In the icy waters beneath Greenland’s vast frozen expanses, a spectacle of history and present intertwines, illuminated by the minimal natural light filtering through the thick ice sheet above.

Here, Swedish underwater photographer Alex Dawson captured a scene so compelling it earned him the prestigious title of Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024.

His photograph, titled “Whale Bones,” portrays a diver navigating the remnants of a whaling past, a stark reminder of the transient yet impactful intersections between human activity and marine life.

The image features freediver Anna Von Boetticher, a friend and frequent collaborator of Dawson, as she explores the skeletal remains of a minke whale. The setting is haunting and ethereal. Located no more than 7 meters below the ice’s surface, the site is relatively accessible, yet the conditions are anything but ordinary. The limited light creates an otherworldly glow around the diver, who, equipped with a torch, appears as an explorer from another planet.

Alex Mustard, chair of the judging panel for the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 awards, described the photograph as being shot in “the toughest conditions.” He praised the composition for its ability to guide the viewer through the narrative seamlessly, highlighting the “visiting alien” feel that the diver’s suit and torch contribute to the scene.

The image not only captures the physical remnants found beneath the ice but also tells a broader story of ecological and historical significance.

Whale Bones Photo
‘Whale Bones’

Celebrating his victory, Dawson took to Instagram to express his gratitude and honor for receiving the award. His post reflects a deep appreciation for the craft and the profound experiences that underwater photography can afford.

He noted, underscoring the challenges and unique aspects of capturing such a shot:

“This image was submitted in the Wide Angle category with freediving mode,”

Anna Von Boetticher’s own reflections on social media add a personal touch to the achievement. She shared her pride in both the recognition of Dawson’s work and her role in it, celebrating the collaborative spirit that such projects entail. Her words highlight the partnership and shared dedication required to bring such compelling underwater narratives to the surface.

This win for Dawson is not merely a personal triumph but a resonant moment for the underwater photography community. It underscores the genre’s capacity to engage with pressing environmental narratives and to evoke both beauty and contemplation through visual storytelling. The photograph of the whale bones beneath Greenland’s ice is a poignant reminder of the delicate balance marine ecosystems must navigate amidst human influence.

As the viewer’s eyes traverse the contours of whale bones and the diver’s illuminated path, the image of “Whale Bones” invites a meditative pause on the impact of past actions on the present and future marine environments. It serves as both a window and a mirror—showing us the hidden wonders of underwater realms and reflecting our own roles within these narratives.

In exploring these depths, Dawson and Von Boetticher not only capture images but also capture imaginations, prompting a dialogue about conservation, exploration, and the unseen parts of our world.