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Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year: Justin Gilligan wins for octopus snap

Justin Gilligan's winning photo captures the exact moment an octopus selects a spider crab.
'Predatory Pursuit' earned Justin Gilligan the 2017 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year award.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

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A fluke picture of a cast of spider crabs and a predatory octopus has clinched its owner the 2017 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year prize.

Justin Gilligan snapped the photo at Mercury Passage, between Maria Island and the Tasmanian coast.

"I wish I could say it took weeks of planning and days in the field to capture the shot but with this image I was fortunate it was a total surprise," he said.

Jennie Stock's windblown egret, little egret photograph.
Jennie Stock's animal portrait Windblown Egret.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

Scott Portelli's animal behaviour photograph of green turtles devouring a giant jellyfish.
Scott Portelli's animal behaviour winning entry, Devouring a Home, which features a giant jellyfish and green turtles.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

"[It was] a completely unexpected encounter with a group of hundreds of spider crabs, down off Tasmania.

"In their midst was a giant Maori octopus, which is the largest species of octopus in the southern hemisphere.

Threatened species winner from Elizabeth Howell of a grey-haired flying fox just above the water with droplets on its wings
Threatened species winning entry from Elizabeth Howell of a grey-headed flying fox.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

Junior winner Georgia Poyner snapped this common dolphin.
Winning junior entry by Georgia Poyner, The Dancer.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

Gilligan, a freelance photographer from New South Wales, was diving with researchers from the University of Tasmania who were experimenting with kelp on artificial reefs when he snapped the prize-winning image.

"I've been entering this competition since about 2008, so it's nine years now and I've never had the opportunity to win the top prize, so this is definitely a thrill," he said.

'Amazing' images offer insights into natural world

The awards are run by the South Australian Museum and Gilligan has won a trip to Antarctica and $10,000 for his triumph.

"The Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition continues to grow, with 2017 seeing a record number of entries," museum director Brian Oldman said.

Competition's landscape winning entry, Spirit in country, by Julie Fletcher.
Julie Fletcher's landscape winning entry, Spirit in Country.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

Monochrome winner, Iceberg at Paradise Harbour, by Brain Jones.
Monochrome winner Brian Jones' entry, Iceberg at Paradise Harbour.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

Some of the other winners include Jennie Stock's photo of a windblown egret, Scott Portelli's shot of green turtles devouring a giant jellyfish, and Julie Fletcher's aerial landscape.

"I'm constantly amazed at the calibre of entries we receive and Mr Gilligan's winning entry is yet another example of the role this competition plays in connecting people with the natural world in which we live."

The winners and finalists have gone on display at the South Australian Museum and at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Botanical winner Justin Gilligan's entry, Final Stand, showing an underwater landscape.
Botanical winner, Final Stand, by Justin Gilligan.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

Jason Stephens' entry, Happy wanderer, captures a short-beaked echidna with a mountainous landscape in the background
Animal habitat winner, Happy Wanderer, by Jason Stephens.

Supplied: Australian Geographic

A marble fish and herring cale trapped in a fishing line-style net
Our impact winning photo, Gillnet, of a marble fish and herring cale caught in a net by Justin Gilligan.

Supplied: Australian Geographic