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Steve Smithson

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Lembeh Strait

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Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2006

by Alex Mustard

The Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year is probably the most prestigious photographic competition for underwater photographer, a fact backed up by the calibre of names that have won awards in the past and those that continue to enter each year. Each year the competition attracts around 20,000 entries from professional and amateur photographers from about 60 countries, which are whittled down to about 90 winning and commended images spread across 16 categories.

Underwater images did particularly well in this year's competition, placing first in four of the twelve adult categories, and winning awards or commendations in a further four categories. Moreover, the overall winner of the competition was Goran Ehlme's photo of a Walrus feeding in the sediment. Similar to last year's overall winner by Manuel Presti, it is certainly an image that polarises opinion, but both are incredibly original wildlife shots, and certainly images that the audience has never seen the like of before.

Michael Aw won the Underwater World category with a fantastic shot of a mimic octopus swimming straight at the camera, taken in the Sulawesi with a Nikon D2X, 12-24mm lens and Seacam housing. Tibor Dombovari won the Animal Portraits category with a characterful Barracuda portrait taken in Papua New Guinea with a Nikon D70s, 12-24mm lens and Subal housing. Andre Seale won the Behaviour, All Other Animals category with a simple and strong image of a green turtle being cleaned by surgeonfish in Hawaii, taken

Michael AW- The Underwater World - Winner - The great mimic

Diving off Banka Island, in Indonesia, Michael spotted a strange eel moving along a sandy slope. For the next hour he swam with it as it hunted over the sand, watching it assume the movement and shape of various marine creatures, including a sole, a ray and even a sea snake. What he'd met was the master of disguises, the Indo-Malayan mimic octopus - here sporting its 'normal' brown-and-white striped coat. This animal takes intelligence to a new level. It can discern which dangerous sea creature to imitate to present the greatest threat to any predator it's confronted with. Only discovered in 1998, the mimic's repertoire of hunting or hiding disguises includes hermit crabs, sand anemones, crinoids, jellyfish, sea cucumbers, blennies, jawfish and lionfish. Already a fan of octopuses, Michael has 'long since given up eating them'.

Nikon D2X with 12-24mm lens; 1/100 sec at f14; 160 ISO; Seacam housing, single S200 Ikelite strobe.

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