This seal has found a living surfboard. It is on the back of a humpback whale, and along with the free ride it might be getting an easy snack.
Photographer Robyn Malcolm was whale-watching off the coast of Eden in south-east Australia. Seals, dolphins and birds were all at the surface chasing bait fish, which is plentiful in the area, while whales lunged from below to join the feeding frenzy. Malcolm was focused on taking photos of the whales and only spotted the surfing seal later on in digital form. “I don’t think it stayed on top of the whale for long,” she says.
Kathy James from the Sea Watch Foundation in the UK, isn’t aware of similar sightings although several internet videos have captured seals trying to ride on a surfboard. “It makes sense for any animal to save energy, which could be achieved by hitching a ride on a whale,” she says. She is curious about whether the whale was complicit and also reaped some benefit.
The ride could have helped the seal get better access to fish. “It is probably being opportunistic,” says Danny Groves from Whale and Dolphin Conservation in the UK. “By being behind the whale’s head, it could possibly catch any escaping fish.”
Whales seem to be plentiful this season off the south-east coast of Australia. Last Saturday, Malcolm was surrounded by the largest group of humpback whales she has ever seen, providing plenty of opportunities for easy-riding seals.