A seahorse navigates the depths of a teal ocean, its slender tail wrapped around a pink cotton swab. At first glance, the image is charming, but then the truth of it sinks in: This delicate sea creature is swimming in trash.
The picture is part of the exhibition “Wildlife Photographer of the Year,” on loan from the Natural History Museum in London and on view through Jan. 6 at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The 99 images — organized into categories such as animal behaviors, documentary and young photographer — were picked by a panel of judges as part of an annual competition by the same name. Each is displayed 3 feet by 3 feet, backlighted in a dark room.
This is the competition’s 53rd year, and more than 50,000 photographs from pros and amateurs alike were submitted from more than 90 countries, said the Los Angeles museum’s senior project manager of exhibitions, Kristina Lockaby.
“Our goal here is to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility,” Lockaby said. “You can look at these pictures and understand how we’re affecting the natural world because of the choices we’re making.”
The photos can be lovely (a bear cub giving his mother a playful hug in Alaska) or heart-wrenching (a slaughtered, dehorned rhino on the South African savanna). All serve to heighten awareness of the fragility of the natural world and, Lockaby said, our understanding of the interdependency of animals in their natural habitats.
To commemorate the West Coast premiere of the show, the Natural History Museum here is holding its own competition. The Student Nature Photo Contest is open to Los Angeles County students K-12. The deadline to submit an entry is Sept. 30 at nhm.org/photocontest.