Swarm of rainbow-colored starfish devour sea lion corpse on seafloor

This stunning photo of a dead California sea lion covered in colorful bat stars recently announced as the winner of a major wildlife photography award. (Image credit: David Slater)

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An award-winning photographer has captured the somber moment when dozens of colorful starfish set about devouring a lifeless sea lion on the seafloor in California.

Wildlife photographer David Slater captured the haunting photo in the shallow waters of Monterey Bay. The dead sea lion and its compatriots swimming in the background are most likely California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), but they could also be Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), based on the two species’ geographical ranges. The sea stars are all bat stars (Patiria miniata), scavenging starfish that come in a wide range of colors. The bat stars play a key role in recycling the sea lion into energy and nutrients, returning its remains to the marine food web.

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