Humpback whale pictured with sea lion in its jaws in a once-in-a-lifetime photograph

A wildlife photographer got the snap of a lifetime when a California sea lion he was photographing found itself caught between the jaws of a humpback whale.

This time of year is peak humpback sighting season in Monterey Bay, California. Whale herds stop in the area to snack on anchovies, but the small fish are also a favorite food of sea lions. 

Usually the species manage to avoid each other, local photographer Chase Dekker said. But when he went to take pictures of feeding last week, an unsuspecting sea lion got caught up in the frenzy.

Dekker saw three humpback whales approach a school of anchovies a pack sea lions where feeding on.

“While the humpbacks were lunge feeding on a school of anchovies, a sea lion apparently didn’t jump out of the way fast enough and got trapped inside the whale’s mouth,” Dekker posted on his Instagram page. 

When whales feed on large schools of fish, they open their mouths wide as they can and charge forward, eating as many fish as they can in a single gulp in a process known as lunge feeding.

“As soon as I saw this photograph, I knew it may be one of the rarest shots I’ve ever taken,” Dekker told National Geographic. “Not the most beautiful, not the most artistic, but probably something I would never see again.”

The sea lion soon fell out of the whale’s mouth and swam away. Both the sea lion and humpback whale appeared to be fine, Dekker said.

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