Get A Load Of These Other-Worldly Ocean Photography Awards Finalists


Rachael Funnell


Rachael Funnell

Writer & Senior Digital Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Writer & Senior Digital Producer


You'll struggle to believe this isn't an exhibition on aliens (Pictured: southern bobtail squid). Image credit: Matty Smith, Collective Portfolio Award Nominee / Ocean Photography Awards

The Ocean Photography Awards 2021 have revealed this year's finalists – and the resulting images are out of this world. Capturing ocean life from across the globe, it almost appears as if some have snapped alien life glistening in iridescent light with more limbs than is surely necessary. Demonstrating the best that blackwater photography has to offer, as well as the otherworldly landscapes that sit beneath our seas, the resulting portfolio of images is truly arresting and takes us on a journey to parts of the ocean some of us might sooner avoid.

The winners have yet to be announced, but all will be revealed in a series of videos on the Ocean Photography Awards Instagram account between September 10-16. 


Until then, take a deep breath as we venture under the sea. It's a whole lot different from how Sebastian described it...

First in the exhibition of underwater alien life is the image above starring the adorable bobtail squid, famous for its glowing iridescence facilitated by Vibrio fischeri, a type of bacteria that is pretty sparse in the ocean environment and yet somehow finds itself aggregating inside the body of a thumb-sized squid. They are born without their characteristic glow, but within a few hours, the bacteria floods their light organs and creates quite the show, as seen in Matty Smith's entry.

ocean photography
Juvenile trevally hiding in a box jellyfish in Lembeh, Indonesia. Galice Hoarau, Collective Portfolio Award Nominee / Ocean Photography Awards

The sight of a fish trapped within what appears to be a plastic bag might make you think the animal is in distress, but jellyfish and salps are often utilized by fish as a means of protection. Photographers have even on occasion spotted multiple fish using salps as a sort of deep ocean elevator. Similar scenes were captured by finalist Galice Hoarau who found the above trevally hiding out in the body of a box jellyfish. 

Pacific Man o’ War, a colorful marine invader under an apocalyptic red sky. Image credit: Matty Smith, Collective Portfolio Award Nominee / Ocean Photography Awards

The Pacific Man o' War may look like a particularly fancy (and deadly) jelly but it's actually a siphonophore, which is a colony of tiny, specialized polyps working together as colonies. Also known as the bluebottle, it's made up of four colonies that each have a separate function and depend on each other to survive. One group floats while supporting the group that preys, the group that digests food, and the colony responsible for reproduction. Luckily for Matty Smith, though Pacific bluebottles are similar to their more famous brethren, the Portuguese Man o' War, they are smaller and less venomous. 

ocean photography awards
Larval lobster carrying four larval acorn worms which are one of its food sources. Image credit: Steven Kovacs, Collective Portfolio Award Nominee / Ocean Photography Awards

While this acorn-worm-touting critter might look like a crab, it's actually the larval form of a lobster. It was caught on camera by Steven Kovacs who, in an Instagram post, described the behavior as "greedy" considering quite how many worms the wee lobster decided to pack.

ocean photographer awards

A diver descends into a cenote in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Image credit: Martin Broen, Ocean Adventure Photographer of the Year Nominee / Ocean Photography Awards

Among all the shots of obscure marine life, it can be easy to forget that the photographers had to venture to these dark corners of the ocean themselves to secure the shot. Here, Martin Broen's photograph gives an idea of how alien it must feel sinking into the abyss in pursuit of scientific insight and striking photography. Also, to the Brits out there, just a hint of Mr Bean?

ocean photography awards

A female paper nautilus drifts along on a piece of trash in Anilao, Philippines. Image credit: Steven Kovacs, Conservation Photographer of the Year Nominee/Ocean Photography Awards

While the Ocean Photography Awards aim to serve as ambassadors for the beauty of the oceans, they're also eager to highlight its plights with the goal of inspiring change. This photograph by Kovacs again demonstrates just one of the many issues marine life is currently threatened by, as a nautilus was found drifting along on a piece of trash.

ocean photography awards

 juvenile flying fish, photographed from below off of Lady Elliot Island, Australia. Image credit: Jack McKee, Young Ocean Photographer of the Year Nominee / Ocean Photography Awards

And finally for our brief curation of the finalists, this confusing capture by Young Photographer of the Year nominee Jack McKee. Just when you think the inhabitants of the ocean deep can't get any stranger, they take to the skies.

To keep up with the winners of the Ocean Photography Awards as they're announced be sure to check out their Instagram for announcements.


  • tag
  • ocean,

  • fish,

  • jellyfish,

  • photography,

  • art,

  • diving