A bear eats a salmon in the middle of a river.

Hannah Vijayan earned Highly Commended for her image of a bear hunting for salmon in an Alaskan national park

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First Look: Wildlife Photographer of the Year 56

Take a peek at some of this year's Highy Commended Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition images.

Book your tickets to see the full exhibition, opening at the Museum on 16 October 2020.

The overall winners, including the prestigious Grand Title winners, will be announced on 13 October.

For the first time, the awards ceremony will be conducted virtually.

Winning images are selected for their creativity, originality, and technical excellence by an international panel of industry experts. This year's competition attracted almost 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across the world.

A pair of puffin faces

Paired up puffins by Evie Easterbook. Highly Commended 2020, 11-14 Years Old.

Paired up puffins

A pair of Atlantic puffins in vibrant breeding plumage pause near their nest burrow on the Farne Islands.

Every spring, these small islands off the coast of Northumberland in England attract more than 100,000 breeding pairs of seabirds.

Puffins nest in burrows on grassy slopes and their plumage is a dull black and grey when wintering at sea.

By the time they return to breed, they sport black eye liner and brightly coloured bill plates that fuse into an unmistakable beak - one which also glows under UV light.

Evie longed to see a puffin, and visited the Staple Island a month before they were due to head back out to sea.

She stayed by the puffins’ burrows, watching the adults returning with mouthfuls of sand eels.

Puffins are in decline, vulnerable to the effects of climate disruption, including more frequent storms and warmer water, which has reduced the availability of their staple food, sand eels.

A brown bear stands in water with a salmon in its mouth

The perfect catch by Hannah Vijayan. Highly Commended 2020, 15-17 Years Old

The perfect catch

A brown bear pulls a sockeye salmon from the shallows of a river in Alaska's Katmai National Park.

The greatest concentration of bears - and tourists - is around the waterfall at Brooks River, where viewing platforms enable visitors to watch bears catching salmon leaping up the falls.

Hannah chose to focus on a quieter scene and a different style of fishing.

Instead of snatching at leaping fish or jumping on them, the female put her head under the water to look for one.

She catches a nutrient-rich sockeye still in its ocean form - before it has developed its reproductive red colour and pronounced jaws.

The presence of the salmon in autumn ensures the bears' survival through the winter.

Alaskan brown bears are among the world's largest bears. Males may eat 30 salmon a day and weigh more than 450 kilograms by the end of the summer. Females are smaller and typically weigh a third less.

An eye of a hippo peeks out through the mud.

Eye of the drought by Jose Fragozo. Highly Commended 2020, Animal Portraits.

Eye of the drought

An eye blinks open in a mud pool as a hippopotamus emerges to take a breath - one every three to five minutes.

The challenge for Jose, watching in his vehicle, was to catch the moment an eye opened.

For several years, Jose has been watching hippos in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve, a remnant of the drought-stricken Mara River.

Hippos spend the day submerged to keep their temperature constant and their sensitive skin out of the sun. They emerge at night to graze on the floodplains.

Throughout their sub-Saharan African range, hippos are vulnerable to the combined effects of increasing water extraction and climate change. They are vital grassland and aquatic ecosystem engineers, and their dung provides important nutrients for fish, algae and insects.

But when rivers run dry, a concentration of dung depletes the oxygen and kills the aquatic life.

A large, hairy spider pierces a translucent frog egg.

The spider's supper by Jaime Culebras. Highly Commended 2020, Behaviour: Invertebrates.

The spider's supper

A large wandering spider pierces the egg of a giant glass frog with digestive juices, and then sucks in its liquefied prey.

The eleven known species of wandering spiders are thought to be key predators of these small, often translucent amphibians.

They shelter in rainforest plants during the day and hunt at night, usually by ambushing prey that ventures close enough.

Armed with sensitive bristles, the spiders can detect vibrations transmitted through leaves. They may also pick up sounds such as amphibians’ mating calls.

Their battery of eight eyes, including two large ones on the side of the head, have differing functions and are highly sensitive to low light.

Jaime set up his shot to capture the precise moment the female spider grasped the thin jelly coating between her fangs, steadying the egg with her long, hairy palps. One by one, over more than an hour, she slowly devoured all the eggs.

A single tree stands against a backdrop of raging fire

Amazon burning by Charlie Hamilton James. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image.

Amazon burning

A fire burns out of control in Maranhão state in north-eastern Brazil and a single tree remains standing alone.

It is likely the fire was started deliberately to clear a logged area of secondary forest for agriculture or cattle farming.

In the past year, invasion of indigenous reserves and conservation areas by illegal loggers and land-grabbing ranchers has increased.

This was emboldened by President Jair Bolsonaro’s commitment to open the Amazon for business and his attacks on indigenous groups.

