A Minke whale and calf rise to the surface near a whale watching boat off the coast of Sydney, Australia.
April 22, 2011 --
Earth Day isn't just about life on land. It's also an opportunity to explore the organisms that inhabit the oceans. The University of Miami's Rosenstiel of Marine and Atmospheric Science hosts an annual photo contest for the best snapshot of life under the sea. More than 600 images were submitted from an international pool of photographers. This shot of two transparent gobies, taken in MarsaAlam, Egypt, claimed the top prize as the best overall photo of the competition. Explore some of the other photos to claim top prizes in the 2011 underwater photography contest in this slide show.
PLANET GREEN: The Most Stunning Bodies of Water in the World
This pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti, may be difficult to spot, given how well it blends into its environment and the fact that these seahorses don't grow any larger than an inch. But this snapshot earned first prize in the contest's "Marco" category.
This vibrantly colored nudibranch (Cratena peregrina) was seen in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.
A nudibranch and a mantis shrimp rest on the sea floor of Bali's Seraya Beach in Indonesia.
Cuttlefish are seen mating off in the Oosterschelde estuary near the town of Zeeland, Netherlands. This photo took the top prize in the "Wide-Angle" category.
A stingray is surround by cardinal fish in this photo taken in Mogan in Gran Canaria, Spain.
This brightly colored jellyfish was spotted in Lake Worth Lagoon in Riviera Beach, Fla. The photo took the top prize in the "Fish or Marine Animal Portrait" category.
This web burrfish (Chilomycterus antillarum was spotted in the same location as the jellyfish in the previous slide. If it looks like it's smiling, that's because this photo took home second prize in the portrait category.
This frog catches its own reflection at the surface of a lake in Belgium just as the photographer snaps a picture.
This snapshot of an orange spotted filefish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris, claimed the top prize in the "Student" category. The fish was spotted in the water of YasawasIslands, Fiji.
This whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and its entourage were spotted cruising the depths of Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia.
Anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd said they had zeroed in on a Japanese fleet Monday and captured evidence that four whales had been slaughtered, alleging the ships were found inside a Southern Ocean sanctuary. Sea Shepherd said it had located all five Japanese vessels and was now in pursuit, forcing the harpooners to cut short their operation and retreat.
The group released footage and photographs showing three minke whales dead on the deck of the factory ship Nisshin Maru and said a fourth, also believed to be a minke, was being slaughtered when Sea Shepherd's helicopter flew overhead.
"There's three carcasses on the ship, a fourth carcass has been cut up. There's blood all over the place, meat being carted around on this factory ship deck, offal and innards being dumped in the ocean," said Sea Shepherd Australia chairman Bob Brown. "That's just a gruesome, bloody, medieval scene which has no place in this modern world."
When the Nisshin Maru was first spotted from the air, Brown said it was in Antarctica's Ross Dependency, within New Zealand's territorial waters and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which he described as a "gross breach of international law."
The commercial hunting of whales is prohibited in the sanctuary, which was designated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1994, but Japan catches the animals there under a "scientific research" loophole in the moratorium on whaling.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully denied whaling was taking place within his country's maritime jurisdiction, saying the site was considered international waters, as he condemned the "pointless and offensive" practice. "The New Zealand government has repeatedly called on Japan to end its whaling programme. We reiterate this message today," he said.
Japan's fisheries agency said its program was being conducted "in line with a research plan submitted to the IWC."
"We are not aware of the existence of a whaling sanctuary so we don't want to comment on their arguments," an agency spokesman said of Brown's claims.
The Japanese foreign ministry said research whaling was "not a violation or an abuse of a loophole in the international convention."
"Quite the contrary, this is a legitimate right of the contracting party under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling," it said.
Brown described "massive violence" against the whales, using grenade-tipped harpoons to catch them, and said Sea Shepherd would do "all it peaceably can to prevent this grotesque and cruel destruction," also urging Australia and New Zealand to take action.
"There is nothing scientific about this, it is butchery," Brown said. "The one thing that's missing here is gumption -- a bit of spine in Canberra and in Wellington to put an end to it."
Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice seeking to have its research whaling program declared illegal, with a ruling due this year.
Australia's Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the government's opposition to whaling was "well known" and it "continues to remain hopeful that the International Court of Justice will soon make its ruling."
In the meantime, he said Canberra would dispatch a government jet to fly over the whaling zone and monitor confrontations between Sea Shepherd and the Japanese.
"The aircraft will be able to monitor activities over a large area. It sends a clear message that the Australian government expects all parties to abide by the laws of the sea," said Hunt.
Sea Shepherd left Australia for their 10th annual harassment campaign of the Japanese fleet last month, sending three ships to tail and run interference against the harpooners.
High-seas clashes between the two groups are common, resulting in the 2010 sinking of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil.