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UPY 2019 Award Winners - Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019, British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019
'The Gauntlet' - Richard Barnden
As the sun sets on Fakarava South Pass, the estimated 700 sharks that are patrolling the mouth of the channel by day, begins to hunt at night. The gauntlet is about to unfold. Descending into the darkness I can feel my heart beating a little faster than normal as hundreds of sharks are now covering the bottom. This unlucky parrotfish dodged in and out of the patch coral heads looking for somewhere to hide as swarms of sharks followed in hot pursuit. One grey reef shark suddenly grabbed the parrotfish by its head as the another twisted underneath it to get a better grip. In desperation it hurtled straight towards me as I snapped a few passing shots and curled up into a ball as the frenzy of sharks shot past, leaving only but a few falling parrotfish scales behind.
Judge's comment: Photography is about capturing moments and what an unforgettable and terrifying moment, especially if you are a parrotfish, this is. At night, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Richard transports us right to the peak of the action as a tangle of grey reef sharks rise like a breaking wave to tear apart their prey. To take this picture, in the dark with a wide angle lens, meant that the photographer was right in the midst of the hunt, and the photo takes us right there too, letting us experience the ocean's wilder side.
As soon as the eye connects with the light and the action its an insane and no doubt very disconcerting moment for the photographer. It's peak of the action as I have seldom seen before and to be perfectly honest, an encounter which I would prefer to sit out if I had the chance. Breath-taking!
I worry that this image will refuel the public's imbalanced perception of sharks but as an image capturing behaviour it has drama, adrenaline, grace, beauty and finality. That's a very rare combination in one image.
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