From a napping seal and a bandit raccoon to a curious whale and a misplaced cocoon, nature provides some gorgeous photo opportunities.

For 55 years, photographers have showcased their work in the Natural History Museum, London's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. This year, the competition attracted more than 48,000 entries from 100 countries. Winners will be announced Oct. 15 with winners and finalists going on display at the museum at an exhibit opening Oct. 18.

In advance of the event, the museum has released a selection of highly commended photographs from various categories in the competition, along with descriptions of each photo.

Here's what they say about the striking photo above from the urban wildlife category. It's called "Lucky Break" by Jason Bantle:

An ever-adaptable raccoon pokes her bandit-masked face out of a 1970s Ford Pinto on a deserted farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. In the back seat, her five playful kits trill with excitement. It was a sentiment shared by Jason Bantle, waiting silently in a nearby hide, who had been hoping for this chance every summer for several years. The only access into the car was through the small hole in the cracked safety glass of the windscreen. The gap was blunt‑edged but too narrow a fit for a coyote (the primary predator of raccoons in the area), making this an ideal place for a mother raccoon to raise a family.

Here are more of the competition's stunning entries.

'Sleeping like a Weddell,' Black and White

'Sleeping like a Weddell'
'Sleeping like a Weddell' (Photo: Ralf Schneider/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Hugging its flippers tight to its body, the Weddell seal closed its eyes and appeared to fall into a deep sleep. Lying on fast ice (ice attached to land) off Larsen Harbour, South Georgia, it was relatively safe from its predators — killer whales and leopard seals — and so could completely relax and digest. Weddell seals are the world’s most southerly breeding mammals, populating inshore habitats around the Antarctic continent.

'The Freshwater Forest,' Plants and Fungi

'The Freshwater Forest'
'The Freshwater Forest' (Photo: Michel Roggo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Slender stems of Eurasian watermilfoil, bearing whorls of soft, feathery leaves, reach for the sky from the bed of Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Michel Roggo has photographed freshwater regions worldwide, but this was the first time he had dived in the lake nearest to his home. He was swimming near the surface — absorbed with the beauty of the plants and their small reddish flowers— when he spotted a huge pike disappearing into the mass of vegetation below. Very slowly, he sank down for a closer look. When he reached the bottom, he found himself immersed in an "underwater jungle with an endless view."

'If Penguins Could Fly,' Behavior: Mammals

'If Penguins Could Fly'
'If Penguins Could Fly' (Photo: Eduardo Del Álamo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

A gentoo penguin — the fastest underwater swimmer of all penguins — flees for its life as a leopard seal bursts out of the water. Eduardo Del Álamo was expecting it. He had spotted the penguin, resting on a fragment of broken ice. But he had also seen the leopard seal patrolling off the Antarctic Peninsula coast, close to the gentoo’s colony on Cuverville Island. As Eduardo’s inflatable headed towards the penguin, the seal passed directly beneath the boat. Moments later, it surged out of the water, mouth open. The penguin made it off the ice, but the seal now seemed to turn the hunt into a game.

'Canopy Hangout,' Young Wildlife Photographers

"Canopy Hangout'
"Canopy Hangout' (Photo: Carlos Pérez Naval/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

When Carlos Pérez Naval's family planned a trip to Panama’s Soberanía National Park, sloths were high on their must-see agenda. They were not disappointed. For several days, from the observation deck of the park’s canopy tower, Carlos could photograph not only birds but also this brown-throated three-toed sloth — the orange fur and the dark stripe on its back marking it as an adult male. It hung out in a cecropia tree, resting but occasionally moving, slowly, along a branch to reach new leaves.

'Big Cat and Dog Spat,' Behavior: Mammals

'Big cat and dog spat'
'Big Cat and Dog Spat' (Photo: Peter Haygarth/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

In a rare encounter, a lone male cheetah is set upon by a pack of African wild dogs. Peter Haygarth had been following the dogs by vehicle as they hunted in Zimanga Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. A warthog had just escaped the pack when the leading dogs came across the big cat. At first, the dogs were wary, but as the rest of the 12-strong pack arrived, their confidence grew, and they began to encircle the cat, chirping with excitement. The elderly cheetah hissed and lunged back at the mob, his left ear tattered, the right one pinned back in the ruckus. As dust flew in the morning light, Peter kept his focus on the cat’s face. In a few minutes the spat was over as the cheetah fled.

