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UPY  Award Winners - Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023

Kat Zhou

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UPY  Award Winners - Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023
'Boto encantado'
Kat Zhou

There’s a legend among locals in the Amazon that river dolphins, or “botos”, can transform into handsome men known as “boto encantado” at night to seduce women. Though I did not witness this elusive boto transformation, at dusk I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way. After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I knew I want a split shot at sunset. Though the water was so dark that I was shooting blind, this dolphin gave me a perfect pose and smile!
As indigenous communities settled by rivers in the Amazon, river dolphins began living in closer proximity to human populations, even making use of food scraps. Frequent dolphin sightings led to tales like boto encantado, but there’s a darker side to the legend, as it was often used to excuse pregnancies after women were assaulted or forced into prostitution. While botos are generally revered as mythical creatures, many scorned husbands have killed dolphins because of these stories. Furthermore, many river dolphins have also been killed for use as fish bait. Though there have been bans on this practice, it has not been eradicated. With this, alongside even bigger impacts like mercury poisoning due to the gold mining industry and large development projects that have disrupted the river ecosystems, I fear that one day botos will truly become no more than mythical creatures.

Judge's comment: This is a perfectly timed and composed image of a distinct but rarely well photographed subject so it stood out from the crowd very early on. Like a chef reducing his sauce, this powerful image improved with each viewing and saw off the incredibly high quality images that this Competition attracts. A pleasure to behold. - Peter Rowlands

A first glance simple, then simply perfect. In dark, tannic waters, Kat has created a striking composition capturing this rarely photographed and vulnerable species at the perfect moment. I love the almost monochromatic burnt orange colour palette of the pink dolphin, photographed through brown waters and framed against the setting sun. By far the best image we've ever seen of this species. - Alex Mustard

Wow - maybe the best image of a river dolphin I have ever seen. I love split shots as well and this image does the purpose perfectly. It works in every discipline: Wideangle, portrait and behavior at the same time. The look and the pose of the dolphin is just perfect - congrats to Kat for achieving this! - Tobias Friedrich

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