In this series of photos, human rules do not apply. In an underwater world, where a life support system can only keep a human alive for about 40 minutes, I have no place. Therefore, whenever I do end up in this world, all my senses are triggered; I cannot tell where sounds come from, everything I see seems to be closer than it really is, my fingers and feet are numb from the frigid water, it makes my whole body shiver, and the only smell my nose is able to detect is that of my mask’s inside.

Now, one may wonder, why enter a world where a human is clearly not meant to be? My answer to that question is simple: we think our self-proclaimed title as “Homo Sapiens”, or Wise Man, gives us the right to exploit the worlds in which we live and on which we depend. However, when I saw a male sea lion seated on his throne of rocks like Mufasa as he looked over his kingdom, I did not in the slightest feel superior to him. Then, he launched their 500 kg body into the ocean. Before I had the chance to move out of his way, he was circling me, looking at me, inspecting me as if he was deciding whether I was something to play with or something to eat.

Through these 3 photos, I want to introduce you to the sea lion’s kingdom and as you read, I want you to ask yourself the question: “Are humans superior to other species on Earth?”

1. Breathe

October 26th, 2019, Race Rocks. 

The sea lion in the front and I have one thing in common in this photo; we both blow bubbles. Whereas the sea lion’s bubbles come from its nose, mine come from my regulator. Maybe that is why they look at me so curiously: to stay alive underwater, I need a buoyancy control device, a regulator, a tank with a compressed 3000 psi of air, a drysuit, gloves, boots, a hood, fins, and a mask. Everything the sea lions need, nature gave them a long time ago; a reminder that I am human and that I am not superior.


2. Predation

November 4th, 2019, Race Rocks

As the camouflaged cabezon is hiding behind a rock, a sea lion scanning the ocean floor for food zooms by just behind it. The cabezon’s incredible ability to look just like a rock covered in coralline algae is simply incredible. At this moment, I take a breath through my regulator and I realize how over millions of years, this fish has evolved to be able to avoid its predator by looking exactly like a rock. But then I wonder, does the cabezon even know what a rock is? Does it know what a sea lion is? Or does it act simply out of an instinct to survive? As I take another breath, I conclude that I do not need to know the answers to these questions, all I need to understand is that the way I have evolved to be conscious as a human is not superior to this cabezon’s evolution to be able to hide in plain sight of its predator. Both ways of evolution occured to survive, one is not more impressive than the other: this serves as another reminder that I am human and that I am not superior.


3. Savage?

October 26th, 2019, Race Rocks.

This has happened many times in the past few minutes. A sea lion accelerates past us and it opens its mouth. Does the sea lion do this to intimidate us? Just because it’s curious? Or maybe because sea lions are savages and want to kill us?

Turns out, it is common behaviour in sea lions to vocalize and swim at other sea lions to exert dominance. Male sea lions display this behaviour especially in breeding season when they need to show other sea lions their territory. 

The sea lion was simply showing us we do not belong in their world. In the exact moment the picture was taken, I felt something I do not often feel as a human; I felt inferior. When the sea lion looked like he was about to bite my head off, I was reminded that I am merely a small and simple part of a complex web of life that connects a multiplicity of interdependent species. In this web of life, homo sapiens are but one dot that connects billions of other dots around the world. I believe that when we do think of ourselves as but a dot, we are so much more appreciative of nature and all the wonders it has to offer. 


So finally, to answer the question I asked you before: “Are humans superior to other species on Earth?” 

I believe we are not.


Noah Zuijderwijk

About Noah Zuijderwijk