Incredible photographs of a sea lion being swallowed whole by a humpback whale have been captured in what’s claimed to be a world first.
The sea lion – estimated to weigh around 28st (400lbs) – is seen being engulfed by the whale’s jaws off Monterey Bay in California.
Humpbacks hunt with their huge mouths agape, swallowing fish as they go and filtering up to 500 gallons (1,892 litres) of water.
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.
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.”
He captured the photo on 22 July and says he believes it is the first time a humpback swallowing a 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.”