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Seal rides on humpback whale off Australia coast

There was enough food for guests during a recent whale feeding frenzy off the coast of southern New South Wales, Australia, so one humpback brought a plus-one.

Australian photographer Robyn Malcolm inadvertently captured a photo of a fur seal riding on the back of a humpback whale during a recent whale-watching trip, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

“We’d seen some amazing whales coming out of the water, everything was happening so quickly,” Malcolm told the Herald. “And it was when I went back through the photos that I realized I had actually captured the seal on top of the whale.”


Officials said that the pairing is uncommon, with New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service expert Geoff Ross telling the Herald that the last time he had seen a similar pairing was when a seal was “trying to get away from a killer whale.”

Some other photographs taken by Malcolm also show the whales feeding in a circle with bubbles in the center. Ross said that this appears to be an example of “bubble net” feeding, which scientists thought only occurred in colder waters, according to Discovery News, and a phenomenon that he hadn’t seen in New South Wales waters.

Bubble net feeding is when humpback whales dive below prey and begin spiraling towards the surface, “blowing bubbles in a circular motion,” according to Cetacea Lab. This forces prey toward the center of the circle on the surface, where the whales can swallow their food.

Carli Velocci can be reached at carli.velocci@globe.com.