Australian photographer Robyn Malcolm inadvertently captured a rare sight — a fur seal riding on the back of a humpback whale.
Malcolm was on a whale-watching boat of the coast of Eden in southern New South Wales when the boat came upon a pod of humpback whales and other marine mammals feeding on small baitfish.
Malcolm told Fairfax Media in a interview that she saw amazing whales coming out of the water as they were feeding. There was a lot of activity and everything was happening so quickly that Malcolm didn’t realize what she’d photographed until later.
“It was when I went back through the photos that I realized that I’d actually captured the seal on top of the whale,” she said.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife whale expert Geoff Ross told the Brisbane Times that the last time he heard of such an unusual coupling was when a seal was trying to get away from a killer whale. “…the seal hopped on the back of the pectoral fins of a humpback whale,” he said.
Malcolm also captured something else in her images that is highly unusual. The humpback whales are using a technique called bubble-net feeding, which scientists thought only occurred in colder waters.
With this method, whales coordinate with each other beneath a school of fish, circling them from below. As the whales rise, they blow bubbles, creating a wall of confusion that contains the fish.
In a separate interview, Ross told The Sydney Morning Herald, “That’s the first time I’ve seen that happen in NSW waters.”
For the untrained eye, however, the seal on the back of the whale is enough. It reminds us of other animals who’ve paired up to get from point A to point B, like the raccoon that rode a crocodile like a water ferry or the baby weasel that piggybacked on a woodpecker in flight.
Malcolm assured the Fairfax Media reporter that the image was not photoshopped, either. “I’m positive, because I don’t know how to use PhotoShop. And I do still have it on the camera so I can prove it.”