Stunning image of life and death wins prestigious photography competition



A confronting photograph of a humpback whale carcass and circling sharks on the ocean floor in Coral Bay, Western Australia has won the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition for 2022. ‘Nature’s Prey’ by Ashlee Jansen captures a harsh act of Mother Nature, but an important part of the natural ecosystem.


Based in Western Australia, Ms Jansen

captured this winning shot in July 2021 after a sub-adult whale died while making the annual migration north along the Ningaloo Reef.


“Tour boats had been watching the young whale for days as it slowly moved through the bay, appearing sicker and slower with more shark bites over its body day after day,” Ms Jansen recalled.


“Friends had spotted an oil slick on the surface caused by the fallen whale. As they got closer, they were hit by the distinct smell and knew that they had found the location of the carcass resting on the ocean floor.”


“Excited to share their find, I rushed out to their location and jumped in the water to find the skeleton of the young humpback whale laying still on the ocean floor. Surrounding the bare bones were several different species of well-fed sharks.”


“We spent a few hours floating above the whale carcass, watching the sharks come closer and closer, unphased by our presence as they searched the area for any remaining food,” she added.


Ms Jansen has been an underwater photographer since 2017. When asked how it felt to be crowned the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2022, Ms Jansen said she felt incredibly proud.  


“This competition is such a prestigious award and being named overall winner is something I had never even considered happening, especially so early in my photography career.”


“I have always looked at this competition and award so highly, so to be selected as the winner out of so many talented photographers, some of who I have looked up to and have inspired me over my career, is absolutely incredible.”


Honoured to be named the 2022 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year, Ms Jansen reflected on the important message behind her captivating shot. 


“This unforgettable experience is a reminder of how harsh nature and the food chain can be, yet such an important part of the natural ecosystem. One animal’s sacrifice can provide so many nutrients to so many other species of wildlife for years to come,” she explained.


As Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year, Ashlee receives a cash prize of $10,000 and a travel prize from Coral Expeditions.


The 2022 competition judges were:


·         Nicky Catley - Managing Photo Editor at Australian Geographic with over 20 years’ experience in Australia and the UK on major media mastheads and magazines.

·         Doug Gimesy - Award-winning professional conservation and wildlife photojournalist with a focus on Australian issues.

·         Professor Charlie Huveneers - Director of the Flinders University Marine and Coastal Research Consortium with over 15 years’ experience in shark and ray ecology.


The judges were united in selecting this powerful image as the overall winner and praised Ms Jansen’s photography skills.


“The beauty of the image lies in its artful circular composition, seen in the curves of the whale’s skeletal ribs mirroring the patterns in the sand, keeping our eye within the frame moving between the living and the dead,” they said.  


Mr Brian Oldman, Director of the South Australian Museum, said that Ms Jansen’s photograph has been judged the winning entry out of a field of 2,443 entries – the highest number of entries in the competition’s history.


“Each year I am amazed by the quality of entries we receive for this competition, with entrants capturing incredible moments in time that inspire us to deepen our relationship with the natural world, whilst also challenging us to reflect on our impact,” Mr Oldman stated. 


“Ms Jansen’s photograph beautifully depicts the circle of life and the intense reality of the animal food chain - that every living animal is food for another.”


“Remarkable and thought-provoking photographs like Ms Jansen’s are what make us so proud to produce this competition and resulting exhibition each year,” he concluded.  


Ms Chrissie Goldrick, Editor-in-Chief, Australian Geographic said:


“This year’s winning image by Ashlee Jansen is a powerful statement about the circle of life and the interdependence of species. It reminds us that all creatures, no matter how large or small, rare or common, need our protection to maintain the fragile balance of nature. It’s amazing how often marine subjects enjoy success in this competition. It bears witness to the vital role the oceans play in the lives of those who call the vast bioregion that includes Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea, home.”


The winner and runners-up of the ten categories have also been announced, including three new categories: Animals in Nature, Astrophotography and Urban Animals.


Animals in Nature:

Winner: Night Light Dining, Jannico Kelk (QLD) Runner-up: Midnight Seahorse, Matt Testoni, (Tas)


Urban Animals:

Winner: The Tunnel of Eerie Blue Light, Zichen Wang (NSW) Runner-up: Sleeping Dragon, Gary Meredith (WA)


Botanical: Winner: A pink tomb, James Dorey (SA) Runner-up: Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest, Justin Gilligan (NSW)


Landscape: Winner: Breaking Dawn, Yan Zhang (NSW) Runner-up: Forces of Nature, Ellie Morris (WA)


Threatened Species (vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered species):

Winner: Ocean Giant, Jake Wilton (NSW) Runner-up: Head On, Matty Smith (NSW)


Monochrome: Winner: Fish Rock Cave, Matt Krumins (Vic) Runner-up: Crackle and Pop, Jarrod Koh (SA)


Our Impact (depicting human impact on nature):

Winner: Snagged, Alan Kwok (NSW) Runner-up: Landing On Mars, Jiayuan Liang (SA)


Astrophotography (new category in 2022):

Winner: The Outlier, Jason Perry (Vic) Runner-up: Flinders Rise, William Godward (SA)


Portfolio Prize (best portfolio of six images with a shared theme): Winner: Alejandro Trevino (NSW)


Junior (photographers under 18 years of age):

Winner: Impermanence, Cian O’Hagan (NSW) Runner-up: Abstraction of an Icon, Cian O’Hagan (NSW)


The South Australian Museum will stage an exhibition featuring all finalists from Saturday 27 August until Sunday 30 October 2022. The Australian Museum in Sydney will also host the exhibition from Saturday 17 September until Sunday 11 December 2022. Tickets are available via the Museum’s website.


Media contact:

Emily Sharpe-Hall, Communications Coordinator, South Australian Museum

0434 880 950 or

Ashleigh Glynn, Communications Lead, South Australian Museum

0466 389 019 or

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