As It Happens

Image of majestic — but unlucky — diving cormorant nets photography prize

A photo of a cormorant diving into a school of sardines has won the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, to the shock of the photographer who says she didn't set out to capture the sea bird's image that day.

Nature photographer Joanna Lentini captured winning image on Mexico trip to photograph sea lions

A double-crested cormorant dives below the surface for a meal in this image by Joanna Lentini that has won the grand prize in the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards. (Joanna Lentini)

It didn't get the snack — but she got the shot.

A photo of a cormorant diving into a school of sardines has won the grand prize at the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, to the shock of the photographer who says she didn't set out to capture the sea bird's image that day.

Joanna Lentini, who specializes in underwater and aerial outdoor adventure photography, travelled to Bay of La Paz, Mexico, from her home in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., last November.

She was leading a group trip to encounter and photograph the California sea lions that use that area on the Baja Peninsula to mate, give birth and rest. 

"The sardines and the cormorants was quite a bit of a surprise. I had seen the sardines before, and I had seen the cormorants but hadn't seen the two together underwater," Lentini told As it Happens guest host Nil Köksal.

"A lot of it was just being patient [and] understanding the way that the light was falling on the underwater terrain."

Lentini, who specializes in underwater and aerial photography, is seen diving here amid the school of sardines whose presence attracted the cormorant. (Eliot Ferguson)

'It kept pulling me back'

The school of sardines was so thick that at times Lentini was surrounded and couldn't see anything, she said. 

But Lentini captured the winning image on the last dive of the trip, just as the others were telling her it was time to go. 

"It kept pulling me back," she said. "I kind of, you know, turned around for another moment and then captured it, and it was just so special."

Lentini said she had a sense in the moment that this particular image was a memorable one.

"There's rare moments where you're, like, 'Wow, this is a great shot.'"

"It's basically a bird turning into a fish. It's quite amazing, and something that I have always wanted to document."

A young sea lion plays in the crashing waves at Los Islotes, in Bay of La Paz, Mexico. Sea lions were the subject matter that drew Lentini to Mexico's Baja Peninsula as a leader on a group trip last November. (Joanna Lentini)

Nevertheless, Lentini said she was surprised to learn her image had won the prestigious award.

"It was the first time I was entering the competition, and I think it was the only image that I entered."

Unfortunately for the double-crested cormorants, the quest for a meal was unsuccessful.

"It was really interesting because you would see the cormorants hunting … occasionally a sea lion would zip by trying to nip at its feathers. And these poor birds, they're so hungry, and I didn't see one bird capture a fish. I felt for them."

A double-crested cormorant is captured from above water in this image by Lentini. (Joanna Lentini)

The Audubon Photography Awards, now in its 11th year, is run by the U.S.-based National Audubon Society, which uses research, advocacy and education to call attention to threats to bird habitats.

The contest honours "the ingenuity, resilience and beauty of birds," according to a statement on the organization's website, while also celebrating some of the photographers who work hard to capture them in their natural environments.

"I think, as photographers … it's quite lonely and, you know, especially with wildlife photographers. So, yeah, this little bit of recognition is quite nice." 

Written by Brandie Weikle and Sarah Jackson. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson.

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