Why a Seal Smacked Kayaker in the Face with an Octopus

Talk about a slap in the face. A new video captures the moment that a seal or sea lion flung a dead octopus into the face of a kayaker in New Zealand.

The video was posted on Instagram by 22-year-old filmmaker Taiyo Masuda. It shows his friend and fellow GoPro camera content promoter Kyle "te Kiwi" Mulinder experiencing the unexpected octopus assault during an ocean kayak trip.

The bewhiskered marine mammal may have been sporting with the human interlopers, but it's also quite likely that the octopus slam was an attempt to tenderize the meat for consumption.

Sea lions and fur seals are known to hunt and eat octopuses, which are not easy prey to eat. In 2010, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shared photos of a Steller sea lion wrestling a large octopus. Marine biologists in that case pointed out that the octopus was far from defenseless, armed with its sharp, parrot-like beak. Sea lions have also been known to use the smash-and-grab approach to killing: A 2017 National Geographic article on a rare cannibalistic Steller sea lion mentions a 1991 case in which a bull sea lion killed a pup by hitting it against a rock.

Bottlenose dolphins have also been observed tossing octopuses around at the ocean surface. A 2017 study found that this seemingly playful behavior was probably how dolphins "tenderized" the octopus flesh before eating it. According to the study authors, octopus suckers can still grasp and stick even after the octopus is dead, making swallowing a whole octopus a dangerous endeavor. However, tossing and shaking the octopus can damage the tissue and make the suckers less dangerous.

New Zealand is home to several pinniped species. The hunter on Masuda's video has small external ears, indicating that the animal is an eared seal. According to the country's Department of Conservation, New Zealand is home to two kinds of eared seals, the New Zealand sea lion and the New Zealand fur seal. New Zealand sea lions are endangered, while fur seals are the most common seals around New Zealand, making it likely that the octopus-thrower was a fur seal. The video was taken near Kaikoura on the South Island of New Zealand, according to Masuda's Instagram.

Fortunately, no one was harmed in the making of the octopus-flinging video. The seal performed a victory lap around the canoes after the octopus toss, while Mulinder responded to the octopus tentacle in his face with a triumphant yell.

Original article on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.