There’s always a bigger fish. Or in this case, a seal.
In a video shot by filmmakers Connor Gallagher and Patrick Webster, a tense dual between a red octopus and a swimmer crab quickly comes to an end when a harbor seal suddenly swims into frame, gobbling up the octopus. The event took place off the coast of Monterey, California, a region teaming with marine life.
Gallagher and Webster captured the unexpected footage on February 10, during a night spent diving and filming by their homes near Monterey. Using diving lights to find underwater specimens to capture on camera, the duo was initially intrigued by the red octopus, which can be seen relentlessly hunting its prey. As it slithered across the ocean floor, the two swam closer to fix their cameras into place and capture what they suspected would be a dramatic end for the crab.
Because of the limited visibility on the night their footage was filmed, the team was as surprised as the video’s viewers when the large harbor seal claimed his dinner.
“Blood and ink went everywhere,” said Gallagher.
They were surprised by the incident, although it wasn’t out of character for this harbor seal—Gallagher described the event as a typical “Whiskers’ move.”
The seal, nicknamed “Whiskers” by Gallagher and Webster, regularly takes advantage of such night dives to help him find his dinner. According to the diving pair, he recognizes divers’ bubbles and lights, and feels comfortable enough to frequently swim next to them.
“We use our lights to find things to photograph or film, and he uses the illumination to see fish that cannot see him,” said Gallagher. “We'll see him start to stalk an individual slowly and all of the sudden the chase is on, and he'll pop out of a crack with a rockfish or halfmoon in his mouth.”
Gallagher called the relationship between the divers and Whiskers symbiotic.
Harbor seals are voracious hunters, with a diet consisting of squid, crustaceans, and a variety of fish. Their large, rotund bodies are cumbersome on land, but underwater, they are graceful hunters, using their hind flippers to quickly propel themselves forward. While they are not known for being particularly social, harbor seals are opportunistic hunters.
This species of marine mammal is common around the Monterey Bay area. However, in recent years, their numbers have dropped significantly. A census taken in December 2016 by volunteers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the harbor seal population in the Monterey Bay area had decreased from roughly 700 to fewer than 500, a decline of nearly one third. Much of this decline is attributed to increasingly warming waters.
(See: “The Blob That Cooked The Pacific” from the September 2016 issue of National Geographic Magazine.)
Luckily for Whiskers, he has the aid of divers’ flashlights to help him find food. In addition to harbor seals, Gallagher and Webster also frequently interact with sea lions during their dives.
Since they filmed Whiskers earlier this month, the shocking twist has become a popular online video. Initially posted on Gallagher’s Facebook page, it now has over seven hundred thousand views on YouTube and several thousand more on other Facebook accounts.