curious encounters (4 images)

Yesterday I saw the funniest interaction between a seal and a seagull. The whole sequence happened twice in the space of the few minutes I was there. These photos are from the second go-round, because the first time I was so surprised I didn’t think to take pictures.

The gull was swimming around rather aimlessly, but when the seal popped up to the surface, the gull headed straight toward it.
gull and seal, Pender Island B.C.


The seal did not seem perturbed by the advancing gull, but calmly held its position…

gull and seal, Pender Island B.C.


…even when the gull came really close.

gull and seal, Pender Island B.C.


The gull seemed to peck the seal on the nose. I thought at the time that it was just pestering the seal. It was only later when I loaded the photos on my computer that I saw the seal had had a small fish sticking out of its mouth, and the gull had snatched it.

gull and seal, Pender Island B.C.

Now I am very curious. Was that seal too dumb to evade a cheeky gull intent on stealing its meal, not just once but twice in a row? Why would the seal not eat the fish as soon as it had caught it, or at least dive to save it?

Or were the seal and gull playing some kind of animal version of “Go Fish”??

If anyone has ever seen something like this before, I would love to hear about it. I’ve read about how different species can interact in surprising ways (such as humpback whales saving a seal from a pack of orcas), but it was certainly fun to see this little drama unfold right before my eyes.



28 thoughts on “curious encounters (4 images)

  1. Lena

    Ha ha ha! This is so funny and so amazing. It must be really rare that the gull manage to snap the fish. Great capture and I totaly understand that you missed to shoot the first time it happend, it must have come as a real surprise.

  2. Murtagh's Meadow

    I wonder was the seal thinking it could catch a bigger meal (ie the gull) by “fishing” with it’s little fish. Or maybe it had already has it’s fill or was “sharing”. Great observation and even more amazing to get it on camera! I have a friend who is a marine biologist maybe I will send her your link!

  3. Seattle Park Lover

    Great series! As soon as I started reading I knew that seagull was trying to poach. I witnessed a similar thing at Golden Gardens one day. A pair of marbled murrelets were quite a ways out from shore diving for fish. A nearby seagull would take to the air and wait for the diving birds to surface. Either the murrelets weren’t having much luck with their fishing or they were too cagey, because the gull wasn’t successful. Combined with your story it shows how opportunistic gulls are. I can’t believe your gull actually got the fish! I wonder what the seal was thinking seeing its dinner snatched away like that.

  4. A Curious Introvert

    Great photos and commentary. I liked the idea of them playing go fish, but based on the behavior lately of birds around here, I’m beginning to wonder if there is a little bit of an attitude problem in the bird community.

  5. BuntyMcC

    What a great moment to see and photograph. Thanks for posting. We have a seal or two in our tidal river a couple of times a year; I must watch for gulls the next time!


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