The wonders of nature are never ceasing, especially when it comes to our oceans and seas, which cover over 70 percent of the world’s surface. We still know incredibly little about what happens in the depths, especially compared to all the research that’s been done about animals on land and in the sky.
But sometimes, the oceans put on a show in plain sight that defies the imagination—that is, if you’re quick enough with your camera to capture it.
For Robyn Malcolm, an Australian nature enthusiast and amateur photographer, it started out as a regular day of whale watching. She had gone to the beaches south of Eden, a coastal town in the state of New South Wales.
Eden is famous for its whaling history, with the world’s only fully intact killer whale skeleton in its local museum. Little did Malcolm know that she was in for a lot more than just a casual whale sighting.
She knew something was up when the bait fish started to swarm. These would draw the birds, dolphins, seals, and whales. From the time she spotted the bait fish going wild, she had her camera trained on the action and was taking pictures rapid fire. “The seals and dolphins were going crazy on top of the water, then the whales would lunge straight through the middle,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Amidst all this chaos, she wanted to capture as much as she could of the action but admitted that at the time, she “didn’t know which way to point the camera.” She kept it as close as possible to the center of the maelstrom and snapped away.
Then a whole pod of humpbacks jumped into the air and she was delighted to see them in action. As she said, “we were ‘mugged’ by the biggest group of humpbacks I have ever seen, who were happy to play with us for a while.”
— The Sydney Morning Herald (@smh) September 16, 2015
Then, without her even realizing it, a seal somehow managed to climb aboard one of the whale’s backs and surf its way up to the surface for several seconds. Malcolm managed to snap the picture just right, so there’s absolutely no doubt that this brave seal was getting a free ride.
Thankfully for the seal, it was a friendly humpback, which feeds on small fish. Orcas, also known as killer whales, will hunt seals themselves!
In 2016, Science Magazine reported a story about a humpback whale that put itself between two orcas trying to eat a seal trapped on the ice floe. The lucky seal managed to jump on the humpback’s belly and get out of harm’s way. It remains a mystery why the humpback would give the seal an escape route, but regardless, these cases of whale surfing have been documented several times.
When Robyn Malcolm went back through her pictures, she was astounded to see the cheeky wave rider. The photo captured the scene so beautifully that some wondered if it had been doctored.
Malcolm laughed this hypothesis away in her interview with the Sydney Morning Herald: “positive, because I don’t [sic] how to use photoshop and I do have [sic] still have it [the original photo] on the camera, so I can prove it.” An amazing photo that has enchanted viewers all around the world and shows that no matter how advanced we think we are scientifically, nature will always find ways to surprise us!