In an era of immeasurable chaos caused by unsustainable human activity across the planet, it’s crucial to look within the natural world for order, hope, and to feel grounded as things spiral around us. The People’s Choice Award for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, sponsored and developed by London’s Natural History Museum, taps into these sentiments, inviting the public to consider and vote on candid snapshots of the world and its inhabitants in an effort to encourage sustainable practices.
Amid some 50,000 photography submissions from over 100 countries, British photographer Nima Sarikhani’s “Ice Bed” (2023), a surreal pastel shot of a dreaming polar bear snuggled into an iceberg bobbing along off the coast of Svalbard, made it through the competition’s shortlist last November and won People’s Choice among four other finalists. Though there’s an ominous air captured in Sarikhani’s composition of minuscule ice floes and endless stretch of sea, the tenderness of the sleepy subject takes center stage as a poignant reminder of what is worth fighting for.
The remaining four finalist submissions either promote the essence of irresistible cuteness or recognize the implicit beauty of an animal simply existing in its natural habitat. Blurring the separation of sky and sea, Daniel Dancescu’s shot of a starling murmuration that looks like a large whale swimming in the ocean complements Audun Rikardsen’s photo of glowing moon jellies underneath the aurora borealis in Tromsø, Norway.
Marc Boyd caught a precious moment in the Kenyan Maasai Mara National Reserve where two lionesses groom a little cub, rivaled by that of Tzahi Finkelstein’s “Happy Turtle” (2023).
It’s worth noting that alongside its sustainable messaging, the Natural History Museum, London had Danish energy company Ørsted (then Dong Energy) as a corporate sponsor for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from 2014 to 2023. Early last year, it was revealed that the museum had signed a sponsorship contract with a gag clause preventing it from issuing public statements “discrediting or damaging” to the reputation of Ørsted, which has since claimed to be shifting away from the oil and gas sector in favor of wind power.
Four finalist entries and one winning shot only got us started, so naturally we had to include some of our favorite photographs from the shortlist, below.