"Egg Transfer"

First Place, Marine Life Behavior Category

Borut Furlan

Shot in the Adriatic Sea, Croatia

(UPDATE: Because of a rules violation, this photo has been disqualified from the competition)

One of the more remarkable events in nature is the spawning and incubation process of the Mediterranean cardinal fish whereby the female transfers her eggs to the mouth of the male in the blink of an eye.

The male then broods up to 90 eggs in its mouth for 30 days, during which time it doesn't eat.

Photographing the egg transfer is nearly impossible, since it can occur in less than two seconds. So it is understandable that underwater photographer Borut Furlan had no idea what he had shot in a semi-dark cave of the Adriatic Sea off Croatia—until he reviewed the photo on the camera's screen.

The split-second moment of the transfer was captured perfectly and earned Furlan first place in the Marine Life Behavior category of the 2014 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest, sponsored by The Underwater Photography Guide.

"Capturing fast underwater behavior requires a delicate combination of preparation, photo skill and luck," Brent Durand, editor of The Underwater Photography Guide, told GrindTV in an email. "Borut Furlan's winning image 'Egg Transfer' is a perfect example of pulling all these elements together to capture a moment that is rarely seen, and rarely, if ever, documented through photography.”

Furlan admitted he was lucky.

In the darkness of the cave, he turned off his pilot lamps so as not to scare the pair of cardinal fish he was observing swimming close together in circles.

"Fortunately my AF [auto-focus] worked well in a dark cave and flashes also didn't scare them," Furlan wrote in explaining how he got the shot. "I was shooting a lot.

"I was very fortunate to get this shot because egg transfer lasted [less than two seconds]. Actually I even didn't see it clearly in the dark cave. I realized what I was shooting only when I reviewed my images on the camera's screen!"

Furlan was among the 60 underwater photographers who won awards for their photos. Thousands of photographers from 50 countries entered. Here are a few other award-winners:

"Underwater—Kirra Point"

Best of Show

First Place, Wide-Angle

Ray Collins

Shot at Kirra Point, Queensland, Australia

The sand of the Gold Coast reflects light really well, making it one of Ray Collins' favorite places to shoot. "On this morning, I was trying to show the clarity and surroundings while composing for the wave to go past me," he explained. He succeeded nicely.



Honorable Mention, Portrait

Uwe Schmolke

Shot in undisclosed location

These alien-looking eyes belong to a mantis shrimp, said to have the most elaborate visual systems ever discovered, along with powerful claws capable of breaking through aquarium glass with a single strike by the larger species.



First place, Cold Water

Lill Haugen

Shot on the northwest coast of Orsta, Norway

The anglerfish can grow to over 6-feet long and weigh more than 220 pounds, but probably won't win any beauty contests. The odd-looking fish is well camouflaged on the ocean floor, and attracts prey with a lure connected to a fishing rod-like protrusion on the top of its head.


"Lionfish Staring at its Lunch"

Second Place, Marine Life Behavior

Ilan Ben Tov

Shot in the Red Sea in Eliat, Israel

A huge school of glass sweepers take shelter in the wreck of the Sufa, a missile boat that sunk in 1994 and has become a popular diving locale where invasive lionfish enjoy a tasty buffet of glass sweepers.



Honorable Mention, Compact Macro

Dusan Zencak

Shot in Lungomare, Reggio Calabria, Italy

A wide-open spirograph (Sabella spallanzanii) comes in a variety of shades and colors. "I tried to highlight the inner spiral, the spiral being one of the most recurrent and photogenic shapes in nature," Zencak wrote. Now, stare at it for 60 seconds and see what materializes. Kidding.


"Eyes Bigger than the Stomach"

First Place, Compact Marine Life Behavior

Jack Berthomier

Shot in Ouemo Bay, Noumea, New Caledonia

A sea snake appears to have bitten off more than it could chew. When Berthomier came upon the incredible sight, the snake was just beginning to swallow its prey. "Very few divers [are] lucky enough to watch this kind of scene, and apparently no other shot of this kind has been taken," the photographer said.


"My Home is my Castle"

Third Place, Compact Marine Life Behavior

Alexander Bublitz

Shot at Giglio Island, Mediterranean Sea, Italy

Bublitz noticed a beautiful medusa (Cotylorhiza tuberculata) near the surface and hurried to take a picture, then discovered juvenile fishes hiding inside the medusa. "I’m a marine biologist and thus knew about the behavior of juvenile teleost fishes belonging to different genera (Trachuru, Seriola) to swim with this cnidarian species and to hide inside the medusa for protection purposes, but I had never seen it myself," Bublitz said. "It took me quite a time and sure enough a stately number of shots to capture the moment, this very short instant, where the medusa’s umbrella was flapped up so that the fishes were in sight together with correct focusing, exposure etc."


"Fat Pygmy"

First Place, Super Macro

Filippo Borghi

Shot at Way Island, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia

What looks like a cross between a cartoon character and a dog's squeeze toy is actually a pregnant bargibanti pigmy sea horse.



Honorable Mention, Wide-Angle

Eiko Jones

Shot in Clearwater Creek, West British Columbia, Canada

Taking time out from a chinook tagging operation on the Phillips River, Jones took a side trip up a tributary called Clearwater. He positioned himself in a slow-flowing channel and approached a pair of spawning sockeye salmon. "After about 10 minutes, remaining motionless and never taking my eye from the viewfinder, I was able to get this image when he was the closest to me and the light was fading," Jones said.

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