Deforestation causes untold damages, including destruction of biodiversity and the loss of the livelihoods of the people who depend on it.

Burning trees also means losing their oxygen output and letting the carbon they have sequestered back into the atmosphere.

The cattle brought onto the cleared land add to the greenhouse gases.

In 2020, there have been record levels of deforestation in the Amazon, with cattle ranching fuelled by the global demand for beef and droughts worsening the situation.

A collection of dead sea birds lie arranged on a table.

Memorial to the albatrosses by Thomas P Peschak. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image.

Memorial to the albatrosses

Although it may not seem like it, the image illustrates a South African conservation success story.

It represents the comparatively smaller number of seabird deaths caused by Japanese tuna-fishing boats off the coast of South Africa.

The image includes a yellow-nosed albatross with the longline hook still in its bill, shy albatrosses and white-chinned petrels caught on longlines set by the boats in 2017.

A boat's main line can extend for more than 80 kilometres with thousands of baited hooks.

When small seabirds dive down and bring the baited hooks to the surface, petrels and albatrosses try to swipe their catches whole and end up hooking themselves and drowning.

In recent years, more seabird‑friendly fishing practices have dramatically reduced the annual bird bycatch off South Africa. The numbers have decreased from tens of thousands to hundreds.

But there is still work to be done as more than 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses, are still killed worldwide by longlines alone.

Crocodile hatchlings clamber atop their parent in water

Head start by Dhritiman Mukherjee. Highly Commended 2020, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles.

Head start

Ever watchful, a four-metre male gharial provides support for his numerous offspring.

It is breeding season in the National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, and this usually shy reptile now exudes confidence.

The animal's name is influenced by the Hindhi word 'ghara' which means 'round pot.' This refers to the bulbous growth at the tip of its long thin snout, which is used to vocalise and produce underwater bubbles during breeding.

Populations once exceeded 20,000 across South Asia but have shrunk drastically over the past century. This is mostly due to changes in river flows such as damming and sand extraction, as well as overfishing and entanglement in nets.

The species is now critically endangered with an estimated 650 adults left, 500 of which live in sanctuaries.

A landscape of autumn coloured trees

The forest born of fire by Andrea Pozzi. Highly Commended 2020, Plants and Fungi.

The forest born of fire

Araucaria trees are highly prized for their distinctive appearance, with whorls of spiky leaves around angular branches and trunks.

Native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina, Araucarias were first introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth century, where they were grown as curiosities.

In their natural habitat, Araucarias form extensive forests, often in association with southern beech and sometimes in pure stands on volcanic slopes.

The ecology of these regions is shaped by dramatic disturbances, including volcanic eruptions and fires. Araucarias have thick, protective bark and specially adapted buds that can withstand fires.

In such environments, Araucarias can grow up to 50 meters and live for more than 1,000 years.

A man cuts up a fruit bat in a wild animal market

A risky business by Quentin Martinez. Highly Commended 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image.

A risky business

Surrounded by a variety of wildlife, a trader slices up fruit bats in Tomohon Market, northern Sulawesi, Indonesia.  

Local hunters and traders bring wild mammals and reptiles to sell here, along with domestic cats and dogs. Some are dead, others alive, to be killed and butchered on site.

Quentin observed the reality of the bushmeat trade, with wild animals kept alive in poor conditions - tied to ropes or piled up in cages - awaiting the relief of death.

The variety of bushmeat on sale has earned Tomohon market a reputation as an 'extreme' food market on the tourist trail.

There have been calls to ban the sale and butchery of live wild animals in Indonesia since the arrival of COVID-19, but such markets are difficult to regulate as they are an informal trade.

Scientists are calling for the separation of wild animals from farmed animals in markets at the very least, together with a crackdown on the world's illegal wildlife trade. 

A fox stares defensively at its sibling as it holds a dead rat in its mouth

The rat game by Matthew Maran. Highly Commended 2020, Behaviour: Mammals.

The rat game

A young fox holds tight to her trophy, a dead brown rat, as her brother attempts to take it.

For the past four years, Matthew has been photographing the foxes that live on a North London allotment.

During this summer evening, as Matthew lay prone watching the youngsters at play, one of them exploded out of the bushes with a dead rat in its mouth.

The other three then began squabbling over it and a tug-of-war developed. When one got a hold of the prize, it would repeatedly toss it into the air and catch it.

The rat could have been provided by one of the adults, which continue to feed their young into August, but it is rare for foxes to catch rats. More likely, it was found dead.

Plan your visit

The fifty-sixth Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition will immerse you in the breathtaking diversity of the natural world.

Explore some of the world's richest habitats, see fascinating animal behaviour and get to know some extraordinary species.

Book now.