The 26th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is well underway and so far, the publication has amassed hundreds of amazing submissions of landscapes, cityscapes, wildlife, human interest subjects and everything in between. And while all of the photos are incredible, some of the biggest crowd-pleasers are the animals.
Photographer Ryan Essex managed to capture one particularly adorable moment: four Fur Seals appear to be having the vacation of a lifetime as they lounge together on abandoned couches in Isabella, Galapagos. In fact, it’s so adorable that my heart exploded. But it wasn’t the only endearing moment that he or any of the other talented photographers caught on camera. Here are some of the National Geographic editors’ favorite weekly finalists for your viewing pleasure (try not to die of cute):
Stylish Llama: I’m pretty positive that this llama dresses better than I do. Also, does it have a wind machine to blow its hair around? According to photographer Esther Buttery, “At 14,000 feet in icy winds, this llama was completely at home. It was a different world for me.” She says she captured the shot on a trip to Laguna, Bolivia and adds, “I’d like to think that we shared a moment.”
Cub Scouts Honor: “While watching her mother dive for salmon in the frigid glacier water of the Crescent River, this young brown bear cub couldn’t contain her excitement and stood up on her rear legs and politely made a waving direction towards me,” says photographer Kevin Dietrich. He managed to get a shot of the adorable fluff-ball while on site in the Alaskan wilderness of the Chigmit Mountains. With a bear this cute, I might just risk the mauling and go in for the hug. Totally cool, right?
Himalayan Dog: “To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace,” wrote author Milan Kundera. Isn’t it a treat then to find that moment when you least expect it? “This dog just appeared out of nowhere and followed us for an entire week during our trekking trip in the Himalayan outback. He always used to sleep in front of our tent and guarded us in the nights,” recounts Sebastian Wahlhuetter, who captured the image. “When I decided to get up at 4 a.m. to climb the next 5000m peak for sunrise, he accompanied me as well. He was sitting for the entire 30 minutes on this place looking straight into the countryside.”
…I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying.
Vole in a Hole: With the cutest title known to mankind, this one really won me over personally. Mark Bridger was touring the cozy East Malling, Kent in the UK when he happened upon the little guy “sitting in his favorite water pipe munching on some water weed.” If you don’t think this is the cutest thing ever, we can’t be friends. Just look at him chillin’ there, having a snack in his little hobbit hole. My heart.
Otter Doing Loops: Claire O’Keeffe was busy taking photos at the Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary in Buckfastleigh, Devon when one of the little fur-balls caught her eye. “This one was having so much fun swimming along… and then did a loop before surfacing. It was beautiful to watch and amazing to capture!” This is pretty impressive, considering how much practice must have gone into that perfectly executed loopedy-loop. You go, Otter.
I Want To Be a Model: “It was in Rajasthan, in Bundi. I was exploring the small streets and I tried to find some nice spot for some street shoot,” explains photographer Stefan Meyer. “Exactly then, I saw this goat and the children— who tried to run to me to be on the picture— but the goat did a better job!” No really, why are all of these animals better-dressed than me? Also, I suggest we all take a moment to appreciate the strut and obvious body-confidence that this goat is displaying. Work it, kid!
Leopard Seal: It seems that photographing Fur Seals isn’t Ryan Essex’s only specialty. While on location in Antarctica (he really gets around), Essex captured this image of what I can only assume is Joey Tribbiani. He captioned it “Leopard Seal, relaxing on an iceberg,” but let’s be real here: this is a straight up “How YOU doin’?”
Whoever wins the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest will be one lucky duck. Or moose. Or llama. Seriously: how about we just award all the prizes to the adorable and unintentionally hilarious wildlife and be done with it? I have a very busy schedule of crying over baby animals to get back to.