The award-winning photographer photographed a sad time when dozens of colorful fish began to devour an inanimate sea lion in California.
Wildlife photographer David Slater poses for a terrifying photo in shallow water in Monterey Bay. The dead sea lion and its rear swimmers are likelier to be the California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Still, they can also be Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), based on the geographical diversity of the two species. All sea stars are bats (Patiria miniata), stinging starfish in various colors. Bats play a vital role in replenishing the sea lion’s energy and nutrients, restoring its remains to food in the ocean.
The shocking image won first place in the “Aquatic Life” category at the California Academy of Science’s Big Picture Competition. “I knew this photo was special when I first published it, but the words can’t even describe how I feel about taking first place in such an important competition,” Slater wrote on Instagram. The picture shows that “beauty and sacrifice can be found in unexpected places,” he added.
It is unclear how the sea lion in the picture died. It may have been killed by natural disasters or anthropogenic conditions, such as a shipwreck, plastic imports, or interference from fishing grounds. However, the number of California sea lions increased in size. It was listed as a “minor concern” on the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species.
Star bats derive their name from the string that grows between their arms, resembling bat wings. Starfish usually have five components but can have as many as nine, and animals grow up to 8 inches (20 inches) across, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They are written in a variety of colors but are usually red, orange, yellow, brown, green, or purple.
Bat stars have “eye spots” that see the light at the end of each arm, and fragrant cells under their arms enable them to “taste” chemicals left by small invertebrates or corpses in the water. When bats find food, they push one of their two stomachs through their mouth and release digestive enzymes to break down their food before eating, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.