Behold here is the Underwater winner for this year Wildlife Photographer of the Year. What a marvellous picture. This photograph was taken by Brian Skerry from the USA. What struck me when I first saw it was how easy it is for a turtle to mistake plastic (bags) for food. At first, I thought this leatherback was chowing down on a pink carrier bag, but alas it is not! This is in fact a pyrosome (a type of free-swimming [pelagic] tunicates). An amazing moment to capture, and here is what the man in question had to say….
Feast of the ancient mariner
It looks like some kind of inflatable pool toy, but what this turtle is munching on is, in fact, a pyrosome: a free-floating colony of hundreds of thousands of tiny tunicates (filter-feeding zooids) wrapped in a gelatinous ‘tunic’. This alone is surprising – leatherbacks tend to dine on jellyfish – but what is more surprising is seeing a leatherback feeding at all. ‘Usually, you only see them swimming away,’ says Brian. He spotted this individual, nearly two metres long, near the surface in calm water off the island of Pico, in the Azores, Portugal, some distance from where he was snorkelling. As he finned closer, he fully expected the turtle to swim off into the clear blue sea. But it was so engrossed in its meal that he had time to compose a picture. ‘The light was tricky,’ says Brian. ‘I wanted to use ambient light, but because of the position of the sun, it was a delicate dance of slow and gentle movements, trying to position myself to avoid shadows without disturbing the turtle.’ Seeing such an elusive creature doing something so rarely witnessed was, he says, ‘magical’. Brian continually strives to ‘find new ways of creating images and stories that both celebrate the sea and highlight the environmental issues’. He sees this picture as a rare portrait of an incredible survivor – it has a lineage that pre-dates the dinosaurs – now facing a battery of threats, including the warming of the seas as well as fishing, egg-harvesting and coastal development of its nesting areas.
Nikon D3s + 17-35mm lens at 35mm; 1/250 sec at f13; ISO 1600; Subal underwater housing.
Oh and put your plastic in the bin and not the sea! We don’t want next years winner to be a leatherback turtle chocking on a shopping bag now do we….