Spectacular Winning Images from the 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest

Last month, we featured 10 spectacular finalists in the 2015 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and we're now happy to share the chosen winners. The contest attracted over 42,000 photographs from both professionals and amateurs, so we're sure that the judges had their work cut out for them!

These visually-stunning images convey a range of emotions. From scenes that are savage to serene to bizarre, the winning photographers capture a incredibly diverse range of shots including: a flock of elegant scarlet ibises taking flight; the grizzly scene of a red fox who captured its prey; and a desolate, sprawling landscape stained with ash.

As winners, these images are all included in an exhibition of the 100 shortlisted photographs, on display at the Natural History Museum in London until April 2016.

Above: Winner, Under Water: A whale of a mouthful by Michael AW, Australia.
An imposing Bryde's whale rips through a mass of sardines, gulping hundreds in a single pass. Photographing this feeding frenzy was a real challenge for Michael. Already knocked clean out of the water by whales on two occasions, he just managed to stay out of the way during this encounter. This scene happened during the annual sardine run, when billions of sardines migrate along South Africa's Wild Coast, attracting predators such as gannets, dolphins and sharks along the way. Bryde's whales are among them. This species tends to exploit the activities of other predators, swimming through and engulfing the fish they have herded. (Michael AW/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Grand title winner, Mammals: A tale of two foxes by Don Gutoski, Canada.
From a distance, Don could see that the red fox was chasing something across the snow. As he got closer, he realised the prey, now dead, was an Arctic fox. For three hours in temperatures of -30 degrees Centigrade Don stayed at the scene, until the red fox, finally sated, picked up the eviscerated carcass and dragged it away to store for later. In the Canadian tundra, global warming is extending the range of red foxes northwards, where they increasingly cross paths with their smaller relatives, the Arctic fox. For Arctic foxes, red foxes now represent not just their main competitor – both hunt small animals such as lemmings – but also their main predator. Few actual kills by red foxes have been witnessed so far, but it is likely that conflicts between the two mammals will become more common. (Don Gutoski/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, 15–17 Years Old: Flight of the scarlet ibis by Jonathan Jagot, France.
Steering the dinghy slowly up the estuary on Ilha do Lenis, Jonathan went in search of scarlet ibis, leaving his family behind on the sailing boat. He anchored at the beach and waited as the birds emerged from the mangroves, feasting on small crustaceans in the receding tide. Then they took off over the sand dunes, glittering like rubies. Translated as the Island of Bed Sheets, Ilha do Lenis is famous for its fine silica sand dunes, which cover 70% of the island. These towering dunes provide an unusual backdrop for the scarlet ibis, a wading bird usually associated with the marshes and mangroves that line the coast here. (Jonathan Jagot/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Plants: The heart of the swamp by Georg Popp, Austria.
Despite his long career as a landscape photographer, Georg still believes these cypress forests are 'some of the most beautiful places you have ever seen'. He would spend the day navigating the tangled swamp by boat, scouting for good compositions. By recording the best locations on his GPS, he returned in darkness to wait for dawn to break. These are among the last remaining old-growth cypress, symbolic of the American deep south swamps. The 1,000-year-old cypress trees are festooned with thick drapes of Spanish moss, which grow harmlessly on their boughs, deriving nutrients from the rain and air. The place is home to many, including alligators, turtles, bald eagles and osprey. (Georg Popp/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Invertebrates: Butterfly in crystal by Ugo Mellone, Italy.
Along the wild, pristine coast, Ugo was taking landscape images of the area he grew up in. Glancing down to look for an interesting foreground he saw a splash of pale orange among the white salt crystals of a small rock pool. It was a southern gatekeeper butterfly, mummified by the highly concentrated salt water and entombed in a coffin of salt. These salt deposits form in rocky crevices along the coast. The seawater pools there during rough weather, then evaporates under the strong summer Sun, leaving layers of crystallised salt. This female butterfly likely fell, exhausted, and became trapped by the surface tension of the water. (Ugo Mellone/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, From the Sky: The art of algae by Pere Soler, Spain.
This park is famous for attracting huge flocks of migrating birds. Pere was there for the birds, but also for another spring phenomenon, only fully visible from the air. In late spring, parts of the marshes burst with intense colour, creating a rich tapestry of textures and patterns. As the temperature warms and the salinity changes, the wetlands see the bright green of seaweed mix with a multicoloured microalgae bloom. White salt deposits, brown and orange sediments coloured by sulphate-loving bacteria and iron oxide add to the riot. The full display usually lasts only a few weeks in May or June. (Pere Soler/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Birds: The company of three by Amir Ben-Dov, Israel.