'Touching Trust,' Wildlife Photojournalism

'Touching Trust'
'Touching Trust' (Photo: Thomas P Peschak/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

A curious young gray whale approaches a pair of hands reaching down from a tourist boat. In San Ignacio Lagoon, on the coast of Mexico’s Baja California, baby grey whales and their mothers actively seek contact with people for a head scratch or back rub. The lagoon is one of three that comprise a gray whale nursery and sanctuary — a key winter breeding ground for this surviving breeding population of grey whales, the eastern North Pacific ones.

'The Hair-Net Cocoon,' Behavior: Invertebrates

'The Hair-Net Cocoon'
'The Hair-Net Cocoon' (Photo: 'The Hair-Net Cocoon'/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Standing side-on to the wall of the [bathroom], his face and camera pressed against it, Minghui Yuan focused on the remarkable cocoon of a Cyna moth pupa. A more typical location would be a tree trunk or rock, as in the rainforest of Xishuangbanna, southwest China, where he had just been filming. But this caterpillar had chosen a wall. It had used its long, hair-like setae to weave the delicate cocoon cage, held with silk and just 4 centimeters (1 1/2 inches) long, inside which it would pupate.

'Beach Waste,' Wildlife Photojournalism

'Beach Waste'
'Beach Waste' (Photo: Matthew Ware/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

From a distance, the beach scene at Alabama’s Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge looked appealing: blue sky, soft sand and a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. But as Matthew Ware and the strandings patrol team got closer they could see the fatal noose around the turtle's neck attached to the washed-up beach chair. The Kemp's ridley is not only one of the smallest sea turtles — just 65 centimeters (2 feet) long — it is also the most endangered.

'Jelly Baby,' Underwater

'Jelly Baby'
'Jelly Baby' (Photo: Fabien Michenet/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

A juvenile jackfish peers out from inside a small jellyfish off Tahiti in French Polynesia. With nowhere to hide in the open ocean, it has adopted the jelly as an overnight travelling shelter, slipping under the umbrella and possibly immune to the stinging tentacles, which deter potential predators. In hundreds of night dives, says Fabien Michenet, "I’ve never seen one without the other."

'Cool Drink,' Behavior: Birds

'Cool Drink'
'Cool Drink' (Photo: Diana Rebman/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

On a bitterly cold morning on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Diana Rebman came across a delightful scene. A flock of long-tailed tits and marsh tits were gathered around a long icicle hanging from a branch, taking turns to nibble the tip. Here, a Hokkaido long-tailed tit hovers for a split second to take its turn to nip off a beakful. If the sun came out and a drop of water formed, the tit next 'in line' would sip rather than nip. The rotation of activity was so fast-moving that it almost seemed choreographed.

'The Climbing Dead,' Plants and Fungi

'The Climbing Dead'
'The Climbing Dead' (Photo: Frank Deschandol/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

On a night-time fieldtrip in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, Frank spotted this bizarre-looking weevil clinging to a fern stem. Its glazed eyes showed it was dead,and the three antennae-like projections growing out of its thorax were the ripe fruiting bodies of a "zombie fungus." Spreading inside the weevil while it was alive, the parasitic fungus had taken control of its muscles and compelled it to climb.

'Circle of Life,' Black and White

'Circle of Life'
'Circle of Life' (Photo: Alex Mustard/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

In the clear water of the Red Sea, a shoal of big eye trevally circle 25 meters (80 feet) down at the edge of the reef. For the past 20 years Alex Mustard has traveled here, to Ras Mohammad — a national park at the tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — to photograph the summer-spawning aggregations of reef fish. 'The big lure is that I always see something new,' he says. This time, it was the high numbers of big eye trevally. Their circling behavior is a dating exercise prior to pairing up, though it also deters predators.

'The Wall of Shame,' Wildlife Photojournalism

"The Wall of Shame'
"The Wall of Shame' (Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Pinned to a white wall are the skins of rattlesnakes. Surrounding them are signed bloody handprints — triumphant marks of those who have skinned snakes at the annual rattlesnake round-up in Sweetwater, Texas. Each year tens of thousands of rattlesnakes are caught for this four‑day festival. In spring, wranglers use gasoline to flush the snakes out of their winter dens — a practice banned in many U.S. states ... What Jo-Anne McArthur found most unsettling about this image was 'that so many of the bloodied handprints belonged to children'.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.