An Australian photographer managed to catch an unusual image while watching a pod of humpback whales feeding recently. One of her photos revealed a cape fur seal perched upon the back of one of the larger animals.
Robyn Malcolm recorded the whales during a trip off the coast of Eden, a town in southeastern Australia, according to Newsweek. While out on the water, she managed to observe an unusual feeding frenzy that involved not only humpback whales, but also cape fur seals. It wasn't until afterward, however, when she went back through her photos, that Malcolm realized she had captured one that stood out from the rest.
— smh.com.au (@smh) September 16, 2015
"We'd seen some amazing whales coming out of the water, everything was happening so quickly. And it was when I went back through the photos that I realized I had actually captured the seal on top of the whale."
Malcolm's photo showed the cape fur seal perched precariously on the back of the whale, seemingly riding the humpback through the melee of the feeding frenzy. According to NSW National Parks and Wildlife whale expert Geoff Ross, it is highly unusual to see a seal and whale paired together in this fashion, though such an event has been recorded at least once before. In that incident, a frightened seal utilized a humpback whale as a shield when it was stalked by a killer whale.
Piggyback riders: Seal hitches ride on humpback whale and other lazy animals (DIIMEX) http://t.co/JhxV7zTTMG pic.twitter.com/lWGskyipJe
— Telegraph Pictures (@TelegraphPics) September 17, 2015
Ross noted that Malcolm's photos otherwise show a fairly normal humpback whale feeding pattern, which often attracts seals due to the compressed nature of prey fish. When humpbacks feed, they force fish into tight groupings known as "bait balls," which seals can dart through, eating at their leisure.
In one of Malcolm's other images, Ross pointed out that around six humpback whales can be seen engaging in a behavior known as "bubble feeding." Rarely reported, he asserted that it has not been observed in New South Wales before, as he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"They look they are bubble feeding, a very unique behavior. We've not known humpbacks in NSW waters to feed like this, that's the first time I've seen that happen in NSW waters."
— Mission Blue (@MissionBlue) September 14, 2015
While Malcolm's photo has quickly spread online, she notes that she still has the original on her camera, allowing her to prove that the image of the whale-riding seal has not been altered.
[Photo by Nancy Heise - Own Work via Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain]