Skip to main content
logo sos

Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

Are You a Wildlife Storyteller?

A sea otter in its ecosystem. Photo by Morgan RectorA sea otter in its ecosystem. Photo by Morgan Rector

Sea Otter Savvy Wildlife Storyteller Photo Contest

We are often naturally attracted to charismatic species: animals that impress us by their size or inherent beauty. An example is the sea otter, who is an integral part of a diverse community—kelp, urchins, rockfish, sea stars, seals, seabirds, humans, and hundreds more—living together in a place with a unique set of physical features.

Therefore, it is no surprise that sea otters are a popular subject for photography and media. At Sea Otter Savvy we encourage enjoyment of the many wonderful images of sea otters, but with a healthy dose of awareness and scrutiny. Many love to see images of animals looking at us---eye contact being a standard for portraits that engage the viewer in the moment. However, it is difficult to know whether that eye contact was a lucky moment caught with a telephoto lens, or the result of an animal noticing the photographer’s presence. While a gaze turned toward a photographer does not itself constitute a disturbance, it does shift the subject of the image away from natural behavior, to a snapshot of a reaction to the presence of a human. These photos also tend to isolate the animals, and shifts audiences’ attention away from the natural context that supports the survival of species in the wild.

The mission of the Wildlife Storytellers Photo Contest is to promote photography as a medium for sharing stories about the deep relationships between organisms and the places they live. More than portraits of individual species, winning photos will tell a story about the relationship between a species within the context of the habitat it lives in, to inspire a deeper awareness and appreciation for the conservation of intact ecosystems and biodiversity. We aim to transform this aspiration for eye contact portraits to those that celebrate ecosystems and capture meaningful images that tell the stories of animal life in wild places.

Winning photos will also promote ethical wildlife photography and inspire a new commitment to stewardship through respectful photography and storytelling. Become a Sea Otter Savvy photographer, promote your photography responsibly, and join our community! We hope the images we select will inspire not only photographers, but also scientists, conservationists and advocates for the natural world.

Ecosystem defined: An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) linked together in a particular place through nutrient cycles and energy flows.


photo page jackie 500Join us in "zooming out" to feature animals and their habitat!

The Sea Otter Savvy Wildlife Storyteller photo contest is open to professional and amateur photographers for all ages. Any device is welcome to be used from SLR to cellphone, so long as all recommended viewing distances, specific to species, are respected. Beautiful wildlife photography does not always require closeup shots, and those entering the contest should aim to use their medium strategically and responsibly.

Entries must respect the following:

  • Portray a species in its natural ecosystem/community. Subject may include any living species and is not limited to sea otters.
  • No direct eye contact
  • The welfare of a subject and its environment must be placed ahead of the desire to capture a photograph.
  • No captive animals; no images that appear to be the result of baiting; no images taken at game farms
  • Follow distance guidelines specific to species of choice (no disturbance photography)
  • Include a caption with location, species identification, story, distance, camera and lens info
  • Submit a title and story behind the image, whether that is a personal or ecological one, demonstrating the relationship between the species and the context.



To Enter:

Photo contest Begins July 27th and all Entries must be received by 5:00PM(PST) Monday, September 14th

Submission guidelines:

To submit an entry, the photograph must be posted on either Instagram or Facebook* by Monday September 14th at 5:00 PM (PST) with the following:

         -Tag and follow @seaottersavvy

         -Include #SOSPhotoContest #WildlifeStoryTeller

         -Caption with your story that includes location, species ID, distance, camera & lens info.

*For those not wanting to post on social media – you can submit via email or Facebook messenger in jpeg format, edited in sRGB color space, at least 2,000 pixels wide and no larger than 10 MB.

You must complete a separate post for each photo submitted. Maximum of 3 entries per person. Finalists must be prepared to submit an original, unedited digital file for final judging.

 Note: You retain your rights to your photograph; however, by entering the contest, you grant Sea Otter Savvy a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to publicly reproduce, publish, exhibit and communicate to the public by any means and in all media through the world any entry. This license is granted only for use in relation to the competition which shall include but will not be limited to any of the following uses: the process of judging the competition; public display; publication on relevant parts of the Sea Otter Savvy website; publicity materials, including social media. Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit.


Judging process

Photo entries will be judged based on the following criteria: storytelling; story caption; demonstrated relationship between species and ecosystem; quality; impact; responsible wildlife photography. Winners will be announced on the final day of Sea Otter Awareness week: Saturday, 26th September 2020  

The competition will be judged* by a panel of photography professionals and wildlife biologists. Meet our judges:

Gena Bentall, Sea Otter Savvy Executive Director and Research Scientist

Isabelle Groc, Wildlife Photographer and Author

Heather Barrett, Sea Otter Savvy Science Communications Director and Research Scientist

Jeff & Wendy, of Jeff & Wendy Photography

Joe Tomoleoni, Wildlife Photographer and sea otter biologist

Morgan Rector, Wildlife Photographer

*The contest judges reserve the right to disqualify images that, in their sole discretion, appear to be the result of questionable practices. Sea Otter Savvy reserves to the right for final decision.

Photography Interviews and Inspiration:

To help guide and inspire those entering the contest, there will be a series of blogs and 4 Instagram Live stream interviews with wildlife photographers. These will serve as resources for entrants to learn more on how to become a Sea Otter Savvy Photographer, providing tips and guidelines on visual storytelling and responsible wildlife photography.

All live stream interviews will also be uploaded to the Sea Otter Savvy YouTube channel for future reference.

Interview Schedule:

joe tomoleoni portraitWildlife photographer and sea otter biologist, Joe Tomoleoni

30th July, 2020 (11:00 AM PST) – Interview on storytelling through photography with conservation photographer and Author Isabelle Groc

13th August, 2020 (11:00 AM PST)  – Interview on an ecosystem perspective on wildlife photography with EcoExposure’s photographer Joe Tomoleoni

27th August, 2020 (11:00 AM PST)  – Interview on wildlife photography and social media with photographer Morgan Rector

10th September, 2020 (11:00 AM PST)  - Interview on understanding ethical wildlife photography with photographers Jeff Torquemada and Wendy Sparks

26th September, 2020 (Time TBD) – Photography panel with guest photographers to answer questions on ethical wildlife photography and announce the winners of the Sea Otter Savvy Wildlife Storyteller Photo Contest


Winning Categories and prizes:

First placeSea Otters: A Survival Story + Sea Otter Savvy cap + Sea Otter Awareness Week shirt

Runner-up – Sea Otters: A Survival Story + Sea Otter Savvy cap

Honorable Mention – Sea Otter Savvy cap

Youth (< 18yo) – Sea Otters a Survival Story + Sea Otter Savvy cap + Sea Otter Awareness Week shirt