Robyn Malcolm was on a whale-watching trip near Eden in New South Wales, Australia, when she unknowingly captured images of a fur seal riding on the back of a humpback whale.
The Australian photographer was on the lookout for whales when their boat encountered a large pod of humpbacks feeding on a school of fish.
Just like anyone with a camera in hand, Malcolm took photos of the marine animals on a feeding frenzy. She did not actually notice that she captured an image of an odd duo: a seal surfing on the back of a whale.
Malcolm only realized that a seal was sitting on top of one of the humpback whales after looking at the shots later.
She related they saw whales emerging out of the water. Everything happened so quickly she only realized she captured images of the seal on top of the whale while going through the photos she had taken.
The images are amazing because they depict something seldom seen. Geoff Ross, a whale expert from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife, said that though the pairing was highly unusual, he'd heard about it happening once before.
"The only other time was a seal trying to get away from a killer whale ... the seal hopped on the back of the pectoral fins of a humpback whale," Ross said.
Malcolm's photos also show about half a dozen whales feeding in a circle with bubbles in the center, a behavior known as bubble feeding.
Ross remarked that bubble feeding is a very unique behavior and they have not known humpback whales doing so in NSW waters. In fact, it was the first time that bubble feeding was seen in NSW waters.
As for the possibility that she might have doctored the image, Malcolm said that she can prove that the photo of the whale-surfing seal was real because she does not know how to use Photoshop and she still has the images on her camera.
Humpbacks do not have teeth but they have a baleen filter system that they use to sift small fish and other marine organisms from the water. According to Ross, the whales force fish into tight bait balls so everyone can just dart through the inside.
Ross said that this is the likely reason why the seal was hanging around the pod -- seals happen to be often involved with anything that makes catching fish easier.