Whale bones beneath the ice: a haunting underwater scene

This is the winning shot of an underwater photography competition, a striking and thought-provoking image about minke whale hunting in Greenland. The title of the shot is indeed "whale bones"

In a haunting selection by the jury of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024, a photograph titled “Whale Bones” has been declared a winner, capturing the eerie beauty of the ocean’s depths. Off the coast of Greenland, in the deepest blues, a diver’s flashlight illuminates the massive bones of Minke whales, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, resting on the seabed.

A glimpse into the Atlantic’s underwater cemetery

The photograph, aptly named “Whale Bones,” reveals a chilling underwater cemetery in the North Atlantic, presenting a somber landscape marked by the skeletal remains of whales hunted near Tasiilaq. These remains, once part of majestic beings hunted by local fishermen, now lie silently on the ocean floor, offering a stark reminder of the past.

The macabre journey from hunt to ocean floor

The capture of these whales, once harpooned, marks the beginning of a macabre spectacle. On the shores, the bodies of the Minke whales are dismembered, their flesh and blubber harvested. What remains is given back to the sea, where high tides eventually carry the bones back into the ocean’s embrace, creating this underwater graveyard.

Capturing the scene: challenges and insights

The shot was challenging not only in its subject matter but also in its execution beneath Greenland’s ice cap. One juror expressed their preference, highlighting the difficulties involved.

Another juror remarked on the diver’s suit and flashlight, lending an “alien visitor” feel to the composition, which “flows effortlessly, guiding the viewer on the right journey to tell the story.”

A reflection of community and contemplation

This photograph narrates the tale of an activity that, for the community of Tasiilaq with approximately 2000 residents, signifies a moment of sharing and reflection. Whale hunting remains a vital part of Greenland’s culture and livelihood. Despite the fact that fishermen harvest just under a dozen whales annually, commercial whaling significantly reduced the population of these cetaceans between 1940 and 1983.

Conservation efforts and current status

The International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee has established limits over time to protect these species. Today, the conservation status of the Balaenoptera acutorostrata is considered to be of “least concern,” reflecting the efforts made towards their preservation.

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