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Sea lion scooped up by humpback whale just in wrong place at wrong time

Sky News, July 30, 2019 7:00PM Kids News

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The sea lion got caught out as it competed with the whale for food. Picture: Magnus News Agency/ Chase Dekker media_cameraThe sea lion got caught out as it competed with the whale for food. Picture: Magnus News Agency/ Chase Dekker


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Incredible photographs of a sea lion almost being swallowed whole by a humpback whale have been captured in what is thought to be a world first.

The sea lion — estimated to weigh around 180kg — is seen being engulfed* by the whale’s jaws off Monterey Bay, California, US.

Humpbacks hunt with their huge mouths agape*, swallowing fish as they go and filtering almost 2000 litres of water in a single mouthful.

Three of the whales were feeding alongside around 200 sea lions when the unlucky creature got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Luckily though, a humpback’s throat is relatively small — about as wide as a watermelon — so the sea lion survived the encounter.

Luckily, the sea lion escaped as a humpback's throat is relatively small media_cameraLuckily, the sea lion escaped as a humpback’s throat is too small for it to swallow a 180kg animal. Picture: Magnus News Agency/ Chase Dekker

Wildlife photographer Chase Dekker, 27, said that normally the agile* sea lions are able to avoid the whales as they compete for food.

“Typically what happens is the sea lions are at the surface as they don’t dive as long and as deep, and when the whales start racing up to the surface to lunge and catch the fish, the sea lions can see, hear, and sense them coming and jump out of the way,” he said.

“Occasionally, you’ll see a sea lion riding the wake* of a lunging* whale or maybe bumping the side, but nothing like this.”

It's believed to be the first time such a moment has been photographed. media_cameraIt’s believed to be the first time such a moment has been photographed. Picture: Magnus News Agency/ Chase Dekker

He took the photos on July 22 and said he believes it is the first time a humpback getting a mouthful of sea lion has been caught on camera.

“Typically when the whales lunge feed at the surface, they close their mouth almost immediately to trap the fish as they sink back down into the sea,” said Mr Dekker.

“This whale kept its mouth wide open the whole way down as I am positive it felt the sea lion bumbling around its mouth.”

SPECIAL PROJECT media_cameraCharlie, an Australia sea lion who lives at Taronga Zoo, NSW, as part of the zoo’s breeding program. There are several species of sea lions. Australian sea lions, which are endangered, are found in the ocean off South Australia and Western Australia. Picture: Toby Zerna


  • The scientific name of humpback whales is Megaptera novaeangliae.
  • These mammals are a species of baleen whale and are found in oceans around the world.
  • Humpback whales can weigh around 30 tonnes and grow to about 16m long.
  • They eat small fish and krill.
  • Sea lions are part of a family of mammals called Otariidae, which also includes fur seals.
  • Male sea lions can weigh around 300kg and be about 2.4m long. Females weigh around 100kg and are about 1.8m long.
  • Sea lions eat fish, squid and octopus.

VIDEO: Watch a humpback whale leap from the water next to a small boat off the California coast in May

Humpback whale leaps from sea next to small fishing boat


  • engulfed: eat or swallow something whole
  • agape: mouth wide open
  • agile: able to change direction quickly
  • wake: the rush of water after something else, such as a boat or a whale, moves past
  • lunging: diving, rushing, charging


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  1. How much water is in a whale mouthful?
  2. Why do whales scoop up so much water?
  3. Do we commonly see a sea lion scooped up in a whale’s mouth?
  4. What does a whale usually do with its mouth as soon as it has scooped up a feed? What did this whale do?
  5. How much does an adult male sea lion weigh compared to a humpback whale?


1. Sea Lion’s Lucky Day
Work with a partner and write a short and catchy free-verse poem from the perspective of either the whale or the sea lion about this amazing encounter. It could start with something like:

There once was a small little sea lion …
There once lived a ginormous humpback whale …
Or start it totally different if you’d rather.

Use interesting and/or funny adjectives to describe the experience and their thoughts whilst it happened. 

If you feel comfortable, read your poem out to the class.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social

2. Extension
Create a food chain diagram to describe what and how humpback whales and sea lions hunt and eat.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: Science, English

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you made a film inspired by the whale’s mouthful of sea lion, what would you call it and what would happen in the film?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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