Being face to face with wild animals can be a source of great amazement. But there is such a thing as being too close to them, to the point where you become collateral between a carnivore and its flailing prey.
This was the recent experience of adventurer Kyle Mulinder, who was kayaking with some friends off the coast of Kaikoura in New Zealand when a seal emerged from the waters, locked in a thrashing battle with an octopus.
Next thing he knew, a flick of the seal’s head sent tentacles going ‘thwack!’ square into Mulinder’s face.
“I’m not sure who got more of a surprise: the seal, the octopus or me,” he wrote on Instagram where he posted footage of the monumental slap.
The video was first posted by Mulinder’s friend Taiyo Masuda – both men are content creators for the GoPro brand, and were specifically on a kayaking tour to test out the company’s latest cameras.
There’s also a beautiful slow-motion recap where you can clearly see the seal’s face and the flying octopus, posted by Mulinder himself:
In the footage, we hear adrenaline-fuelled hollering right after the slap, with Mulinder repeatedly exclaiming “There’s an octopus on my boat!”
As it turns out, the cephalopod clung to the kayak after its encounter with the predator, who gave up on the meal and probably swam to some more quiet waters to resume hunting.
Kaikoura peninsula is well-known for its seal encounters, so the animal was most likely a kekeno or New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), a common species that mainly eats squid and small fish, but will also happily chow down on larger prey such as octopuses and even birds.
When a seal grabs hold of an octopus, there’s inevitable thrashing, as the cephalopod tries to break free from the jaws of the mammal.
In fact, it looks like off the coast of Kaikoura such seal-octopus battles are fairly common, as just last year another gruesome encounter made the rounds, captured by kayak guide Conner Stapley.
“This octopus had no chance really. Seals love eating them and will eat up to 15 pounds [7 kg] of octopus a day, around here it is a staple part of their diet,” Stapley said at the time, describing how the animal was ripped apart, with bits landing into nearby kayaks.
At least this time, the cephalopod got lucky.
“The octopus held onto the bottom of kayak for some time before our guide was able to get it off with his paddle, then it swam away to fight another day,” Mulinder wrote.