A photographer in Monterey Bay, California captured a bizarre scene recently as a humpback whale nearly swallowed a pelican alive, leaving just the bird’s wing and bill protruding from the cetacean’s mouth.
According to the Daily Mail, Kate Cummings was observing a gathering of birds, sea lions, and eight whales as they fed on small fish. The pelican was sitting on the surface of the water as it sought prey, the Express reports, when the whale burst from the sea, catching the unlucky bird in its mouth.
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At first onlookers feared that the pelican had been swallowed whole by the whale. Before the massive animal submerged into the ocean once more, however, it opened its mouth and the pelican was able to make its escape.
“This particular pelican’s timing was a bit off and didn’t lift off fast enough before the humpback whales emerged,” Cummings recalled.
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“The humpback didn’t close its mouth all the way. It’s very likely the whale felt the pelican in its mouth and didn’t want to crush it.
“We watched as the whale opened its mouth wide before submerging again and the pelican hopped across the water with no visible damage.”
Nice shot! @KatherineBaylor: Brown Pelican trailing a whale-watching boat, Monterey Bay: pic.twitter.com/aB6skN1eBO
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Cummings also pointed out that humpback whales have a special organ, often confused for their tongue, on the roof of their mouth. It is likely this factor, she surmises, that may have saved the pelican’s life.
“It’s very sensitive and is likely used to get a feel for how much food the whale is taking in with one mouthful, though they could also use it to detect something inside their mouth that didn’t belong there – like a pelican.”
Last month, a whale watching group in Monterey Bay captured astonishing footage of a feeding frenzy that involved whales, sea lions, and birds. As the Inquisitr previously reported, video of the event depicted several of the massive whales rising from the ocean just a few feet from onlookers. One of the whales was even filmed diving directly under the boat on which spectators had gathered.
As fish cluster together during such a frenzy, other animals trying to feed, like the pelican, can all too often become inadvertent food for whales.
[Image: Kate Cummings via the Daily Mail]