo story shows a grizzly bear fishing for salmon in Canada’s Yukon with a coat covered in icicles.
Grizzly bears in the Yukon will postpone their hibernation in order to feast on the season’s final salmon runs, according to bioGraphic.
“As temperatures drop below -20 degrees Celsius, the grizzlies’ water-soaked fur freezes into a chandelier of icicles that jingle with each step,” the outlet wrote.
Shane Kalyn captured the moment when, after preening each other’s feathers, two ravens intersected beaks.
Kalyn’s photo showed common ravens sharing an “intimate, open-beaked moment,” according to bioGraphic.
The moment “is likely an example of allopreening—reciprocal grooming that serves both to solidify social bonds and to keep plumage clean,” according to the photo’s description on the bioGraphic website.
This photo by Angel Fitor looks like a work of art but is actually a photo of barrel jellyfish tentacles, seen from below the surface and backlit by the sun.
According to bioGraphic, barrel jellyfish use “eight frilly arms” to catch prey.
“By backlighting his shot, photographer Angel Fitor was able to capture those arms here in intimate and ominous detail,” bioGraphic wrote of the photo.
Ralph Pace won the competition’s Human/Nature category with his photo of a seal curiously approaching a face mask floating in California waters near Monterey.
When Pace shot this image in November 2020, “it was the first time the photographer saw a mask underwater, but unfortunately, he has seen many since,” BigPicture wrote on its winner announcement page.
Yung-Sen Wu spent five days swimming with a school of barracuda in Palau’s Blue Corner before capturing this perspective from inside their ranks.
“Over the course of five days, Wu braved the Blue Corner’s currents daily in an effort to gain their trust, finally being allowed into the school on his last day there to capture this striking image,” bioGraphic wrote.
In this photo by Nick Kanakis, an unsuspecting hoverfly is rendered immobile by a Venus flytrap.
“The detailed structure of the Venus flytrap is beautifully apparent, as is its technique—with a captured hoverfly. This plant species is endemic to a small stretch of wet longleaf pine habitat in the sandhills and coastal plains of the Carolinas,” BigPicture wrote.
A surreal shot by Sarang Naik shows a mushroom releasing spores during monsoon season in Toplepada, India.
Naik used a flashlight to illuminate the phenomenon, making the spores look like “magical pixie dust,” bioGraphic wrote.
These images originally appeared on bioGraphic, an online magazine about science and sustainability and the official media sponsor for the California Academy of Sciences’ BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition.
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