Stunning and surreal comes to mind.

National Geographic has honoured their longstanding tradition of giving the world the very best in global snapshots, as they announce the Travel Photographer winners for their esteemed 2018 contest. 

This annual event sees some 13,000 entries each year before a panel of expert photo specialists personally decides on the winning images. This year, the title of "Best" goes to a Japanese photographer by the name of Reiko Takahashi, who captured a stunning underwater image of a humpback whale calf’s tail. Entitled Mermaid, the award-winning photo was snapped during a snorkelling trip near Japan’s Kumejima Island. In addition to the title and honour, Takahashi took the prize money of $10,000 USD home.

“Most of the time, the calf stayed close to her [mum]," says Takahashi, regarding the circumstance and context of the image. 

"At one point, the calf began jumping and tapping its tail on the water near us-- it was very friendly and curious.” 

“Finally, the mother, who was watching nearby, came to pick up the calf and swim away... I fell in love completely with the calf and it’s very energetic, large, and beautiful tail.”

Up close and very personal with nature. Congratulations are in order.

Take a look at Reiko Takahashi's 'Mermaid' in the gallery above, as well as a selection of other celebrated images from this year’s contest. To find out more, head to National Geographic‘s official website here.