Top 10 Nature Photos of 2017

Penguins, narwhals, sharks, and whales were all Instagram-famous on our feed this year.

Top 10 Nature Photos of 2017

The ocean covers 71 percent of the planet, is only about 3 percent protected—and is responsible for 100 percent of our 10 top Instagram posts of 2017.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a year of eye-opening events on land too—only that these pictures of penguins (3 out of 10!), sharks, and other aquatic life inspired the most likes on our feed.

To get the whole picture, follow @PewEnvironment on Instagram. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot—our most liked posts, and why.

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen’s picture of emperor penguins exploding out of Antarctic seas tied for @PewEnvironment’s most liked Instagram post of 2017. For being flightless, the birds really do seem to be defying gravity.

The photo was part of Nicklen’s “takeover” of our feed for World Penguin Day, during which he generously shared more of his Antarctic photography.

Four narwhals flash their tusks in the Arctic Ocean (and nail a tie for the top spot among our most liked Instagram posts of 2017). In August, Canada announced that it will safeguard some 50,000 square miles (129,500 square kilometers) of Lancaster Sound—twice as much as originally planned.

The move will help conserve Indigenous communities and vital sea life, including most of the world’s narwhals and one-seventh of its beluga whales. (Watch Lancaster Sound come to life.) (Photo courtesy U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.)

In another enchanting image from Paul Nicklen, a Gentoo penguin keeps an eye out (and under) for leopard seals. The penguin “doesn’t expect to see me and my camera, but these birds quickly size me up.” Nicklen wrote. “When they decide I’m not a threat, they go about their lives, and I’m able to see them in action.”

Did you know great whites—like this shark spotted by photographer Rasmus Raahauge—have a special spot for international hang outs? The “White Shark Café” is in the Pacific Ocean halfway between the Baja Peninsula of Mexico and Hawaii. Scientists don’t yet understand what compels hundreds of these animals to meet there every April to July.

(See more on the shark café and other underwater treasures.)

Turtles, whales, sharks, and other marine animals are snared by drift gillnets intended to catch swordfish. Deep-set buoy gear (diagramed above) offers a better way to catch the fish without needlessly killing non-target species. By authorizing this smarter gear, the Pacific Fishery Management Council could help reduce waste and support healthier ocean ecosystems.

This year was a disappointment for many who care about bluefin and other tuna-like species in the Atlantic.

"Instead of continuing progress toward adopting precautionary, science-based catch limits in some of these fisheries,” Pew’s Paulus Tak said, “member countries [of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas] put in place very risky quotas that could lead to declines in bluefin populations."

On December 1 (Antarctica Day), the world's largest protected area went into effect—the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area, where whales like this minke, shot by Pew marine fellow John Weller, roam.

A whale shark is accompanied by a school of golden trevally in an image shot by photojournalist Steve Deneef off Mafia Island, Tanzania , and shared during the photographer’s takeover of our feed during Shark Week 2017. The idyllic little island is the only known place where the same whale sharks stay year-round, making it a favored research site for observers of the world’s biggest fish species.

(See more of Deneef’s shark and non-shark photography on Instagram.)

This sea of 400,000 king penguins in South Georgia, Antarctica, left even veteran photographer Paul Nicklen speechless.

“In my journey as a wildlife photojournalist,” he wrote on our feed, “there have been countless moments where I have come upon a scene that was so jaw-droppingly beautiful that all I could do was stare in awe … I want my photos to document some of the most remote and stunning ecosystems on Earth and to show what’s at risk if we don’t protect our environment.” 

Good news for humpback whales like this one, photographed by Rodrigo Friscione: In October Mexico announced its intent to create a fully protected marine park covering more than 54,000 square miles (140,000 square kilometers) in the waters of the Revillagigedo Archipelago.

These waters have the highest number of coral species in the Mexican Pacific, which helps support an ecosystem with 366 species of fish, including 26 found nowhere else. Many humpbacks, which seek warmer waters for calving, make Revillagigedo their winter home.