A stunning image of two sharks twisting through a baitball of sardines has earned Doug Perrine the title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Sharks feast on sardines (© Doug Perrine)
The judges described it as a "spectacle of light and movement" and were all agreed it should win the competition.
A picture of a green lizard hiding among the leaves "like a velociraptor" gave Gabby Salazar, 17, of North Carolina, the coveted junior prize.
The competition has become one of the most prestigious in world photography.
It is organised by BBC Wildlife Magazine and London's Natural History Museum and is now in its 21st year.
The judges described the 18,500 entries, from over 50 countries, as the most impressive yet.
"When this competition first started the principle objective was to capture the subject centre-frame and pin-sharp," recalls Chris Packham, himself a wildlife photographer and film-maker and chairman of the judges.
"The pictures were very illustrative but there was a lack of artistic input. These days, people are far more concerned with the composition, the colour balance, the shape and form.
"The photographers are making a statement."
BRONZE WHALERS CHARGING A BAITBALL
Doug Perrine's image captures a simply magic moment in the "sardine run", when great shoals of sardines swim up the east coast of South Africa. It is one of the great mass-migrations on the planet - and one of the biggest feasts for predators.
Roz Kidman Cox, a judge and former editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine, described the image as balletic. "He's caught the vortex so brilliantly. I've never seen a picture like it with the sardines sticking out of the sides of the sharks' mouths."
US photojournalist Perrine has a deep passion for his subject and in his acceptance of the top award spoke of his concern for shark conservation.
"Year after year fisheries take an estimated one million sharks worldwide, decimating populations of these slow-growing and slow-producing animals to the extent that many concerned and conservative scientists have begun to use the 'E' word - extinction," he said.
Gabby Salazar has been taking pictures since the age of 12.
Her male anole was caught while out scouting for insects on the flowers in the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, south Texas. It was a flash of pink that grabbed her attention.
The anole was displaying its dewlap, a large pink fan of skin on its neck that acts as a territorial "flag".
"It exemplifies the camouflage of this creature - the sneaking nature of it," said Packham. "The first time I saw this picture I thought 'velociraptor from Jurassic Park'. It's got that beady look in its eye - a mischievous lizard."
GOLDEN JACKAL CHASING A LESSER FLAMINGO
Anup Shah from the UK took this image at Lake Makat, inside Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater.
The hyenas and golden jackals come to chase the flamingos, which come in their thousands to feed on the vast blooms of spirulina algae in the shallow, warm soda lake.
"Without the out of focus birds in the foreground their panic instilled by the jackal wouldn't be so obvious," commented Packham. "It's one of those magic moments. You want to know what happened next."
This picture was the winner in the Animal Behaviour: Mammals section.
CAT-EYED SNAKE EATING RED-EYED TREEFROG SPAWN
In the lowland rainforests of Central America, red-eyed treefrogs glue clutches of eggs to leaves overhanging forest ponds so that the developing tadpoles are safe from predators such as fish or dragonfly larvae.
But there are other predators, such as this cat-eyed snake, that specialise in eating frog eggs.
To counter them, the red-eyed treefrog has evolved a neat exit strategy. Normally, the tadpoles do not hatch until they are six days old. But, from the age of four days, the premature tadpoles hatch spontaneously if attacked, wriggling their way across the leaf and dropping to the water below.
Christian Ziegler from Germany topped the Animal Behaviour: All Other Animals category with this picture.
GALAPAGOS GIANT TORTOISES AT DAWN
Tui De Roy is from New Zealand but her picture of giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands was taken on the far side of the Pacific Ocean.
"Isabela Island is perhaps my favourite place in the world," she said. "It's where I cut my teeth as a photographer 31 years earlier.
"I returned recently to document the state of affairs of the largest remaining giant tortoise population in the Galapagos. Though a massive feral goat population, competing with the tortoises for food, has devastated the landscape, the giants are resilient and have endured the onslaught."
The image earned De Roy a runner-up position in the From Dusk To Dawn category.
An exhibition of the best images opens to visitors to the Natural History Museum's Jerwood Gallery on Saturday, 23 October, 2004, and runs until 17 April, 2005. It will then tour the UK and five continents after its London debut.