In the waters of New Zealand, man and beast (and another beast) got a little too close for comfort. Kyle Mulinder was calmly kayaking when a seal breached the waters and slapped him in the face with a flailing octopus.
Mulinder and his friends were kayaking on the coast of Kaikoura in the South Island when they saw the seal and octopus begin to fight in the waters nearby. In a split second, the tussle came to them and Mulinder was hit by the tentacles of the octopus as the seal flung it around. When Mulinder told the story to Australia’s Seven News, he said that the strangest part was being able to feel all of the hard parts of the octopus on his face.
Luckily, Mulinder works for GoPro and had a camera attached to the front of his boat that captured the entire encounter. He posted the video to Instagram and from there it was posted to Twitter, gaining thousands of likes and shares along the way. This attention raised this question for many: what precisely was a seal doing with a large octopus in its jaws?
According to Peter Cook, assistant professor of psychology at the New College of Florida who specializes in animal cognition, the mammal in question is technically a sea lion, not a seal as a majority of news outlets are reporting. Compared to seals, sea lions are more outgoing and eat a wider variety of animals, including crabs, squids, and octopuses.
Sea lions tend to eat these forms of marine wildlife in less predictable ways. While the sea lion in the video may be playing with its food, as sea lions tend to do, the thrashing is also a practical technique. Sea lions do not have grinding teeth, making chewing an octopus or slippery fish very difficult. To break their prey into bite-size pieces, sea lions will bring it to the surface and smash it on the water.
Although it’s entertaining to imagine that the sea lion was using the octopus as a makeshift defense against Mulinder, it was most likely trying to eat its lunch. As water covers 71% of the Earth, Mulinder just happened to be kayaking in the section where this natural battle between predator and prey was taking place.