An astounding photo of five whale sharks, feeding together at night in the waters of the Maldives has been named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022. The photograph triumphed over 4,200 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 71 countries. The image captures a unique ocean event, taken in demanding photographic conditions.

Competition judge, Peter Rowlands, commented; “this image took my breath away from the first viewing and I never tired coming back to it. Scale, light and the sheer numbers of big subjects, this was, by some distance, our winning image.”

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition that celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. British photographer Phil Smith was the first underwater Photographer of the Year, named in 1965.

Today’s competition attracts entries from all around the world, has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

We bring you our favourites from this year's competition winners.

Giants of the night - Overall winner & wide-angle category winner

Whale sharks Feeding
Five whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) pictured feeding near to the Ari Atoll, Maldives. The whale shark is regarded to be the largest fish species on the planet. Photo by Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2022

All you need is love - 'My backyard' category winner

Frogs spawning
Common frogs (Rana temporaria) during spawning in Vantaa, Finland. Photo by Pekka Tuuri/UPY 2022

Diamonds and rust - Most promising winner

Photo by Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022
A sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus) swims by Swanage pier, United Kingdom, on a bright afternoon. Photo by Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022

Great white split - Portrait category runner-up

Great white shark teeth
A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) photographed off the coast of the North Neptune Islands, Australia. Photo by Matty Smith/UPY 2022

Big appetite - 'Save Our Seas Foundation' winner

Anchovy fishing aerial
Busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen, Phu Yen province, Vietnam. Photo by Thien Nguyen Ngoc/UPY 2022

Beauty on a red anemone skirt - 'My Backyard' highly commended

Gobi Anemone
A beautiful gobi is photographed at the Westside dive site, Fahal Island, sea of Oman, Muscat. Photo by Yazid El Shaari/UPY 2022

Gannet storm - British waters wide angle category winner

Gannet Storm
A northern gannet (Morus bassanus) swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. Every year, 40,000 gannets visit the cliffs of Shetland, Scotland, United Kingdom, to lay and care for a single egg. Hitting the frigid water at incredible speeds, these impressive birds have evolved air sacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. Photo by Henley Spiers/UPY 2022

Against all odds - Wide angle category third place

Baby sea turtle
A recently-hatched green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) makes it's way cautiously through the waters of Heron Island, Australia, as birds circle overhead. Photo by Hannah Le Leu/UPY 2022

More images from BBC Science Focus:

The circle of life - Behaviour category runner-up

Swallowing fish
A Mediterranean predatory fish (Sereranus scriba) eats a green fish (Labrus viridis), an endemic species to the Mediterranean and abundant in the Posidonia oceanica meadows. Photographed at La Azohia, Spain. Photo by Javier Murcia/UPY 2022

Coral on the Kittiwake - Wrecks category third place

diver Kittiwake wreck
Wreck of the Kittiwake boat in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. Photo by Karlo Macas/UPY 2022

City of angels - Macro category runner-up

Anemone fish embryos. Photo by David Alpert/UPY 2022
These anemone fish embryos off the coast at Misool, Indonesia, stare out into the world beyond just before they are about to hatch. Around spring tide, with water volumes at their greatest, they will be cast adrift onto the ocean currents to try and navigate their way through to adulthood. Photo by David Alpert/UPY 2022

Sunset ray - Wide angle category runner-up

Sunset ray fish
The 'Tuna Factory', close to Malé in the Maldives, is a popular place for divers. In this image, schooling bannerfishes (Heniochus diphreutes) and the pink whiprays (Himantura fai) circle the photographer to create a bust scene. Photo by Andy Schmid/UPY 2022


James CutmorePicture Editor, BBC Science Focus

James Cutmore is the picture editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine, researching striking images for the magazine and on the website. He is also has a passion for taking his own photographs