Sea lion carcass being devoured by a swarm of colorful starfish off the coast of California takes first place in the ‘Aquatic Life’ category of a picture competition

  • The California Academy of Science’s Big Picture Competition announced winners for its 2022 competition
  • An image of a dead sea lion being devoured by starfish won  the ‘Aquatic Life’ category
  • The grand prize winner was a photograph of bees swarming together in a mating ball
  • Other winners included a snap of mutilated frogs, dead insects and an underwater cavern in Mexico 

A haunting image showing a sea lion carcass being devoured by at least a dozen color starfish on the seafloor of Monterey Bay in California has won the ‘Aquatic Life’ category in a photo competition.

The eerie picture was captured by wildlife photographer David Slater, who submitted it to the California Academy of Science’s Big Picture Competition.

The bright orange, pink and blue starfish are bat stars – known scavengers of the ocean – which are turning the lifeless body into energy and nutrients that is returned to the marine food web.

‘I knew this image was special when I first published it but words cannot even describe how I feel taking first place in such a prestigious contest,’ Slater, who resides in Monterey, shared in an Instagram post.

The Big Picture Competition includes several categories, all with a wildlife theme, and the grand prize winner is an image of bees swarming together in a mating ball.

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A haunting image showing a sea lion carcass being devoured by at least a dozen color starfish on the seafloor of Monterey Bay, California has won the ‘Aquatic Life’ category in a photo competition

Other winners were a snap of mutilated frogs, an underwater cavern and a collage of insects killed by an outdoor light.

The grand prize image, captured by Karine Aigner, is a moment rarely seen by humans – male cactus bees forming a ball around a single female, fighting to be the single mate.

The image of the dead sea lion, however, tells a bittersweet tale.

Although a tragedy, the sea lion is giving back to the ocean it once called home. 

The bat stars are slowly consuming the body, which not only provides them with nutrients but also creates shelter for other marine animals.

‘While this scene appears melancholic, rest assured the sea lion is giving back to the community with which it once swam,’ competition organizers wrote on the Big Picture website. 

The grand prize image, captured by Karine Aigner, is a moment rarely seen by humans – male cactus bees forming a ball around a single female, fighting to be the single mate

A stunning image of a European Beaver attempting to knock over a nearly-gnawed-through tree, while a spider hangs in its web nearby took first in the ‘Terrestrial Wildlife’ category

 ‘When the bat stars have had their fill, any number of creatures big and small will [also] be able to derive energy and shelter from what’s left behind for years to come.’

A stunning image of a European Beaver attempting to knock over a nearly-gnawed-through tree, while a spider hangs in its web nearby took first in the ‘Terrestrial Wildlife’ category.

The scene was snapped by Bence Mate, a Hungarian wildlife photographer.

‘Once nearing extinction, the European Beaver population now flourishes under new protections, allowing for renewed photography opportunities,’ reads the photo caption.

‘However, this beaver’s presence is not the only moment that makes this shot special—a spider in its web clings to the nearly-gnawed-through tree, making for a spectacular, if short-lived, scene.’

Sitaram Raul, an Indian-based wildlife photographer, won the ‘Frame With a Frame’ category, for his mesmerizing picture of a fruit bat soaring through a custard apple tree. ‘A fruit bat majestically makes its way to a custard apple tree for a feast, finding itself perfectly placed within the canopy opening,’ the competition organizers wrote

And the only category focused on landscapes was won by Tom St. George, who submitted a breath-taking image of the underwater cave systems in Mexico’s Riviera Maya

Sitaram Raul, an Indian-based wildlife photographer, won the ‘Frame With a Frame’ category, for his mesmerizing picture of a fruit bat soaring through a custard apple tree.

‘A fruit bat majestically makes its way to a custard apple tree for a feast, finding itself perfectly placed within the canopy opening,’ the competition organizers wrote.

‘It’s no coincidence that the framing is so precise; the photographer spent nearly three weeks observing these bats’ behavior as they frequented the fruit tree, learning their habits and finally capturing this photo when the moment presented itself.’

And the only category focused on landscapes was won by Tom St. George, who submitted a breath-taking image of the underwater cave systems in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

‘In taking this photograph, the photographer wished to highlight the incredible natural beauty found in the underwater cave systems of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, but also to draw attention to threats to its fragile ecosystem,’ the caption reads.

‘Insect Diversity’ is the next category, which was won by ‘a tragically beautiful tapestry of insects

And the final category, human/nature, was won by a gruesome scene of dead toads. ‘After their legs are removed for consumption, the frogs’ remains are thrown back into the water— a horrific swirl of spawn and viscera, expertly composed into a heart-breakingly tragic scene,’ the photo caption reads

‘Even though these caves are an important part of the aquifer, they are under increasing tourism pressures leading to the over-development of the region. A large-scale rail link across the whole of the Yucatan Peninsula is currently in the process of being built, putting both jungle and cave in danger—as well as potentially displacing local Mayan communities.

‘Insect Diversity’ is the next category, which was won by ‘a tragically beautiful tapestry of insects’ – an image taken by Pål Hermansen.

‘While cleaning the light, the photographer discovered a veritable treasure trove of dead insects and decided to create this collage demonstrating the expansive, if overlooked, diversity of small, winged insects,’ the competition organizes shared with the image.

And the final category, human/nature, was won by a gruesome scene of dead toads.

This is Bence Mate’s second award in the competition.

The image shows a group of frogs that were hunted by humans during spawning time.

‘After their legs are removed for consumption, the frogs’ remains are thrown back into the water— a horrific swirl of spawn and viscera, expertly composed into a heart-breakingly tragic scene,’ the photo caption reads.

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