18 Most Popular Instagram Photos of 2017

December 28, 2017

How do we curate the feed of raw nature, worldly wonder, and global adventure that 83.7 million people follow on the National Geographic Instagram account? We don't. All we do is share our password with a hundred of our favorite photographers and encourage them to post often (but not too often)—and somehow, it works.

Photography isn't best described in statistics and numbers, but we can say that 2017 was another year of growth. We gained more than 17 million new followers, logged 6.1 million comments, and totaled 1.4 billion likes. We continued to grow our issue-area accounts, including @NatGeoTravel and @NatGeoAdventure. We saw new photographers join our photo community, Your Shot. And we crowned new winners in our 2017 Nature and Travel Photographer of the Year contests. Altogether, this reach allows us to share National Geographic's original mission—"to explore the world and all that's in it"—with more people, in more places, every day.

Here are our 18 most-liked Instagram images from 2017. All received well over a million likes, crowdsourcing their way to the top. We have high standards for our photos, and our readers, thankfully, do too.


Like many indigenous people in the Amazon, the Awa keep wild animals as pets and seem particularly fond of monkeys. Baby monkeys are usually acquired when their parent is shot for food. The monkeys are much loved and often spend much of the day sleeping on people's heads especially when they are young like this one. 1,964,229 likes




Galapagos marine iguanas live on the edge—the difference between life and death is a few degrees of temperature. The world's only ocean going lizards graze on cold water seaweeds. Increases in sea temperature have detrimental effects on marine iguana populations. No seaweed=No iguanas. 1,779,146 likes

This is what a starving polar bear looks like. People have asked why we couldn’t help. In addition to being illegal to feed wildlife, polar bears like this one need several hundred pounds of meat to survive. We didn’t have a weapon and we didn’t have any food. We were hundreds of miles from the nearest Inuit community. What we did do was push through our tears knowing that this footage was going to help connect a global audience to the biggest issue facing us as a species today. It is true that we don’t know what caused this animal to starve but we are certain that unless we curb carbon emissions, sea ice will continue to disappear and many more bears will starve. 1,748,398 likes




Jackson, WY 11:38am 8.21.17. What a moment...as the magic of the universe was unveiled, a collective primal howl and cheer could be heard across the valley. I wish I could say I was waiting for exactly the right timing....but I was chasing ten kids around the backyard and running by the camera randomly hitting the shutter button. This was the only frame that looked remotely like this. Just reinforces that serendipity can be your best friend when it comes to photography. 1,746,290 likes

This Greenlandic dog is not a pet but a working dog the Inuit use for dog-sledding. With the disappearance of sea ice, they have become a burden, which is why some hunters are forced to shoot them. It is too expensive to sustain and feed them throughout the year when they can only use them for shorter and shorter periods of time. I took this portrait while crossing the frozen sea on my way to Siorapaluk, one of the northernmost settlements on the planet. 1,616,981 likes




Jayaprakash Joghee Bojan of Singapore captured this stunning shot of an enormous male orangutan, waist-deep in a river, to win the Nature Photographer of the Year contest. Our judges were impressed by how the poignant image spoke to the impact deforestation is having on the habitat of this critical endangered species. 1,602,915 likes




Two harp seal pups meet each other on the pack ice of Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, touching noses as they sniff one another. Pups are generally born in this region during February, spending about two weeks nursing from their mothers before heading off into the frigid arctic waters on their own. The decline of sea ice over the last decade has created a serious crisis for these animals, as pup mortality rates have increased substantially. 1,553,793 likes




Inside every animal is an individual with its own emotions and needs. When I photograph animals I try to bring out their personalities just as people photographers do that with their subjects. I spent several hours with this magnificent male cougar in Belize before he relaxed to a dreamy pose that I felt captured his mood. 1,548,204 likes




Cheetahs are the most vulnerable of the world’s big cats, with cub mortality as high as 95 percent often due to predation by lions and hyenas. Longterm studies have revealed that in the entire Serengeti ecosystem fewer than 50 cheetah females successfully raise cubs to independence on a regular basis. Here is one of these remarkable “supermoms" scanning the horizon for trouble with a cub next to her. 1,482,211 likes




Every night in Unalaska, I'd spot this red fox near the side of the road, charming drivers with its irresistible cuteness into throwing it snacks out the window. On this evening, I spent a few hours watching this fox at work, using my headlights to light the scene. 1,472,613 likes




A clownfish peers from the tentacles of its host anemone in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. The clownfish and the anemone are partners in the sea: the clownfish keeps predators from the anemone and the anemone provides valuable cover to an entire family of clownfish also called anemonefish. It is critical for all us to recognize the role of oceans in our lives. We are inseparable from the sea, the ocean produces more than half of our oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide.As the oceans go, so do we. 1,440,449 likes




This photo is one of the first glimpses of #eclipse2017 captured by National Geographic photographer Babak Tafreshi in a jet above the Pacific at the moment the eclipse began. 1,425,119 likes




I collected the camera from a spot near Jackson Hole, Wyoming today and found this little Bambi along with several other shots of mule deer. Camera traps are a great way to monitor movement and get interesting images without disturbing the subject. 1,414,984 likes




We arrived at a remote island in the Philippines to dive and scout for plastic debris. Two dogs appeared on the beach and began to swim to our boat. The heavy surf turned them back. I abandoned my dive and swam ashore with rice. The dogs had been left behind and and were extremely emaciated and weak. We spent a few hours on shore with these wonderful creatures. Ironically I found the debris our team was looking for on shore when I found the dogs. They were pawing through the debris seeking anything to eat. We are working with locals to keep them fed by boat until we can get them off the island. We are calling these two, a male and female, the "dugong dogs" because we were working with dugongs in the area. 1,391,940 likes




In cold weather, a normally reddish brown ermine changes into its white winter coat, a perfect camouflage adaptation for this small and fast predator. 1,362,259 likes




Snow leopards are the ghosts of the high mountain areas of central Asia in which they live. These areas are vitally important as they provide water for millions of people. But the glaciers that provide the water are rapidly disappearing, which begs the question: What will the future bring for people and animals? 1,361,519 likes




Adorable, but vulnerable, three cheetah cubs watch their mother hunt in the Serengeti Plains, a few weeks after they first emerged from a den inside the rocks where they spent their first month hiding from predators like lions, hyenas, and leopards. More than half of all cheetah cubs do not survive the first four weeks of life and most of the rest do not make it beyond their first year. 1,308,100 likes




While searching for new dive sites off Selvagem Pequena Island, a remote archipelago 200 miles off the coast of Western Sahara, we observed this seemingly random wave rise from the depths and take the form of a snow-capped peak. We decided to have a look under it and quickly found an amazing sea-mount full of life. Always expect the unexpected at sea. 1,278,417 likes





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