Amir spent many days observing the strange relationship between these three red-footed falcons. The grey male and two young females were often together, in close physical contact, preening and touching. Here, one female nudges the male with its claw then flies up to make space for the third bird. The reason for their behaviour is a mystery. Despite being social birds, roosting and migrating in large colonies, red-footed falcons tend to maintain a degree of personal space. The closest relationships are usually pairbonds, or parents with first-year chicks. These birds will have been resting here in Israel on their way from eastern Europe to their wintering grounds in Africa. (Amir Ben-Doy/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Land: Landscape in ash by Hans Strand, Sweden.
Flying through heavy drizzle, Hans came across this 'fairytale landscape' as he recalls. The ice-fields and glaciers lining the flanks of the mountains were stained grey with ash, recording in glorious textural detail the slow movements of snow and ice, like a gigantic charcoal sketch. The fine ash may have settled here after being carried on the wind from a volcanic eruption elsewhere. Iceland is famous for its high concentration of active volcanoes, which have been responsible for a third of the world's total lava output in the past 500 years. (Hans Strand/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Details: The meltwater forest by Fran Rubia, Spain.
There is magic in mud. As Fran watched the glacier's meltwater filtering through a patch of it, trunks, branches and twigs slowly formed until an entire forest appeared. He waited for the right light so the 'trees' would appear to magically stand up, as if out of a child's pop-up picture book. Trees are a rare sight in Iceland's landscape. The Vikings in the ninth century deforested much of it, creating the country's barren wilderness. Today, a rise in temperature linked to climate change has contributed to the arrival of new tree species in the southern parts of the country. (Fan Rubia/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Black and White: The dynamics of wings by Hermann Hirsch, Germany.
The moment a white-tailed sea eagle grabs a fish from the sea, it rapidly switches flight pattern, speed and direction to avoid plunging into the water. Hermann had resolved to capture this pivotal moment. By panning and using a slow shutter speed he blurred the wing motion, using black and white to accentuate the bird's energy and intent. With an impressive 2.5-metre wingspan, white-tailed sea eagles are the largest eagles in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. While they are versatile and opportunistic hunters, they pirate a considerable amount of their mainly fish-based diet from other birds, a practice known as klepto-parisitism. (Hermann Hirsch/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Impressions: Life comes to art by Juan Tapia, Spain.
Every summer, barn swallows return to nest in an old storehouse on Juan's farm. So he hung a ripped oil painting before a shattered window through which he knew the birds entered. Eight hours later, using remote control, he caught this moment, as though the bird had punched in from another world. As their name suggests, barn swallows prefer to nest inside buildings. They usually return to the same spot each year, repairing the nesting cups they sculpt from mud and clay. This swallow had most likely spent its winter in South Africa before migrating back to Europe to breed. (Juan Tapia/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Amphibians and Reptiles: Still life by Edwin Giesbers, The Netherlands.
Suspended near the surface, a crested newt pauses to rest in the cold waters of early spring. Sitting in the stream wearing a wetsuit, Edwin gently moved his submerged camera until it was directly under the newt, turning the amphibian into a floating silhouette among trees. Crested newts, alongside other salamander species in the Netherlands, face a grave threat. A skin fungus, similar to one that has killed frogs and toads worldwide, has wiped out fire salamander populations in this area. Scientists are bracing themselves for a collapse of salamander numbers throughout Europe, unless the spread can be stopped. (Edwin Giesbers/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, Urban: Shadow walker by Richard Peters, UK.
As Richard shone a torch into his garden one night, a fox trotted past, casting a shadow. This gave him the idea for a photograph telling a story of fox and human… while showing neither. On this particular evening, his neighbours switched a light on, unaware of this patrolling vixen just metres away. A snatched glimpse or brief silhouette such as this are the most many of us will see of an urban fox, as it goes about its nightly rounds. This vixen's territory could include up to 400 gardens, but our polarised opinions of this enigmatic character means it will be more welcome in some than others. (Richard Peters/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

Winner, The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: single image: Broken cats by Britta Jaschinski, Germany/UK
Locked into obedience by their trainer's gaze, big cats perform at the Seven Star Park in Guilin in 2012. The cats have been drugged, their teeth and claws pulled out, and they are controlled during the show by poles with metal spikes at the end. Audiences are often unaware of the level of cruelty involved. 'This was truly an arena of broken animals', Britta remarks. These cats are probably all hybrids of captive-bred animals. The one in the centre is most likely a liger – a cross between a male lion and a female tiger. Ligers are thought to be the largest living felines, tending to exceed the size of both their parent species. (Britta Jaschinski/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015)

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