Wildlife photographers around the world were celebrated with the seventh annual Ocean Art Underwater Photography Contest. Organisers say this year attracted an exceptional caliber of work, but in the end Duncan Murrell claimed the top prize for his graceful photo of three giant spinetail devil rays performing a 'ballet' in Honda Bay in the Philippines.

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"Devil Ray Ballet". Best in Show. Shot in Honda Bay, Palawan, the Philippines. 

Judges of this year's competition looked through thousands of entries from 70 different countries before selecting the final set of images as Ocean Art winners. Murrell took home Best of Show but Ocean Art 2018 winners included François Baelen whose stunning shot of a humpback whale and her calf in Réunion Island was awarded first place 'First Place Wide Angle'. Speaking of the unique shot, Baelen said "this unique encounter happened in September 2018 in Réunion Island where the humpback whales come to breed and give birth. The mother was resting 15 metres down, while her calf was enjoying his new human friends."

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"Gentle Giants". First Place Wide Angle. Shot in Saint-Leu, Réunion Island, France.

The whales appeared to be so comfortable with the photographer, that Baelen was able to free-dive behind the mother and take the winning shot. "From down there, everything seemed unreal: that huge tail centimetres away from me, the calf, my friend free-diving symmetrically. I knew I would not get a shot like this one again."

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“Paddle Boarders Sunset”. Wide Angle, second place. Shot in Ha’apai, Tonga with Canon 5D Mark III. 

'Second Place Wide Angle' was awarded to Grant Thomas who captured a group of paddle boarders exploring the shallow reefs of Ha'apai, Tonga at sunset. "I wanted to demonstrate the innate bond humans have with the ocean, whether we are physically in it or floating on the surface," Thomas said. "Our inherent relationship with the ocean is eternal and we must care for it in a way that ensures sustainability for the future."

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"Nemo". Honorable Mention Portrait Category. Shot in Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan with Nikon D850.

Organised by the Underwater Photography Guide, Ocean Art 2018 judges included prestigious underwater photographers Tony Wu, Martin Edge, and Marty Snyderman, accompanied by Underwater Photography Guide publisher Scott Gietler. Over US$80,000 (€70,171) in prizes will be awarded, making the Ocean Art prize value among the highest in the world.

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"Smile of a Friend". Second Place Novice DSLR. Shot in Mexico City, Mexico.

Other winning images include some astonishing fish and marine life shots, rarely-seen animal behaviour, innovative shooting techniques, stunning portraits, seals, ocean adventure, whales and some dramatic moments between humans and marine life.

The full gallery of images can be viewed here.

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