An Australian photographer has captured a rare moment of animal communion with a shot of a fur seal surfing a humpback whale off the New South Wales coast.
When a pod of whales tucked into a feeding frenzy on the NSW south coast there was plenty on the menu - even enough for a surprise guest. Amid the pod of humpback whales in waters out of Eden, an opportunistic fur seal wasted no time in finding the best seat for the fish feast.
The odd pairing was captured by photographer Robyn Malcolm on a recent whale watching trip out of Eden.
“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 realised I had actually captured the seal on top of the whale.”
NSW National Parks and Wildlife whale expert Geoff Ross said the coupling was highly uncommon, though he had heard of it happening once before.
“The only other time was a seal trying to get away from a killer whale … the seal hopped on the back of the pectoral fins of a humpback whale,” he said, adding that Ms Malcolm’s photos depicted a very typical humpback feeding.
“Humpbacks force fish into very tight bait balls, that means everyone can dart through the inside or the middle - anything that makes it easier to catch fish, seals will be involved.”
Perhaps more striking, he said, was Ms Malcolm’s image of around half a dozen whales feeding in a circle with bubbles in the centre.
“They look they are bubble feeding, a very unique behaviour. 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.”
The September-October period is prime whale-watching season in Eden and Narooma, where there is often an upwelling of humpbacks feeding and resting as they make their way back to Antarctica.
Ms Malcolm said she could safely brush off any suggestion that the photo of the whale-surfing seal had been doctored, for one simple reason.
“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.”